The Definitive Piano Buying Guide
Pianos made by: AXL Musical Instrument Co., Ltd. Corp., Shanghai, China
Although Palatino may be a relatively new name to the piano world, it is not a newcomer to the music business. For almost 20 years, parent company AXL has been manufacturing a full range of musical instruments under its own name and under a variety of other, recognizable brand names. The company has a highly automated factory, employing CNC routers from Japan and Germany, and importing high-quality materials and components for its pianos from around the world.
Palatino makes about 7,000 pianos annually in three categories: Classic, Professional, and Concert. The Classic series includes a 48½" vertical and a 5' grand; the Professional series, a 50" vertical and 5' 9" and 6' 2" grands; and the Concert series, featuring Renner actions and hammers, 5' 9" and 6' 2" grands. Features common to all Palatino pianos include a solid spruce soundboard, high-quality German-felt hammers, hard rock-maple bridges and pinblock, German Röslau strings, wet-sand–cast plate, Renner-style action, slow-close fallboard, solid brass hardware, and adjustable artist bench. In addition, Professional- and Concert-series pianos have soundboards of solid, AAA-grade Canadian white spruce, and German hammers (Renner hammers for the Concert series).
Based on personal observation and dealer reports, Palatino pianos appear to have good quality control and are prepared well at the factory before being shipped to dealers. Our own reviewer tested a couple of the grand models and found them to be very musical and a pleasure to play (see review in the Fall 2009 issue).
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period. Benches and slow-close fallboard mechanisms are warranted for one year.
Parsons Music Corporation, headquartered in Hong Kong, was founded in 1986 by Terence and Arling Ng as a small music-lesson studio. Since then it has become China's largest music retailer, with more than 100 retail locations and 80 music schools throughout China and Hong Kong. In 1997, the company expanded into manufacturing pianos and other musical instruments, and is now the third largest piano maker in China.
At present, all of the pianos Parsons makes for sale in this part of the world are made for and distributed by other companies under those companies' own brand names. However, Parsons manufactures and sells, in China and Hong Kong, its own house brands, Yangtze River, Toyama, and Schönbrunn; manufactures the brand Barrate & Robinson, which it licenses the right to sell in China; has a strategic alliance with Kawai, in which Parsons distributes Kawai pianos in China, and manufactures select Kawai models for sale only in Parsons Music's stores in China; owns the German piano maker Wilh. Steinberg and manufactures some of its models in China; and owns and manufactures the Pianoforce electronic player-piano system. Parsons Music's commitment to piano manufacturing is also demonstrated by its ownership of an iron-plate foundry, a wood-processing facility, and even the forests in which the wood for its instruments is grown. In recent years, Parsons has become known within the piano-manufacturing community as the source of some of the best-made pianos from China.
including Ritmüller and Kayserburg
Pianos made by: Guangzhou Pearl River Piano Group Ltd., Guangzhou, China
Established in 1956, Pearl River Piano Group has become the largest piano manufacturer in the world, with a production of over 125,000 pianos annually by more than 4,000 workers. The company builds pianos under the Pearl River, Ritmüller, and Kayserburg names, as well as under a few other names for OEM contracts with distributors such as Cristofori (with Jordan Kitt's Music) and Essex (with Steinway). (See separate listings under those names.) Pearl River is the best-selling piano brand in China, and is exported to more than 100 countries. After a successful IPO in 2012, the formerly government-owned company completed construction of a new, state-of-the-art, 12-million-sq.-ft. factory, to which it will transition over the next five years. The factory combines traditional craftsmanship with advanced CNC digital machinery, and complies with European high-level technology and process standards.
In recent years, Pearl River has revised and streamlined its model line with the assistance of Lothar Thomma, a well-respected Swiss scale designer, and his colleague Stephen Mohler, who is now head of Pearl River's quality control. Many new models have been introduced, while older models have been reviewed and modified. Currently, Pearl River verticals begin with the 42½" console model UP108 in continental style (no legs), and the 43" console model UP110 in several traditional American furniture styles. They continue with a series of studio models, including the 45" model UP115M5 in a traditional institutional style (legs with toe blocks), and the 45" model UP115E in a school-friendly institutional style with special casters and a full-length music desk. Finally, there are the upright models, including the new 48" model EU122, designed by Lothar Thomma, and the 51½" model UP130TS concert upright.
Pearl River grands come in six sizes, from 4' 11" to 9', and have been redesigned by Thomma over the last two years to include features such as vertically laminated bridges with solid maple caps, lighter touchweights, German hammer felt, and new scale designs.
Pearl River also makes pianos under the Ritmüller name, a brand that originated in Germany in 1795. Prior to 2008, Pearl River's Ritmüller line used the same strung back (structural and acoustical components) as the Pearl River line, but with different cabinets. Lothar Thomma was engaged in 2007 to design, from the ground up, a line of higher-end pianos that would be distinct from the Pearl River line. These instruments were introduced in North America in 2009 under the Ritmüller name. In most other parts of the world, these pianos are branded Kayserburg.
Ritmüller pianos come in three classes: Premium, Performance, and Classic. The Premium models feature solid spruce soundboards, Renner hammers, hornbeam wood actions, and real ebony sharps, among other higher-quality features. Piano Buyer's reviewers have auditioned several of the new grand models and have been very impressed (see reviews in the Fall 2009, Fall 2010, and Fall 2011 issues). The Performance models, introduced in 2014, are all designed by Lothar Thomma and feature unique scales, offset backposts, ebony sharps, high-quality hammers with German Wurzen felt, and a veneered and tapered all-spruce soundboard. The Classic series, introduced in 2011, is a line of lower-cost instruments currently comprising three vertical models. Also designed by Thomma, they feature a veneered and tapered all-spruce soundboard and German Röslau strings.
In 2013, Pearl River brought to North America the upper-level Kayserburg Artists series. These instruments are handmade by two dozen of Pearl River's most experienced craftsmen, personally managed by Stephen Mohler in what can be described only as a small "German" piano workshop inside a large Chinese piano factory. The Kayserburg Artists craftsmen have all completed a rigorous training that includes studying the world's finest pianos and working side by side with visiting European craftsmen. The Kayserburg Artists pianos contain such high-end features as soundboards of tight-grained, solid European spruce, Renner hammers, Laoureux (French) damper felt, German Röslau strings, vertically laminated maple bridges with rosewood cores and solid beech caps, German IvoryLeit natural keytops, and genuine ebony sharps.
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.
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