Why Don’t They Make Pianos Like they Used to?

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This is Robert Estrin with LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store with a viewer question. “Why don’t they make pianos like they used to?” So many of the magnificent, American pianos from years ago are just names stenciled on the front of Asian production pianos today. Names you don’t even hear about anymore like AB Chase, Knabe and Chickering were wonderful pianos years ago. There were well over a thousand companies producing pianos in the United States and dozens of companies were making stupendous pianos! You might wonder why they don’t make pianos like they used to.

Have you ever gone downtown and seen a beautiful old car and asked yourself, “Why don’t they make the ‘57 Chevy anymore? It’s such a cool car! I wish they would make Corvettes like they used to!” With cars, it’s pretty obvious. As technologies move on, mileage and safety standards have generally made cars better. But what about pianos?

Have pianos improved?

Not necessarily. However, they do make pianos the way they used to, just in very tiny numbers. Steinway and Mason and Hamlin are both manufacturing a limited number of pianos in the United States very much like they used to. However, Mason & Hamlin is utilizing newer technologies in their actions using synthetic materials in place of traditional wood parts. There are some new rigs and new robotics utilized in manufacturing, but for the most part, American pianos utilize Old World style of wet sand cast plate, hardwood rim, and a tremendous amount of handcrafting. Indeed, many of the great German and other European piano manufacturers from over a hundred years ago are still building pianos like they did centuries ago with the addition of some computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques for more exacting standards of production.

The vast majority of pianos today are made in Asia with a very different methodology from American and European pianos.

You might wonder why. Just look at the difference in the price of a Bechstein or a Steinway compared to a Kawai or a Samick. Asian companies produce pianos that are fully functional and quite good for a fraction of the cost of hand-crafted pianos by utilizing different technologies. Take a company like Pearl River. There aren’t too many companies like them!

Pearl River made over 140,000 pianos last year!

It’s a mind-boggling number. There is no way they could be producing pianos the same way Steinway does. Steinway made a little over a thousand pianos last year. It is just not a scalable manufacturing process.

In order to be able to produce a large number of pianos on a consistent level, it is necessary to be able to utilize newer technologies and newer materials in order to accomplish that. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you want that Old World style of piano building, they are available if you’ve got the bucks to pay for them. But, vast amounts of resources have been opened up to people who couldn’t afford those pianos. Some of the modernization and new techniques of making pianos in a way they didn’t have before opens up a whole segment of the market to pianos. In China, where they bought 450,000 new pianos last year, obviously those weren’t mostly hand-built instruments. It would be impossible!

That is why they don’t make pianos the way they used to. It opens up markets at different price points. Yet, those Old World style pianos are still available in very small numbers for very high prices. I hope this has been interesting for you. I’m Robert Estrin and this is LivingPianos.com.