The Definitive Piano Buying Guide
Beijing Hsinghai Piano Group, Ltd., part of the Beijing Hsinghai Musical Instruments Co., has been producing pianos in Beijing, China, since 1949. It manufactures more than 50,000 vertical and grand pianos annually, mostly for domestic Chinese consumption. In 2005 the company consolidated its three older plants into a new facility of 1.2 million square feet. The pianos are available throughout the world under the Otto Meister and Hsinghai (or Xinghai) labels, as well as under various other labels as joint ventures with other manufacturers and distributors, including Wyman and Altenburg. Kawai also has a joint venture with Beijing, though the pianos (formerly under the name Linden) are distributed only in Canada and Europe.
including Haessler and Rönisch. See also Irmler.
Blüthner USA LLC
5660 W. Grand River
Lansing, Michigan 48906
In Canada, contact Bluethner Piano Canada Inc.
Pianos made by: Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, Leipzig, Germany
Blüthner has been making pianos of the highest quality in Leipzig, in the eastern part of Germany, since 1853, and though nationalized in 1972, always remained under the management of the Blüthner family. Until 1900, Blüthner was Europe's largest piano factory. During World War II, the factory was bombed, but after the war the East German government allowed the Blüthner family and workers to rebuild it because the Blüthner piano was considered a national treasure (and because the Soviet Union needed quality pianos). With the liberation of Eastern Europe, Blüthner is again privately owned by the Blüthner family.
Blüthner pianos have beech rims (grands), solid spruce soundboards, Delignit pinblocks, Renner actions, Abel hammers, and polyester finishes. Pianos for export have three pedals, including sostenuto on the grands, and celeste (practice) on the verticals. Blüthner builds about 100 verticals a year in four sizes, and 500 grands a year in six sizes.
In addition to numerous specialized furniture styles and finishes, Blüthner has two recently issued special editions. In honor of the company's 150th anniversary, Blüthner introduced a Jubilee model with a commemorative cast-iron plate in the style of the special-edition pianos of a century ago. It is available in several sizes, in any style or finish. A Julius Blüthner edition honoring the founder of the company, now operated by the fifth generation of his family, is available in most grand sizes, and features, among other embellishments, brass inlays in the lid, round Victorian legs, and a very fancy, elaborately carved music desk in the styling designed by the founder.
Blüthner pianos incorporate several unique technical features. With aliquot stringing, the notes in the highest treble section (about the top two octaves) have four strings each instead of three. The extra string is raised slightly above the others and vibrates only sympathetically. The effect, heard mainly in medium to forte playing, is similar to that of a duplex scale, adding tonal color to the treble and aiding the singing tone. Another feature concerns the angled hammers, which may at first look odd, though the reason may not be readily apparent. It turns out that the angled hammers are actually cut at an angle to match the string line and mounted straight on the shanks instead of being cut straight and mounted at an angle like other brands. The company says that the effect is to more evenly distribute the force of the blow across both the strings and the hammers, and to make a firmer connection with the backchecks, which are also positioned in a straight line. Visually, the effect is an even, rather than a staggered, hammer line.
In what is perhaps a world's first, Blüthner has designed and built a piano for left-handed pianists. This is a completely backward piano, with the treble keys, hammers, and strings on the left and the bass on the right. When it was introduced, a pianist gave a concert on it after only a couple of hours of practice! It is currently available in the 6' 10" and 9' 2" sizes by special order (price not available).
With voicing, Blüthner pianos have a very full sound that is warm, romantic, and lyrical, generally deeper and darker than some of their German counterparts. Sustain is good, but at a low level of volume, giving the tone a refined, delicate character. The action is a little light, but responsive. The pianos are built of superb materials, and are favorably priced compared to some of their competitors.
In the 1990s a Haessler line of pianos was added to the Blüthner line. (Haessler is a Blüthner family name.) Created to better compete in the American market, Haessler pianos have more conventional technical and cosmetic features than Blüthner pianos and cost about 25 percent less. For example, the grands are loop-strung instead of single-strung, there is no aliquot stringing, and the hammers are cut and mounted in the conventional way. Case and plate cosmetics are simpler. The pianos are made in the Blüthner factory in Germany to similarly high quality standards.
Blüthner now also owns the Rönisch brand, established by Carl Rönisch in Dresden in 1845. In his day, Rönisch was a pioneer in piano building, and his instruments were sold throughout the world. Rönisch's son sold the company after World War I, and production was moved to Leipzig after the Dresden factory was bombed in 1945. During the Communist era, the company was taken over by the state and combined with other piano factories, becoming privately owned again in the 1990s. In 2009, Blüthner purchased Rönisch and integrated the manufacturing of Rönisch pianos into its own factory. The pianos were redesigned, and are now offered in three vertical and three grand sizes, in more than 100 cabinet styles, woods, and finishes.
Warranty: Blüthner and Haessler — 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.
The Dongbei Piano Company in China is owned by Baldwin Piano Company, a subsidiary of Gibson Guitar Corporation, and until fairly recently made pianos that were sold in North America by various distributors and under a variety of names, including Baldwin, Everett, and Hallet, Davis & Co. (see listings under those names). Pianos made under the names Nordiska and Weinbach are no longer distributed in the U.S.
Dongbei is Chinese for "northeast." In 1952, Dongbei was formed by splitting off from a government-owned piano factory in Shanghai and establishing a new government-owned factory in the northeastern part of the country. Dongbei began a process of modernization in 1988 when it purchased the designs and manufacturing equipment for a vertical piano model from the Swedish company Nordiska when that company went out of business. The Swedish-designed model 116 vertical was strikingly more advanced than Dongbei's own Prince and Princess lines. (At that time, Dongbei made only vertical pianos.)
In 1991 Dongbei entered into an agreement with Korean piano maker Daewoo whereby Daewoo would assist Dongbei in improving its production of vertical pianos. In 1996 that relationship was extended to the design and production of grands. In 1997, when Daewoo decided to leave the piano business, Dongbei purchased nearly all of Daewoo's grand-piano manufacturing equipment and began making grands. Export to the U.S. began in 1994 under the brand name Sagenhaft, at first only of vertical pianos. When the export of grands began in 1998, other brand names, such as Nordiska, Everett, and Story & Clark, began to become available, and over the next 10 years production for both domestic use and for export grew enormously.
When Daewoo left the piano business in 1997, some of the technicians and designers sent by Daewoo to advise Dongbei stayed on with Dongbei for many years, during which they designed numerous new piano models. Some of these technicians had trained in both Korea and Germany. In the opinion of many technicians who have examined a variety of pianos from China, the Dongbei grand-piano designs are musically among the best and most successful.
In early 2007 Gibson Musical Instruments, parent of Baldwin Piano Company, acquired Dongbei Piano and renamed it Baldwin Dongbei (Yingkou) Piano and Musical Instrument Co., Ltd., thus creating a major piano-manufacturing power in China with two plants. (The other plant, Baldwin [Zhongshan] Piano and Musical Instrument Co., Ltd., is in southern China.) To make the formerly government-owned operation more efficient and profitable, Baldwin had to reduce the size of Dongbei's workforce and production output. Due to a dispute with the Chinese government over these issues, however, piano production at Dongbei was discontinued, and Baldwin is contracting with Parsons Music, another Chinese piano maker, to manufacture Baldwin grand pianos.
Pianos made by: Guangzhou Pearl River Piano Group Ltd., Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China
Essex pianos are designed by Steinway & Sons engineers and are made in China by Pearl River. Steinway introduced its Essex line of pianos in early 2001 with a limited offering of models made by Young Chang, and the brand kept an unusually low profile in the piano market for a number of years. In 2006, a major relaunch of Essex included a new and very complete line comprising 35 grand and 31 vertical models and finishes.
Today, two grand sizes and three vertical scales are made. The 42" model EUP-108 is a continental-style version of the 44" model EUP-111 console. The 46" model EUP-116 studio is available in 10 different and striking cabinets designed by Steinway & Sons and renowned furniture designer William Faber. Styles include: Classic, Queen Anne, Italian Provincial, French Country, Formal French, English Country, English Traditional, Contemporary, and Sheraton Traditional. These models incorporate various leg designs (including cabriole leg, spoon leg, and canopy-styled tapered leg and arm designs) and hand-carved trim (such as Acanthus leaf and tulip designs, and vertical bead molding), highly molded top lids, picture-frame front panels, and stylized, decorative music desks. The 48" model EUP-123 upright comes in a traditional style in four finishes, along with Empire and French styles; an all-new school model, the EUP-123S, is offered in ebony polish only.
The Essex grands are available in 5' 1" (EGP-155) and 5' 8" (EGP-173) sizes in Classic and French Provincial styles. They come in a variety of regular and exotic veneers in high polish polyester and satin luster (semigloss) finishes.
Like Steinway's Boston pianos, the Essex line was designed with a lower tension scale and incorporates many Steinway-designed refinements. Included in these are a wide tail design that allows the bridges to be positioned closer to the more lively, central part of the soundboard, smoothing out the break between bass and treble. This and a thinner, tapered solid-spruce soundboard, and other scaling differences, produce a tone with a longer sustain. Other Steinway-designed features include an all-wood action with Steinway geometry, and with rosette-shaped hammer flanges, like those used in Steinway grands, to preserve hammer spacing; pear-shaped hammers with reinforced shoulders and metal fasteners; vertically laminated bridges with a solid maple cap; duplex scale; radial bracing (in grands); and staggered backposts (in verticals).
Steinway has put an immense amount of time and effort into the relaunch of Essex. The pianos are entirely new designs by Steinway engineers, not warmed-over designs from other companies. Steinway has a permanent office in Shanghai, China, and full-time employees who inspect the pianos made in the Asian factory. I expect that the quality of the Essex pianos will be toward the upper end of what these factories are capable of producing. So far, feedback from piano technicians confirms this expectation.
Steinway guarantees full trade-in value for an Essex piano toward the purchase of a Steinway grand within 10 years.
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.
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