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.
In 2012, Kawai updated the Shigeru Kawai grands, changing the cabinet styling and some of the pianos’ construction features. The inside of the rim is now finished with bird’s-eye maple veneer, and the round legs have been changed to straight legs with brass trim. The rim itself is now made of alternating layers of rock maple and mahogany, which Kawai says provides more power without losing warmth in the tone. The structure at the front of the piano has been made stronger, and the beams underneath are now made from spruce instead of the laminated mahogany Kawai uses in its other models. The keys have been lengthened for a better touch, especially on the smaller models.
Each buyer of a Shigeru Kawai piano receives a visit within the first year by a Kawai master technician from the factory in Japan. These are the same factory technicians who do the final installation of actions in pianos, as well as the final voicing and regulation. According to those who have watched them work, these Japanese master technicians are amazingly skilled. Because the Shigeru Kawai pianos have been on the market only ten years and in very limited quantities, many piano technicians have yet to service one. Those who have, however, tend to rank them among the world’s finest instruments, and Shigeru Kawai pianos are often chosen by pianists participating in international piano competitions.
Warranty: Kawai and Shigeru Kawai — 10 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period.
Kimball Piano USA, Inc.
1819 North Major Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60639
Kimball, a name with a long history in the piano world (see The Piano Book for details), is now being produced by Kimball Piano USA, Inc., which acquired the rights to the Kimball name in 2005. Kimball International, which previously owned the Kimball brand and produced Kimball pianos from 1959 to 1996, was primarily a furniture maker that mass-produced a very average piano.
In contrast, Kimball is now controlled by a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) who has returned Kimball to its historical roots in Chicago and says he is placing the company’s focus on the musical instrument and on technical details of American piano design and construction. The result of this focus is two new collections of Kimball pianos: Classic and Artist.