Kawai has replaced both of its former studio models, the UST-7 and UST-8, with the 46" model UST-9, made in Indonesia. This model has the stronger back of the UST-7, rather than that of the UST-8, which was not known for its tuning stability. The UST-9 also contains the Millennium III action; an angled, leather-lined music desk to better hold music; and a stylish, reinforced bench. The 46½" model 907 is essentially the UST-9 in a fancy, furniture-style cabinet. Rounding out the Kawai studios is the new Japanese-made FINO Interior Design Series of three models — the Gilda, Rosina, and Lauretta — that Kawai says are “European in style.”
Kawai’s K series of upright models comprises the K-2 (45"), K-3 (48"), K-5 (49"), K-6 (52"), and K-8 (52"). All have the Millennium III action; a soft-close fallboard; a wide, leather-lined music desk; a somewhat stylish cabinet; and come with an adjustable bench. The K-5 has Neotex synthetic-ivory keytops. The 52" models also feature agraffes, duplex scaling, Neotex keytops, and various kinds of tone escape mechanisms. The K-8 has a true sostenuto pedal.
Kawai makes three series of grand pianos: RX, GE, and GM. The RX, now in a version known as the RX BLAK series, is the most expensive and has the best features. It is designed for the best performance, whereas the GE and GM series are designed more for efficiency in manufacturing, with fewer refinements. The RX pianos are the only Kawai grands with a radial beam structure, focused and connected to the plate using a cast-iron bracket at the tenor break. This system makes for a more rigid structure, which translates into better tone projection. The soundboard of the RX models is tapered for better tonal response, and the rim is thicker and stronger than in the GE and GM models. The RX BLAK pianos use a new version of the Millennium III action with hammer-shank stabilizers, designed to retain power by keeping the shank from wavering under a heavy blow; have agraffes, duplex scaling, lighter hammers (less inertia), and Neotex synthetic ivory keytops; and come with a slow-close fallboard. The RX grands get more precise key weighting, plus more tuning, regulating, and voicing at the factory. The cabinetry is nicer looking and of better quality than that of the GE and GM series pianos, with the polished ebony models in the new RX BLAK series receiving a UV-cured, scratch-resistant coating on the music rack and music shelves.
Some of the RX features are also found in the GM and GE pianos, but it varies by model. The GM-10K is the only Kawai grand made in Indonesia. It has Kawai’s standard ABS action, no agraffes or duplex scaling, standard keytops, and a regular fallboard. The model GM-12, made in Japan, has the regular Millennium III action (without hammer-shank stabilizers), no agraffes or duplex scaling, standard keytops, and a slow-close fallboard. The GE models, also made in Japan, have the regular Millennium III action, agraffes, duplex scaling, Neotex keytops, and a slow-close fallboard.
Kawai’s quality control is excellent, especially in its Japanese-made pianos. Major problems are rare, and other than normal maintenance, after-sale service is usually limited to fixing the occasional minor buzz or squeak. Kawai’s warranty service is also excellent, and the warranty is transferable to future owners within the warranty period (a benefit that is not common these days). The tone of most Kawai pianos, in my opinion, is not as ideal for classical music as some more expensive instruments, but when expertly voiced, it is not far off, and in any case is quite versatile musically. In part because the touch is so good, Kawai grands are often sought by classical pianists as a less-expensive alternative to a Steinway or other high-end piano. Kawai dealers tend to be a little more aggressive about discounting than their competition (Yamaha). There is also a thriving market for used Kawais. (If you’re considering buying a used Kawai, please read “Should I Buy a Used ‘Gray Market’ Yamaha or Kawai Piano?” on pages 176–177 of The Piano Book, or the shorter version in “Buying a Used or Restored Piano” in this publication.)
The Shigeru Kawai line of grands represents Kawai’s ultimate effort to produce a world-class piano. Named after Kawai’s former chairman (and son of company founder Koichi Kawai), the limited-edition (fewer than 300 per year) Shigeru Kawai grands are made at the separate facility where Kawai’s EX concert grands are built.
Although based on the Kawai RX designs, the Shigeru Kawai models are “hand made” in the extreme. Very high-grade soundboard spruce is air-dried for multiple years, then planed by hand by a worker who knocks on the wood and listens for the optimum tonal response. Ribs are also hand-planed for correct stiffness. String bearing is set in the traditional manner by planing the bridges by hand instead of having pre-cut bridges pinned by machine. Bass strings are wound by hand instead of by machine. Hammers are hand-pressed without heat for a wider voicing range, and the hammer weights are carefully controlled for even touch. Hammer shanks are thinned along the bottom so that their stiffness is matched to the hammer mass. These procedures represent a level of detail relatively few manufacturers indulge in.