OR A GENERATION of pianists, piano buyers, technicians, and retailers, the mid-level grand pianos made by Kawai and Yamaha have achieved benchmark status among mass-produced instruments. These pianos have historically offered levels of quality, performance, and value that less-well-established or cheaper brands have aspired to match, and are often purchased as less-expensive substitutes for instruments costing twice as much.
In the past two years, these model lines have been revised: Kawai’s RX-BLAK series is now called GX-BLAK, and Yamaha’s C models have been replaced by the CX line. With the assistance of both companies, I had a chance to do side-by-side comparisons between a couple of the new models and their immediate predecessors. How have their tone, touch, and/or appearance changed? Can the changes be described as evolutionary or revolutionary? My observations follow.
Unveiled at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) 2013 trade show, Kawai's GX series of grand pianos evolved from the company's venerable RX series. At NAMM, Piano Buyer staff members had a chance to speak with Kawai's technical and marketing representatives about the instruments, and briefly tried each new model.
Long an unabashed proponent of the use, in piano actions, of plastic and composite materials as alternatives to wood, Kawai has a history of frequently updating its acoustic piano models. Those familiar with past Kawai grand models will recall the introduction, in 1996, of the RX series with its Ultra Responsive action made of ABS Styran, updated in 2004 with the carbon-fiber–reinforced Millennium III action; and, in 2010, the introduction of a resin-reinforced hammer shank in the RX-BLAK series action. Other Kawai grand series include the entry-level GM models, the cost-efficient and slightly larger GE pianos, and the limited-production, high-end Shigeru Kawai series. (continued on page 55)
Released in 2012, Yamaha's CX series of grand piano models replaces the established C series, formerly known as the Conservatory Collection. Over the past five decades, the C-series pianos have earned an almost legendary reputation for consistency, durability, and value, and can be found in frequent use in institutions, homes, and even concert halls. Like the C models, the CX instruments are made in Japan, and are priced and positioned between the lower-cost, basic GB and GC lines and the premium, hand-built CF series.
Refinements in the CX series include materials trickled down from Yamaha's flagship CFX concert grand, an instrument that underwent nearly two decades of design and development before being launched in 2010. Throughout the CX series, hammer felt is identical in quality to that of the CFX, while the 6' 1" C3X and larger models also benefit from the same method of soundboard-bridge-rim assembly as the CFX. In its description of the new models, Yamaha also points to a strengthened back frame, changes in cabinet appearance, higher-quality music wire, and a slow-close fallboard and a lid-prop stopper. (Re: the last two features, the piano industry seems obsessed with finger-pinching accidents, which, in 33 years of playing, I've yet to experience.) (continued on page 56)
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