The Conservatory Collection consists of the 5' 3" model C1, the 5' 8" model C2, the 6' 1" model C3, and the 6' 7" model C5. The Conservatory Concert Collection comprises the 7' model C6 and the 7' 6" model C7. Both collections have the advanced construction, scaling, and cabinetry mentioned above, including a true sostenuto pedal and a soft-close fallboard. Both now have vertically laminated bridges with maple or boxwood cap. The vertically laminated design is similar to that found in Steinways and other fine pianos, and is considered to give the bridges greater strength and resistance to cracking and better transmission of vibrational energy. All Conservatory grands have keytops of Ivorite™, Yamaha's ivory alternative.
Finally, the new CF Series Concert Grand Pianos (replacing the current Handcrafted Concert Collection) consist of the 9' model CFX (replacing the model CFIIIS), and the 6' 3" model CF4 and 7' model CF6 (replacing, in the U.S., the models S4B and S6B, which will remain available by special order only). The pianos in this collection are made in a separate factory to much higher standards and with some different materials. For example, they use maple and mahogany in the rim, which is made more rigid, for greater tonal power, than in the other collections; higher-grade soundboard material; a treble "bell" (as in the larger Steinways) to enhance treble tone; German strings, and hammer and scaling changes, for a more mellow tone; as well as the more advanced features of the other collections. The result is an instrument capable of greater dynamic range, tonal color, and sustain than the regular Yamahas. The new CF-series pianos have a thicker rim and more substantial structure than their predecessors for greater strength and tonal projection, and the method for developing the soundboard crown has been changed to allow the soundboard to vibrate more freely and with greater resonance. The models CF4 and CF6 have an open pinblock design reminiscent of some European pianos, which gives the tuner slightly greater control over the tuning pins. Yamaha says that the CF series represents 19 years of research and development conducted by its craftsmen, designers, and engineers. The Yamaha concert grand is endorsed and used by a number of notable musicians, including Michael Tilson Thomas, Chick Corea, and Elton John.
In Fall 2011, Yamaha is introducing two new models — 6' 1" model C3XA and 7' model C6XA — that incorporate some of the design elements of the limited-production CF series into the higher-production C-series pianos to create a similar sound. Features include a European spruce soundboard crowned using CF-series technology, a thicker rim and bracing, German music wire, additional time spent voicing, regulating, and tuning by very skilled craftsmen, and some cabinet design changes.
Other than the special grands just described, historically Yamaha grands have been a little on the percussive side and have been said not to "sing" as well as some more expensive pianos. The tone has been very clear and often bright, especially in the smaller grands, although the excessive brightness that once characterized Yamahas seems to be a thing of the past. The clarity and percussiveness are very attractive, but are sometimes said to be less well suited for classical music, which tends to require a singing tone and lush harmonic color. On the other hand, Yamaha is the piano of choice for jazz and popular music, which may value clarity and brightness more than the other qualities mentioned. More recently, however, Yamaha has been trying to move away from this image of a "bright" piano whose sound is limited to jazz. First with the larger grands, and more recently with the smaller ones, Yamaha has changed bridge construction and hammer density, and provided more custom voicing at the factory, to bring out a broader spectrum of tonal color in its pianos.
Both Yamaha's quality control and its warranty and technical service are legendary in the piano business. They are the standard against which every other company is measured. For general home and school use, piano technicians probably recommend Yamaha pianos more often than any other brand. Their precision, reliability, and performance make them a very good value for a consumer product.
Yamaha now makes a piano under the name Cable-Nelson. It is made in Yamaha's factory in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, southwest of Shanghai, where the company also makes guitars. The Cable-Nelson 45" model CN116 is identical in musical specifications to Yamaha's former model T116 (no longer available), except that the Cable-Nelson has a laminated soundboard, whereas all Yamaha pianos sold in the U.S. have a solid spruce soundboard. The Cable-Nelson model CN216 is a furniture-style version of the 116.
Cable-Nelson is the name of an old American piano maker whose roots can be traced back to 1903. Yamaha acquired the name when it bought the Everett Piano Company in 1973, and used the name in conjunction with Everett pianos until 1981.
There is a thriving market for used Yamahas. If you're considering buying a used Yamaha, please read "Should I Buy a Used, ‘Gray Market' Yamaha or Kawai Piano?" on pages 176–177 of The Piano Book, and "Buying a Used or Restored Piano" in this publication.