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High-End Pianos

The Uncompromising World of High-End Pianos

by Sally Phillips (Spring 2016)  PDF

Those who’ve found themselves in a showroom full of beautifully crafted, prestige and high-performance pianos know that the experience can be both impressive and unnerving — impressive for obvious reasons, unnerving because of the extraordinary prices these instruments command — from $50,000 to $150,000 or more. Sometimes, novice buyers question whether the prices are justified—or are just the result of the clever marketing of well-known brand names. In this article, I explain what sets high-end pianos apart from less costly ones that might, at least superficially, look the same, and why the higher price can be justified. This discussion should be considered general in nature, however; actual differences will depend on the specific brands and models compared, and the differences in their prices.

Are "Hand-Built" Pianos Becoming Obsolete?

by George F. Emerson (Spring 2013)  PDF

Piano Buyer asked veteran piano designer George F. Emerson — whose 48-year piano-industry career has included employment with Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, and, most recently, Hailun — to comment on how globalization and the computerization of manufacturing have affected the piano industry, and whether there is still a place for expensive, "hand-built" instruments. Following Emerson's remarks are responses from representatives of several companies that manufacture "hand-built" pianos. Finally, Emerson has the last word.

One by One: Boutique Piano Builders in the 21st Century

by Steve Brady (Fall 2012)  PDF

For several decades in the 20th century, most of the larger piano makers cast their own plates, bent their own rims, glued up their own soundboards and pinblocks, and manufactured their own action parts. Some makers took such vertical integration to the point of owning their own forests and sawmills. Now, however, in the 21st century, specialization has once again become commonplace. Although a few of the largest piano manufacturers still produce virtually all parts for their pianos, most purchase action parts and hammers from companies that specialize in such components, soundboards and pinblocks from a wood-products firm, plates from a foundry, and so on. Along with this specialization, a remarkable breed of craftsperson has begun to build high-quality grand pianos in a workshop setting, defying the conventional wisdom that pianos must be made in large quantities by large corporations.

Regulation & Voicing: What Buyers of Performance-Quality Pianos Should Know

by Sally Phillips (Fall 2012)  PDF

Many pianists believe a piano’s action or tone can’t be changed, or that the performance quality of a piano or action is determined solely by its brand. But any piano’s action can go out of regulation, become dirty and worn, suffer from neglect, or merely vary within a normal range — top-rated brands are no exceptions. Many wonderful instruments, new and used, are rejected by buyers because a lack of recent or competent service — or both — is disguising their true potential. Many a hidden gem is available to the buyer who asks the right questions, and can find the right technician to solve an instrument’s problems.

 

 

Selecting a Performance Piano For Concert Hall or Home

by Sally Phillips (Fall 2011)  PDF

The selection of a concert grand usually falls to piano faculty at a university, the music director at a church, or pianists hired to choose an instrument for an orchestra. Occasionally these pianos are selected for homes. This article assumes that you have chosen a brand and model, and are now about to select a specific instrument from among several examples. Professional pianists are most qualified to make these selections because they generally have played a large variety of pianos, and the differences among the pianos in the selection group may be so subtle as to go unnoticed by the average person. In most cases, these high-quality finalists sound so good that it is very difficult to choose one as better than the rest. This article attempts to define and shorten the selection process.

"Fit and Finish" Improvements at Steinway & Sons: A Photo Essay

by Larry Fine (Spring 2011)  PDF

Due to its position for more than a century and a half as maker of America's preeminent concert piano, Steinway & Sons has often been a lightning rod for controversy and criticism. Some of these controversies, such as the Teflon-bushing debacle of the 1960s and '70s and the allegations of cracked soundboards in the 1990s, were played out in an unusually public way — unusual because of the highly arcane technical nature of the issues involved, and because of the relatively small size of the piano industry in modern times. Just as Steinway is a lightning rod for criticism, it seems only right that its improvements should also be given prompt coverage. In that spirit, the following photo essay, with photos supplied by Steinway & Sons, describe some of the recent changes and improvements I saw at the Steinway factory.

Technicians Speak About the High-End Brands They Service

Part 1 (Spring 2010)  PDF

Part 2 (Fall 2010)  PDF

Piano technicians who eventually drift toward the high-end market are usually people who appreciate quality, strive for excellence, and can even be called connoisseurs. Their mission is to provide the pianist with a sublime, inspiring, creative, and enjoyable experience every time he or she plays the instrument. It's a paradox, but their goal is achieved when the pianist forgets about the piano and is able to focus exclusively on the music being played. … In the short pieces below, you'll hear from the people who service these instruments — some of the most respected piano technicians in the country. Each technician has extensive hands-on experience with the specific brand(s) he writes about. All of them strive for quality and perfection, and have intimate relationships with the pianos, inside and out. Although you'll recognize common ground in these technicians' opinions, there are also differences, and each speaks only for himself.

Piano Dealers Speak About Their High-End Brands

(Fall 2009)  PDF

In order to give prospective buyers of high-end pianos a better sense of the individual personalities of these brands, we will occasionally provide selected dealers, technicians, and pianists the opportunity to describe the musical and other qualities of the high-end brands they represent, service, or play. The brands presented will vary from issue to issue. As you'll see over time, although different writers often describe the same brands in very different ways, certain common themes are evident.

 

This is a complete archive of Piano Buyer’s feature articles since the publication’s inception in Fall 2009. It is divided into five topics: General, High-End Pianos, Rebuilding, Reviews — Acoustic Pianos, and Reviews — Digital Pianos. Each title is followed by an excerpt to give you a sense of what the article is about. Each article is available in PDF format.

Reviews — Acoustic Pianos

Review: August Förster

by David J. Korevaar (Spring 2016)  PDF

When I was asked to review some new instruments from the German piano maker August Förster, I recalled my last encounter with this brand. Several years ago, I made two trips to Tajikistan, a country that had been, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, riven by low-grade civil conflict, and from which many of the Russians who had supported musical culture had fled. Along with a number of concert instruments by Blüthner, August Förster had been one of the main suppliers of better-quality instruments to the farther reaches of the Soviet Union; these were still around but unmaintained—and, I assumed, not representative of that maker’s best new work.

Review: Grotrian Pianos

by James Wrubel (Fall 2015)  PDF

As a classically trained jazz pianist who has performed in the U. S. and abroad, I've played a wide variety of pianos. But until January 2015, when I attended the NAMM Show — the world's largest music trade show, sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) — I had never played a piano made by Grotrian, the prestigious German firm established in 1835 and now managed by the sixth generation of the Grotrian family. After a day of sampling pianos ranging from Hailun to Fazioli to the custom-made Ravenscroft, I saw two of Grotrian's larger grand models in a busy corridor. I played each for a few minutes, and although my playing was drowned out by the din of the show, I nevertheless walked away with a favorable first impression.

Review: Perzina Pianos

by Brent Watkins (Fall 2015)  PDF

As a pianist who performs both classical and jazz repertoire, I look for pianos with a wide enough tonal palette to meet the different demands of those genres. Often, a piano will perform wonderfully for a lush Brahms intermezzo, yet fall short in an up-tempo arrangement of a Bill Evans tune. Sometimes it seems that, in designing and voicing their instruments, piano makers must choose between sounds that are warm and rich or bright and articulate. But today, more than ever, a pianist is expected to be proficient in a wide variety of styles, from Bach preludes to Prokofiev sonatas. I have often felt that to give these works their due, and to fulfill the demands of each style, would require two or more pianos. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that pianos from Perzina, a brand previously unknown to me, display the versatility I've been looking for in a single instrument.

Review: Petrof Grands

by Benjamin Boren (Spring 2015)  PDF

As a pianist who has played mostly pianos owned by the universities I've attended and at which I've taught and performed, I've rarely had the opportunity to try out instruments by makers other than Baldwin, Bösendorfer, Mason & Hamlin, Steinway, and Yamaha. I had heard of the Petrof brand, but had neither seen nor played one before. With the help of Joe Brattesani of World Class Pianos, in the San Francisco peninsula city of Burlingame, California, I was able, for this review, to sample three recently upgraded models: the Bora (5' 2"), the Breeze (5' 6"), and the Storm (6' 2").

Review: Kawai GX and Yamaha CX: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

by Dr. Owen Lovell (Spring 2014)  PDF

For 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.

Review: Four Baldwin Models

by Dr. James Lent (Spring 2014)  PDF

It was my pleasure recently to tour Hollywood Piano Company, in Burbank, California, and to play four models of Baldwin piano on display there. Two of the models, introduced a few years ago, were very affordable uprights priced under $10,000; the other two, released more recently, were mid-level grands priced under $30,000. Having grown up practicing on a Baldwin upright — my first piano — and playing on a Baldwin grand in church while in high school, I was curious to see how the company’s products had evolved since my earliest years of playing.

Review: Schimmel's Updated Konzert Series Grand Pianos

by Kiyoshi Tamagawa (Fall 2013)  PDF

Having studied and performed mainly in the United States, I have regarded Steinways, both American and German, as the gold standard for high-end pianos, with fond memories of individual Bösendorfers, Grotrians, and Faziolis I've encountered on my travels. Prior to trying them for this review, I had not previously played a Schimmel piano or heard reports about them from colleagues, so I was approaching them free of any preconceptions.

 

Review: Seiler Model 186

by Kristian Klefstad (Fall 2012)  PDF

For this review, I spent time with three models of Seiler grand piano from their 186 line: the SE186, made entirely at the Seiler factory in Germany with all-German parts, as it has been for many years; the ES186, whose cabinet and strung back (sound body) are made in Indonesia to the same specifications as the German-made model, then shipped to Germany, where the Renner action and German hammers are installed and the instrument is finished musically; and the ED186, also made to the same specs as the German model, but assembled and finished musically entirely in Indonesia, with an action comprising a mixture of Renner and Samick parts. All three models are about the same size: 6' 1” or 6’ 2”. To add an element of mystery — and objectivity — to the review process, I was not told the specific model or origin of any of the pianos until I had completed the audition and made my notes.

Review: The New Feurich Pianos

by Owen Lovell (Spring 2012)  PDF

Feurich (Ningbo) pianos are a new range of models resulting from the merger of Wendl & Lung, of Vienna, Austria, and Feurich, a very-small-production German company. These less-expensive instruments (three grand and three upright sizes are currently offered), formerly marketed under the Wendl & Lung brand, are built at the Hailun factory in Ningbo, China, and supplement the traditional series of Feurich pianos, which continue to be produced exclusively in Gunzenhausen, Germany.

Review: The Best Chinese Professional-Size Grands

by Judith Cohen (Fall 2011)  PDF

For this issue's piano review, Piano Buyer asked concert pianist Judith Cohen to try out five of the highest-rated Chinese grands between 6' and 6' 6" long. This is a size range of piano commonly used by professionals — larger than the pianos in most homes, but smaller than those found on concert stages. The author concludes by commenting on the tradeoff between price and performance when considering whether to purchase a moderately priced or a high-end instrument.

Review: Inexpensive, Entry-Level Vertical Pianos

by Larry Fine and volunteer reviewers (Spring 2011)  PDF

New entry-level console pianos provide a reasonable option for consumers who wish to spend the least amount of money for an instrument. Advantages of purchasing such a piano over a used one include a factory warranty, knowing that the instrument is starting life in your home in new condition, and perhaps more easily finding a cabinet style that matches the furniture in your home. Though certainly built to a "price point," and with other limitations that accompany a small size, an entry-level console is a practical starter piano for the price-conscious beginner or casual hobbyist.

Buying a Grand Piano Less than Five Feet Long

by Larry Fine and volunteer reviewers (Fall 2010)  PDF

There was a time when, as they say, I wouldn't have wrapped fish in a grand piano under five feet long. The short cases of these pianos place severe constraints on string length and soundboard design, and often result in instruments with poor tone. Given these pianos' lack of musical qualities, most buyers have been understandably more interested in them as pieces of furniture than as musical instruments. To compete at this end of the market, manufacturers have traditionally needed to make and sell such pianos as inexpensively as possible, sometimes skimping on materials until the pianos just barely hold together. The smallest of these instruments made by American manufacturers in the 1980s were referred to derisively by piano technicians as "piano-shaped objects." Times have changed. While much of the above is still true to some extent, great strides have been made in the intelligent design and construction of small pianos.

Performance-Grade 'Value' Pianos

by Dr. Owen Lovell and Adrean Farrugia (Spring 2010)   PDF

For this review, I asked two professional pianists, Dr. Owen Lovell and Adrean Farrugia, both active members of the Piano World online community, to play and write about the pianos I have labeled as "Group 3" instruments: performance-grade pianos that lie at the less costly end of the price spectrum. The task was divided up, and the specific instruments to review were chosen, largely on the basis of which brands and models were available in each reviewer's geographic area. Permission to audition the pianos was requested from the respective dealers, who were also given the opportunity to prepare the pianos to show their best.

Chinese-made Grands: An Attractive, Affordable Option

by Mary C. Smith (Fall 2009)  PDF

Several well-made small and medium-sized grand pianos are now available from Chinese manufacturers at a considerable savings to consumers over their American and European counterparts, and even over most other Asian models. Piano Buyer decided to take advantage of the large number of piano manufacturers exhibiting at this year's Winter NAMM, the music-industry trade show in Anaheim, California, by having me test-drive some of the reputedly better Chinese brands. I concentrated on the most popular sizes suitable for the home. The manufacturers were alerted to my impending visit so that they could prepare the instruments to perform their best. While any of the pianos I tried would be a good choice, I did come away with favorites.

 

Rebuilding

Rebuilding the New York Way

by Sally Phillips (Spring 2015)  PDF

From 1789 to the present, over 100 different companies, most of them now long gone, have manufactured pianos in New York City. They have included Decker & Sons, Mathushek, Mehlin & Sons, Steinway & Sons, and Weber, to name a few of the better known. This extensive piano-manufacturing presence made New York the ultimate piano town, where craftsmen from Great Britain and continental Europe migrated and stayed, working in an industry that supplied the 19th and early 20th centuries' burgeoning world of pianists with nearly endless choice in price and quality. While many of those older pianos are still in use, many others have or soon will have reached the end of their useful life, and will need rebuilding if their owners — families, churches, schools, museums, and universities — want to continue to use them as musical instruments. To serve that need, the piano-building tradition of a century ago lingers on in the many fine rebuilding shops of present-day New York.

Upright Cabinet Styles in American Piano Manufacturing, 1880–1930

by Marth Taylor (Spring 2012)  PDF

From about 1880 to 1930, when piano manufacturing was one of the nation’s most important industries, pianos were produced in a staggering array of cabinet styles, many of them highly intricate, embellished, and decorated, others dull and pedestrian. The cabinet styles were closely related to the social and economic climates of that period — to changes in values in an emerging consumer culture, and to economic cycles that affected the quantity, styles, and quality of the pianos made during that time. This article is an overview of those styles, and their historical context, as they pertain to upright pianos.

Rebuilding Spotlight: Cunningham Piano Company

by Tim Oliver and Rich Galassini (Spring 2011)  PDF

Cunningham Piano Company began manufacturing pianos in 1891 and, in its time, was one of the largest piano makers in Philadelphia. In Pianos and Their Makers by Alfred Dolge, Patrick Cunningham's business was described as being "as true to the traditions of honest values in pianos as any the old Quaker City has ever produced." Composer Vincent Persichetti is quoted as having said, "In the beginning, God created a Cunningham player piano," and the Charleston Museum in South Carolina houses the Cunningham piano on which George Gershwin composed Porgy and Bess.

 

Three Approaches to Piano Restoration

by Bill Shull, David G. Hughes, and Delwin D. Fandrich (Fall 2010)  PDF

When rebuilding a piano, the restorer is presented at every turn with questions concerning the extent to which the piano's original design, parts, and materials should be preserved or, conversely, altered or replaced. The philosophies that guide these decisions fall, roughly, into three camps, which might be called, respectively, Conservative, Modern, and Innovative. Of course, this division is, to some degree, a generalization; a particular restorer may combine elements of more than one approach in his or her work.

Everything Old Is New Again

by Stuart Isacoff (Spring 2010)  PDF

Is older better? Archeologists, antique dealers, and even aging writers will tell you so. And many pianists agree, especially when one finds a certain special instrument with which he or she can form the musical partnership of a lifetime. But even legendary wines can turn to vinegar. So when dealing with the acquisition — or restoration — of a vintage piano, it's important to get the advice of experts.

David Andersen: A Reliable Catalyst

by Steve Brady (Fall 2009)  PDF

In every field of endeavor are those who become prominent by virtue of their excellent work. Others stand out because of their passion for what they do and their ability to inspire those around them. And the very best are both excellent and inspirational. Los Angeles piano rebuilder David Andersen is equal parts passion and excellence, and his personal story is as inspirational as they come.

General

Advice About Used Pianos for Parents of Young Beginning Piano Students

by Sally Phillips (Spring 2016)  PDF

There are many misconceptions about buying pianos for young students,and one of them is that a suitable piano can be had for only a few hundred dollars. The truth is that, to progress, young students need better pianos, not worse. Although good and bad pianos have been made in every decade, and every used piano must be evaluated on its own merits, certain decades or categories of piano frequently found in today's used-piano market should raise red flags.

The Benefits of Laminated Soundboards

by Delwin D. Fandrich (Fall 2015)  PDF

The soundboard remains one of the least understood components of the modern piano. All sorts of claims — some of them bordering on the magical — are made for how the soundboard is made and for the wood traditionally used for its construction. While many of these claims make excellent advertising copy, they have little to do with how a piano actually works. This lack of understanding has impeded the acceptance of a beneficial advance in piano design: the laminated soundboard.

Not Your Grandmother’s Piano: The Yamaha Disklavier,
Long-Distance Learning, and More

by George Litterst (Fall 2014)  PDF

Not long ago, I addressed an audience of Colorado piano teachers who had gathered at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. After greeting them, I sat down at the piano and performed Chopin’s Étude in E Major, Op.10, No.3. When I was finished, I made a few concluding remarks, closed up my piano, and turned off my computer. It was lunchtime for me, 2,000 miles away in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. This long-distance performance was made possible by the video-conferencing technology of Skype and the record, playback, and MIDI features of the Yamaha Disklavier. During my performance, I actually played two pianos simultaneously: my own Disklavier grand piano, which is located in my home studio, and a similar piano in Denver.

Piano Marvel: Teaching the Video-Game Generation to Play

by Rebecca, Jennifer, and Theresa Wilkinson (Fall 2014)  PDF

Certain aspects of playing an acoustic piano are much more satisfying than playing a digital. Often, however, one would still like to access different sounds, connect to a computer, or turn off the sound entirely for late-night practice. And ever since the 1880s, when the first player piano was introduced, all of us have been fascinated by the instrument’s ability to play itself. To get the best of both worlds, several companies, including QRS and PianoDisc, make digital systems that can be installed in a traditional acoustic instrument at the factory or retrofitted to an older instrument. The ability to connect a piano to a computer has expanded the possibilities of educational software. One such program is Piano Marvel — an interactive subscription software for learning to play.

Voicing and Tone: What Piano Buyers and Owners Should Know

by Sally Phillips (Spring 2014)  PDF

To most piano buyers and owners, a piano's tone is probably its most important aspect, but also the most difficult to quantify or describe. Likewise, the shaping of the tone by the technician through the procedure known as voicing involves unfamiliar terminology, and techniques that are difficult for technicians to communicate to the customer. The purpose of this article, then, is to provide information about tone, voicing, and definitions of some commonly used terms so that piano owners and technicians can better communicate with each other, and piano shoppers can make more informed buying decisions.

Ten Ways to Voice a Room

by Christopher Storch (Spring 2014)  PDF

Have you noticed that your newly purchased piano doesn't sound quite the same as when you tried it in the showroom? The difference you notice between showroom and home may stem from the acoustics of the room in which the piano is placed. Not all problems with piano tone are best solved by voicing the instrument—it may be your room that needs voicing. Some of the factors that can significantly affect the sound of your piano room are: the size of the room, including ceiling height; the sound-absorbing and -reflecting materials in the room, which give it its reverberant character; and the number and orientation of objects in the room, which affect how sound is scattered or diffused.

Piano Purgatory: The Donated Piano

by Sally Phillips (Fall 2013)  PDF

Piano technicians will tell you that the worst pianos they are asked to service are usually found in houses of worship or other institutions that accept pianos as donations. How do such institutions become populated with so many inappropriate instruments?

The All-Steinway School Program vs. the Diverse-Inventory Approach to Buying Pianos for an Institution

by Sally Phillips and Anne Garee (Spring 2013)  PDF

When an institution is ready to purchase a large number of new pianos, one of the major decisions to be made is whether to buy all from a single manufacturer, or to maintain a diverse inventory of instruments of many brands. The decision has artistic, technical, financial, institutional, and, often, political dimensions. On the single-brand side, probably best known is the All-Steinway School program, with more than 150 institutions participating. The College of Music at Florida State University is one of the largest music schools in the country to maintain a diverse inventory of many brands. Below, proponents of the two schools of thought put their best feet forward to explain the reasons behind their respective choices.

Moving the Family Piano

by Russ Vitt  (Spring 2012)  PDF

Most of us have seen or heard a humorous story of ordinary people attempting to move the heaviest thing ever made: a piano. Just thinking about it can give otherwise macho adults lower-back pain. A typical vertical piano weighs 300 to 500 pounds; some larger uprights can weigh over 800. Grand pianos typically weigh about 100 pounds per foot of length, but some concert grands weigh as much as 1,400 pounds. While pianos are abnormally heavy, with thousands of moving parts, they are also fragile. Additionally, many pianos have fine finishes that are sensitive to extremes of temperature and humidity. Then, to make things even more interesting, there are obstacles to maneuver, such as steps, turns, overhangs, hills, culs-de-sac, wet grass, and long gravel driveways. So, as someone who needs a piano moved, what are your options?

Nontraditional Materials and the Piano

by Steve Brady (Fall 2011)  PDF

In existence for over 300 years, the piano is considered as "traditional" a musical instrument as the violin or guitar. As with those instruments, we tend to think of the piano as being constructed from natural materials — wood, felt, leather, iron, brass — and indeed, the first pianos were made of just these things. From its beginnings as a mere subspecies of harpsichord, however, the gravicembalo col piano e forte has evolved into the modern grand piano, and in the process has changed dramatically in size, weight, sound, and the materials of its construction. Indeed, many of the materials used in pianos today were, at one time or another, considered "nontraditional," even experimental.

 

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Reviews — Digital Pianos

Review: Casio CGP-700 and Privia PX-560

by Owen Lovell (Spring 2016)  PDF

My history with Casio keyboards is long: I remember riding the bus to school in sixth grade and pulling from my backpack my Casio VL-Tone keyboard, with its keys the size of calculator buttons (come to think of it, it doubled as a calculator), and picking out melodies of pop songs by ear. In junior high, I saved birthday and holiday checks until 1988, when I could buy my first full-size keyboard. It was a Casio, and I remember the feeling of superiority that washed over me: I had selected a keyboard with touch sensitivity. Two decades later, as a young music professional in 2007, I needed an inexpensive, portable, lightweight, 88-key digital piano for practicing on the road, and bought a Casio Privia PX-200. It logged thousands of miles in the trunk of our car without complaint.

Review: Roland FP-30

by Owen Lovell (Spring 2016)   PDF

For decades, Roland Corporation has enjoyed well-deserved recognition among the major makers of quality digital pianos for product lines such as the powerful and reliable HP series, the RD stage pianos, and especially the V-Piano, a pioneer in hardware-based, physically modeled piano sound. Until recently, however, Roland had not made significant inroads into the market for entry-level digital pianos costing less than $1,000, even as brands such as Casio and Korg have flourished by offering many models for beginners and players on a tight budget. So it’s noteworthy that, in 2016, Roland introduced the FP-30 digital piano, with a street price of $699 for the slab version, which comes with a single on/off pedal switch; and the vertical or console version, the FP-30C, with a street price of $873, which includes a fixed stand with three built-in pedals.

Review: Kawai Digital Pianos CN25, CA97, and CP2

by Owen Lovell (Fall 2015)  PDF

Inevitably, one of the most controversial topics of conversation among piano teachers, and one about which we're frequently queried, is the role that digital pianos should play in our students' musical lives, and in ours. In what situations are they a good choice? Is there a suggested minimum budget for buying a digital piano (or, for that matter, an acoustic)? Are the actions and sounds of digital pianos realistic enough? At what level of study should a student use one? Because we've been asked these questions so many times, most teachers now have strong opinions about them, ones they can easily articulate. In my case, much to my wife's chagrin, I have all of the above: a large acoustic grand, a tall acoustic vertical, and a portable digital piano.

Review: Yamaha Clavinova Models CLP 535 and CLP-575

by Jim Aikin (Spring 2015)  PDF

For a family with a young piano student, or a pro who doesn't have space in a home studio for a grand, or an adult amateur who just loves playing the piano, the advantages of Yamaha's Clavinova CLP-500 models are jaw-dropping. The prices can't be beat, you never need to have them tuned, they're more portable than an acoustic piano, and you get the sound of a grand from a spinet-sized cabinet suitable for a small apartment — not to mention headphone jacks for practicing, a built-in recorder, and a variety of other sounds. If your piano teacher tells you that only an acoustic piano will do, invite him or her down to the store to listen to one of the Clavinovas. Chances are, they'll change their tune in a hurry.

Review: Physis Piano H1

by Sam Ecoff (Fall 2014)  PDF

Unlike many of the stage pianos it competes with, the Physis H1 uses a technique called physical modeling to synthesize many of its sounds. Physical modeling is a method of creating sound in which the vibrations made by a musical instrument are described by a mathematical algorithm. In the case of a piano, the algorithm describes, among other things, the motion of a vibrating string, and can take into account factors such as the thickness of the string, the mass of the hammer striking it, and the resonance of the soundboard—and, literally, hundreds of other factors. By changing the values of these parameters, the sound can theoretically be changed to model almost any acoustic instrument, and can even be pushed past the point of what's physically possible in the real world. Physical modeling also offers the advantage of being able to more easily take into account real-world phenomena such as the sympathetic resonance of other strings that occurs when the damper pedal is depressed, and the subtle yet easily perceptible change of timbre that occurs when a note is struck with greater velocity.

 

 

Review: Blüthner e-Klavier

by Derek Kealii Polischuk (Fall 2014)  PDF

The e-Klavier, which Blüthner calls “an acoustic piano simulation," has been developed, designed, and manufactured in the same factory in Leipzig, Germany, as the company's acoustic pianos. Blüthner says that because the design of the e-Klaviers is guided by their philosophy of Authentic Acoustic Behavior, these instruments come closer to the character of a true acoustic instrument than any digital piano has ever come before. According to the company, Authentic Acoustic Behavior is a unique approach to sampling and sound modeling that allows the e-Klavier to reproduce the effect of the aliquot (fourth) strings used in Blüthner's acoustic models. This system also allows for the reproduction of advanced harmonics, such as the coincident partials produced when two notes are played simultaneously, or the sounds of dampers lifting off the strings.

Review: Yamaha NU1 Hybrid

by Alden Skinner and Rhonda Ringering (Spring 2013)  PDF

In 2010, Yamaha introduced a new breed of piano that combined the action of an acoustic grand with the sound production of a digital piano, plus tactile feedback systems and an active soundboard that further blurred the differences between the acoustic and digital playing experience. Now comprising three models, the company's AvantGrand line has seen solid success in the market. The logical extension of this line of grand-action–based models was the addition of a lower-priced version featuring a vertical-piano action — the NU1.

The Roland V-Piano and SuperNatural Piano Sound Engine

by John Norton (Fall 2010)  PDF

From time to time, Roland introduces a new V-series electronic musical instrument to signal a product that it hopes will take music technology to the next level. In 2009, the company introduced its first digital piano with this moniker: the V-Piano. With the V-Piano, not only did Roland strive to develop a world-class, expressive instrument, but it also used the research and development behind the V-Piano to create core technologies to enhance the expressiveness of the rest of Roland's digital piano line.

Vienna Symphonic Library's Vienna Imperial

by Alden Skinner (Spring 2010)  PDF

The story of Vienna Imperial is actually several stories: Bösendorfer, its CEUS electronic player-piano system, and Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL). VSL's "library" consists of digital samples of instruments ranging from finger cymbals to this article's subject, the Bösendorfer model 290 Imperial Concert Grand. Their 80 software packages cover solo instruments — 2,496 samples of a piccolo, for example—and ensembles of every description, all the way up to the imposing 792,953-sample Symphonic Cube, delivered on 29 DVDs for $12,460. With the exception of the Vienna Concert House Organ (pipe organs being notoriously difficult to move), all sample recording is done in VSL's purpose-built studio, the Silent Stage. The Silent Stage recording environment is designed and equipped specifically for recording samples. For most instrumental recordings, the studio will serve as home for an individual musician or ensemble for anywhere from six to twelve months of grueling precision and repetition. But the Vienna Imperial sampling sessions were different—in this case, the musician was Bösendorfer's CEUS electronic player-piano system.

Digital Pianos: What Can I Buy for $1,995?

by Alden Skinner (Spring 2010)  PDF

YOU HAVE $2,000 to spend on a digital piano. You might be willing to stretch your budget a little if something really strikes your fancy, but not by much. You're primarily interested in the basics: good piano sound and a good action. Rhythms wouldn't necessarily disqualify a model as long as the basics aren't sacrificed. Beyond that, you're pretty open to different possibilities.

At Home On Stage: Professional Stage Pianos Come Home

by Alden Skinner (Fall 2009)  PDF

Here we'll look at the stage piano as an option for home use. Stage pianos have tremendous capabilities--far more than the average home user would need, and far more than can be described here. So in this article, we'll look specifically at those few functions in which a home user might be most interested: piano tone, tone control, settings memory, and action. Assuming such a reader would be interested in getting the best tone and action in this instrument category, I chose three of the top stage pianos to test and describe--the Kawai MP8II, the Roland RD-700GX, and the Yamaha CP300--samples of which their manufacturers were kind enough to lend me for this purpose.

 

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