The Definitive Piano Buying Guide
The Conservatory Classic and Conservatory Concert Collections of C-series grands were replaced in 2012 with the CX series, consisting of the 5' 3" model C1X, the 5' 8" model C2X, the 6' 1" model C3X, the 6' 7" model C5X, the 7' model C6X, and the 7' 6" model C7X. The new CX series incorporates some of the design elements of the limited-production CF series (see below) into the higher-production C-series pianos to create a sound more like that of a high-end American or European instrument — see our review in this issue. Features include a European spruce soundboard crowned using CF-series technology, a thicker rim and bracing, German music wire, additional time spent voicing, regulating, and tuning by very skilled craftsmen, and some changes in cabinet design.
Both the C and CX models have the advanced construction, scaling, and cabinetry mentioned earlier, including a true sostenuto pedal and a soft-close fallboard. Both also have vertically laminated bridges with maple or boxwood cap. The vertically laminated design is similar to that found in Steinways and other fine pianos, and is considered to give the bridges greater strength and resistance to cracking and better transmission of vibrational energy. All C and CX grands have keytops of Ivorite™, Yamaha's ivory alternative.
Finally, the new CF Series Concert Grand Pianos consist of the 9' model CFX (replacing the model CFIIIS), and the 6' 3" model CF4 and 7' model CF6 (respectively replacing, in the U.S., the models S4B and S6B, which will remain available by special order only). The pianos in this collection are made in a separate factory to much higher standards and with some different materials: e.g., maple and mahogany in the rim, which is made more rigid, for greater tonal power, than in the other collections; higher-grade soundboard material; a treble "bell" (as in the larger Steinways) to enhance treble tone; German strings, and hammer and scaling changes, for a more mellow tone; as well as the more advanced features of the other collections. The result is an instrument capable of greater dynamic range, tonal color, and sustain than the regular Yamahas. The new CF-series pianos have a thicker rim and more substantial structure than their predecessors, for greater strength and tonal projection, and the method for developing the soundboard crown has been changed to allow the soundboard to vibrate more freely and with greater resonance. The models CF4 and CF6 have an open pinblock design reminiscent of some European pianos, which gives the tuner slightly greater control over the tuning pins. Yamaha says that the CF series represents 19 years of research and development by its craftsmen, designers, and engineers. The Yamaha concert grand is endorsed and used by a number of notable musicians, including Olga Kern, Michael Tilson Thomas, Chick Corea, and Elton John.
Other than the special grands just described, Yamaha grands have historically been a little on the percussive side and have been said not to "sing" as well as some more expensive pianos. The tone has been very clear and often bright, especially in the smaller grands, although the excessive brightness that once characterized Yamahas seems to be a thing of the past. The clarity and percussiveness are very attractive, but are sometimes said to be less well suited for classical music, which tends to require a singing tone and lush harmonic color. On the other hand, Yamaha is the piano of choice for jazz and popular music, which may value clarity and brightness more than the other qualities mentioned. More recently, however, Yamaha has been trying to move away from this image of a "bright" piano whose sound is limited to jazz. First with its larger grands, and more recently with the smaller ones, Yamaha has changed the bridge construction and hammer density, and provided more custom voicing at the factory, to bring out a broader spectrum of tonal color.
Both Yamaha's quality control and its warranty and technical service are legendary in the piano business. They are the standard against which every other company is measured. For general home and school use, piano technicians probably recommend Yamaha pianos more often than any other brand. Their precision, reliability, and performance make them a very good value for a consumer product.
Yamaha also makes a piano under the name Cable-Nelson. The verticals are made in Yamaha's factory in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, southwest of Shanghai, where the company also makes guitars. The 45" model CN116 is an institutional-style vertical with a laminated soundboard. The model CN216 is a furniture-style version of the 116. The 5' Cable-Nelson grand model CN151 is made in Indonesia alongside the Yamaha grand model GB1K.
Cable-Nelson is the name of an old American piano maker whose roots can be traced back to 1903. Yamaha acquired the name when it bought the Everett Piano Company, in 1973, and used the name in conjunction with Everett pianos until 1981.
There is a thriving market for used Yamahas. If you're considering buying a used Yamaha, please read "Should I Buy a Used, ‘Gray Market' Yamaha or Kawai Piano?" on pages 176–177 of The Piano Book, and "Buying a Used or Restored Piano" in this publication.
Yamaha also makes electronic player pianos called Disklaviers, as well as a variety of hybrid acoustic/digital instruments — including Silent Piano (formerly called MIDIPiano), the AvantGrand series, and the model NU1, that account for a substantial percentage of the company's sales. These products are separately reviewed in the articles "Buying an Electronic Player-Piano System" and "Hybrid Pianos."
Warranty: Yamaha and Cable-Nelson — 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.
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