"My last instrument was the Chinese-made 4' 11 1/2" Hailun 151, which I found as impressive as the others. As with some of the other pianos I examined, the beautiful veneer on the inside of the case, as well as the nice plate finishing, looked like something normally obtainable only at a higher price point. This piano had a dark tonal quality similar to what I heard in the Weber, yet with its own musical personality. In fact, the tone seemed to have an interesting mix of fundamental and harmonics that resulted in a very pleasing overall tone, complete with a thoughtful and effective balance of bass, low tenor, and treble. The transition between tenor and bass was not as smooth as on some of the other models, but the bass section sounded very good all the way down to B3, and I noticed some other design features that may be the reason for the interesting and complex tone in the treble: a front and rear duplex scale starting at D#55, with a rear duplex that appears to be tunable. The action and keyboard felt great, and it was easy to play a variety of music with complete control and dynamic range.
"The casework on all six instruments I surveyed ranged from good to high quality, and all had sturdy legs, pedal lyres, and slow-close fallboards. The pedals on some models made a few squeaks that could probably be easily eliminated by the store technician."
Carney closed by saying:
"Based on my hours with these pianos, I was very impressed with the sound, playability, workmanship, and overall musicality of most of them, especially considering their prices. I continue to be intrigued by the updated scaling that has virtually eliminated many of the problems of the short grands of the past, and which is a testament to the achievements of the talented designers of these pianos. Ideally, prospective buyers looking for a grand piano under five feet in length should take the time to become familiar with all the brands and models mentioned before making a decision, as each piano has its own characteristic sound and ‘vibe.'
"While no one is ever going to claim that a 4' 11" grand can match the tonal palette, power, and control offered by a large grand, these pianos seem poised to fill a niche with genuine elegance. I hope that this successful retooling of the short grand will also inspire the improvement of scale designs for pianos of all sizes and price points."
Kevin A. Brown (email@example.com) has more than 20 years' experience as an amateur pianist, including accompanying for a community chorus and playing at church. By profession he works at a national laboratory as a technical communicator, and lives in the Chicago area.
Tom Gruenert (firstname.lastname@example.org) studied piano seriously through his second year of music school (a long time ago), when, he says, he fell in love and quit practicing. He has played blues, jazz, and standards professionally, and has taught piano at various times. Currently an attorney by profession, Gruenert lives in Houston, studies jazz, and enjoys playing the piano every day.
Glen Rosenthal (email@example.com) has been a piano enthusiast since a teenager. He plays classical music, jazz, and freeform, and has been learning to tune pianos for the past year. By profession a product engineer for a large telecommunications firm, Rosenthal lives in Denver.
James Carney (www.jamescarney.net) is an award-winning keyboardist and composer who lives, performs, and teaches in New York City. He has released five albums of original music, was a winner of the Thelonious Monk International Composers Award, and curates a weekly jazz series at Korzo Restaurant in Brooklyn. Carney also works part-time as a piano technician.
Thanks to the following piano dealers for their cooperation:
New York, New York
(Pearl River, Ritmüller, Hailun)
(Yamaha; Hallet, Davis & Co.; Hobart M. Cable)
Frank & Camille's Fine Pianos
Melville, New York
(Young Chang, Weber)
Houston Piano Company
Onofrio Piano Company
(Kohler & Campbell)
Rockley Music Company