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.
As discussed elsewhere in this publication, globalization and the computerization of manufacturing have, to some extent, blurred the distinction between performance- and consumer-grade pianos. Increasingly, makers of performance-grade instruments have been creating lower-cost brands by manufacturing instruments and components in countries with cheaper labor, while makers of consumer-grade pianos have been bringing to market higher-quality models by perfecting automation and sourcing parts worldwide. This has created difficulties in classifying brands by means of a two-grade system, both because some brands defy such classification, and because of the bottleneck that results from the attempt to rate too many brands relative to one another in a restricted space.
To alleviate this problem, I have spun off a third type of piano, called Professional Grade, intermediate between Performance and Consumer, consisting of some of the lower-level performance-grade brands and some of the upper-level consumer-grade ones. The pianos on the performance-grade side are lesser product lines from companies principally known for their higher-grade brands. They inherit some of the quality of their superior cousins, but otherwise are quite different. The instruments on the consumer-grade side are brands that in recent years have become so advanced in their designs, materials, and manufacturing technologies that they now rival some performance-grade pianos in musicality and quality control, and are sometimes recommended as a substitute for them, often at a lower price. Truthfully, a number of the consumer-grade brands could fit this description, but I've labeled here as professional grade only those that have received the greatest market acceptance as instruments suitable for professional use. I'm sure, in time, others will follow.