PianoBuyer

MASON & HAMLIN

Mason & Hamlin Piano Company
35 Duncan Street
Haverhill, Massachusetts 01830
916-567-9999
www.masonhamlin.com

Pianos made by: Mason & Hamlin Piano Co., Haverhill, Massachusetts

Mason & Hamlin was founded in 1854 by Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin. Mason was a musician and businessman and Hamlin was an inventor working with reed organs. Within a few years, Mason & Hamlin was one of the largest makers of reed organs in the U.S. The company began making pianos in 1881 in Boston, and soon became among the most prestigious of the Boston piano makers. By 1910, Mason & Hamlin was considered Steinway’s chief competitor. Over the next 85 years, Mason & Hamlin changed hands many times. (You can read the somewhat lengthy and interesting history in The Piano Book.) In 1996 the Burgett brothers, owners of PianoDisc, purchased Mason & Hamlin out of bankruptcy and set about reestablishing manufacturing at the six-story factory in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The company emphasizes limited-quantity, handbuilt production, and currently manufactures from 200 to 350 pianos per year. Daily tours are offered to visitors.

Since acquiring the company, the Burgetts have brought back most of the piano models from the company’s golden Boston era (1881–1932) that originally made the company famous. Refinements have been made to the original scale designs and other core design features. First came the 5′ 8″ model A and 7′ model BB, both of which had been manufactured by the previous owner. Then, in fairly rapid succession, came the 6′ 4″ model AA, the 9′ 4″ model CC concert grand, and the 5′ 4″ model B. The development of these three models was an especially interesting and costly project: in the process, the engineering staff resurrected the original design of each model, constructed new rim presses, standardized certain features, refined manufacturing processes, and modernized jigs, fixtures, templates, and machinery, improvements that afterward were applied to the company’s other models. The 50″ model 50 vertical piano has also been reintroduced and redesigned, with longer keys for a more grand-like touch, and improved pedal leverage. Internal parts for the verticals are made in Haverhill, then assembled in the company’s Sacramento factory, where it also installs PianoDisc systems.

All Mason & Hamlin grands have certain features in common, including a wide-tail design; a full-perimeter plate; an extremely thick and heavy maple rim; a solid spruce soundboard; a seven-ply, quartersawn maple pinblock; and the patented tension-resonator Crown Retention System. The tension resonator (illustrated in The Piano Book), invented by Richard Gertz in 1900, consists of a series of turnbuckles that connect to specific points on the inner rim. This system of turnbuckles is said to lock the rim in place so that it cannot expand with stress and age, thereby preserving the soundboard crown (curvature). (The soundboard is glued to the inner rim and would collapse if the rim expanded.) While there is no modern-day experimental evidence to confirm or deny this theory, anecdotal evidence and observations by piano technicians tend to validate it because, unlike most older pianos, the soundboards of old Mason & Hamlins almost always have plenty of crown.

In 2020, Mason & Hamlin introduced a new concert grand, 9′ 4″ model VX. The instrument features a new scale design and bridge location, a larger capo bar, and a new implementation of the soundboard cutoff bar. The action geometry has also been redesigned. The VX retains the standard features of the model CC, especially the Crown Retention System with two tension resonators, a thick maple rim, and an Eastern white-spruce soundboard.

In the early part of the 20th century, Wessell, Nickel & Gross (WNG) was a major supplier of actions to American piano manufacturers, including Mason & Hamlin. Over the years, the name fell into disuse. In 2004 Mason & Hamlin revived the name by registering the trademark, which now refers to the design and specifications of Mason & Hamlin actions. The company manufactures a new line of carbon-fiber action parts of strikingly innovative design, which the company makes available to its dealers and to rebuilders as a high-performance upgrade to the traditional wood action. The company explained that it has moved to using composite parts because of the inherent shortcomings of wood: it’s prone to breakage under constant pounding, the parts vary in strength and mass from one piece of wood to the next, and wood shrinks and swells with changing temperature and humidity. Composite parts, on the other hand, are more than ten times as strong as wood; are built to microscopic tolerances, so they are virtually identical; and are impervious to weather. According to the company, material scientists predict that in the benign environment of a piano, the minimum life expectancy of composite parts is 100 years. The Wessell, Nickel & Gross composite action is now standard on all new Mason & Hamlin pianos.

Mason & Hamlin grands are available in satin and high-polish ebony finishes, and in several standard and exotic wood finishes in high polish. Satin finishes are lacquer, the high-polish finishes are polyester. In 2014, to commemorate the company’s 160th anniversary, Mason & Hamlin introduced the Cambridge Collection. Model designs in this series feature two-toned cabinets in hand-rubbed finishes of polished ebony and either bubinga or Macassar ebony. On the grands, the hand-selected exotic veneers appear on the fallboard, the music desk, the lid underside, and the inner rim; on the verticals, they appear on the upper and lower front panels.

The tone of Mason & Hamlin pianos is typically American — lush, singing, and powerful, not unlike the Steinway in basic character, but with an even more powerful bass and a clearer treble. The designers have done a good job of making a recognizable Mason & Hamlin sound that is consistent throughout the model line. The 5′ 8″ model A has a particularly powerful bass for a piano of its size. The treble, notably weak in prior versions, has been beefed up, but the bass is still the showpiece of the piano. The new 5′ 4″ model B also has a large-sounding bass for its size. The “growling” power of the Mason & Hamlin bass is most apparent in the 7′ model BB. The 6′ 4″ model AA is a little better balanced between bass and treble, one reason why it is a favorite of mine.

The basic musical design of Mason & Hamlin pianos is very good, as is most of the workmanship. As with other American-made pianos, musical and cabinet detailing, such as factory voicing and regulation and plate and cabinet cosmetics, are reasonable but lag somewhat behind the company’s European competitors in finesse. The company says it is standard procedure for final voicing and regulation to be finished off by thorough and competent dealer prep.

In recent years many companies have turned to China and other international sources for parts and materials, for several reasons: a domestic source is no longer available, to save money, to increase the security of supply, and, in some cases, to increase quality. Among makers of high-end pianos, Mason & Hamlin has been pioneering in this regard, though it is not the only company to do so. The company’s worldwide sourcing of parts and materials, along with its investment in modernized equipment, has made the Mason & Hamlin a better instrument while keeping the piano’s price at a reasonable level. It’s a very good value among high-end instruments.

In 2020, Mason & Hamlin introduced two new lower-priced series of pianos: Artist and Classic. They are made in China in partnership with Pearl River, and have much in common with Pearl River’s premium-quality lines. The Artist series models are equipped with high-performance WNG carbon-fiber composite actions and anodized aluminum action and keyboard hardware. The Classic series models have WNG shanks and flanges and the advanced action and keyboard hardware. The Artist series currently offers 5′ 3″ and 6′ 2″ grand models and 48″ and 51″ verticals. The Classic series offers 4′ 11″ and 5′ 6″ grands and a 47″ vertical. All models have solid spruce soundboards, and all grands have beech rims.

Warranty: (Original Mason & Hamlins) 5 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period. (Artist and Classic series) 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.

Acoustic Piano: Model & Pricing Guide

* See the Introduction for an explanation of pricing.

Cambridge Collection, grands, add $6,800 (SMP).

Model Feet Inches Description MSRP* SMP*
Mason & Hamlin Verticals
50 50 Polished Ebony 30,185 27,624
50 50 Cambridge Collection, Polished Ebony w/Bubinga or Macassar 35,287 30,324
50 50 Satin Ebony 32,226 29,424
Mason & Hamlin Artist Series Verticals
MHA 123U 48 Polished Ebony 9,895 9,895
MHA 131U 51 Polished Ebony 11,834 11,834
Mason & Hamlin Classic Series Verticals
MHC 120U 47 Polished Ebony 7,540 7,540
Mason & Hamlin Grands
B 5 4 Polished Ebony 76,173 64,453
B 5 4 Satin Ebony 78,214 66,153
B 5 4 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 81,308 68,730
B 5 4 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 98,983 83,453
B 5 4 Polished Rosewood 90,275 76,200
B 5 4 Polished Bubinga 93,479 78,869
B 5 4 Polished Macassar Ebony 98,983 83,453
A 5 8 Polished Ebony 77,398 65,473
A 5 8 Satin Ebony 79,438 67,173
A 5 8 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 82,531 69,750
A 5 8 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 100,208 84,473
A 5 8 Polished Rosewood 91,500 77,220
A 5 8 Polished Bubinga 94,703 79,889
A 5 8 Polished Macassar Ebony 100,208 84,473
AA 6 4 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 106,995 90,128
AA 6 4 Polished Rosewood 98,265 82,855
AA 6 4 Polished Bubinga 101,462 85,517
AA 6 4 Polished Macassar Ebony 106,995 90,128
AA 6 4 Polished Ebony 88,346 74,593
AA 6 4 Satin Ebony 90,387 76,293
AA 6 4 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 93,118 78,568
BB 7 0 Satin Ebony 102,293 86,211
BB 7 0 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 103,800 87,465
BB 7 0 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 123,589 103,950
BB 7 0 Polished Rosewood 116,197 97,793
BB 7 0 Polished Bubinga 119,080 100,193
BB 7 0 Polished Macassar Ebony 123,589 103,950
BB 7 0 Polished Ebony 100,252 84,511
CC 9 4 Satin Ebony 151,093 126,861
CC 9 4 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 159,541 133,898
CC 9 4 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 181,635 152,303
CC 9 4 Polished Rosewood 168,612 141,454
CC 9 4 Polished Bubinga 174,263 146,161
CC 9 4 Polished Macassar Ebony 181,635 152,303
CC 9 4 Polished Ebony 149,053 125,161
VX 9 4 Satin Ebony 181,706 152,361
VX 9 4 Polished Ebony 179,665 150,661
VX 9 4 Polished Mahogany/Walnut 190,153 159,398
VX 9 4 Polished Pyramid Mahogany 212,248 177,803
VX 9 4 Polished Rosewood 199,224 166,954
VX 9 4 Polished Bubinga 204,875 171,661
VX 9 4 Polished Macassar Ebony 212,248 177,803
Mason & Hamlin Artist Series Grands
MHA 160G 5 3 Polished Ebony 18,265 18,265
MHA 188G 6 2 Polished Ebony 23,346 23,346
Mason & Hamlin Classic Series Grands
MHC 150G 4 11 Polished Ebony 14,977 14,977
MHC 170G 5 6 Polished Ebony 15,908 15,908

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