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.

The key to proper use of this chart is not to cling to it too tightly but to understand that, given its subjectivity and simplicity, it should be used only as a learning tool. In addition, use common sense when comparing one brand with another. Compare verticals with verticals and grands with grands, and compare only similar sizes, or models whose selling prices fall within the same range. Note that, for the sake of simplicity, there may be quality differences within a single product line that are not shown here; also, a few brands were omitted due solely to lack of sufficient information about them.

A generalization useful to understanding the piano market is that pianos can be divided into two types, Performance and Consumer, both of which are necessary to meet the needs of the wide variety of piano buyers. Performance-grade pianos generally have one or more of the following attributes: They are built to a single high standard, almost without regard to cost, and the price charged is whatever it takes to build such a piano and bring it to market. A greater proportion of the labor required to build them is in the handwork involved in making custom refinements to individual instruments. Most are made in relatively small quantities by firms that have been in business for generations, often under the same family ownership. As a result, many have achieved almost legendary status, and are often purchased as much for their prestige value as for their performance. Finally, these are the instruments most likely to be called into service when the highest performance level is required, particularly for classical music. Most performance-grade pianos are made in Europe or the United States.

Consumer-grade pianos, on the other hand, are built to be sold at a particular price, and adjustments to (i.e., compromises in) materials, workmanship, and method and location of manufacture are made to meet that price. Most are mass-produced, usually in Asia, with less in the way of custom refinement of individual instruments.

PERFORMANCE-GRADE PIANOS
Highest Quality
Verticals: $17,000–$42,000
Grands 5' to 7': $52,000–$97,000
High Quality
Verticals: $13,000–$27,000
Grands 5' to 7': $32,000–$78,000
Good Quality
Verticals: $8,000–$20,000
Grands 5' to 7': $25,000–$58,000
Blüthner
Bösendorfer
C. Bechstein
Fazioli
Grotrian
Sauter
Steingraeber & Söhne
Steinway & Sons (Hamburg)
August Förster
Bechstein (Academy)
Estonia
Feurich*
Haessler*
Mason & Hamlin
Schimmel (Konzert)
Seiler
Shigeru Kawai
Steinway & Sons (New York)
Yamaha (CF)*
Charles R. Walter
Petrof
Schimmel (Classic)
Schulze Pollmann
Wilh. Steinberg (IQ)

PROFESSIONAL-GRADE PIANOS
Verticals: $8,000–$13,000
Grands 5' to 7': $16,000–$43,000
Bohemia
Vogel
W. Hoffmann (Tradition)

Boston (Japan)
Kawai RX grands
Kawai verticals (Japan)
Yamaha C grands
Yamaha verticals (Japan)

*Tentative, based on very limited information