There's no question that high-end components, such as Renner hammers and Bolduc soundboards, add to the quality and value of consumer-grade pianos in which they're used. But in terms of quality, components such as these are only the tip of the iceberg. Although the difference between performance- and consumer-grade pianos has narrowed, in many ways the two types of manufacturers still live in different worlds. Differences are manifested in such things as the selection, drying, and use of wood; final regulation and voicing; and attention to technical and cosmetic details.
Makers of performance-grade pianos use higher grades of wood, selected for finer grain, more even color, or greater hardness, strength, and/or acoustical properties, as the use requires. Wood is seasoned more carefully and for longer periods of time, resulting in greater dimensional stability and a longer-lasting product. Veneers are more carefully matched, and finishes polished to a greater smoothness. Action assemblies purchased from suppliers may be taken apart and put back together to more exacting tolerances than originally supplied. The workspace is set up to allow workers more time to complete their tasks and a greater opportunity to catch and correct errors. Much more time is spent on final regulation and voicing, with an instrument not leaving the factory, in some cases, until a musician has had an opportunity to play it and be satisfied. Of course, the degree to which these manifestations of quality, and many others not mentioned, are present will vary by brand and circumstance, but underlying them all is this philosophical difference: with performance-grade pianos, the driving force behind decision-making tends to be the quality of the product; with consumer-grade pianos, cost is a greater factor.
A MAP OF THE MARKET FOR NEW PIANOS
The chart and commentary that follow are intended to provide the newcomer to the piano market with a simple summary of how the brands compare with one another in overall quality and recommendability, taking into account each brand's features, performance, and track record.
Any such rating system is obviously not scientific but subjective, the product of my contacts with dozens of piano technicians, dealers, and other industry personnel, as well as my more than thirty years of involvement with the piano industry. My sense is that most knowledgeable people in the industry would agree in broad terms with this comparison, though many will disagree with me — and with each other — about the details. (See my blog for additional comments on the subject of piano ratings.)
Grands 5' to 7': $52,000–$103,000
Grands 5' to 7': $29,000–$85,000
Grands 5' to 7': $31,000–$61,000
|C. Bechstein |
Steingraeber & Söhne
Steinway & Sons (Hamburg)
Mason & Hamlin
Steinway & Sons (New York)
Wilh. Steinberg (IQ)
Charles R. Walter
Grands 5' to 7': $22,000–$39,000
Grands 5' to 7': $18,000–$40,000
Grands 5' to 7': $17,000–$31,000
W. Hoffmann (Tradition)
Wilh. Steinberg (AC)*
Kawai (RX) grands
Kawai verticals (Japan)
Yamaha (C) grands
Yamaha verticals (Japan)
|Wm. Knabe (Concert Artist)|
J.P. Pramberger (Platinum)
*Tentative, based on very limited information
Note: Unless otherwise stated, brand names refer to both grand and vertical models.