If you are looking for ADS FOR PIANO-RELATED PRODUCTS AND SERVICES and don't see any here, please turn off the AD-BLOCKING FEATURE in your web browser, or list www.pianobuyer.com as an EXCEPTION.






Review: Kawai GX: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

DR. OWEN LOVELL, Piano Review Editor (Spring 2014)

FOR A GENERATION of pianists, piano buyers, technicians, and retailers, the mid-level grand pianos made by Kawai 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, model lines have been revised: Kawai's RX-BLAK series is now called GX-BLAK. With the assistance of the company, I had a chance to do side-by-side comparisons between 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.

Kawai GX-2 vs. RX-2

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.

The keys of the GX-BLAK models are about one inch longer than those of their predecessors, the RX-BLAKs.

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.

Although, as of this writing, new RX-BLAK instruments can still be found in some dealer inventories, the GX-BLAK series pianos have begun to appear, and will ultimately replace the RX models. The GX models have longer keys than the equivalent RX pianos, which Kawai says provides better touch control, similar to that of a larger piano, and lengthens some GX models by about an inch. The GX pinblock is fitted to the plate, overlapped by the stretcher, and anchored to the rim of the piano for greater tuning stability and rigidity. Soundboard tapering and string scaling have been changed slightly. Kawai also notes for the GX an updated rim construction, called Konsei Katagi, of alternating layers of small- and large-pore hardwoods: one for power and projection, the other for warmth. The finishes, materials, and quality control are otherwise identical.

While I was visiting the Boston area, Kawai provided me the opportunity to try — at Piano Mill, a dealer in Rockland, Massachusetts — old and new versions of one model in this series: the 5' 10" RX-2 BLAK (a Piano Buyer "Staff Pick") and the 5' 11" GX-2 BLAK.

From this player's perspective, these instruments have very similar tonal characteristics: good clarity of the low bass for the size, a relatively smooth transition from copper-wound bass strings to plain-wire tenor strings (often a weakness in smaller pianos), and a treble tone without harsh attack sound unless pushed to the absolute dynamic limit. The treble section exhibits an adequate amount of sustain, a slight sense of warmth that's missing from the sound of many other Asian pianos, and a dynamic range obviously intended for rooms of small to moderate size. Even so-called "mass-produced" pianos are never identical to a discerning ear, and the RX-2 I tested had a more focused sound than the slightly woollier-sounding GX-2 nearby, though the tonal resemblance of the two instruments was otherwise unmistakable. Both pianos were finished in polished ebony, and shared the same adjustable music-desk design with aluminum reinforcement and a hard finish that seem to hold up well in real-world use.

Not surprisingly, given the increase in key length, it's the performance of its action that distinguishes the new GX-2 from the RX-2. The differences in responsiveness and touch control are subtle; I'll try to describe them using a familiar piece of repertoire. Haydn's Piano Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI:6, a favorite early Classical work of my former teacher that I learned at the start of my doctoral studies many years ago, has never left my fingers. Ebullient and light in style, and littered with decorations, it requires great dexterity at the fingertip level and little use of arm weight. In terms of interpretation, the sonata seems to beg for additional ornamentation at the performer's whim with each successive section repeat or da capo, and even a short cadenza or two placed after dramatic fermatas in the slow movement. The very sparsely notated second movement, a minuet and trio, easily incites in me a level of florid ornamentation that borders the fringes of good stylistic taste and drives my technique and the capabilities of the piano to the limits of control and intelligibility. In short, this sonata is perfect for this comparison.

Setting the keys into motion — for example, when carefully balancing the left-hand chords of the slow movement — required a subtly more deliberate effort on the RX-2 than on the GX-2. In actual playing, I found that very fast passages tended to "speak" a little more readily on the GX-2. For example, the RX-2 would repeat and reproduce fast passages with a high degree of competence, but in the ornamented second movement, and in the terrifically rapid finale, I found myself analyzing my posture and hand shape to reliably reproduce notes in passages that demanded the most finger dexterity — not so with the GX-2. Kawai notes that a very subtle difference provided by the longer keys of the GX-2 is greater leverage — and, by association, control — when playing the shorter black keys, or when striking the keys farther in toward the fallboard, something pianists often must do.

With the new GX-BLAK series, Kawai has subtly upgraded one of the most popular series of mid-level grand pianos. The GX-BLAK action merges the company's penchant for high-technology materials with easy playability that will please both novice and professional pianists; these qualities, combined with the pleasant tonal attributes and modest size of the RX-2, make the evolved GX-2 a worthy successor and a Piano Buyer "Staff Pick."

Dr. Owen Lovell is an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. He concertizes frequently as a soloist, chamber musician, and advocate of new music. For more information, visit his website at www.owenlovell.com.

Rate It!
    (Ratings: 0   Avg: )

Reader Comments

KAWAI KG-2E issues - S. Dankner
By: Stephen Dankner Created: 03/30/2018
I purchased a consigned Kawai KG-2E 5'10" medium grand in September 2017, vintage 1990. It's in excellent condition and has no wear inside and out, with no defects, according to a certified piano technician who inspected it. It appears to have been played very little, if at all. The touch/action is smooth and responsive, and is to my taste at 50 grams, down from 56, made by the dealer’s technician prior to purchase. After delivery, I had a Dampp-Chaser system installed and the piano holds its tune well. I plan to have it tuned 3-4 times a year. My concerns have to do with the piano's overall small sound and limited projection/tonal character; it now, after six months, feels overly mellow or muted, as if the una corda pedal were continually activated; the bass has shallow depth and the piano's fullness as a result is intimate, similar to an upright's - not the resonant sound I’d prefer. The piano’s sound was initially small, as it is now. But it was in a tight space in the showroom. My home has 18-foot ceilings (A-frame) and hardwood maple floors with no rug underneath the piano, so I was expecting the room to amplify the sound substantially. It does, but only slightly. The ceilings are wood beams, and there is some reverberation in the room. I can’t move the piano - actually it’s in the perfect space for its size and appearance, which is a fabulous gloss black with no case wear or defects. The space really is ideal for a small-to-medium grand. I’m hoping that a technician can help create a fuller, somewhat more brilliant sound and projection, without losing much of the intimacy and sensitivity that initially attracted me to this instrument; I’d like to add character and color to a sound that already possesses warmth and sensitivity. Can these issues be addressed/corrected by hardening the hammers and by voicing? I recently played two Yamahas - both G3 grands; they are only three inches longer, at 6'1", but the fullness and depth were, by comparison, amazingly deep and full, with bold projection. Is it possible to approximate that on my Kawai with adjustments, or am I asking for too much? I realize that Yamaha and Kawai have different aesthetic capabilities. I'd appreciate your thoughts. S. Dankner Email: [email protected]

Comments Form

Get involved, join the discussion! We encourage you to tell us your thoughts and comments below.