So much has transpired in the piano industry in the nearly 6 years since producing my, “Best Piano Brands” video, I thought it was due time to offer a fresh perspective on the industry.
In the first video I explained how countries of origin affect the quality of pianos. This is a simple truth – the longer period of time piano building is pursued in a country, the more mature the manufacturing and quality tends to be. But we are now living in a truly global marketplace. How has that affected the piano industry?
If you carry an iPhone in your pocket, you are enjoying a great product sold by the American company Apple. But the manufacturing is done in China. In fact, many of the components are sourced from other countries like Korea, Mongolia and even parts of Europe! This is not an outlier product – this is the way of the world in manufacturing today.
While there are some small, independent companies producing pianos in the old world tradition mostly in Europe, these tend to be manufacturers with very low output catering to a niche market. Most piano companies are not independent. Japanese piano maker Yamaha owns the Austrian piano company Bösendorfer. The Korean piano giant Samick owns Bechstein, Seiler and a sizeable chunk of Steinway!
Making matters even more complex, large piano companies often have operations in different countries. For example, a Yamaha and Kawai (both Japanese companies) have pianos manufactured in Indonesia.
Another factor is the plethora of “stencil pianos”. These are pianos marketed with familiar names of out of business companies or fictitious names stenciled on the fallboard. Many of these piano companies source the instruments from more than one manufacture. So, often times it’s all but impossible to figure out what company made the piano.
So, in today’s world, the vast number of pianos being produced are made in Asia. Last year there were only about 1400 pianos made in the United States mostly from Steinway. If money is no object, there are many fine piano companies out there from Fazioli in Italy to Mason & Hamlin outside of Boston. But for the vast majority of piano buyers, the short list of major piano companies includes 4 companies which include the two Japanese giants:
Korean companies have been around since the mid 20th century. They come with different scale designs and price points just like Yamaha and Kawai and have very mature design and manufacturing:
- Young Chang
The elephant in the room is the emergence of the Chinese piano industry. The largest Chinese piano manufacturer is Pearl River. But there are hundreds of companies now producing pianos in China.
The good news is that there are very few bad pianos sold in the United States. The secret is matching the right instrument for your needs. Ikea isn’t a bad furniture maker so long as your expectations are in alignment with what you are getting. Their products could serve the perfect purpose for you. So it is with pianos. Not everyone needs a piano that can play on a concert level to keep for generations.
Below is a list of hand-made pianos. All of these companies make a limited number of high end pianos. There is a range of quality to some of these manufacturers. However, the specific instrument as well as personal preference will determine which one is best for you:
- Steingraeber & Söhne
- August Förster
- Mason & Hamlin
- Albert Weber
- Shigeru Kawai
- S Series Yamaha
- Schulze Pollmann
- Wilh. Steinberg
- Charles Walter
- Stuart & Sons