World Class Pianos

Shigeru Kawai
Shigeru Kawai

The Shigeru Kawai concert grand at our university is a great instrument. The action is wonderfully even, and the carbon-fiber composite action parts require less maintenance than do regular wooden action parts. Like most Kawais, the Shigeru is a very easy piano to work on. However, string mating [mating the hammers with the strings so that each hammer hits all its strings evenly] is a continual battle, and needs to be done with each tuning. Compared to our Hamburg Steinway, our Shigeru has a darker tone, and its sound doesn't carry as well all the way to the back of the hall. That said, both pianos are chosen about equally, with more soloists choosing the Steinway, while the Shigeru is chosen more for chamber music and accompaniment.

— Anonymous

Shigeru Kawais are wonderful high-end pianos, with a certain individuality from instrument to instrument. With long sustain and powerful projection in all ranges, they provide the pianist all that is expected of a performance-grade piano. When properly maintained, they are chosen by artists for live performances, recordings, and competitions. The balanced touch and even tone across the various registers are a delight to the advanced player. Although the parts and workmanship are superb, and the pianos are expected to hold up well, the brand has not been on the scene long enough to establish a long-term track record—perhaps the only drawback of this otherwise great instrument. Given the performance of other Kawai models, however, there is no reason to believe the Shigeru Kawai will be any less reliable.

— Ed Whitting

Mason & Hamlin
Mason & Hamlin

Mason & Hamlin has always had many admirers—even fanatics—who love and worship their pianos. Having long enjoyed a position as Steinway's rival in quality, tone, and touch, modern Mason & Hamlins are still carefully crafted and engineered by some of the most innovative minds in piano technology.

The pianos are built like tanks, with a thick rim, heavy case ribs, and a massive full-perimeter plate, making each an instrument for a lifetime. Mason & Hamlin's "crown retention system" really works, keeping the soundboard crown intact and resisting shifts in the structure that normally come as the instrument ages. The tone is uniquely American—very warm, full, and rich—with a strong bass, and good sustain and singing quality in the treble. The pianos provide good voicing flexibility and range. Cabinet finishing can be a weak point, so one needs to inspect the finish prior to purchase. Properly set up and cared for, Masons are stable pianos with relatively low maintenance requirements.

Mason & Hamlin actions have been redesigned in recent years and are now much lighter and more responsive. Although the manufacture of action parts is outsourced, the parts seem to be of extremely good quality. Pianos can be purchased with these standard action parts, but Mason & Hamlin has also established a division called Wessell, Nickel & Gross, manufacturing an alternative set of nylon-fiber composite action parts of innovative design that, among other features, are impervious to humidity and temperature changes and are of lower weight. Mason & Hamlin pianos can be ordered with these high-performance parts, which can also be retrofitted into other brands of piano. The jury is still out on these parts, which are new in an industry that is slow to change, but I've used and tested them in several pianos with excellent results.

— Arlan Harris

Some Parting Comments

In general, I find the top-tier European pianos to be more "finished" than their American and Asian counterparts. In the U.S., one expects to spend a fair amount of time regulating the tone and action—indeed, finishing the piano, which was shipped from the factory while still a "work in progress." Pianos such as Steingraeber, Blüthner, Feurich, Fazioli, and others, however, come out of the crate sounding and playing pretty much as their respective manufacturers want them to. It may be tempting for a technician to dig into them as one might a Steinway, essentially "redesigning" the instrument's voice. But I believe one does so at one's peril. Other than minimal voicing, minor adjustments, and tuning to compensate for climatic changes, these instruments should be left alone. It's best to respect the voice and philosophy of the maker.

— Steve Pearson   


SPRING 2010 -- page 87

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