A Few Good Pianos … Part 1

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Joel Fan – pianist/composer, joelfanmusic.com/

THE PIANO OUTLET DEAL OF THE WEEK: Steinway Rosewood Model A
1902  S/N 105619  $35,000

Contact Terry, pianos390@yahoo.com or 805-340-0608

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Note: Consider this a consolidated overview of the past and present American piano manufacturers … a two-part series.

I. A Few Good Pianos …
II. Pro’s and Con’s of Pre-Owned Pianos

I. A FEW GOOD PIANOS …

SHORT HISTORY
About 125 years ago 25,000 pianos were being built each year in the United States. The end of the Civil War marked the beginning of the boom in piano manufacturing. The public loved their piano music. By the late 1800’s, Chickering estimated that their pianos were being played in nearly 80,000 homes throughout the country. They were just one piano manufacturer amongst hundreds that were to come and go in the 100 years or so between the mid 19th and 20th centuries.

Although some famous brands still exist today they are mostly produced overseas (China, Taiwan and Indonesia) where manufacturing costs are cheaper.

About 50 years ago American consumers were overwhelmed with all of the products being imported into the US with a large amount coming from Japan who was perceived much the same as China is today. “Made in Japan” was kind of a domestic joke and in the early days, whether it was true or not, it was synonymous with ‘cheap’ and ‘poorly made’.  The first Japanese car produced by Toyota was imported in 1957. Datsun (later Nissan) followed a year later. Although the Japanese had been manufacturing automobiles since Mitsubishi introduced their Model A in 1917 most Americans were skeptical of the quality of anything Japanese. It took many years to establish trust in the Japanese brands and today Toy0ta sells more cars than any US manufacturer.

Unfortunately, in the latter half of the 20th Centuray, the piano business went the way of many other American manufacturers … higher labor and material costs, competition from radio, phonograph records and television forced many owners to sell to international companies that could exploit the quality brand names regardless of whether or not the  same level of craftsmanship and components was maintained. To be fair, some overseas manufacturers – Kawai and Yamaha for example, have developed hard-earned respect for the high standard of their premium pianos and are, in fact, competitive with most traditional quality manufacturers.

The question for those who may be new piano enthusiasts as listeners, players or consumers, is what pianos are still American made and are they any good? Here are a few reliable companies that fit the bill. There are a handful of smaller quality manufacturers but, for the moment, here is a short list of major American piano makers:

 Steinway Ebony Satin REDUCED
STEINWAY & SONS

We have to start here since this is the standard by which most other pianos are judged. Heinrich Englehard Steinweg started making pianos in Germany in 1825 under his company name, Steinweg Pianos. He and his family emigrated to the US in 1850 where he continued as a piano maker and eventually, in 1853, changed the name of the company to Steinway & Sons. Since his time nearly every major pianist worldwide has performed on a Steinway piano in almost everyimportant venue. The Steinway family no longer owns the company which has changed hands several times. Samick Musical Instruments (SMC) is a large shareholder but there are several private equity firms vying for ownership and to take the company private. Steinway pianos are manufactured in the US and Germany. It is a proud heritage and they are recognized internationally for their high quality. More than almost all other brands, a Steinway will hold or increase in value over time because the standard of components and craftsmanship is that good!

mason and hamlin black baby grand
MASON & HAMLIN

In 1854. Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin joined forces to manufacture their new instrument called an organ harmonium. Mason’s family was well-established in the US. His father and brother were both recognized in their time as composers and pianists. Henry also played. Hamlin, on the other hand, was not a musician He was a mechanic and inventor who had discovered a way to make organ reeds sound like the violin, clarinet and other classical music instruments. They had no money when they started and their new organ (and other iterations of it) didn’t really work out, but in 1881 they started making pianos and never looked back. Another quality brand that has gone through some ownership changes over the years but is still made in the USA and has been since the foundation of the company.


Charles Walters piano
WALTER PIANO COMPANY

A relative newcomer to the industry, Mr. Charles Walter is an Illinois native with a background in engineering. He developed a keen interest in pianos – with a specific focus on the demands for acoustical design. After working for another firm for a number of years in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Charles introduced his first piano, a 43″ upright. If ever there was a family-owned and operated company, this is it. And after 40 years of producing consistently high quality pianos, no one can argue with their success.

These are the Big Three. I noted earlier that there are a handful of other smaller manufacturers. Let me know if you’re interested in information about them and I’ll include it in another blog.

If there is any other information you need please feel free to send a comment and I’ll get back to you.

… next week we’ll talk about the Pro’s and Con’s of Pre-Owned Pianos …
Until then … make sure and play or listen to some new music this week!!!!

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