The chart for each grade is divided into two or more levels of quality; for consumer-grade pianos, each of these levels is further broken down into two subgroups. Within each group or subgroup, the brands are listed in alphabetical order. No judgment of these brands' relative quality should be inferred from this order.
Within each grade of piano, the distinctions between one group or subgroup and the next can be quite subtle, so don't get hung up on small differences. Furthermore, the preparation of the piano by the dealer can be far more important to the quality of the product you receive than some of the distinctions listed in the chart.
Prices shown for each group are the approximate lowest and highest typical selling prices of new pianos in the least expensive style and finish.
Most of the pianos in this group, and in the next, "High Quality," are for those buyers who want the best and can afford it. The companies that make them use the very best materials, and their manufacturing processes emphasize much hand labor and refinement of details. These companies' painstaking execution of advanced designs puts considerations of quality far ahead of cost and volume of production. These instruments are suitable for the most advanced and demanding professional and artistic uses.
It was easier to arrive at a consensus about the brands in this group than about any other group in this rating system. So celebrated are the brands in this group that dealers eagerly nominated even their competitors for the list. These pianos have everything, and the attention to detail paid in their manufacture can only be called fanatical. (Note that pianos made by Steinway & Sons/Hamburg are not routinely available in North America; I include the brand here for informational purposes only.)
The pianos in this group are also fabulous, but are in second place here either because their workmanship is not quite as refined as the first group, or because their musical designs are considered slightly less desirable, or perhaps because their names have not yet earned as much prestige value as those in the first group. However, preferences among performance-grade pianos are greatly dependent on musical taste, and most of the brands in this group have their devoted followings.
Most knowledgeable observers of the piano business would consider the brands in this group to span quite a range of quality within the rarefied air of high-end pianos, and would insist that it be divided into two or more subgroups. The problem is that I found an utter lack of agreement among my many contacts as to which brands each subgroup should contain. Furthermore, the relative ranking of these brands is one of the most hotly debated topics among piano aficionados. Rather than arbitrarily impose my own preferences, I have chosen to leave the group undivided. Since this chart is primarily intended for newcomers to the piano market, any further division of this group would be academic.
The brands in this group, though very good, are considered to have less finesse than those in the first two groups. However, most of these models are also considerably less expensive than the ones above, and may be a better value where the highest quality or prestige is not needed.
The chart for consumer-grade pianos is organized differently from that for performance-grade pianos. The Korean-based companies Samick and Young Chang each has its own column listing all the brand names each makes for the U.S. market, including brands made under contract for other distributors; the Japanese-based companies Yamaha and Kawai share a column for their brands (other than those listed under Professional Grade); and there is a column for all brands made in China not already included in the other columns.
Within the Samick, Young Chang, and Yamaha/Kawai columns, the various brand names or model groupings are organized approximately as the respective companies themselves position them in the marketplace by price and features. Some small adjustments have been made for subjective reasons. The brands within the Chinese column are organized by approximate overall recommendability, which also tends to fall along lines of price and features, though not uniformly so.