What are Stencil Pianos?

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You may have heard this term before, but you might not know what it means. It is a very important thing to understand when you are looking at pianos.

Perhaps you have visited a piano store and seen lots of American names on pianos but few – if any – are what they appear to be. Many of them are undoubtedly stencil pianos.

The business of stencil pianos goes way back. In fact, many of the leading piano companies used to have second lines of pianos called OEM pianos (Original Equipment Manufacturer) that they sold to piano stores. The stores would then put their own brand names on the pianos.

Today, stencil pianos have become a huge part of the piano industry. With only 2 major piano manufacturers left in the United States (Steinway and Mason & Hamlin) and 1 smaller company (Charles Walther), there are only about 2,000 pianos manufactured in the United States every year.

However, if you walk into a store you will probably see dozens of American piano manufacturer names on the pianos. These are almost all stencil pianos and they are mostly produced in China and Indonesia (and some in Korea). The pianos are bought from the manufacturer and a familiar name is put on the piano in order to make customers more comfortable.

For example, You might see the Baldwin name on a new piano in a store. However, when Gibson bought the Baldwin piano company a few years ago, they shut down the American piano plant. They then bought the Dongbei Piano factory in China. Ever since they have been importing these pianos from China and putting the Baldwin name on the front of them. So for about 1/5 of the cost of an actual American made Baldwin piano you can own a new Chinese “Baldwin” which looks pretty much the same.

However, even though the pianos might look the same, they are far from the same piano. These pianos manufactured in China and Indonesia are good choices if the piano is mostly for furniture or for the casual player. But they won’t hold up well with rigorous use and would rarely get passed down from generation to generation.

Many piano dealers will use certain techniques to market these stencil pianos and make them seem like there is something special about them. For example, Steinway has done an excellent job of marketing their stencil piano brands – Essex and Boston. Essex is a Chinese piano made by Pearl River and Boston is an OEM piano sold to Steinway but produced by Kawai. The Steinway piano name is so popular and well respected that people will pay thousands of dollars more to buy something with the Steinway name somewhere inside it as opposed to just buying the piano directly from the original manufacturer.

Keep in mind, many experts recommend buying an original manufacturer piano as opposed to a stencil or OEM piano. There are two main reasons for this: one, no manufacturer would ever sell a better product to a competitor than they sell themselves; two, when it comes to stencil pianos there is always a middleman, so you will be paying more than simply purchasing the piano from the original manufacturer.

Thanks for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions about this video or any topic at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

3 thoughts on “What are Stencil Pianos?”


  1. Hi Robert,
    The article was written well. Not jousting over symantecs, the Essex piano should be termed an OEM piano as well since Steinway has its own people surpervising its manufacturing in the Pearl River plant. I do not distribute them, but this is my understanding from the factory people since 2005 when Essex first started being manufactured at Pearl River. Please do not use my name in any references. Thank you.

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