My technician (make sure you deal with a Registered Piano Technician, not a “tuner”) told me that in the last 200 or so years, there have been about 12,500 different brands of pianos made (not model names – – brands)!
As you read my comments on piano brands, below, you will note that many are American. I do not list American brands out of patriotic preference but because in the hundred-year period between 1820-1920, there was an explosion of piano building in America. Many of those 12,000 makers were American.
This explosion was scarcely interrupted by the Civil War. The economy of the North had been strong throughout the conflict and continued to grow after it. Starting in the Northeast (Boston, upstate New York, and especially New York City), piano manufacturing moved westward through Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio toward Chicago.
About the time it reached the mid-West (ca. 1900), the explosion sparkled to a close, moving westward no farther because the population dropped off sharply beyond Chicago and transportation of materials further west would drive up the price beyond what the economy of the area could bear. For those living in far-flung areas of the U.S., however, help was coming, wearing a white hat. To the traditional shopping expeditions to Chicago or “back East” was added the mail-order catalog.
The first documented mail-order operation was in 1499 in Italy (books), followed by seed (England, 1667) and sapling (U.S., 1771) catalogs. The ever-enterprising Benjamin Franklin offered a catalog in 1744, listing almost 600 books, which he offered “satisfaction guaranteed.” After the Civil War, the population began to move west once more, swelled greatly by the refugee families from the South and unemployed soldiers from both sides of the conflict. For these people, traveling salesmen satisfied – though barely – shopping needs.
One of these men was Montgomery Ward. He decided that to reach more people than he could visit single-handedly, he would print some fliers listing some of his most popular items. It was a success. The next flyer emerged at eight pages, and soon the enterprise blossomed into a catalog of several hundred pages, complete with woodcut illustrations. Mail-order piano-makers include: Beckwith, Beethoven, Schmoller & Mueller, and D.F. Beatty.
These companies also sold reed organs (also known as pump organs, melodeons, and, incorrectly in most cases, harmoniums). Picture Great Aunt Bessie pumping away furiously with her feet while the congregation of 20 (raw-boned farmers and cowboys, beside by their stalwart women-folk and bedragged children) bellowed praise as best they could.
The fleuressence of American piano firms abated about 1920. The stock market crash of 1929 shook the foundations of the industry, and the Great Recession that followed nearly buried it. After the Second World War, when soldiers came home and took advantage of the G.I. Bill to further their educations, family incomes began to rise. Parents wanted things for their children that they had never had – such as piano lessons. Venerable piano brands reappeared, but nearly always made in a much poorer fashion in order to put them within reach of the average family. The recovery of the Asian economy, Japan in particular, helped fuel the return of piano manufacturing, again at attractive price points. Meanwhile, in Europe, some of the most revered companies staunchly held on through World Wars I and II, while others were forced to close, either because of the lagging European economy or the loss of facilities to wartime devastation.
Also, in a reader’s remarks under the Steinway entry, he gives a helpful ranking by brand name and piano size/type.
It also may make a difference in which factory the instrument was made. Sometimes a company (Yamaha, Kawai) has factories of different “qualities,” so piano quality is affected by the factory that made the particular piano you are looking at/seeking.
The Ryuyo and Hamamatsu Yamaha factories are the most famous example. The Hamamatsu factory is not as good. Thus, pianos coming from the two factories will be of different quality.
German-sounding names are often chosen by non-German manufacturers because Germany has such a good reputation for piano-building, at least in the past. Just because it’s a German name doesn’t mean it was made in Germany or by German expatriates or at a factory founded outside of Germany by Germans or with German “specifications.” Inquire. It’s nearly always a Chinese piano (or one made for a Chinese company in Indonesia or Malaysia.)
As of this date (2006), Chinese pianos are usually of inferior quality. A decade or two ago, this was true of Korean pianos and Japanese pianos before that, so expect Chinese instruments to improve in quality. (How quickly is the question. For now, view Chinese pianos with a weather eye.) The Russians, Belarusians, and Poles also are making pianos now. I wouldn’t expect good quality from them [yet?], so buy a Russian/former Soviet Union country piano very cautiously.
Update, 2009: Pianos are also being made in Indonesia and Malaysia, as labor costs are lower even than China. Nearly always, these are factories for Chinese firms.
To the best of my knowledge, the following information is accurate. Things changes all the time in the piano business, so do your due diligence before purchase to avoid buyer’s remorse or a poor choice.
Here’s how stencil brands work. A piano store (usually a nation-wide or at least a regional piano company) buys these from a factory and slaps their store name on it.
Sometimes the factory owns the rights to the name of a venerable brand no longer being produced. Sometimes the names are “new” (German names are often selected). These are then sold to the retailer.
Therefore, many “different brands” of pianos – – at varying price points – – are actually from the same factory! And could, in fact, be the very same model except for the brand name!
These pianos vary greatly in quality. Some are awful; some are pretty poor; a few make it up to ok. None I have played rates better than ok. These pianos are made in areas of the world with low labor costs: China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, in particular. I’m sure you see the connection here.
Many (if not most) stencil brands are names bought from companies (mostly old) that are out of business and that once built good instruments. These companies may have been out of business for 100 years before their names were resurrected and the piano “reintroduced.” Note also that many stencil brands, whether they are purchased names or not, have “German names,” drawing on the tradition of high quality in German pianos, as I noted earlier.
Some stencil brands can be made to sound decent (but not terribly good!) if serviced first by a tech and regulated (volume of all notes made the same, basically, though some other things are done to the piano). The price of this work may offset any savings on the piano itself, however. You might check with a tech for a price estimate in advance of plunking down your money for a stencil piano.
Tread cautiously with stencil brands. Especially pianos with German names, take care. The manufacturer may be masking a very poor quality instrument.
Nearly always stencil brands are not very good and probably a pretty bad buy.
I should note, however, that the cabinetry of stencil brands is very good. High-gloss finishes. Know that when you buy a piano to play, you are buying the egg, not its shell. If you are buying a piano to show, of course the shell is important. In fact, the egg itself might not matter in the least!
In any event, find out the real maker and research that, as opposed to researching the store’s name or the brand name placed above the keyboard.
Such pianos are sometimes called “gray market” pianos. Despite your initial sympathy to give these feral instruments a place in your home, stay away from them. Obviously, they are very, very poor quality if they are used as nothing more than “packing material”.
The term is also applied to pianos that are to be sold by non-“authorized dealers.” In this case, you have no idea what quality the instrument is unless you can find specifics on it.
I’ll add info here on affected brands as I can find it. I would be happy to pass along any information from readers on names of gray market instruments.
Mention will be made below of the Yamaha factories in Ryuyo and Hamamatsu. The factory in Ryuyo is the better of the two: more- and better-skilled craftsmen and technicians, as well as better materials. If you are buying a Yamaha, find out. Some non-Yamaha brand pianos (ex.: Boston) are made in the Yamaha factory.
I’ll say again that you need a tech to examine any used instrument. Don’t agree to buy a piano on your first visit to a dealership unless you love it and everything about it, including the price, AND you have taken your tech along.
Although not the rule, some salespeople do not know the stock. A few, regrettably, push one brand, no matter what the buyer wants. Pushing Chinese brands is especially common here.
Almost always, such sellers are private parties and the pianos they look to sell are “elderly” and in need of extensive repairs (maybe even rebuilding) to make them playable. Also, these private parties usually have no idea what the piano is worth and price them by “sentimental value” (the piano has sat in Granny’s parlor since time immemorial). For example, a piano built in 1915 might be priced at $1000 but might be worth less than $100.
Also note that when you purchase from a private party, it will be your responsibility to get the piano to your home. You’d do well to do some research in advance to find out how much a piano-moving firm will charge you. Add that to the cost of the instrument before negotiating.
For a little more money, you can get a lot more piano. Most entry level pianos are very bad. Some entry level pianos are incredibly bad. One in particular a reader writes is “execrable.” Hard to get lower than that! (See discussion of specific brands, below.)
Ask for the entry level piano line of a particular brand. Then ask for the next level up. “What is the name of the line that is the next step up?” Remember that the first reason you go into a piano store is to be educated. Looking at and evaluating different pianos is the second step.
For example, the Essex is Steinway’s entry level piano. The Boston, next up in the Steinway line, is a very good piano.
Types and Sizes
There are only two kinds of pianos – – grands and verticals – – but there are several sizes in these general categories.
- “parlor” (sometimes called “petite”): 4’5″ to 5’5″
- “baby”: 5’0″ to 6’5″
- “medium” (sometimes called “parlor,” “living room,” or “medium studio”): 5’6″ to 6’5″
- “semi-concert” (sometimes called “professional”): 6’6″ to 8’0″.
- “concert”: 8’9″ to 10’2″. Most concert grands are 9′ in length
- spinet: 35″ to 39″ in height
- consoles: 40″ to 44″ (those 39″ to 40″ are sometimes called “consolettes;” and “consoles” 40″ to 43″)
- studio: 45″ to 47″
- professional (sometimes called “full size”): 48″ to 52″ (Note: Prior to 1930, some verticals soared to 60″ in height.)
I used to call these “upright pianos,” but I was informed by a tech that vertical is the proper name. I stand corrected!
Some antique pianos are conversions from player pianos. In many cases, the company also made player pianos. View these conversions with skepticism. The action might be “a little strange” since it was built to be in a player piano.
Where to get more information is in a link at the end of this file.
As a general rule, an antique piano is a non-starter because at this point in time, they are probably 120 years old. Unless they’ve been completely rebuilt (a step beyond restored), they will be unplayable.
Primary Considerations in Choosing a Piano
Let us put cost aside for a moment.
Remember that you are looking primarily at the touch (a function of the action) and sound (bright treble? lots of bass? generally muffled?).
Sound is a personal preference. What sounds good to you?
I personally like a bright treble and medium-firm touch, but this is only my opinion!
Action is the most important aspect of a piano, however, because that (and the case/soundboard) is what influences sound.
If the action is too light, it’s hard to control dynamics [loud and soft]. Also, the hand doesn’t build up much strength so that when the player sits before a piano with a firmer action, playing is quite difficult. If the action is too stiff, playing the piano is fatiguing; dynamics are problematic.
Action is changed by reshaping hammers, changing the weights put into each key (yes, actual pieces of lead), finding which parts are rubbing each other but shouldn’t, etc.
Regulating a piano is an exacting task. It will cost you more than a tuning, to be sure. This is why if you pay to regulate an inferior instrument, you’re likely to end up with a more expensive not-quite-as-inferior inferior instrument.
Casework is important, but make sure the insides (action) are good. Don’t be fooled by a gorgeous piece of furniture with inferior action…..
…..unless you just want something upon which to perch sterling picture frames. I am sure you’ve seen the “interior decor” magazines with a beautiful piano, lid down, in front of a window (ack!), and covered with framed family pictures and a voluptuous of arrangement of roses. Presumably, you are reading this file because you want a piano to use!
Gorgeous pieces of furniture with bargain price tags are going to be inferior pianos because the investment was in the outside, not the inside. The inside is what matters.
Also know that pianos depreciate rapidly – – some more than others. Check the want-ads for ideas of price.
Pianists are prisoners of the instruments they are given (though Vladimir Horowitz toured with his own instrument and technician!). We are not like violinists. Their violin is the same, no matter whether they are standing in a ditch or standing in a concert hall.
Information about Specific Brands
People ask me all the time about this piano or that one. Here is what I think of certain pianos.
I receive no pat on the back or anything else for remarks of a positive nature. Similarly, one piano company is not compensating me to write something negative about another company. These are my opinions. For free.
I want to be even-handed in my reviews, so I am happy to add information from those of you who have played/searched for any of these instruments and care to offer your experiences. We all can benefit. Several updates on certain brands appear, already.
Also, please remember that, pianos are individually-made instruments with hand labor (more, in finer pianos, which means they command a higher price) and “nature-made” materials that cannot be fully quality-controlled. Thus, there are good specimens, less good ones, and poor ones.
In the end, a piano is an individual purchase. You buy what sounds and feels best to you – – at the size and price point you want.
I add pianos as I hear of new ones (most often, someone will write for information about it), so if it’s not listed here, there’s a 99% chance I have never heard of it, let alone played it.
These are my opinions, right? Say aloud, “This file contains this woman’s opinions.”
I also have made an effort to identify which brands are made by which companies. Sometimes, various labels are the result of consolidations of several companies. Sometimes, some of these brands are phased out, perhaps because they did not sell as well as other lines or because the buying company had a product that was too close a competitor (price, market) to warrant keeping both lines.
And, sometimes, a company would sell or even “lease” its name to another company, under which the second company made its own pianos but used the first company’s name because it was prestigious (or more prestigious than their own!). These “leases” could last for a long time or for several years (even one!) only. Just because the name is on the piano doesn’t mean it’s really that piano! (See discussion of stencil pianos, above.) Also, the same name could have been leased to several companies. Aeolian was a big culprit: buying/leasing names and putting them on pianos they made. The piano said “A”, but it wasn’t made with A specs but with B specs.
I have tried to follow which-manufacturer-what-brand-when. Sometimes, when brand names appear to be made by more than one company -or- I was not able to get the chronology straight of which-brand-was-with-whom-when, I have the names as brands under more than one company. It also could be the case that the name was leased to more than one company – – and then perhaps bought by another company yet!
The way to find out who made a certain piano and whether it is what name is by the serial number, as noted above.
Armed with the year, you can find out where it was made (factory, city), and therefore who owned the company at that time. Was it built in a factory that made oodles of pianos and slapped “leased” or “purchased” names on them, or was the instrument built in the original factory by the original company? If more than a different factory, were the original specifications being used by the new company, or was it a case of slap-on-of-previously-well-regarded-company-name-on-a-mass-producer-factory-piano? Your tech can consult his/her database and let you know whether the piano you are considering is a “good” one or not.
Another consideration is brand names within the same company. A company might have a number of lines, each at a different price point and each to appeal to a different group of buyers. For example, Steinway has Steinway, Boston, and Essex. Steinway is manufactured by Steinway (American), but the Boston (Japanese) and Essex (entry level; Chinese) are not; this is an important piece of information, I think! Always research the maker, not the brand name, the “made by” name, the “designed by” name, or stencil name.
I suppose when I get this file completely researched, we’ll find that every piano company is related to every other piano company, through apprenticeship, partnership, sale, marriage, or misrepresentation!
When the Great Depression hit the U.S., many companies went out of business. Piano builders were no exception. The year 1930 is often used as a watershed, especially for pianos that are unusual to find these days. If the instrument you are considering was built before 1930 and is not a well-known brand today and/or not in current production, you might have an artifact of The Great Extinction. Proceed cautiously with this in mind. There is a link to the Antique Piano Shoppe, specializing in antique pianos, following my brand summaries at the bottom of this file. Much information here about Old Warhorses. (Ironic note: Often the brand names of these once-respected or -superb brands are being used today to make cheap instruments, usually in Asia, where labor is cheap.)
Also note: This file also contains readers’ material. Some of it is of the “This was my childhood piano” and “I restored one of these” type. Other of it includes opinions on quality ranking, historical details, price, and so on. I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this latter type of reader-written material. I have not doubled-checked these people’s facts. I am very thankful to everyone who has written to add to this file, but I want to make it clear that I cannot vouch for the accuracy of others’ material.
Here we go!
Acrosonic: This piano line was introduced by Baldwin in 1935 and produced into the 1980s by Baldwin, but some think it is a different brand, so I am listing it separately. The pianos made early on (1930s, ’40s, and ’50s) were decent instruments. Modern Acrosonics sound tinny and cheesy (IMO – – if you have a modern Acrosonic, I apologize for insulting you!). Remember to compare these instruments with other spinets, not with other vertical pianos. At this point (2012), these pianos might cost more to bring up to standard than they are worth. I’d pass. American.
Aeolian: Company founded as “Aeolian Organ Company” in 1887 by piano-builder William B. Tremaine. The company began by manufacturing reed organs, then “automating” them. This was the time of manufacturing magnates, and they desired plenty of razzle-dazzle to parade their wealth. One desirable item for the home was a pipe organ. Since the homes were quite large, they could easily accommodate a pipe organ, size-wise and acoustically. Some of these were encased instruments (pipes housed within a box, on which was mounted the keyboard) and some were un-encased (pipes mounted on the wall with the keyboard as a separate console). Competition for church organ installations was fierce at the time, so Aeolian decided to veer off to serve the various robber barons. They succeeded admirably; the Aeolian was the home organ of choice. The company did install a church organ at Duke University, however. The Great Depression left its mark, and the organ division was spun off to merge with E.M. Skinner to become Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, a famous and very-highly regarded builder of church organs through the 1970s. Aeolian-Skinner had a large number of huge installations in churches and at academic venues. Meanwhile, Aeolian itself was making player pianos, coin-operated jukeboxes, and “automated band” players. Tremaine subsumed a number of competitors. In 1929 (variously 1932), Aeolian bought American Piano Co. (See separate entry.) In 1985, Aeolian went bankrupt. By virtue of the many mergers, Aeolian owned many brands, among them: Knabe, Peck, Cable, Mason & Hamlin, Cambridge, Musette, Chickering, Cabaret, Hardman, George Steck, Mason & Risch, Ivers & Pond, Kranich & Bach, Albert Weber, Conover, Winter, Wellington, Bradbury, J. & C. Fischer, and H. F. Miller. In fact, at one time Aeolian controlled over 40 brands! All of these pianos were made in Aeolian’s factory. Determined to make a buck, Aeolian slapped the names of the “good brands” on some of them. Buyers assumed these instruments conformed to the original specifications. If there was any connection, it had to have been fairly faint. Of the rest of the brands, it’s likely they were all basically the same piano, differing only in casework and name. In fact, all these pianos, regardless of reputation of the brand, may have been “very closely related” (ahem)! Aeolian represents a low point in American piano making. Any of these brands built after approximately 1930 should be avoided. Aeolian is now out of business (1982). Everybody take a deep breath! Please see separate entries for brands listed above. Some pre-Aeolian brands are worth considering if you can find one that does not need restoration. Or if the company has now been resurrected under its own name. American/various.
Aeolian player pianos: Aeolian also had a hand in the mechanical piano business, as late as the 1980s. The player mechanism is not reputed to be very good. Names: Duo/Art, Pianola, Musette, Hardman, Cabaret, Sting, Sting II, and Keepsake.
Aeolian Hyundai: See Hyundai.
Adam Schaaf: See Schaaf.
Albrecht, Charles: See Pearl River.
American Piano Company: Established in 1908 in a merger of Chickering & Sons with several smaller companies. The deal was shepherded by Knabe. Primary companies were Armstrong, Brewster, Marshall & Wendell, Foster-Armstrong, and Haines; also included were stencil pianos manufactured by Foster-Armstrong for an Indiana piano dealer, James F. Cook & Co. American Piano Company’s specialty was player pianos, for which they had a good reputation. They tangled over copyright with composers but were upheld by the Supreme Court, which said that player piano rolls were a method of setting down music that could not be read directly by humans. (The copyright law was changed not too long thereafter to extended copyright protection to cover “mechanical reproduction.”) By the Great Depression, the company was floundering and sold to Aeolian (variously 1929/1932). You will not find any pianos with American Piano Company on the fallboard. I include this company here to help clarify this company’s interaction with Aeolian, Chickering, Knabe, and Baldwin; as well as the companies who formed American Piano Company and what happened to their brand names.
America Sejung Corp: Makes stencil pianos in its factory located in Qingdao (China). Brands: Hobart M. Cable, George Steck, and Falcone. See Falcone. No. Chinese.
Altenburg, Otto (variously Altenburgh): Otto and his cousin, Frederick, began building pianos while living in Germany. They emigrated to America and opened their factory in New York in about 1865 and built pianos until 1875. In 1868, Frederick formed a partnership with Edward Ehrlich (I don’t know what happened to Otto) and built pianos under the F. E. Altenburg & Ehrlich name. Things went south about a year later, though Frederick (and possibly Otto) continued to build pianos. Seeing a growing market, Altenburg opened a retail store while continuing to manufacture pianos. Later they added other piano brands to their retail stock. As noted, production of their own instruments stopped in 1875. In 1990, the name was bought by Samick (Korea). About 1996, Samick may have moved production of this brand to Indonesia. Old Altenburgs are not worth restoring, and new ones depend on what you think about buying a bottom-of-the-tank Samick. Korean/Indonesian.
Allen, Robert & Sons: This fellow was very enterprising, placing the name of a very famous piano on his piano, but putting the name of his company above it in small letters. Not too jolly. English.
Altenburg, F.E. & Ehrlich: Altenburg entered into a short-term partnership with Edward Ehrlich. Any instrument of this name would be too old to consider. American.
Anniversary: See Lesage.
Apollo [player piano]: See Story & Clark.
Apollo (variously Apollo Piano): Established in 1863. Wurlitzer bought it about 1925. Starting in 1901, other brands appeared: Art-Apollo and Apollophone. Warhorses all; out to pasture all! American.
Apollophone: See Apollo.
Armstrong: See Foster-Armstrong.
Art-Apollo: See Apollo.
Astin-Weight: Established in 1959. Supposedly not “bad”, but the sound is idiosyncratic and not an instant-like sort of thing. Grand lid hinges on treble side, so it has a “strange” appearance, and, of course, the acoustics are “backwards,” with amplification of the treble. Extended soundboard on vertical model, which increases volume a great deal – some say it is “too loud.” Possibly went out of business around 2008. I’d say this is not for an average buyer. If you find one, consider moving on unless something rather eccentric is to your taste. American.
Atlas: See Kawai. Stencil brand. Terrible action. No. Japanese.
Baldorr & Son: Likely not something that would please you. Russian.
Baldwin: Good piano. In general, you can’t go wrong with a Baldwin. Many concert grands are Baldwins. Excellent quality up to 1970. Quality problems on some actions beginning after about 1970. Concerts grands of 7’0″ and 9’0″ had Renner actions and so were better quality. Baldwin has a checkered and convoluted musical past. Baldwin acquired Bechstein (see separate entry) in 1963 and sold it in 1986. Tried to acquire Fender (guitar company) but could not; bought Burns (English) instead. Nobody wanted Baldwin guitars, however. Why buy a Baldwin when one could buy a Fender or another well-known guitar brand? Nevertheless, Baldwin bought another guitar company in 1967 (Gretsch); this didn’t last long, either, and Baldwin sold the company back. At this point, Baldwin decided to try its hand at financial services (!). Baldwin overextended itself – 200 insurance companies, banks, and other financial institutions – and filed for bankruptcy in 1983. The management of the company bought the assets in 1984 and took it public in 1986 as Baldwin Piano and Organ Company (the original company name, by the way). The company was sold in 1993 and taken private. Through the 1990s, quality improved. In 2001, however, Baldwin again filed for bankruptcy. This time it was in the roses with guitars: it was bought by Gibson Guitar, which is trying to focus on building a piano that lives up to the Baldwin tradition. Gibson’s Baldwins do seem to have better quality, but there is not much production by which to judge this, although production seems to be increasing. Other brands owned under the Baldwin “umbrella,” by virtue of Baldwin’s buying Wurlitzer (1988): Wurlitzer, Cable, Chickering, Ellington, Howard, Fischer, Kranick & Bach, Hamilton, and Wurlitzer. These brands (including the once-lauded Chickering and Knabe brands) are now made in two Chinese factories. New Baldwin verticals may be Chinese-made; no Wurlitzer, Hamilton, or Chickering pianos are being made. Baldwin grands are still made in the U.S., however. American/various.
Update, 2012: A reader writes: “I found information that Baldwin has reopened their Cincinnati factory. They take custom orders at their Trumann, Arkansas, factory as well.”
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “According to my technicians, the Baldwins from World War II to 1963 are OK pianos but suffer from a bad bridge design. The design was changed about 1964, and the piano has improved.”
Bach, Otto: See Dietmann.
Bachmann: There seems to be a Wilhelm Bachmann and a Carl Bachmann. I haven’t figured out whether they are related. Wilhelm seems to have been active in piano-building in Austria (and Germany?) about the mid-1890s and Carl in England. Somehow, the Swiss figure into this. Haven’t gotten the history untangled yet. Quality of the 19th-century Bachmanns is mixed. Some say rich tone; some say “shrill.” At their age, original Bachmanns are assuredly not worth restoration. New production is quite different! This instrument has no hammers and strings but rather has optical sensors. Since we are assuming the pianos made by Carl and Wilhelm are beyond saving, the question is, “How much do you want something weird?” Korean?
Bacon & Karr: (See Also ‘Bacon & Karr’ and ‘Francis Bacon & Raven (variously Raven & Bacon): Bacon, Francis: Bacon’) Bacon & Raven (also listed as Raven & Bacon) was part of one of the oldest and most historical American piano manufacturers. Originally started by the famous business tycoon John Jacob Astor along with piano makers Robert Stodart and William Dubois in 1789, the firm was originally known as Dubois & Stodart until 1836. In 1836, Stodart retired and Francis Bacon joined the firm. In 1841, Dubois left the firm and Bacon was joined by brothers Richard & Thomas Raven, and the firm’s name was changed to Bacon & Raven. After the death of George Bacon in 1855, his son Francis Bacon joined the firm and the name of the firm was changed to Raven, Bacon & Company. In 1862 the name of the firm was again changed to simply ‘Raven & Bacon’. In 1872, Richard M. Raven died and the firm was taken over by Thomas Raven at which time the name of the firm was changed to Raven & Company. In 1878, Thomas Raven left the firm and the name of the company was changed to ‘Raven Piano Works’. Raven Piano Works was out of business before 1890. In 1871, William H. Karr went into partnership with Francis Bacon and established the firm of ‘Bacon & Karr’. In 1904, the firm was incorporated as the Francis Bacon Piano Company. Francis Bacon continued building pianos with great success until the 1920’s era when the firm was absorbed into industrial giant Kohler & Campbell. Kohler & Campbell continued building the Francis Bacon name until 1934. Baus: No Baus in the Haus, bitte. See Doll.
Beatty: See Beethoven.
Bechner: Ukrainian. Dutch factory, also? Ni.
Bechstein: This is a high-end instrument. Karl Bechstein worked for Pleyel (see entry) before setting out on his own. If I were buying a new piano for myself, I’d look at this one very seriously. Bechstein and Samick (Korea) entered a joint venture to raise capital for Bechstein (2003); after this financial goal was reached (2006), Samick was eased out. Technically, Samick is no longer associated with Bechstein, but I’d be cautious and get a tech’s evaluation of pianos made during the Samick association. German.
Becker, Jacob: Established 1841. Not the same as Bechner. Other brands: Baltica, Mignon, Tschaika, P. Brunner. Just say no. Russian.
Beckwith: Sold by Sear Roebuck. Made by Beckwith Piano & Organ Company (established late 1800s). Other Sears brands include Sears Roebuck & Co., American Home, Maywood, Beverley, and Caldwell, although Beckwith was the most popular brand Sears sold. Since it was sold via mail-order (the Sears catalog), presumably they were reasonably well-made (they had to trek across the U.S. by train or other sorts of transportation). Of course, today they would be in a state of disrepair. Beckwith also made player pianos and reed organs. Also sold by Sears? At this point, a Beckwith piano certainly isn’t playable; and doubtless is not worth putting any money into, even if it were brought to [temporary] playable condition. Don’t bother. American.
Beethoven: It was the vogue, around 1900, to use composers’ names as piano names. Beethoven was one of them. The most prominent builder of the Beethoven was Daniel F. Beatty Piano & Organ Company (Washington, New Jersey, founded 1869). What made Beatty’s Beethoven notable was that he was one of the first piano manufacturers to sell by mail, aggressively mail-bombing with his advertising fliers. Rural areas were especially-favored areas, as these folks weren’t likely to get to a big-enough city to visit a piano showroom. (See Beckwith.) In 1892, Beatty’s enterprise was taken over by Needham Piano Company. (See Needham.) Any Beethoven out of New Jersey probably is old enough not to sleep with the fishes but to have made the bed for the fishes. Pass. American.
Behning: See Weber. Probably part of the Chinese “startup” using the Weber name. Possible stencil piano. Iffy, no matter which circumstance. No. Chinese.
Beijing Xinghai: Controls Otto Meister, Heintzmann, Ellington, Wyman, Linden. No. Chinese.
Belaruse: Terrible piano. It’s the worst piano on the market, according to my tech (2006). Avoid. May control Schubert, Wieler. Belarusian.
Bentley: See Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd. Name bought by InterMusic. No. English.
Bettich (variously Matthias Bettich): This piano is undoubtedly Chinese. What part the Germans play in this is unknown. I’m guessing this is one of the many Chinese instruments that are given Eurpean names (German names are preferred). No. Chinese.
Burger & Jacobi: Established 1872 by Christian Burger in Switzerland. Herman Jacobi joined the firm in 1875. The firm moved to Italy. Out of business in 1970s. Swiss. In 1990, the company was bought and moved to Czechoslovakia (Petrof factory?), then to Germany. Whether the factory is in Germany today, I don’t know. Pianos are marked “Made in Europe.” Limited availability in the U.S. Maybe a good piano. Try one if you can find one. Various/Europe?
Bergmann: See Young Chang and Pramberger. Verticals only. Entry level. No! You can do a lot better. Korean/Chinese.
Bell: Flourished 1900-1920. Went out of business in 1924. Name bought by Lesage (Canada) and pianos with Bell name produced from 1960-1970. Later ones not good quality; earlier ones are warhorses. No. Canadian.
Belmont: See Lesage.
Becker: See Kimball.
Berlin: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Betting, Theodore: Established 1887 in Legnica (Poland). Factory fire in 1921 forced move to Leszno. World War II stopped production. New production in Germany in the former Seiler factory under former owner; this probably means good equipment and perhaps former Seiler technicians. Bechstein is in the mix somehow, having the factory make pianos under the Europa name. Supposedly Betting no longer manufactures pianos; the word on the street is that the company is owned by a member of the Schimmel (see separate entry) family. Probably limited U.S. availability and possibly only as used instruments, for the company may be out of business. Try it, if you can find one. Polish/German.
Betting, Thomas: Possible corruption of Theodore Betting (above), but possibly not, as this Betting is owned by/owns the Schirmer & Son brand. This one, if it’s a different company, probably isn’t very good. In my research perambulations, however, I did find a reference (but no information) that linked Theodore Betting pianos to Schirmer. I don’t know if these two brands are connected. I guess you’ll have to find one and play it.
Bishop: No information on this one. It either isn’t made anymore or…. No-go, even if you can find one; they’re unknowns for a good reason.
Blondel: No longer distributed in the U.S. Made by Bohemia. You might be able to locate a used one. Unknown quality. Czech.
Blüthner: Very fine piano. I’d look at this one. Can be expensive. German.
Bohemia: After World War II, the Czech government lumped all Czech pianos under the name “Petrof,” since it was the best-known. After socialism fell to democracy (1989), the Bohemia name was restored to that company. Now (2005) owned by Bechstein. Good-to-very-good, especially after Bechstein took over. Czech.
Bösendorfer: Another high-end instrument. I’d look at this one, also. Bought jointly by Kimball (which now makes hotel and office furniture) and an Austrian bank (with Austrian government backing). Last Austrian/Viennese piano company left, out of the hundreds in business in Vienna in the 1800s. Austrian.
Update, 2007: Now owned by Yamaha.
Boston: Very good piano. This piano is made by Kawai. It was designed by and is marketed by Steinway, but not made by them – – this is not clear in their advertising! I’d look at this one, too. A Boston is better than a standard Kawai because it is built in Kawai’s “better factory” (in Ryuyo, not Hamamatsu). Verticals (44″-52″) and grands. American.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “This is another piano I was seriously considering; a great value for the price, and there are a slew of late-model used instruments for sale out there. Action and sound very impressive for the size of the pianos (I tried the GP-156 at Steinway) and workmanship appeared very fine. But. . . the Boston verticals are made in Indonesia, and I have heard from two techs who’ve said to give them a pass. As for the Essex. . . yes, absolutely execrable piano. What in the world were they thinking?” See also his comments at Gaveau.
Bradbury: See Aeolian.
Brambach: See Kohler & Campbell.
Breitman: Made by Artfield Piano. No. Chinese.
Brentwood: Made by Pearl River. No. Chinese.
Brewster: See Foster-Armstrong.
Briggs (variously C.C. Briggs): See Emerson.
Broadwood: The company began as harpsichord-makers (1718). Probably the world’s oldest piano-maker (that’s what my research has shown, at any rate!). The founder’s daughter married Broadwood, who took over the business and started making pianos about 1775. Beethoven’s Broadwood was a gift from the company (this particular instrument was later owned by Liszt). The company, in a shrewd marketing move, also gave pianos to Chopin and Mendelssohn (and harpsichords to Handel and Haydn), as well as instruments to several royal houses of Europe. (Perhaps it was from Broadwood that Érard got the idea to give away his pianos to luminaries.) Antique instruments are available, also, through dealers, including “boudoir” (6’11” to 7’6″ ) and “cottage” (5’8″) grands. Current production entirely verticals. I don’t know anything about the quality of these pianos (the company no longer makes harpsichords), but they’re likely to be good/very good since the company has been in continuous business for so long. English.
Update, ~2008: Part of Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd, which is now out of business. A shame.
Broadwood White: To show what a revered company Broadwood was (see entry), a number of companies founded by former Broadwood workers, appended their name to Broadwood’s. This Mr. White took the appropriation a step further. His literature noted that Broadwood White was Broadwood’s “branch factory.” I do not know how Mr. White’s fortunes fared (or what Broadwood thought about his unautorized use of their name), but those with the wherewithal certainly bought real Broadwoods. Broadwood White made Frederick Dove’s stable of pianos, even though Dove noted that his shop was associated with Broadwood. Now we know how! (See Dove.) These Broadwood Whites would be ancient beasts. Serve them afternoon tea in a drawing room that has dust mites floating in shafts of late-afternoon sun. No. English.
Brockport: See Kurtzmann.
Brodmann: (Not to be confused with Broadwood.) I know nothing of the quality of this piano. “Vienna Edition” and “Professional Edition” instruments are made in Vienna, and the “Conservatory Edition” is made in Asia (probably China). Austrian/Chinese(?).
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “When I was shopping for a grand piano, I tried out a 5’4” Brodmann (PE 162) in Faust Harrison’s Manhattan showroom. These pianos are the result of a project initiated by the Bösendorfer people: high-quality European parts (actions, strings, pin blocks, soundboards, yadda yadda) are shipped to China for assembly. I was very impressed with the instrument, as was my lady friend, who is a serious, advanced pianist. The action was excellent, as was the tone, with the exception of what I thought was a slightly smudgy sound in the lower bass (most likely something that could be cured with judicious voicing). Given the price – – $15,00 list for this model – – I think it was an excellent value, and I was seriously considering a purchase when a tuner/tech friend offered me a very fine 1971 Baldwin M for a ridiculously-low price. I would recommend to anyone looking for a new grand to give the Brodmanns a try.”
Burnett & Co. manu. 361 Broadway, New- York City. Cabaret: Player piano. See Aeolian.
Cable: The factory was established in 1900 in Chicago and made serviceable instruments, operating its own retail locations, as well. Made pianos and player pianos, barely surviving the Great Depression. Cable was one of the brands owned by Baldwin. Production ended in 1960. American Sejung, a Korean company, purchased the name in 1990. Current production is in China in America Sejung’s factory there (Qingdao Sejung Musical Instruments). Cable may be in current production, but if the company exists, the pianos would be made in China or Indonesia. Be careful. Not the same as Hobart M. Cable pianos, and they’re probably not even as good as those!
Cable, Hobart M.: Cheaply-made “entry-level piano.” Curiously, America Sejung Corp is a Korean company that produces pianos in its own factory in China. See Falcone and Hobart M. Cable. No! Chinese.
Cable-Nelson: See Cable.
Canadian: See Lesage.
Carhart & Needham: See Needham.
Chase, A. B.: See Dongbei.
Calisia: Factory established in Kalisz, Poland (1878) by Gustav Arnold Fibiger, whose father was a carpenter. Factory closed during WWI and resumed production after the war, but of furniture. In the early 1920s, the company resumed production of the Calisia piano. The Great Depression sent production into a tailspin. Then came WWII and the Soviet occupation of Poland. The company was nationalized (1945) and turned again to its modern core business: furniture. Around 1950, piano production was begun again. By the 1990s, the company was mired in debt, however. Several attempts were made to revive it through infusions of cash from private holding companies. In 2007, the Calisia factory closed. In 2010, the Calisia name was acquired by Vershold (which appears to be a company based in Poland that works with an Asian company to “source” materials from China, India, Vietnam, and other East and South Asian countries and forward them to retailers worldwide). One of these items appears to be pianos. It appears to me that these instruments are made in Asia (China, probably). Almost certainly, the Polish expertise is entirely absent. If you found an old Calisia, it would doubtless need extensive restoration. I don’t know what’s going on with “sourcing” from China, but I’d say this piano is a no-go.
Cambridge: Established 1902, specializing in verticals (and players). Bought by Ricca & Son, Jacob Doll, and Winter. Discontinued 1941. Name bought by Story & Clark in the 1990s, but they were not built to Cambridge’s original specs. You are unlikely to find this piano. It’s probably not a good buy, anyway, especially after 1990s. See Aeolian.
Canadian: See Lesage.
Capen: See Kurtzmann.
Chavanne: Sold in Europe only. Doubt you find one here unless it’s a private party. Still in production today, however. Unknown quality. Play one and see what you think. French.
Update, 2013: A reader writes, “The Chavanne pianos you mention on your site are made in Toulouse, in the Southwest of France. I don’t know anything of their quality personally, although the brand seems to have a good reputation.”
Challen: These are Challen-ging pianos to play (I know; one too many puns for you to forgive me). Big no. Malaysian.
Chambers: (dubois) Chappell: Out of business. Obviously a no. English.
Chester: See Waters.
Chickering (variously Chickering & Sons; Chickering Bros.): Founded in Boston (1823) by Jonas Chickering and James Stewart. Chickering came from cabinet-making background (starting in 1817), which explains the high quality of the Chickering’s case. He then apprenticed with piano builder John Osborn, where he met Stewart. The two formed Stewart and Chickering. When Stewart left the partnership, the business was renamed Chickering Piano. Chickering’s pianos were quick to gain prizes and endorsements for quality. In 1830, Chickering began a partnership with a sea captain (John McKay). The good cap’n was to deliver Chickering’s pianos to the South American market and return with rosewood and other fine woods for the cases. John and his sons joined the Chickering crew, and the company was named Chickering and Makays [sic]. When Papa McKay and his ship were lost at sea (1841) and his sons were uninterested in continuing in the piano business, the company returned to the Chickering name. When Jonas died (1853), the business was taken up by his three sons. Besides manufacturing, these gentlemen also focused on marketing. In 1850, P.T. Barnum (the circus magnate) arranged for a famous European soprano (Jenny Lind) to make a U.S. tour; the piano chosen to travel with her was a Chickering. On opening night, Henry Steinway – – the Steinweg family had recently arrived from Germany and changed their name to Steinway) – – was in attendance and was enthralled with the piano, to the point that his careful inspection impeded the timely raising of the curtain on Miss Lind’s performance. Similarly, when the brothers made a gift to Liszt of one of their pianos – – hoping for his endorsement – – Liszt was similarly captivated, which lead to recommendations from other performers. After the death of the last brother (1896), Chickering Piano’s fortunes took a turn for the worse because of a decline in quality. In 1908, the firm was propped up as part of the formation of American Piano Company, which was a consortium of piano manufacturers, including Knabe and Chickering. (See American Piano Company entry.) In 1929 (variously 1932), suffering fatal financial setbacks, American Piano Company was taken over by Aeolian. (Bear with me here!) Aeolian survived the Great Depression but succumbed to economic forces and closed in 1941, despite a last-ditch effort to sell a $500 player piano. Chickering was then purchased by Wurlitzer in 1983. Chickering pianos were made from 1986-1988 in the U.S. By this time, the quality of pianos from the once-superb Chickering firm had slid precipitously. When Baldwin bought Wurlitzer (1988), pianos with the Chickering name (I cannot bring myself to say “Chickering pianos”) continued in production in Asia until 2009. Anything earlier than 1900, say, would be a warhorse. If you are interested, you might inquire of a tech what would be needed to bring it to playing condition. And if this particular instrument is a good candidate. Modern instruments are of very suspect quality (Chinese/Malaysia/Indonesian, probably) and thus might be struck from your list. Those “in the middle” are of varying quality. American/Chinese/etc.
Chickering, Jonas (not to be confused with Chickering): In what is a cruel twist, the name of Jonas Chickering, the man who founded the superb-quality Chickering brand, is being used on this poor-quality piano – – disrespect at its worst. Introduced in late 1980s to be an entry-level piano; you know what that portends. Name now part of Baldwin group (along with the real Chickering name). Baldwin did a house-cleaning of its less-successful brands. If Jonas Chickering pianos are still being made, they are doubtless from China. Not a good piano, no matter the provenance. Run; don’t walk. China.
Choiseul: May be stencil piano. Doubtful quality. Korean.
Christman: An antique piano. Factory began about 1885. Production stopped about 1930, doubtless because of the onset of the Great Depression. Have the instrument examined thoroughly before purchase; will need restoration, probably rebuilding. American.
Cline: See Young-Chang.
Colby: Established in Erie, Pennsylvania; also had an office in New York City. Did not survive the Great Depression. Any Colby you might find will be too decrepit to be worth restoring. No. American.
Colmann: Pianos manufactured in China (I don’t know where). I can’t find out anything more about this brand. Since so little information can be dredged up (maybe you’ll have better luck!), I advise you to steer a very brisk course away from it. This is not a case of no-news-is-good-news. It’s no-news-means-bad-news. Chinese.
Concerto: See Lesage.
Concord: See Lesage.
Conover: Now part of Aeolian family. Other lines in the Conover cupboard: Kingsbury, Wellington, and Schiller. You are unlikely to be delighted. American.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “Believe it or not, the 92nd St. YMCA, which has one of the best music programs in the country for adults and kids, has one of these in one of its main recital rooms. Talk about a pile of poop. My theory is that it was donated by a benefactor who didn’t know any better, so now the school is stuck with it. At one point, Middle C didn’t play (!). These are made by Samick, possibly in Indonesia, and no longer available in the U.S., but if you really, really want one, you can buy it in Australia and have it shipped.” [mb: No ringing endorsement here!]
Conover Cable: See Conover.
Conn: See Krakauer; see Kimball; see Janssen.
Cor[o]nado: See Starr.
Continental Euro: See Lesage.
Cook, James F. (variously J.F. Cook): Indiana piano dealer active at the turn of the 20th century. In a curious “reverse-stencil” turn, Cook arranged with Foster-Armstrong to build a better quality (!) piano than Foster-Armstrong was turning out for other instrument lines (see separate Foster-Armstrong entry). Although J.F. Cook pianos seem to have been of a higher quality than the other Foster-Armstrong instruments, any surviving instrument is likely to need an overhaul even to be playable. Cook seems to have gone out of business around 1920. Foster-Armstrong became part of Aeolian about this time, and Aeolian continued to make pianos under this brand. That tells you something about later-20th century production! Because old ones would be basically unplayable and Aeolian brought the touch of death to all the piano companies it acquired, avoid any piano with this name. American.
Cristofori Niemeyer: See Dongbei. Possibly related to the Opus name, also by Dongbei. No. Chinese.
Craig: See Lesage.
Cumberland: See Starr.
Currier: Established 1823 in Boston (Currier & Company). Both Adams presidents (John and John Quincy) had Currier pianos. Current factory located in Marion, North Carolina. One of the selling points mention in the company’s literature is that their “Curriercote” finish even withstands “a smoldering cigarette.” This is North Carolina, but, really, now, does that sound like a selling point for a piano? Close to the bottom of the pond. Swim away. American.
Daytron: First pianos debuted in 1981. Made in Saujin (Sojin?) piano factory (owned by Daewoo). This is probably not an intelligent purchase. Korean.
Daewoo (variously Sojin, Daewoo Sojin, Sojin Daewoo; possibly Saujin): Daewoo has its fingers in a lot of things, including pianos. Their piano factory is in Saujin, near Seoul. One of their brand names (see also Daytron) is Sojin. This instrument was not even a moderate quality, and Daewoo shut down the factory in 1991. It was reopened in 2005; I would be suspicious of quality, however. Korean.
Decker Brothers: Purported to be same quality as Steinway “in its day,” but the company went out of business in 1900. These pianos would be dinosaurs in need of a lot of work. Not feasible. American.
Dove, Frederick & Sons (variously F. Dove & Sons): Begun as a firm that refelted piano hammers, Dove decided to get into the business of making the whole instrument. The instruments were either good enough or cheap enough for others to use them as stencil pianos: Godball, Logan, Laurence, Milne, Johnson, and McKinzie. There is some evidence that Dove hired out the whole kit and kaboodle to Broadwood White. Talk about stencil pianos! Dove instrument would be too old to consider. See also Broadwood White. No. English.
DeVoe & Sons: See Kimball.
Diapason: Introduced in 1948 and produced by Kawai. As far as I can gather, Kawai spun off the company (see following note from a reader). Whether Diapason’s fortunes then went into steep decline or whether they weren’t very good when Kawai was making them, I don’t know. They seem to be in current production in Japan. Unknown whether this is a piano with the original Diapason specs or whether the Diapason name being used by another manufacturer. (See Kawai.) No go. Japanese.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “The name Diapason was/is a name used for pianos manufactured by Kawai in their Hamamatsu factory [the “better” factory is in Ryuyo – mb]. I think the sticker brand was/is totally owned by Kawai. If that is the case, I don’t understand the rationale behind building these pianos, as they really are of inferior quality. A church I used to work for has a 7-ft. Diapason, and it is one of the worst instruments I have seen.”
Dietmann: Dietmann Klavier perhaps was a German firm. Instrument now assembled in South Africa. Other lines: Otto Bach, Bernhard Steiner. No. South African.
Doll, Jacob & Sons. Established 1871, taken over by his sons upon his death. Went out of business in 1931. Brands associated with Doll include Norris & Hyde, C.C. Briggs, Wentworth, Edward Mason, Wellsmore, Cambridge, Merrill, and Baus. These would be old pianos and probably not in good enough condition to warrant the sizeable restoration needed. No. American.
Dongbei: One of largest factories in China and makes a number of brands (Nordiska, Elkstrom, Prince, Princess, Opus, and Cristofori Niemeyer). Beware. China.
Dubois: Now, here is a piano – should you find one – that could be very valuable. William Dubois’ pianos are considered museum-quality when carefully restored. Should you wish to play on a superb square piano and have lots of money to restore it, Dubois is your man. If not, keep looking for one for your home. Not only was Dubois a stellar builder in his own right, but he enriched many companies through various business partnerships, who then split and reorganized, not unlike a square dance jamboree. Born in the Caribbean, he [his family?] moved to New York, where Dubois started a business as a piano importer (between the U.S. and England), retailer, and music publisher Dubois must have been a very skilled, and perhaps charismatic, businessman because he attracted the attention of John Jacob Astor. The Astor family was originally from Germany. Bruder Georg went to London, anglicized his name, and began making musical instruments (including pianos, at this early point). Johann Jakob joined him and later emigrated to the U.S. to join Bruder Heinrich’s business but also served as his London brother’s agent for the music instrument business. Whether as a buy-in or a gift, Dubois found himself taking over Astor’s instrument import house in 1789, as Astor turned his attention to his fur-trading ventures. By the time Dubois took over the Astor enterprise, pianos were in the inventory. The pianos moved well, so Dubois now moved to direct instrument manufacturing. Astor figured in Dubois’ charmed business life again, as it appears Astor provided the financial backing for Dubois to go into business with well-known piano maker Adam Stodart (see entry), forming Dubois & Stodart in 1822. (Dubois may have contributed some of his own money to the start-up.) At one point, Dubois and Stodart contracted with the piano firm of R&W Nunns (see entry) to make some of their pianos. (I think that Dubois and Stodart also made pianos for their own company, so there were two “brands” in the Dubois and Stodart inventory. In 1834, Dubois left the partnership and joined with George Bacon, a well-respected piano maker and probably a step up in knowledge from Stodart(see sole entry) to form Dubois & Bacon. Perhaps how he got top billing in the name was probably because of his financial contribution? In 1836, Thomas Chambers (see entry?) joined them, and the firm became Dubois Bacon & Chambers. This partnership lasted until 1840. At this point, Dubois elected to go out on his own, perhaps because he understood the business well enough not to need a partner/someone more well-versed than he in how to make pianos. In 1843, he took on a partner (Charles Seabury why?) but that firm was disbanded a year later. Dubois returned to building pianos with only his name on them, working alone until 1850, when he entered into his final partnership, this time with Daniel Charles Warriner. The firm was now Dubois & Warriner. I cannot find anything on Warriner’s background except that his family was from Boston. It could be that he apprenticed in a piano factory there since there were several. Dubois’ name falls from the professional records about 1853, but Warriner continued (renaming the company? but why?) until about 1863. He pass away in 1894 in Florida, but the business seems to have preceded him in death.
1789 – astor put in fund; set up with debois Duchess: See Starr.
Dunham (variously Dunham & Sons; also Stodart, Worcester and Dunham): John B. Dunham (born 1799) apprenticed as a cabinet-maker, working up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1834, he moved to New York City and secured a job as a case-maker at the Nunns, Clark and Company piano firm. (See entry.) In 1836, he entered joined Adam Stodart and Horatio Worcester as the junior partner in Stodart, Worcester and Dunham Piano Company. Dunham must have risen to star of the show, for he decided to employ a well-respected piano designer (Frederick Mathushek), who made important changes in the way the square piano was strung. According to an 1852 newspaper article, this innovation brought the firm adulation “from Maine to Georgia, not to mention California and other remote places.” Indeed! In addition to the now-patented stringing design, Dunham’s factory was steam-powered. In 1857, Stodart and Nunn seem to have left the house, as the concern was renamed Dunham & Sons. Upon Dunham’s death, the name changed to Dunham Piano-Forte Manufacturing (1882), then Dunham Piano Company (1889). The company was in business in 1890; it is not known what happened after that. As you can guess, any Dunham piano would be a square/antique instrument and not worth rebuilding. No. American.
Duo/Art: See Aeolian player pianos.
Einstein: I don’t know anything about this piano. I am guessing that it is either one of the venerable warhorses built by one of the 1800 piano companies flourishing in early twentieth-century America; or a modern Chinese instrument with a “fake German name.” Neither of these augers well, relatively or not. Chinese?
Eisenberg: See Steinberg.
Ellington: Part of the Baldwin group (now owned by Gibson). The company originated in Cincinnati, Ohio, and seems to have gone out of business about 1930. Baldwin has not continued production. Likely these pianos are suspect. American.
Eavestaff: See Yantai Perzina.
Ebel, Carl: See Yantai Perzina.
Elkstrom: See Dongbei.
Ellington: See Baldwin.
Elysian: No info exception place of manufacture. Likely a stencil piano, and these are nearly always bad buys. Korea.
Update, 2014: A reader writes: “I’m a regulator, and I’d just like to add something to your list. Elysians were made by Young Chang. They aren’t bad pianos for the entry level, having regulated a fair few. They were made for a company called Robert Morley and Co. in Lewisham in southeast London. Just thought you’d like some extra information; I also own one myself.”
Emerson: Company founded in Boston in 1849 by William P. Emerson. His initial instruments were priced to sell, and business was brisk. In 1854, respected piano-maker Charles C. Briggs (who later founded his own piano firm) was induced to join the company to improve the quality of the instrument, which it seems he was able to do in spades, such that the Emerson brand acquired quite a patina, with a reputation as a “sweet-toned” piano. Emerson died in 1971; a William Moore took over the company. Public records show that the company became a partnership with Joseph W. Ellingwood in 1872. At some later point, it became Moore’s sole proprietorship. The years 1879-1881 are shrouded, but by 1882, the Emerson Piano Company was once again a partnership: George W. Carter (the factory’s foreman), Patrick H. Powers (who was Moore’s assistant, starting in 1878), O. A. Kimball (I don’t know yet whether he is connected to the Kimball Piano Co.), and Joseph Gramer (a recently-arrived German immigrant who was a partner with Gustavus A. Miller in a piano company and also had been factory foreman for Emerson). In 1883, Carter dropped out of the picture. As to Gramer, his name is associated with Emerson Piano; I’m not sure how, but he seems to have been granted two patents regarding piano production and/or design. Whether he produced pianos under his own name or, rather, “Gramer” was a line of the Emerson factory is not known. (Note: Briggs eventually went off to found his own company, as I noted, after first being in partnership with George Guild. That’s another story. Or two.) Emerson instruments were characterized by exotic woods and detailed carving (which you would expect in the midst of the Victorian era) and, after Briggs came on board, had a reputation for quality. World War II spelled the end of the company. As far as I can follow the byzantine path of this piano firm, it appears that it was sold to United Piano (possibly a British firm), then American Piano, and finally to Aeolian. Aeolian production began about 1964. Production seems to have stopped entirely in 1983. I can’t find any information on the quality of the instruments of the Aeolian era. Given Aeolian’s track record, I’d say these pianos are only fair, if that good. Early Emersons might be worth restoring (read: expensive) if the antique value of the instrument appeals to you. Later ones may not be, especially those built after 1930, as they came from the Aeolian factory. Unlikely to be a good buy. American.
Érard: Starting as a harpsichord builder in the mid-1700s, Sebastian Érard turned to pianos but saw his new business crushed by the French Revolution. (Yes, this company has been around along time!) The family decamped to London and opened a piano factory there. In 1796, Érard returned to Paris and re-opened his factory (1802). Part of the family, however, stayed in London to operate the English factory. Érard holds a large number of patents for important improvements to the piano, dealing mainly with the action, particularly the escapement (1808). These improvements are industry standards today. After Sebastian died, the company was taken over by his nephew, Pierre. Pierre was never one to shy away from a marketing opportunity. He made sure royal families (Queen Victoria, Napoleon) and musical luminaries (Mendelssohn, Verdi, Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin, Fauré, Haydn) received gifts of his instruments. Érard built a square piano in 1877. The Érard tone color could not hold its own against the powerful sounds of pianos of the early 1900s and so fell from popularity. In 1960, Érard merged with Gaveau. In 1961, Érard and Pleyel joined forces. In 1971, Érard/Pleyel was sold to Schimmel. Schimmel, in turn, was sold to Yamaha in 2007 (see Yamaha). Any instruments from Pierre’s reign would be museum pieces. I would think production from the Érard/Pleyel period through the early 2000s would be decent instruments, but I don’t know. Schimmel went into bankruptcy in 2009, so you might reasonably expect quality issues, starting about 2006. See Schimmel for further peregrinations of the Schimmel piano. See also Gaveau and Rameau. See reader remarks following Gaveau review. French/German/Japanese.
Essex: Pretty awful piano. This is the entry level of the Steinway line and not built in their factory. The Boston is the price- and quality-point between the Essex and Steinway (the Boston isn’t built in the Steinway factory, either). Specs for the Essex are by Steinway, as well as advertising and distribution. Made in China in a factory that makes stencil piano brands, too (“house brands” at Jordan Kitts Music, Sherman Clay, and Schmitt Music piano stores), so you might not be getting a piano very much different from other pianos built in this factory (ahem), even though you’re buying the Steinway name and paying for Steinway advertising. I’d be very hesitant, to the point of coming to a standstill. You can certainly get a better piano for the same price. Verticals and baby grands. Chinese.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “As for the Essex. . . yes, absolutely execrable piano. What in the world were they thinking?”
Estey: You are unlikely to find any of these pianos. Ever. Anywhere. The company originated as an organ company. The founder was trained as a plumber and evidently succeeded at several businesses! Skip, not that you’ll have a choice in the matter! American.
Update, 2012: A reader wrote me, “I found one!”
Estonia: Fine piano. The company was founded in 1903 and had its factories destroyed in the general turmoil of the Soviet Union, but the company has been resurrected by a doctoral piano graduate of the Julliard School. Grands only. Estonian.
Eterna: Built by Yamaha, which discovered the quality was so bad it wouldn’t sell. The instruments were then sold in China but withdrawn. This tells you about the quality! Noooo! Japanese.
Europa: See Thomas Betting.
Euterpe: Production started 1949. Appears to have bought several other German brands: W. Hoffmann, Feurich, F. Kuhla. Unknown quality. Perhaps available only in Europe. German.
Everett: Founded 1883 in Boston. Merged with Cable-Nelson in 1926. In 1962, Hammond Organ Company bought the firm. In 1973, Yamaha purchased the company; the case was designed by William Faber, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was a furniture designer. Yamaha contracted with Baldwin to make the piano from 1986-1989. Now made by Dongbei in China and Macao. In a word, a very short word: no. Chinese.
Falcone: Factory founded in 1980 in Boston. Falcone sold to ASC, a Korean conglomerate that also manufactures textiles and has information technology and building construction arms (2001). The chairman of this conglomerate decided to make pianos and built a factory in China to build them (Qingdao Sejung Musical Instruments). Current instruments are built in China, under supervision of people with experience at Young-Chang and Samick. Somehow Mason & Hamlin is involved; not sure how. Early Falcones (American-made only) can be good instruments. These days, it’s probably an ok-to-poor piano. Be careful. See also Samick and Young-Chang. Chinese.
Update, 2011: No longer in production, but Mason & Hamlin currently owns the name.
Fandrich & Sons (variously Fandrich): Made in China, Czech Republic, Germany, Korea (Hyundai), and U.S.! With such a far-flung manufacturing setup, it would be difficult to maintain consistent (and good) quality. No! Various.
Fazer: No longer imported into the U.S. (Why?) Company now owned by Hellas Piano. Unknown quality. You probably won’t find one in the U.S., so don’t lose sleep! Finnish.
Faziolo: Fine piano. Expensive. You won’t be disappointed. Italian.
Feinton: At one time built in North Korea (!). How or why it is exported, I don’t know. For some reason, it has only 86 keys (?); the maker says it’s “small but excellent.” I rather doubt this. Owned and manufactured by PACO; may be sold under this brand. Possibly out of business. No, no, no! North Korean/Japanese/South Korean/Martian?
Feurich: Firm established mid-1850s. Bought by Euterpe. Good to very good. German.
Fischer (variously Fischer, J & C): One of Baldwin’s lines (Baldwin is now part of Gibson), by way of Aeolian. (See Foster-Armstrong.) No longer in production. That tells you something. Pass by this one. American.
Förster (variously August Förster): I know very little of this piano. The company was “hidden” during the partition of Germany, and production must have slowed and/or it was difficult to sell the pianos beyond the border. Ok-to-good? Good? Very good? You’ll have to play one. German.
Update, 2013: From a reader: “I just wanted to let you know that in my European experience, Förster is considered to be an excellent piano. (Especially those from before 1945, before the Bohemian factory in Georgswalde/Jirikov was nationalized after the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia.) I have friends who specialize in antique piano restoration, own one Förster, and intimately know the one owned by my aunt here in Bratislava. The bass is remarkably good, and the sound of this 1936 upright I have is fantastic – better perhaps than my 1891 Bluthner 6’1” grand piano. When my friend, the antique piano restorer, saw this upright, he said it was a “rocket; it’ll keep going long after we’re all gone!”
Update #2, 2013: Another reader writes: “A friend of mine, a professional pianist, also plays organ and piano for a local church. Some years ago, the church acquired a Förster; a 6’4” I believe. My friend has played many, many pianos over the years; and he declares this Förster an absolutely topnotch instrument. With the reunification of Germany (and the re-privatization of the company) they’ve become pretty expensive, though.”
Foster: See Foster-Armstrong.
Foster-Armstrong: Piano manufacturers Foster & Co. and Armstrong merged to form Foster-Armstrong (about 1900). Not only did they build under their names, but also: Haines Bros., Fischer, Holmes & Sons, Brewster, Franklin, Marshall & Wendell, and Stratford. In addition, they built stencil pianos for an Indiana piano dealer named James F. Cook. (See Cook. Also Martin.) These are all antique pianos and are not worth restoring. About 1920, the firm was sold to Aeolian. Aeolian continued to make some of these brands, but I’d still avoid them. American.
Foster: See Foster-Armstrong.
Franklin: See Foster-Armstrong.
French, Jesse & Sons: Bought by Stark. Obscure and for good reason. American.
French Provincial: See Lesage.
G. Schaff: See Schaff.
Gaveau: Company founded in 1847. Made by Pleyel. Probably not. French.
Update, 2013: A reader sheds light on French pianos: “I grew up in France and know these pianos well. The Gaveau never went out of favor. As a matter of fact, the vertical Gaveau pianos from the Belle Epoque and all the way to WWII are said to be among the best uprights ever made, along with the Érard of the same period. To this day, a vertical Gaveau or Érard from that period holds its value and if rebuilt or in great condition is a sought-after instrument in Europe. They were among the tallest of the ones made in Europe. The grands and baby grands were also excellent and were considered on par with the best German pianos. Thus, I would really advise your readers to look carefully at French pianos from that vintage (from 1900 to 1940). Have a technician looking at the piano, in any case. But I have not found many that were bad. I was looking at pianos lately in order to replace mine and if any old Gaveau or Érard of that vintage had been available in my area, I would have considered it. After the war (WWII), the all-around quality was good, although I am not sure if it was at the same level it was prior to WWII.” Also: “The Gaveau concert grands (9 ft.) were considered among the best concert grands on the European circuits, and some can still be found in the U.S. I have played some of them when I was younger, and they were truly exceptional. They were not as bright as Steinways and not as mellow as Bosendorfers. Their voicing and the balance in all the registers was also exceptional. I don’t know much about the quality of the other grands from 1945 to 1985. I heard that some of them were excellent but that – as was in the case with verticals – the quality became uneven around the early ’60s. The French pianos built by Steinway starting in 1963-1964 were in fact ‘sticker pianos’ [stencil brands]. They were Schimmels, but like all Schimmels at that time, their quality was not equal.” See also Rameau.
Gebrüder Perzina: See Yantai Perzina.
Gennett: See Starr.
Gerhard: Appears to be an American company. I can’t find any information on it. It must have been a forgettable piano! Keep looking. American.
Gerh[ard] Steinberg: See Yantai Perzina.
Godball: See Dove.
Gilbert: Probably a stencil piano. No. Korean.
Gilbert & Sons: (also variously T. Gilbert, Currier & Gilbert) As the company was founded in 1834, I’d be surprised if one of these pianos were still in existence, let alone on the market! Should you stumble upon one, get hold of your balance and keep walking. On the plus side: Mr. Gilbert’s home and piano factory were both important stops on the Underground Railroad. American.
Goetz & Company: See Sterling.
Godfrey: Low quality for mass market. Probably even the cabinetry isn’t good! No. Country of origin?
Gram: Founded in 1883. Early instruments were considered good quality; any instruments around today would likely be in shambles. Other lines from Gram factory include Harvard, Lyra, and Link. Gram merged with Richtsteig (1914) to form Gram-Richtsteig. This company was bought by Haddorff (1924), but the company continued to build Gram pianos under the Gram name; the Gram-Richtsteig as a separate line seems to have disappeared. See also Haddorff. American.
Gram-Richtsteig: See Gram.
Gramer: Seems to have been either built in the William Emerson factory as a Gramer or as a line of Emerson. Gramer was granted two patents on piano action. More information under Emerson. No. American.
Grand: Founded 1961 in Morgantown, North Carolina. Designed to be a “mass market” instrument, so the quality could not have been anything other than pedestrian-to-poor. Nobody knows what happened to the company. Guess those boots were made for walkin’ – and the whole company just walked on out the door. No. American.
Grau, Otto: Piano dealer in Cincinnati, Ohio, around turn of twentieth century; may have made stencil pianos. I’d pass. American.
Grinnell: Pianos were manufactured starting in the early 1900s, though the company started in the 1880s as a reed organ firm. American. Samick (Korea) has built some pianos for Grinnell in the mid-1990s. Look elsewhere. Korean.
Gross & Holskamp, inv. pat. & manu. 117 River street, Troy Grotrian: Fine piano. Also on the high end. German.
Gulbransen: Related to Story & Clark. Company founded as a player piano firm (1904), making organs, starting in 1928. At some point (1930s?), pianos without the player mechanism were introduced. It is unknown whether the action used in this piano was simply the player action or an [improved] real action. The firm has taken many side roads. There are nickelodeons (“band-in-a-piano-case”), a “player violin,” and a bottle organ (!). In 2003, Gulbransen was acquired by QSR, owner of Story & Clark (modern). Gulbransen, now made in Pennsylvania, markets a player piano, made so by a wireless MIDI feature (“Pianomation”). The player violin may be paired with the player piano (how’s that for automated fun?). The Story & Clark PNOScan is more sophisticated and has Internet connectivity (see below). Both brands are owned by QSR. Idiosyncratic; you might like it or you might not. American/Chinese.
Haines Brothers (possibly same as Haines): Founded 1851. Swept up in the American Piano Company (see entry) consolidation. Any remaining instruments would be antiques needing much restoration. No. American.
Haddorff: Went out of business in 1930s. Owned Gram line. No. American.
Handok: A real jumble of parts – some from Germany, some from England, some from Japan, some from Korea. Mercy! A selling point from the company brochure: “No particleboard or recycled by-products are used in the cabinet.” This is enough to entice a buyer? We all want to be green, but… Mercy me! Mercy no! Korean.
Hailun: As far as I can tell, this piano does not get high marks. I definitely would not consider it and would continue to look. This company also uses other brand names, such as Steigerman (see Steigerman). The differences seem to be about the type of wood chosen and the manufacturer of portions of the action. (See also Wendl & Lung.) No. Chinese.
Update, 2012: I am informed by two readers (a very testy dealer and a somewhat-less-testy owner) that my opinion of the Hailun is wrong and out of date. According to them: a substantial amount of money has been poured into the company, raised through an IPO, and spent on craftspeople, materials, and a modern factory; as a result, the quality of the pianos has improved greatly. Further, I am informed that the Hailun Model 198 grand is a very good instrument and an excellent value for size and price. You may want to look at this instrument if you wish a grand. I have not played it. As to Hailun’s other lines, well, they’re better than Pearl River.
Update, 2013: A reader writes, “Some Chinese pianos are very good and are subjected to rigorous European or U.S. quality evaluations on site or after export to Europe or the U.S. The Hailun piano is an interesting case. It is the only Chinese piano not to bear a German-sounding name but bears the name of its founder and owner. Everyone who has tried them will tell you that they are good pianos and not pianos to avoid at all, especially given their cost. I tried one today, a 5’11” grand model, and I was really pleasantly surprised. The dealer had not done much preparation work on the instrument, which in my opinion needed a good voicing. The bass was a bit too tiny and the treble too bright to my taste, but the action was amazing: responsive and fast, not too light, not too heavy. I always try the action with the Ravel’s “Toccata” from the Tombeau de Couperin. That grand is the equivalent of a Yamaha C3 (I think) but at less than half the price; and it is a very comparable instrument. Everything I have read and heard from recent Hailun pianos has been unequivocally positive, even coming from the toughest critics. We will see how well those pianos fare with time. I have to admit that if I had a limited budget, I would consider buying a Hailun for $18,000 (SMRP $23,000) instead of a Yamaha or Kawai (around $50,000).”
Haines: See Foster-Armstrong. Perhaps the same as Haines Brothers?
Haines Brothers: Founded 1851. Lines included vertical and grands. This is another antique piano and doubtless not worth restoring. Possibly part of Foster-Armstrong. No. American.
Hallet [&] Davis: Established 1839, so this is a very old company. Ok to not-so-ok. You probably should pass on this one, even though Pope Pius X selected this brand for the Vatican. Also see Guild. American. Name appears to have been bought by Dongbei. Supposedly some of this new production is decent. Your call. Chinese.
Hamilton: See Baldwin.
Hampton: See Story & Clark.
Hanil: Stencil piano. No. Korea or China.
Hardman: The original company (established in 1852) eventually became a division of Aeolian, which went out of business in 1982. Hardman is a brand of Aeolian’s player piano division. I don’t know if Hardmans were player pianos exclusively or whether some did not have the mechanism. The name has been purchased recently (by whom?), and these pianos are being manufactured in China. Very cheaply-made piano. Expect the same quality. Eliminate this brand from your search. Chinese.
Hardman Peck: You won’t find many of these, as they were manufactured at the turn of the 20th century and thus tend to be in pretty poor shape. Be sure to ask your technician to give you a very close estimate for repair/renovation costs. Almost surelt a no. American.
Hardy & Sons: See Lesage.
Harwood: Pianos date from around 1900. This could be one brand that fell victim to the Great Depression Extinction. The Harwood is often associated with J.W. Jenkins and Sons music store in Kansas City, Mo., and may have been made particularly for them to sell. If so, it’s one of the earliest stencil brands! If you found one, I can’t believe that it would be playable or worth restoring! It may be that the name has been optioned (bought? “appropriated”?) by an Asian firm, in which case I would be very careful about quality. Take a pass on this one. No. American/Chinese?
Harrison: These date from the 1890s and are likely to need a great deal of work done on them to make them playable. That is to say, they’d need to be rebuilt completely. Sold to Kimball. You probably want to look at something else. American.
Harrington: Not likely to be any good, even should you find one. American.
Harvard: See Gram.
Hastings: Manufactured in Macao for Pearl River. What do you think? Chinese.
Hässler: See Blüthner.
Hayden: By Dongbei. No. Chinese.
Hazelton Bros.: See Samick.
Heintzman[n?]: Company established in 1866. These were good pianos in their day. Company bought Nordheimer. Then Heintzman bought Sherlock-Manning. About 1930, the Great Depression had an impact on the company, and it began to make cheaper pianos. The Music Stand bought the trade-mark and the instruments Heinztman had in stock (1985). These are doubtless the post-Depression instruments, so I’d be very cautious, as one of these pianos probably would need a lot of work. Canadian.
Update, 2012: A company called Heintzman Piano Company (established 1989) currently makes instruments but has no relation to the original Heintzman firm, although it claims to be using “the Heinztman plans” and “maintaining the quality”. I would be suspicious. Chinese.
Heller: See Winter.
Herbert, Henry: See Mason & Risch.
Herrmann (variously F.W. Herrmann; Hermann; Alexander Herrmann might be a related instrument): I can find nothing on this piano except that it might be German. I think it’s a safe bet that this is not a good bet. German?
Hinze: See Kimball. Also see Kurtzmann.
Hobart-Nelson: Everett’s entry level piano. Everett is a no. Guess what Hobart-Nelson is? American.
Hoffman, August: Established 1838. This piano probably is unavailable in the U.S. Unknown quality. Swedish.
Hoffman, W. (variously Hofmann): See Bohemia/Bechstein. German.
Hoffman: See Smith & Barnes.
Hofmann & Scholz: German.
Hohner: Built several places, including Germany, Finland, Korea, and China. Tinny sound. This would not be a good piano. No longer available in the U.S. I wonder why? China now.
Update, 2012: From a reader: “I’d have to say my vertical, built in Finland, I believe, is actually pretty decent. Yes, the action is a bit lighter on the keys than I’d like, but I’m thinking of having them weighted. I don’t know about the current Hohners at all, as I didn’t think they made them or sold new ones in the U.S. for quite awhile now.”
Holmes & Sons: See Foster-Armstrong.
Huntington: See Sterling.
Horugle: Ceased production in 1952. Poor quality. Name may have been sold to Samick. No, no matter the county of origin. German/Korean/Chinese.
Howard: Once owned by Baldwin; now owned by Gibson (which owns Baldwin). Quality varies. You’re probably better off to keep looking. American.
Howard, R.S.: Bought by Janssen. Company foundered during Great Depression. Keep going. American.
Hyundai: See Samick. For a while, Hyundai was working in conjunction with Aeolian….this cannot be a good sign. No.
Ibach: Established 1794. German. No longer available in the U.S. Current production is Korean.
Irmler: These were originally made in China. Now they are made in Poland. No. Chinese or Polish.
Ivers & Pond: Considered a good instrument 1900-1920 or so. See Aeolian. American.
Janssen: Established in 1901. Manufactured pianos under their own brand, as well as R.S. Howard, Raymond, and Wissner. Went into partnership (?) with Horace Waters Piano in 1930. In 1964, Conn bought the Janssen name, and in 1970, Chas. Walter bought it from Conn (known primarily as a maker of brass instruments and small home electric organs). A few pianos were built by Walter, with production stopping in the 1980s. Some say Walter took the Conn piano and re-engineered it to turn it into the Walter. Don’t know whether that is true or not. An old one would need rebuilding; new ones questionable quality. No. American.
Jasper American: See Kimball. No production. No go. American.
Johnson: See Dove.
Jones: Active in 1915. This piano was reputed to have such a “sweet sound” that listeners, upon hearing it, were forever dissatisfied with the sound of their own instruments. That seems a bit exaggerated. Nevertheless, this obscure brand earned that reputation. American.
Kaiser: Stencil piano. No. Japanese.
Kawai: I like this piano a lot. Very good piano. Acquired Lowery Organ Co. in 1990; and began manufacturing Kawai in Maylasia in 1995. Make sure you know which factory manufactured the one that interests you. You want the “good factory/annex,” located in Japan (Ryuyo: Shigeru Kawai Research and Development Laboratory). You do not want the instrument from Malaysia! Malaysian/Japanese.
Kayserburg: Supposedly the best piano made by Pearl River. Some models are said to be finished in Germany (production of these began in 2010). Germany notwithstanding, these are still Pearl River instruments. Probably only fair in quality. China.
Keepsake: Player piano from Aeolian stable. Head ’em out! Head ’em off! American.
Kincaid: Reputed to be among the worst pianos made. I’d say you should give this piano width berth and then ask yourself why you even wasted your time contemplating a purchase of this brand. It’s a no, bro. American.
Kingsbury: See Conover.
Knabe (variously William Knabe): Knabe product is medium quality and price now (2006). The company was founded in 1839 and enjoyed an excellent reputation, from the White House to the opera house (Tchaikovsky opened the Met playing on a Knabe). Bought by American Piano (1908), then Aeolian (variously 1929/ 1932). Aeolian’s Baltimore factory closed about 1932, and production moved to Aeolian’s plant in New York. Quality may have slipped. Knabe was sold when Aeolian went into bankruptcy (1982). Falcone bought the trademark in 1983, but there was no production and no Knabe factory of any kind. Company then sold to Bernard Greer (1989). Then Knabe was bought by MSR/Burgett (1996). (MSR – – Music Systems Research – – is the maker of PianoDisc, a computer product that can transform an acoustic piano into a player piano.) There was no Knabe production between 1982 and 1996. Starting in 1996, Knabe then produced by Young Chang (Korea). The company was sold (about 2000) to Samick (Korea). Pianos pre-1932 (variously 1929) are lovely instruments. The current Knabe product is medium in quality and price. Korean. Also see comments under Chickering.
Update, 2012: Knabe grands are highly rated for sound and touch and are considered professional concert instruments. I’ll have to find out what caused this change; and maybe it applies only to grands. Stay tuned! If you are interested in a grand, certainly investigate this one.
Kemble: Not to be confused with Kimball. Established in 1911. In 1985, began a joint venture with Yamaha to manufacture pianos for the U.K. market. In 2006, brought out Special Edition “Mozart” model. Bought by Yamaha in 2007. In 2009, working with Bösendorfer (itself owned by Yamaha at the time), released a “Special Edition Chopin” model. In the same year, Yamaha moved the factory from England to Indonesia…and you know what that means! Verticals and spinets only. Quality probably uneven during all the turmoil of different owners. Proceed with great caution with new ones, based on where they’re made. English/Japanese/Indonesian.
Kimball: Established 1857 as Kimball Pianos & Organs. In 1996, production stopped. Kimball is now making office and hotel furniture. Ironically, Kimball also is a partial owner of Bösendorfer. Other lines: Kimball, Conn, Jasper-American, W.W. Kimball, Hinze, Harrison, Schuerman, DeVoe & Sons, Whittaker, Becker, La Petite, Krakauer, Whitney, Whitmore. Also stencil pianos. No (except for Bösendorfer!). American.
Kimball, W.W.: See Kimball.
Kingsburg: Made by Yantai Longfeng (not the same factory as Yantai Perzina, as far as I can tell). I think this is a no. China.
Kingsbury: See Cable.
Knight: See Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd.
Klavins: Now these are some pianos! One looks like a sailboat! Another model looks like the organ loft in a church: the player and keyboard are in a gallery, and the soundboard projects to the floor behind the keyboard. Even if you liked the sound, it would take an unusual dwelling to give this piano a home. Thus, this instrument is a non-starter for most of the population. German.
Klima: Originally a Czech piano. Now manufactured by Yantai Perzina. Probably not. Chinese.
Klingel: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Kohler & Campbell: Company (Samick) makes pianos under its own name, but also makes house brands (as for Schaffer & Sons). Ok to not-so-ok. American/etc./ask.
Update, 2009: A reader emailed me: “You may want to update your information on the Kohler & Campbell grand pianos. I purchased one in 2000. It has been a constant headache since the day I bought it. Now the keyboard is locking up. My tech will no longer work on it. I purchased it from [store name], and they are replacing it with another (new) Kohler & Campbell grand until I can afford to purchase a Yamaha. Thankfully, [store name] has been a very reputable company and will put my purchase price of this piano toward another one! My tech has unfortunately had to replace several other customers’ Kohler & Campbell pianos because the keyboards lock up. He works primarily on Steinways and tunes for concert pianists all over Colorado. [store name] has had only him work on my piano since it has been such a nightmare. I’ve tried to be patient with the piano and have hung in there – largely because I couldn’t afford another piano – but now the poor thing is finally dying. Please do not recommend them! They have turned out to be very bad pianos! [store name] will no longer carry that brand in their store because of all the problems these pianos have had.” [mb: I didn’t think highly of them before, so there’s not a chance in that hot place that I would even mention the name to anyone with a checkbook.]
Krakauer (variously Krakauer Bros.): Founded 1869 and enjoyed a reputation as a very good manufacturer, with early pianos compared favorably to Chickerings and Steinways. Bought Madison Piano (1917) and built under that name for a while. Made it through Great Depression and Aeolian Ravishment successfully. Bought by Kimball (1980), which continued to build under the Krakauer name. Then Kimball went out of business. Ones from turn of the twentieth-century might be worth restoring. Otherwise, no. American.
Kranich & Bach: Not-so-ok to poor (the current production). This company, established in 1864, was swallowed by Aeolian in 1929 (variously, 1932). Quality is good thru the 1950s (America) but has declined precipitously since. Production continued in Aeolian’s plant in Memphis until Aeolian’s bankruptcy (1982). Wurlitzer bought the company (1985) and sold it to Baldwin (1995). When Baldwin went bankrupt, it was part of the package bought by Gibson. Currently Chinese.
Krell: See Starr.
Kuhla, F.: Established 1872. Bought by Euterpe. Unknown quality. May not be available in the U.S. Probably you shouldn’t consider this one. German.
Kurtzmann (variously Kurtzmann and Sons; possibly also Kurtzman – although Kurtzman might be a different maker altogether, it is also just as probable to be a mis-spelling of Kurtzmann): This piano is another warhorse. Christian Kurtzmann established his piano factory in Buffalo, New York, in 1848. In 1959, a man whose last name was Hinze (and whose first name I have not yet found!) joined the firm, and pianos were manufactured under the Kurtzmann & Hinze brand. (Hinze is also found as a separate brand, and I think it’s likely that the two may be the same fellow. Indications are that the Hinze company was in Chicago. If this is the same Hinze, I don’t know if the Chicago factory was pre- or post-Kurtzmann; my money’s on the latter. Also see Kimball.) The bloom was off the rose in the next few years, and the two parted ways in about 1868. Kurtzmann built instruments under his name once more, brining his sons into the business. Building square pianos as well as grands and uprights, Kurtzmann pianos achieved some measure of fame as being beautifully made, using Victorian style elements popular at the time, selecting book-matched veneers, etc. It is said that Kurtzmann personally oversaw the building of each instrument, refusing to increase manufacturing capacity of his factory beyond the number of instruments he could supervise. One of the instruments Kurtzmann produced was a “reproducing” grand piano, which used the Welte-Mignon recording action, producing piano rolls that enabled subtleties, not music box-like duplication. (See Welte-Mignon.) Kurtzmann also manufactured pianos under the Brockport and Capen names. The company was bought by Wurlitzer in 1935, and the Kurtzmann brand was made by them until 1938. Wurlitzer was bought in 1988 by Baldwin, but by this time the Kurtzmann was long gone. A Kurtzmann, though esteemed in its time, is past its prime in our time. Don’t consider this unless you’re ready to take on a rebuild. American.
La Petite: See Kimball.
Landauer: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Laurence: See Dove.
Lenox: Made by Sauter (German). Probably 100 years old. It would need a whole lot of work! Keep walking. German?
Legnica: This piano has nothing to do with the Thomas Betting brand, although the Thomas Betting factory was originally in Legnica. Reputed to be a poor instrument. Poland.
Lesage: Founded as Lesage & Piche in 1891, later renamed Lesage & Son [Lesage et Fils]. Made pianos for Lindsay and Willis, the latter of which bought a controlling share in 1907. The Lesage family sold their remaining interest to Willis in 1911. They then started a new piano company with a similar name: Lesage Piano Co.; out of business in 1987. The following brands were produced by Lesage Piano: Lesage, Anniversary, Canadian, Concerto, Concord, Continental Euro, Hardy & Sons, French Provincial, Minuet, Sonata, and Versailles. Lesage also bought out the Craig, Bell, Belmont, Willis, and Mendelssohn companies and produced pianos under these brands. Canadian.
Lessing & Willard: See Smith & Barnes.
Lester: Probably poor quality. Probably stencil brand. Probably now Chinese. No.
Linden (not to be confused with Lindemann): Formerly made by Kawai. Very questionable. Chinese.
Lindemann (variously Lindemann & Sons; not to be confused with Lindman or Lindner): This firm was established in 1836, by Henry Lindemann, making it one of the earliest American piano firms. He suffered financial reverses, and the business folded. About 1899 (or 1901), the company resurfaced, with son S.G. Lindemann in charge. S.G. brought the company to profitability once more. The name was changed to Henry & S.G. Lindemann, presumably so the tarnish of the father’s company did not rub off on the son’s. Henry & S.G. Lindemann pianos enjoyed a reputation as a good instrument. The Great Depression killed the firm, and it was gobbled up by Aeolian. Production discontinued about 1950. Anything until about 1930 is likely to be not worth restoration. Anything after, well……. American.
Lindner (not to be confused with Lindemann or Linden): Cheaply-made; plastic action (huh?!). No. English.
Link: See Gram.
Lipp (variously R. Lipp & Sohn, Richard Lipp): While this is a venerable firm that made highly-acclaimed pianos in the early 20th century, this is probably not a good choice today. German.
Logan: See Dove.
Lowrey: This is an absolutely wretched piano. No, no! Name also used by Story & Clark and Yamaha. Acquired by Kawai in 1991, for a reason I cannot fathom. American.
Lyon & Healy: Yes, they also make harps. Established 1864. Enjoyed an excellent reputation. The Great Depression caused the piano arm of the company to collapse. Starting in late 1980s, brand sold to piano manufacturer in Korea for purposes of using as stencil brand name. Pre-1930s probably not worth a rebuild. Present Korean output probably falls prey to the inherent problems of stencil brands. Probably not very good. Grab your harp and move on! Korea.
Lyra: See Gram.
Lyric: A turn-of-the-twenthieth-century piano, with production starting in 1909 and ending in 1937 with the Great Depression. This piano will not make you sing. Please turn the page. American.
Madison: See Krakauer. No. American.
Maeari: See Hyundai, Samick. Avoid. Korean.
Mann: As far as I can determine, Mann Piano Company was a retailer. See Gilbert Smith for an interesting story.
Marshall: Very unlikely to be good. Keep your shoes on. Chinese.
Marshall & Rose: See Rose & Marshall.
Marshall & Wendall (variously Marshall; Marshall & Wendell): One of the pianos of the Foster-Armstrong group (see entry). Flourished ~1900. I know nothing of this piano beyond what I have here. Probably not. American.
Marvin: Per a 1915 piano trade magazine, R.T.A. Moeller Piano Company “has purchased the business of the C. W. Marvin Piano Company”, upon Marvin’s death. Any piano from the turn of the twentieth century would be a decrepit wreck, and you wouldn’t want it. I do not know if a modern company is producing pianos under the Marvin name. If so, I would be very wary and move along to something else. American/?
Martin: I don’t know the year the firm was established, but in 1915, this company fell on hard times. It appears, Mr. Martin was unable to keep his finances out the red. Curiously, Foster-Armstrong (see entry) was one of his creditors. I would save my cash, were I looking at a Martin piano. Maybe the quality of the piano was one reason the company couldn’t pay its obligations. American.
Mason, Edward: See Doll.
Mason & Hamlin (variously Mason-Hamlin): Founded 1854 by pianist Henry Mason (son of well-known American composer Lowell Mason) and Emmons Hamlin as a reed organ (“harmonium”) company. Piano production began in 1881. In 1929, the company was sold to Aeolian, whose factory did the brand’s luster no good. Mason & Hamlin then was sold to Falcone in 1983 (America), then to Bernard Greer in 1989 (America), then to Premier, possibly in 1993 (America), and went bankrupt in 1995. Quality probably at low ebb at this time. Purchased in 1996 by Music Systems Research (maker of PianoDisc; America). Factory presently in Haverhill, MA. Good instruments before sale to Aeolian; pretty awful thereafter; possibly better after PianoDisc. Some Aeolian instruments just have the Mason & Hamlin name on them; everything else is non-M&H. Current Mason & Hamlin pianos are better quality and are sold by Colton Piano Company (chain in Northern California ). See Chickering. Ok to good. American.
Update, 2013: Some feel the Mason & Hamlin concert grand is now a superb piano. If you’re looking for a grand piano, definitely play it.
Update #2, 2013: A reader writes: “My lady friend went to Faust Harrison [piano retailer in New York City] expecting to buy a used Estonia or some such and fell in love with an M&H Model B. You know what they say when you go shopping for a car: don’t fall in love. Same applies to pianos. The piano was a lemon from the get-go. Techs were at her place on a weekly basis fixing something or other that broke or bent or went out of whack. On and on this went, until finally three (!) techs from FH and M&H showed up and disassembled the piano. After a while they didn’t even speak; they just pointed to various parts and shook their heads. FH offered my friend a no-charge upgrade to a bigger M&H, which she understandably turned down. She instead negotiated a trade to a very nice used Steinway M for an upcharge. The problem was predominantly the action (all though all sorts of other pieces went kerflooey), which carried the M&H house brand Wessell, Nickel and Gross. The piano was made during the period of turmoil right before and after the Burgett brothers took over, and it seems as though there were issues with instruments from this period. My friend has never quite forgiven Faust Harrison. The Wessell, Nickel & Gross action is now all composite, and I’ve read good things about it and nothing bad. So, I’d say if someone were considering a recent vintage M&H, be wary of models with the wooden Wessell, Nickel and Gross actions. Pianos with the newer composite action, or older pianos with Renner actions, are probably more trustworthy.” mb: This piano is 5’4″ long. As far as I can tell, however, Wessell, Nickel and Gross is a brand of piano action; I find no reference to it as a complete piano.”
Mason & Risch: Established late 1800s and bought by Winter 1948 and then subsumed by Aeolian, at which point quality took the predictable Aeolian nosedive. Production of under the brand of Mason & Risch stopped in the 1980s. Early instruments, which are Canadian, are not good enough to restore. Post-Aeolian….well, take a guess! Canadian/American.
Mathusek (variously Mathushek & Son): Another antique piano. Mathushek was known first as a piano designer and then went into the piano fabrication business. His square grands (and other models) enjoyed great popularity and received numerous endorsements from musicians of the day for tone and quality of construction. A restored Mathusek is reputed to be a joy to play and hear; I have done neither, alas. Mathusek opened his workshop in 1863 (New Haven), although he was building pianos eleven years earlier (New York). About 1900, the factory moved back to New York. The company closed its doors in 1950. (See Dunham.) If you can find one that has been restored, you probably will be very happy with it. If it has not been restored, you should ask a tech/restorer what it will entail in time and money; you may feel it is worth it. American.
Mayer (variously Mayer Bros.): Stencil brand, most probably. Avoid. Chinese?
May Berlin (variously May-Berlin): Established 1868 in Germany by Bernhard May. In 1920, the name changed to May Berlin. When Schimmel bought the company in 1985, production was suspended. It appears Schimmel now is having pianos made in China with this brand on the fallboard. Supposedly it is made in China with German parts and then shipped to Germany for finishing. Hmmm. This instrument is the bottom of the Schimmel line. Entry level instrument. You can do much better. Don’t buy the entry-level piano if you can stretch to afford something better. Also see Vogel and Schimmel. Chinese.
McPhail: American company established 1837. Pianos of were high quality, but as these are warhorses, you’d have a huge vet bill. Name now used by Chinese factory. Skip. Old ones are warhorses, and new ones of suspect quality. Chinese.
Mecklenburg: See Hofmann & Scholz.
Meister, Otto: Manufactured and sold by Chicago’s Rothschild Department Stores (!). Decent quality but fell victim to Great Depression and went out of business in the late 1920s. Name being used by Chinese factory. Not a “master,” by any stretch of the imagination. Chinese.
Update, 2012: I have turned up another “Meister,” this one by a German maker (Ludwig Meisster – note spelling); unrelated to the above firm.
Melford: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Mendelssohn: See Lesage (Canada). Also Sterling (America). This is probably not the same piano manufacturer, even though the brand name is the same.
Merrill: Associated with Ivers & Pond, later as a brand controlled by Doll.
Meyer, Richard E. & Sons: Not available in the U.S., though a similar name is common as a stencil brand. Ok. German. Stencil brand is a no go. Chinese?
McKinzie: See Dove.
Mignon: You could be looking at a couple of different things if you are looking at a Mignon. (1) This may be a brand separate from the Jacob Becker line. (2) It may be a free-standing German firm. (3) It probably is not related to the Mignon Nicholson from Australia, however, as this firm was named for Nicholson’s granddaughter. (4) In addition, there is a player piano technology by this name that enabled the cutting of paper piano rolls with changes in speed and dynamics. This was hailed as a mechanical breakthrough and set the stage for modern recording. (See Welte and Mignon-Welte. Also Nicholson.)
Mignon Nicholson: Supposedly this piano was made in America for the Australian market. This is contradictory because the other information I find is that it was manufactured in Australia. I do not know this piano. Unless you live in an area where Australian imports are common (not counting beer!), you might never chance upon one. If you do, play it see what you think. (And let me know, too.) Australian.
Milne: See Dove.
Minuet: See Lesage.
Minum: See Starr.
Miller, Henry F.: A venerable American brand (also once owned by Ivers & Pond – 1949), but now the name is used for a “store brand” piano at Jordan Kitts Music; also at Sherman Clay. Manufactured by Pearl River. It’s a no. Chinese.
Milton: Pianos manufactured for a short time at the turn of the 20th century (early 1890s to late ’00s). Evidently were high quality. Player and non-player pianos. In 1907, bought by Kohler & Campbell. It appears they kept up the quality until about late 1930s. Hardman (see below) introduced a small grand, which became the rage, so Kohler & Campbell started making them, too, and used the Milton name. Production stopped in late 1950s and no more “Miltons” were made. Kohler & Campbell brought back the “Milton” about the 1980s and sold it as a cheap instrument. Quality plummeted. Not-too-ok piano after the 1900s. Cross it off your list. American.
Montenegro-Riehm: Not much is known of this company. In 1915, it sold its assests to various other piano companies. Avoid this one; it would need rebuilding. American
Morris Listowel: Morris Piano Co. established in early 1890s in Listowel. It merged with about Karn Piano Co. about 1910 and became known as Karn Morris. It separated from Karn about 1920 and was renamed Morris. As with any piano this age, have it inspected by a piano technician before purchase. Maybe ok. Maybe not ok. Canadian.
Muller, Karl Schutzemarke: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Muzelle: Possibly manufactured jointly by Daewoo Electronics (bankrupt 1999 and now owned by group of creditors) and Story & Clark? Or independently? Don’t go here. Korean.
Minuet: See Lesage.
Muelhfeld: Factory in New York. I can’t find anything else this company. Probably they are all warhorses. No. American.
Musette: See Aeolian. Also (?) available as a player piano. (Or perhaps all Musettes were players.)
Nakamichi: See Young Chang.
Needham: Jeremiah Carhart, holder of accordion patents regarding air flow (1836), joined Elias Parkham Needham to form Carhart and Needham Piano Company (Worcester, MA, 1846). In 1848, the factory moved to New York City, moving into the building that had served as the piano factory of John B. Dunham (see entry). The spirit of innovation continued when, in 1853, they made improvements to the melodeon (also called a pump organ or reed organ). A melodeon is a keyboard instrument whose sounds are created by air vibrating a metal reed, like the childhood trick blowing across the edge of a piece of grass. They entered the instrument in the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition. I don’t know if they won, but one of their competitors was the Gilbert Smith Piano Company (see entry). In 1855, Samuel Schwartz became a partner. The company was renamed Carhart, Needham and Co. Inventories and records show the trio worked with excellent materials and paid their employees handsomely. With Schwartz’s death in 1865, the company’s name reverted to Carhart and Needham. In 1868, Carhart died. Needham changed the company name to E.P. Needham & Sons. In 1880, Needham retired, selling the company, including its patents, to Charles H. Parsons and E.J. Hartman. (I don’t know what happened to the sons.) These gentlemen decided to start producing reed organs, as well as pianos. After all, they now owned some important patents. They changed the name to Needham Piano and Organ Co. The company’s product is said to have a particularly even tone and a keyboard that was even in down weight. The company also operated as Beethoven Organ Company and Beethoven Piano and Organ Company. 1906 bonds IPO? Nicholson (variously Nicholson & Co.): I’m coming up short on informatino about this piano. It’s built in Melbourne, Australia, and the firm seems to have been established before 1900. See also Mignon Nicholson. Probably no. Australian. Niemeyer: See Dongbei.
Niendorf: Founded 1896 brothers Karl and Hermann Niendorf. Riese, Hallmann & Co. took over the company. World War II had a large negative effect on sales, but small-scale production began in 1946. Nationalization (1972) did not help. The name chanaged to Märkische Pianofortefabrik and shortly thereafter to Leipziger Pianofortefabrik. It was sold to Regina Rotsch, who reinstated the Niendorf name. Not likely to be a very good piano because of the turmoil of ownership since effort expended probably was not on piano-building. Keep looking. German.
Nordheimer (variously A&S Nordheimer): Company taken over by Heintzman about 1920. Instruments under this brand were presented as the bottom of the Heinztman line. See Heintzman, above.
Nordiska: See Dongbei.
Norris & Hyde: See Doll.
Nunns Clark: Otto: I have been trying to find information on this piano. At this point, I am thinking it might be a line of Otto Altenburg (below). Anything obscure is obscure for a good reason. Unknown.
Opus: See Dongbei. Steinway may own this name, so it might change. See also Cristofori Niemeyer.
Packard: Another piano of the American Mid-Western piano fleuressence, this time in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Established in 1871 by Isaac Packard, the company grew so much and so quickly that Albert S. Bond added his expertise eight years later. The company continued to prosper. Packard pianos were well-known for their exquisite cabinetry, most particularly the carving and casework of rare woods. As you might expect, the Great Depression killed the company, although the name was bought by Story & Clark (1938). Story & Clark build instruments under the Packard name until about the time Story & Clark was sold to Lowrey Organ Company. (See Story & Clark.) This noble warhorse deserves honor but not a place in your home if you plan to play it. American.
Palatino: This is a Chinese piano (AXL Musical Instrument in Shanghai) built to occupy an attractive price point. I think you can do far better. Remember to be wary of “entry level pianos.” You’re better off renting something decent, even if it means a dinged-up case. No. Chinese.
Pearl River: This company makes guitars (sold by Target under the “First Act” name), violins, woodwinds, and other instruments. It also happens to make pianos; in fact, the company calls itself the world’s largest piano manufacturer. With assistance from Yamaha, Pearl River began making pianos. (The companies are no longer associated.) These pianos are stencil brands for Sherman Clay, Jordan Kitts, and Schmitt Music stores. Pearl River owns several brands. No-no; just go-go. Chinese.
Peck: See Aeolian.
Perzina: Originally a German instrument. The two brothers (Julius and Albert) apprenticed in the Bechstein factory and started their own production about 1871. Somehow, the company held on through the wars and the re-unification of Germany. The assets were sold to a Chinese firm (Yantai Perzina) in the 1990s. Unknown how many of the original specifications are currently being followed. Unknown quality. Other names owned by Yantai Perzina: Carl Ebel, Eavestaff, Gebrüder Perzina, Gebrüder Steinberg, Sängler & Söhne. I’d pass on all of these. Chinese.
Petrof: Good piano. Established 1864. Czech.
Update, 2009: Petrof is also making lacquered furniture, presumably to allow them to stay in business to make pianos.
Pianola: See Aeolian player pianos.
Pleyel: Good piano. Used by Chopin in his Paris concerts (at the Salle Pleyel, of course!). Also the piano of choice of Ravel, Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and Albert Schweitzer (you’re probably an organist if you know why this medical doctor rates a mention here). Rare. This piano is an antique, so you for sure need a technician to evaluate it for you. Other brands owned by Pleyel: Rameau, Gaveau. French.
Update, 2014: Pleyel has closed up shop, as of the end of 2013. As I understand it, they couldn’t afford to make the piano in France and keep up with Chinese competition in price. And something about a ‘group of investors’ (none of whom was a musician!) having bought the company. So, if you are looking for a Pleyel, you won’t be finding anything made in 2014 or after.
Poole: This is another brand from the American piano manufacturing fleuresscense in the late 1800s (1893, for this one). Company later associated with Ivers and Pond (see Aeolian). It was a well-regarded instrument in its day, but it fell victim to the Aeolian take-over. It would be costly to repair. I’d skip it. American.
Pramburger: The Pramburger family began manufacturing pianos in the late 1700s, decamped for America during the World War I era, and settled in New York, where a relative was working at Steinway. Papa Pramburger began working there; and his son, Joseph, joined the workforce, as well. Joseph subsequently went off to college, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In 1987, he began his own company (Pramberger Piano, Ltd.). In 1995, he went to work for Young-Chang as a vice president, his marching orders’ being to improve quality of the Young-Chang pianos, particularly the grands. (Pramberger, meanwhile, had stopped manufacturing anything on their own.) Young-Chang appears to have introduced a piano called the Pramburger Platinum. It was made in China in the factory that was built especially to produce their new Bergmann line. The Pramburger Platinum was Joseph’s design (supposedly modeled after the discontinued Steinway C). After Joseph’s death (2003), his estate sold Pramberger to Samick. Young-Chang still makes pianos with Joseph’s Steinway-inspired specifications but cannot use the Pramburger Platinum name. The name is now Samick’s, although they haven’t done anything with it, perhaps because they cannot use Joseph’s design. I don’t know if the Bergmann is based on Joseph’s design. To sum, any Prambergers prior to 1995 are actually Prambergers. Medium grade. Any new Prambergers (after 2004) are Samicks. Anything manufactured from 1995-2003 is a Young-Chang. I believe I’d pass on such a thrashing kettle of fish! It appears that the quality (least to best) is: Bergmann, Young-Chang Gold Series, and Pramberger. American/Korean/Chinese, depending on year. See also the reader comment at Young-Chang.
Prince: See Dongbei.
Princess: See Dongbei.
Pullman: See Starr.
Qingdao Sejung Musical Instruments: A Korean company (America Sejung) makes stencil pianos at their factory in Qingdao. See Falcone. (Quite a polyglot, no?)
Raymond: Established (1856) by O.C. Whitney as the United States Piano & Organ Company, with Franklin L. Raymond coming on board in 1886. Taken over by Jansen (1913). Raymond sold pianos with Langdon brand, as well as Raymond brand. Out of business during World War II. Another warhorse. No. American.
Update, 2005: The name, as Raymond & Co., may be current; I cannot find the country of manufacture. Probably Asian. Whether this is an authorized use of the Raymond name or a quasi-new new name to avoid American copyright, I don’t know. Probably no on this one. Asian.
Rameau: See Pleyel. See reader remarks following Gaveau review.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “In the ’70s, the Rameau brand was created and integrated in a new factory in Ales, in the South of France, with the best technicians, designers, and all from the former Pleyel, Gaveau and Érard teams. The Rameau pianos were good, definitely in the middle range of the second tier, and for some on the top tier. The people behind Rameau bought back the names Pleyel, Gaveau and Érard once they became available again and started to produce pianos under those brands and using, I believe, their respective scales at the Ales factory. Then, to make a long story short, the production was moved to the Paris area, when experiencing financial difficulties and downsizing. Today, the Manufacture Française de Pianos manufactures pianos under the three brands, although the Pleyel is the dominant one. The Pleyel pianos are produced in limited quantity, are hand-made and highly ‘customized’ with avant-garde designs. They are really considered among the best in Europe, on par with Fazioli and others, but because of their small production and their high price, they are considered more of an elite piano and not a piano you will find in large distribution, and definitely not in the U.S., anyway.”
Reidsohn: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Remington: Vertical and player pianos. See Starr. American.
Renner (variously Otto Renner): Stencil piano. No. Korean.
ReRoux, V: I know nothing about this piano. Antique? Probably you should avoid this one. Canadian? French?
Richardson & Lohmann (erroneously Lohmann & Richardson): See Sterling.
Richmond: Factory established 1875. See Starr. American.
Ridgewood: See Weber.
Rieger-Kloss: Once a line of Bohemia; now the piano goes by the Bohemia name and is manufactured by Pearl River. Be careful. Chinese.
Riehm, John L.: See Montenegro-Riehm.
Rippen: Aluminum inside! “Strange” outside! Goodness! No longer made, which may be a mercy! Only mediocre quality in its heyday (1980s and 1990s). Avoid the Rippen! See also Tetsch & May. Dutch.
Ritmüller: See Pearl River. Keep sailing. Chinese.
Rockford: I can find nothing about this instrument. Since it’s obscure, you’d better keep looking for something else. American
Rogers, George: He apprenticed with the noted English firm of Collard & Collard. His pianos gained the reputation of being very decent instruments. In fact, they garnered the nickname “the English Bechstein.” Some took this to mean that Rogers had studied at the Bechstein factory, which he did not. It is unlikely that Mr. Rogers protested too much, however, as his business could only be improved by the mantle of the Bechstein patina. Would need rebuilding. No. English.
Röhm (variously Otto Röhm; possibly Otto): I can find nothing on this piano. (See also Altenburg.) It is probably an old brand and is German-made. Likely to need complete rebuilding. I’d pass. German.
Rose & Sons: I cannot find any information on this piano. This maker is not Marshall & Rose (below), although it may be a corruption of Marshall & Rose. Sorry I can’t do any better on this one. Anything with such a murky background is highly unlikely to be worth your money. English?
Rose & Marshall (variously Marshall & Rose): Established in 1907 in a joint venture between Sir F. Marshall and Rose of London. Production stopped in 1998. Although you are unlikely to find one in the U.S., older models will be warhorses; I can’t find any information on modern instruments. English.
Rosenstock: Suspect quality. Probably stencil. No. Korean.
Rosler, W.: See Petrof.
Royal: See Starr.
Royale: I can’t find any information on this brand. For this reason, I would advise against this instrument. Korean.
Rudolf: See Winter.
Sagenhaft: Division of Weber. Out of business. Must be a reason! Chinese or Korean (factories both places).
Samick: Also makes pianos that are sold under different names (“stencil brand” – the stencil is the name above the keyboard). Ask. Ok-to-maybe-ok quality. May be better now (2006) than when I last investigated them (they were on the down end of ok). The other brands the company owns vary in quality, as you might imagine. Certainly any stencil brand couldn’t be better than a piano with the actual Samick name on it, I think, just based on money. The Samick name appears numerous times in this file with regard to brands other than their stencil brands; recommend you use your search function. Company now called SMC (2011). Korean.
Sängler & Söhne: See Belarus.
Update, 2003: Now being made in China by Yantai Perzina. (See Belaruse.) This piano does not sound very promising (Belarusian piano now made in China). What are your other options? Chinese.
Saturn. See Samick.
Saujin: See Daytron.
Sauter: Established in the early 1800s. Very fine. German.
Seabury: (dubois) Seidl & Sohn: See Blüthner.
Schimmel: Excellent piano. I like this piano’s tone and touch a lot. This is another piano I’d consider seriously. Founded in 1885 by Wilhelm Schimmel and managed by his family members until 2007, when it was sold to Yamaha; Schimmel filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Even with the financial upheaval, this is a gorgeous instrument (still made in Germany, too), and you should investigate it. German. Note: Vogel is mid-price brand (German), and May Berlin (Chinese, supposedly finished in Germany) is the entry level Schimmel brand. Remember not to buy the entry-level instrument if you can avoid doing so.
Update, 2014: A reader writes: “I am a Schimmel piano owner, and the info about their being owned by Yamaha is out of date. They had an affiliation with Yamaha and still use Yamaha’s silent mechanism in their vertical pianos, but Schimmel is back to being privately owned and separate from Yamaha.”
Schubert: See Belarus. Belarusian.
Schuerman (possibly Schürman; possibly Schumann): See Kimball.
Schumann: Made by Kimball, then Samick (stopping in mid-1990s). Possibly Chinese now?
Seiler: Established 1872 by Eduard Seiler; brother Johannes took over at Eduard’s death; followed by nephews Robert and Ludwig Lauterbach; followed by Anton Seiler-Dütz, the son-in-law of Johannes; followed by Anton’s son, Steffen. Whew! At some point between 1923 and 1963, the company fell on hard times (World Wars?), so Steffen relocated the factory elsewhere in Germany and started over. Seiler also makes digital pianos. The company will put art on the piano case for you or unusual paint jobs (think “solar system done with an airbrush”). As regards the piano itself, it is given excellent marks. I imagine you can get it without the art! German.
Sherlock-Manning: A medium quality instrument in its heyday. Hammers in 1960s and ’70s had sponge instead of felt (and that wasn’t the heyday, folks!). I’d let this one go. Canadian.
Shoninger (variously B. Shoninger & Co.): Established 1850. Sold 1922; name changed Shoninger Piano. “Old” production to 1960. Another American warhorse in need of probably-not-worth-it restoration. Modern product in China by firm that bought B. Shoniger name. Uses plastic in the action now (restorations of old pianos show problems with actions – perhaps the new company decided plastic was the answer). No!! China.
Schaaf (variously Adam Schaaf): Company founded in 1873; made verticals. Pianos had good reputations. The company was subsequently run by Adam’s sons, Fred and Harry, and the company was wildly successful. At some point, the company may have made player pianos, as well. The company also produced two “economy models”: the Orpheus and the Claritone. The company fell victim to the Great Extinction of the Great Depression. Any you find today will doubtless be in a pasture. No. American.
Schaff Brothers (variously G. Schaff): Gotthard and John Schaff founded the company in Chicago in 1861. After building pianos, they decided in 1884 to focus on manufacturing piano strings (Schaff Piano String Corporation), as Chicago was a center for piano-making. Presumably their piano product was overshadowed by one or more of those other makers, and the clever Schaff brothers knew to fold their piano tent and focus on something they did very well. Eventually, Schaff bought American Piano Supply, and they continue to do business as Schaff Piano Supply. If you could find any instruments, they would be wrecks not worthy of restoration. Keep shoppin’! American.
Schiller: See Conover.
Schirmer & Son: See Betting.
Schafer and Sons: Much confusion surrounds this name. This is a house brand sold at Colton Piano Store in Southern California (Colton is near Los Angeles). The company was founded in 1955 by Vern Schafer: his family ran a piano-moving company, and he later took charge of it, while thinking of other ways to expand the piano-selling business. Schafer was the one to introduce piano sales at Costco locations; and created a network of piano retail locations that bear his name. His stores featured guitars, drums, amplifiers, etc., along with private label lines and pianos. When it came to pianos, Colton contracted with Currier (of North Carolina) to produce the first Schafer and Sons pianos, and, as noted earlier in this piano’s name, Currier’s reputation is for low quality pianos. (Aeolian supposedly manufactured some?/all? Schafer and Sons instruments. Whether this was concurrent with business with any other manufacturer I don’t know.) After a while (early 1960s), Schafer contracted with Kohler & Campbell (and possibly Kimball). In 1970, Schafer had pianos made for him by Wurlitzer, Story & Clark, and Lowrey (not good signs!). In 1974, Samick came to the party but left in 1989. In 1990, Young-Chang took over; they may still make the instruments. Young-Chang assembled the Schafer and Sons pianos in Korea and China. (Samick was to buy Young-Chang; see Young-Chang.) During 1991-1992, some Schafer and Sons pianos were made by Daewoo Electronics. (See Daewoo.) Young-Chang appears to have been the main supplier, however. Phew! Though you could do worse during some years of manufacture, I would not buy any Shafer and Sons piano. Every one I’ve heard has a thin sound and is either very stiff or spongy to play. The cavalcade of suppliers does not bode well for a quality instrument, as noted, but it was one heck of a wild ride! American.
Schafer and Sons, player pianos: This a Santa Ana, California, company made player pianos as late as the 1950s. The piano itself was made by Aeolian (uh-oh!), and this company married the Aeolian with the player mechanism. The player mechanism, in turn, appears to have been made by a third firm! A Schafer and Sons player piano would probably need a lot of work; the mechanism in this brand was not reputed to be reliable. No. American. (See entry directly above this one.)
Note: Although I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, I’d bet $1 that the Schafer player piano company is the same firm as the Colton Piano Company’s Schafers. The Schafer and Sons brand line from Colton Piano Company included player pianos. The dates and locations seem to match awfully well, too.
Note: Sherman Clay is another large piano retailer that sold stencil pianos bearing their name. (See Sherman Clay.)
Schulze Pollmann: This is reputed to be a very good piano. The Pollmann and Schulze piano companies merged in 1928, after both had moved to Italy independently in 1923. They are reputed to have beautiful cabinetry, also. This one deserves a look. Italy.
Seaverns: Established as a piano action firm in Boston (1851). I’m unsure whether they manufactured pianos – or actions only. The actions seem to have been well respected, but any pianos made by this firm are likely to be warhorses, despite having a splendid action “back in the day.” Hang up the saddle. American.
Sherlock-Manning: Founded as Doherty Piano & Organ and later bought by Sherlock and Manning (who were employees). Also made pianos under Draper Brothers & Reid. Sold to investor who tried to improve quality by farming out manufacturing to Japan. Advent of Korean pianos pushed Sherlock & Manning out of business. Out of business in 1991. Never good quality. Significant action repair needed. Pass. Canadian/Japanese/Korean.
Sherman Clay: Established 1890 by Leander Sherman as a retail store. This West Coast chain of retailers is still in business. In addition to their stencil line, the company also offers Steinway line (remember to stay away from the Essex), Yamaha, and Henry F. Miller (now a stencil line manufactured by Pearl River – so, no go on the Miller). Early on, their stencil instruments appear to have been Aeolian products (dum-dum-dummmm….). Later (and, from what I can find, current) ones are manufactured in China by Qingdao Sejung Musical Instruments (See Falcone, America Sejung). To sum: no. Chinese/various.
Shirm (variously H. Shirm): Established in 1924; closed in 1929, when the U.S. stock market crashed. You probably won’t find any of these around, except as a project. Reputed to have been a good instrument “in its day”. (What? There were no more than 1800 of them!) How these pianos could have developed any positive reputation in only five years makes little sense to me. Perhaps this firm bought out another piano firm whose instruments were decent. That’s the only thing I can think of. Anyway, this instrument is a nein from the get-go. German.
Smith, Gilbert: This company appears not only to manufacture pianos but also to sell them in a retail showroom. Their president was a ladies’ man, given to handing out his photograph. He appears to have perpetrated breaking and entering, vandalizing (he swung from a chandelier and broke furniture), and assault, for all of which he was sued by the victims. Not only was he of a violent bent, but he also was a shyster. Smith hired a gentleman named Joseph M. Mann (see entry), making him manager of the showroom and paying him a fixed salary, as well as a percentage of sales. When Smith retired at the turn of the year 1915, Mann was to take over the company entirely (at zero buy-in cost). Not surprisingly, Smith refused to honor the contract. Mr. Smith probably had more unsavory dealings as well as unsavory “high-jinks,” but I need to move along in my research. I ask you, however: how can a piano from such a company be any good? American.
Smith & Barnes: C.A. Smith established his piano company in Chicago in 1884, a relative late-comer to the American piano-building boom, but perhaps the first factory located in Chicago. manufacture of these instruments is conducted tinder a strong organization headed by The Continental Piano Co. The Smith & Barnes player-pianos are of the same high character and have earned for themselves a place among the leading player-pianos of the country. The Smith, Barnes & Strobber Company, manufacturers of the Smith & Barnes pianos, stand among the highest commercially in the piano manufacturing industry. Main office and factory at Chicago. See also Smith, Barnes & Strobber Co In addition to the Smith & Barnes brand, the company built pianos under the following brands: Strohber, Hoffman, Lessing & Willard). Smith and Barnes Possibly Canadian but probably American.
The Smith & Barnes Piano Company was established in 1884 originally as the C.A. Smith Piano Company. Their factories were located at Clybourn Street in Chicago. In 1891, Barnes joined the firm and it became incorporated as Smith & Barnes Piano Company. In 1906, the Strohber Piano Company merged with Smith & Barnes forming the Smith, Barnes & Strohber Piano Company, and the firm manufactured pianos under the names of Smith & Barnes, Strohber, Hoffman, Lessing & Willard. In 1924 the firm was purchased by the Continental Piano Company, and they continued the Smith & Barnes name until the Great Depression. Update, 2012: A reader wrote: “I grew up with a Smith & Barnes. I thought I would send you a message! We had a vertical grand, and it had a beautiful sound. I do not have much to compare it to from my own experience, but it had a great, rich tone and sounded crystal clear throughout all 88, even at the very lows and highs.” Sojin: See Daewoo.
Sohmer: Founded 1872. Invented the baby grand size (1884). Pianos made by the original factory are good. Sohmers were sold in Steinway’s showrooms! Prior to 1980, a good piano. Bought Mason & Hamlin and Knabe trademarks (1985) from Aeolian when it went bankrupt. In 1986, Sohmer was sold to Pratt-Reed (makers of piano actions – – that’s the moving parts inside). It was sold again in 1989 to a man who had an association with the Falcone firm (see separate entry). As part of the sale, the William Knabe, Mason & Hamlin, Steck lines went along. In 1996, Sohmer and friends was sold yet again to a player piano company (Music Systems Research, which makes PianoDisk). At the point when Sohmer went to Pratt-Reed is the cutoff date between excellent and mediocre pianos. American. There is no longer a Sohmer factory. **** Currently (2006), there is a lawsuit brought against a Korean firm (Samick) that is manufacturing them and selling them under a name with Sohmer in it (Sohmer and Company). Samick also manufactures other brands (William Knabe, Kohler & Campbell, and Remington.) Korean.
Sonata: See Lesage.
Stark: Company was active circa 1890. All remaining pianos would likely not be playable; thus, not a likely contender for space in your home. American.
Starr: Founded 1849 in Indiana, under the name Trayser Melodeons. In 1869, Trayser began to make pianos. The company name changed when the Starr brothers became partners with Trayser. When Trayser retired, Milo Chase came onboard, and the company was renamed Chase Piano. There must have been some discord because in 1884 Starr Piano re-emerged. In 1949, the firm closed. You likely will not find any of these pianos available. Would doubtless need a lot of work. Likely to be venerable old warhorses. Noble beasts, but trot on. (Other brands held by Starr: Cor[o]nado, Cumberland, Duchess, Gennett, Krell, Minum, Pullman, Remington, Richmond, Royal, and Schmoller & Mueller. All of these are likely to be lumbering warhorses, too. You can find something way better.) American.
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “It’s a great little piano, around 5′, and remarkably well-made! Mr. Starr was an eccentric and wanted to compete with Steinway. He marketed his pianos in probably what was one of the first ‘product placement’ campaigns, gaining several Starr piano appearances in early movies alongside Cary Grant, if I’m not mistaken.”
Steck (variously George Steck): Steck opened his piano factory in 1857 in East Rochester, NY., and won prizes for his pianos’ tone and touch. Supposedly, Wagner wrote Parsifal on a Steck that had been given to him by residents of Bayreuth, after a Steck piano won a prestigious prize there (1873). Name bought by Aeolian, then by Sohmer. Name now owned by American Sejung, which is an arm of a Korean company that has its pianos built in China. Pianos from this era and likely not very good. Have the instrument checked out. American, then Chinese.
Update, 2012: From a reader: “I just wanted to put in my two cents about George Steck pianos. My mother purchased one in Montreal around 1970. I grew up with this piano, and it had a beautiful tone and touch. I’m a piano teacher now.”
Steinberg, Wilh[elm]: Reputed to be “very loud,” to the point of bringing on ringing in the ears. It sounds like a no. (Can you hear me?!) German. Current production from China. Still no.
Stegler: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Steigerman: Out of production since about 2008. No. See Hailun. Chinese.
Steiner, Berhhard: See Dietmann.
Steingraber & Söhne: Established 1852 in Germany at Bayreuth (yes, Wagner Ground Zero). Their website carries a recommendation by the great pianist, Vladimir Horowitz. This is to imply that these are good instruments. How his recommendation squares with the fact that he toured with a Steinway is unknown – though the Steinway was a gift to Horowitz from Steinway. I’d give this one a good look. It is reputed to be a fine piano. German.
Update, 2013: From a reader: “They have a great reputation, based on my own recent buying-research (am looking for a grand piano, am a hobby player – no relation with the company). In my experience, dealers compare them to Steinway and Bösendorfer. I find the quality (and price) to be similar, based on 10-15 sessions at various dealers in Amsterdam, Holland. Played on several excellent uprights as well, priced for perfection at around 35000Euro / $45,000USD they seems to be in the same league as Bösedorfer uprights.”
Steinbach: Assembled in China (supposedly, some in Japan); German action. May once have been an authentic German brand, but I think it probably is only a German-sounding name. The company’s website is noticeably coy on this topic. Take your chances; probably no. Chinese.
Steinburg: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Steinhoven: This sounds like another “fake German” piano. I can find nothing on this one. Probably not a good choice. Rock on (sorry for the pun; well, actually, I’m not very sorry for the pun). Probably Chinese.
Steinmeyer: Another stencil. No. Korean.
Steinway: This is many people’s dream piano. I personally do not like the touch or the sound, but I think I am in the minority! I would look at Steinways (particularly old ones), if I were buying for myself, but I likely would buy another brand unless I found a Steinway that isn’t what I think of as the “typical” Steinway. Bought by CBS, who put no money into the business and squeezed out as much revenue as possible, based on its reputation. Steinway bought by Selmer (the brass instrument company). We don’t know much about quality of the Steinway instrument under the Selmer regime. If you want an “authentic Steinway,” you’ll have to buy an older model. Ask your tech for details. Steinway makes verticals (45″ and 52″), as well as grands. German/American.
Update, 2012: A reader writes, “Evidently, I am not alone in preference for something other than a Steinway. One snarky comment I read was that Steinways were purchased by two main groups: those who have had their hearts set on a Steinway since forever and wouldn’t consider anything else; those who want a piano for show and have no intention of playing it – therefore the “name” says it all, since Steinways have such a formidable reputation. Pianos (grands) that rank as “top tier,” as far as tone, touch, and finish include: Bechstein, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Grotrian, Mason & Hamlin, Schulze Pollmann, Sauter, and Walter. Next tier includes Hässler, Albert Weber (not Weber name standing alone), Seiler, Yamaha S, Shigeru Kawai, Knabe, Hoffmann, and Schimmel. If you’re looking for an vertical, top tier names include: Bechstein, Bösendorfer, Blüthner, Grotrian, W. Hoffmann, Mason & Hamlin, Sauter, Schulze Pollmann, Steinway vertical included in this excellent category, and Walter. Next tier: Albert Weber, Astin-Weight, Hässler, Knabe, Sauter, Seiler,and Schimmel. These verticals are pricey. For the same money, you will be able to get a very good grand.”
Update #2, 2012: The same reader writes: “After a bit of cursory research this morning to confirm, I have discovered that Samick has been steadily buying stock in the company, and, as of my latest reading, owns 33% of Steinway.” [This would be an interesting development: that the original maker of stencil pianos would own all or part of one of the most prestigious piano makers in the world! – mb] “From what I have been able to discover, Steinway and Samick have American manufacturing plants.” [Stay tuned! – mb]
Sterling: Charles Sterling founded the company in 1846 as an organ manufacturing concern, introducing pianos about 20 years later. It later dropped its organ lines and concentrated on pianos: a few small grands, but mostly uprights. Manufactured pianos under Goetz & Company, Huntington, Mendelssohn and Richardson & Lohmann brands. About 1925, Sterling merged with Winter Piano Company. (See Winter.) Sterling ended its run as one of numerous other victims of Aeolian. (See Aeolian.) Although Aeolian manufactured pianos with the Sterling name until about 1960, say no. Early-twentieth century Sterlings are a no-go, too, unless completely restored and you’re looking for an antique piano. American.
Sting, Sting II: Well, now! Here is an interesting name! Player piano from Aeolian. The “Ukelanor” feature enabled a “rinky-tink” (possibly ukelele-like?) sound. Don’t get stung (forgive me). Like the bumblebee, take flight (no more, I promise). No. American.
Stodart: These were made in the 1890s, and probably any one you’d find would need a whole lot of work done. You’d be better off to pass on this one. American.
Story & Clark: Founded 1884 by Hampton L. Story, an employee of a music store; and Melville Clark, a builder of reed organs who had ventured into player pianos [Apollo brand]; some say that Mr. Clark invented the player piano. Mr. Story previously had built pianos with other partners – – Story & Powers [see Emerson] (1862), Story & Camp (1868). Story & Clark was a success, and, in a curious twist, factories were established in Europe. About 1900, Mr. Clark went his separate way. Mr. Story moved the factory to Michigan. In the early 1960s and in another twist, the firm was sold to Lowrey Organ Co. Business declined, and production stopped in 1984. Lowrey sold the brands. In the very early 1990s, it was bought by Classic Player Pianos Corp., and, only a year or so later, sold again to QRS Music Technologies, which began as a player piano company. (Guess who founded the company that became QRS? Mr. Clark!) American. **** Currently, the name is used on an instrument probably from an Asian factory. This iteration has been reborn with something called PNOscan™ attached. This is some sort of recording device; there are also USB and MIDI ports onboard. Theoretically, you could e-mail a recording of your playing this piano, directly from the piano. The idea is that the Story & Clark can do anything a digital piano can do, in addition to functioning as an acoustic piano. What this amalgam means in terms of quality, I don’t know. My advice would be to steer clear. American, then Chinese. (See also Gulbransen.)
Update, 2013: A reader writes: “I lived in the town where Story & Clark pianos are made. They are still being made in America in a small town in called Seneca, PA. They have a fine sound (not superior, but good enough for beginners) but have many issues with humidity, which make the keys stick if not properly maintained. I thought I’d share this information since I have lots of experience with them. The company commonly donated to schools and churches around the area.” [I would still be wary! A piano with sticking keys (especially for a beginner!) is not the way to go, in my opinion. A beginner should not have to fight the instrument! Learning to play it is challenge enough! And…the beginner who must accommodate to the piano is learning poor technique. mb]
Stratford: See Foster-Armstrong.
Strauss, J & Son: See Pearl River. Some instruments may be made in Belarus. Nothankyouverymuch. Chinese or Belarusian.
Strohber: See Smith & Barnes. Stuart & Sons: Established 1990. These pianos seem to be highly regarded, but there are few of them in North America. One unusual feature is cabinetry of exotic woods. A second is the addition of extra keys. One model has 9 extra keys (yes, 97 keys) – another model has 14 extra keys (yes, 102 keys). A third major difference is the addition of a second “soft” pedal (they call it the “dolce” pedal). The hammers are moved closer to the strings, which reduces how strongly the hammers strike. (Note: In an una corda pedal, the hammer mechanism shifts so the hammers strike only two strings; one string [una corda] is not used.) The Stuart piano is idiosyncratic, but it gets high marks for sound and action. If you can find one, try it out. (And write back to me about it so I can put your comments here.) Australia.
Suajin: Stencil piano. No. Korean.
Suzuki: Horrible, as well as overpriced. What more can I say? (Not to be confused with their electronic piano.) Made in China, despite Japanese name. Chinese.
Tetsch & May: The firm established 1867 in Germany and bought by Sonore (Netherlands), although the instruments were still built in Russia. The company was then sold to Yantai Perzina in 2001, from which it comes now. Also controlled the Rippen brand (see Rippen). German/Dutch/Chinese.
Tesche & Rippen: Somehow this company (German) is mixed up with Tesche & May, as well as Rippen (see Rippen); I’m not exactly sure how. It may be this is the Tesch company that manufactured in Russia and then China. It may be that Tesche and Rippen make the Tesche & May; and used to make the Rippen. ?? Since this piano is European, you are unlikely to find it in the U.S., except in the used market. Take it for a spin (or a scale) and see what you think. German/Dutch/Chinese?
Thompson (variously J. Thompson): Stencil piano. Not for “teaching little fingers to play.” (This is a reference to the venerable John Thompson piano method. I was attempting to make a funny. This piano teaching method is not associated with the Thompson stencil piano firm.) No. Korean.
Thüringer: Still looking for info on this one. Probably now a brand name on an Asian piano. Possibly German, initially. Probably a bad purchase. Chinese? (If you don’t like the piano, I can certainly recommend the sausage. I will not make any jokes using würste and the quality of this instrument. Yes, it is late, and I should stop writing.)
Thürmer, Ferdinand: Established 1834. Production stopped in 1992. Name may have been sold to Chinese maker. If you find a genuine German Thürmer, it will be so old that it will need to be completely rebuilt to render it playable. No; don’t chance it. German/Chinese.
Tokai: Poor piano. No longer in production? No. Japanese.
Vogel: Mid-range of Schimmel line. It has a Renner action, however. Might be decent. (See also Schimmel and May Berlin.) German.
Vose & Sons (variously James W. Vose): Giddy-up! Another warhorse. Established in 1851 and in constant production until 1982. 130 years is pretty impressive! Old ones are projects, though it was a very good piano in its day. During the depression, Vose became part of the Aeolian Gluttony (see Aeolian). I don’t know anything about the quality of modern ones, but they are probably a no. American.
Wagener: See Windover.
Waters (variously Horace Waters, Waters & Sons, Horace Waters and Co.): Horace Waters was first a retailer of pianos and sheet music: “Piano & Music Establishment” was the name of his store (established 1845). About 1858, he decided to start building instruments and produced both pianos and organs. (See Schafer and Sons.) His sons joined the building enterprise in 1864 (thus Waters & Sons). Eventually, the company focused on the piano – and with some success. The company made it through the Great Depression and two World Wars but went out of business about 1950. Waters also built pianos under the Chester brand; and player pianos under the Waters Autola brand.
Waters Autola: See Waters.
Wellington: See Aeolian.
Wentworth: See Doll.
Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd: Brands this maker controlled: Bentley, Broadwood, Knight, Welmar. Out of business. English.
Wertheim: From its founding in 1908, the company enjoyed a good reputation for producing an instrument that had little need for tuning. This was an especially important consideration for use in schools, although they also found their way to performing venues. The company was yet another victim of the Depression and shuttered the factory in 1935. Leave this one on the barbie, mate. It’s likely to need complete rebuilding. Australian.
Whittaker: See Kimball.
Williams (variously R.S. Williams & Sons): Established 1854 by Richard Sugden Williams. He bought Canadian Piano Company in 1888 and changed the name of the company in 1909 to R.S. Williams & Sons. Largest competitor was Heintzman (see separate entry). Out of business in 1932, doubtless a victim of the Great Depression. Probably not worth restoration. Canadian.
Windover: You might turn up a Windover in the U.K. or environs. Windover is not the name of the maker; rather, it is the name of the man/men who managed the British Piano Manufacturing Co.! This concern manufactured Wagener player pianos. I haven’t figured out just how, but it seems British Piano also made Apollo player pianos. This seems odd, since Apollo was the name of the player piano action used by Story & Clark (see entry); and these gents lived in Chicago! One source notes that Apollo seems to have been added to the name of the piano if an Apollo action were installed, regardless of who the manufacturer of the rest of the piano might be. Similar perhaps-unauthorized use of highly-regarded intellectual property(see Broadwood, Broadwood White, and Dove).
Winter: Founded in 1899 by Julius Winter, it had a reputation for good instruments. In 1901, Winter merged with Heller Piano Company but sold the Heller piano under the Heller name. It also produced its own line under the Rudolf name. Later (year unknown), it merged with Sterling. Anything prior to about 1928 might be worth considering if the instrument has been rebuilt. After that and if not rebuilt, regardless of year, this is an instrument to avoid. See Sterling and Aeolian.
Wissner: See Janssen.
Woodchester: This firm was established in London in 1811. Anything you find is likely to need work. No. English.
Yamaha: This is a wonderful piano. Holds value well, even verticals. I like this piano a lot. It would be on my short list were I to purchase now. Bright treble. Japanese.
Update, 2006: Some Yamahas are being made in Indonesia. Caution! Check!
Update, 2014: A reader writes: “I know there is a Yamaha piano factory here in Taiwan, where I live. From my own research, these are very good pianos; and by “very good,” I mean just that. The Japanese ones are still preferred, even here in Taiwan. The price point of the Taiwanese ones is notably lower, however, and I wouldn’t shy away if “very good” is good enough. I also must note: Taiwan is NOT CHINA.” [mb: Amen, brother!]
Yantai Perzina: Chinese firm making Perzina and several other labels. See Perzina.
Young-Chang: Started in 1956 by the brothers Kim (Jai-sup, Young, and Chang) to assemble Yahamas for the South Korean market. Spun off as separate company in 1975. Sold to Samick, but the sale was not approved by Korean government and fell through. Young-Chang is now in bankruptcy. Can be a decent piano but don’t expect more than this quality. See Falcone. Korean.
Update, 2013: A reader adds: “15-20 years ago, Korean pianos were considered third-tier, entry-level pianos. The manufacturing of Korean pianos has greatly improved after a U.S. backlash because of mediocre quality on some models. One example was the Young-Changs. Contrary to common belief, many of the Young-Changs made in Korea prior to 1998 were not very good pianos. The opening of the brand new Y-C factory in China in 1998-1999 for pianos made for the U.S. market signaled the beginning of an improvement. Some of the pianos made between 1998 and early 2000s were of much better quality. The Bergmann Series model (entry-level) was of those pianos. The Prambergers made by Y-C when Pramberger was working for them were much better pianos and a very good value. The name was eventually licensed to Samick. Modern Prambergers are Samick pianos, and I am not sure they have any Pramberger designs in them.”
Versailles: See Lesage.
Walters: Very high quality. Handmade, excellent actions, beautiful cabinets. Primarily verticals, but now make a 6’5″ grand. I’d look at this piano seriously. American.
Weber (variously Albert Weber): Established in New York in 1852 by Albert Weber. Very high quality (and thus expensive) pianos; elaborate cabinetry. Alas, in 1903, Weber succumbed to Aeolian. Even so, its pianos were higher in quality than the rest of Aeolian’s oeuvre. After Aeolian folded, the Weber name was bought by Young-Chang. Some now made in China. Too dicey. Keep looking. Korean/Chinese.
Weber (Canada): Established in 1862 by John C. Fox, who had acquired a good name as a piano manufacturer in New York City. Moved business to Canada. George M. Weber joined company (1865), bought it out (1869), and changed the name to Weber Piano. William Wormwith joined the firm as a partner (1896), and the name changed to Wormwith & Company. An investor bought controlling interest (1919) and changed the name back to Weber. Purchased by Lesage (1939); went out of business (1960s). Lesage made pianos under the Weber and Wormwith brands. No to old ones; no to new ones. No all around. Canadian.
Wellington: See Conover.
Wellsmore: See Doll.
Welmar: Part of Whelpdale Maxwell & Codd. Good news! Bankruptcy in 2004. Nobody is at home there to take your money! English.
Welte (variously M. Welte and Sons): The firm was founded in 1832 in Germany by Michael Welte as a player-piano company. The company came up with the revolutionary idea of paper piano rolls; the idea was granted an American patent in 1865. (Son Emil had emigrated to the U.S. that same year. Would that the Patent Office worked this quickly these days!) In 1912, an American factory was established in Poughkeepsie, New York. During the first World War, the company lost its patents; the Depression sounded the death knell. Welte also build theater organs (used in theaters before “talkies”), orchestrions operated with paper rolls (pipe organ-like instruments meant to replicate orchestras and bands), and real pipe organs (churches, concert halls). In 1932, Karl Bockisch, the brother-in-law of Edwin Welte, owned the company outright and attempted to save it from bankruptcy. The company continued to innovate, however, even in the face of disaster. In 1936, Edwin (living in Germany) developed an organ that used analog samples of organ sounds! 1936! The recording equipment was destroyed in 1944 during the bombing of Germany during World War II. Scraps of the technology have turned up in the U.S., however. Pianos from this company will be player instruments and not worth restoration for modern use. German/American. No.
Welte-Mignon: A “reproducing piano,” this instrument was introduced in 1904 in Germany and brought to America in 1906. Developed by Edwin Welte and his brother-in-law, Karl Bockisch, the Mignon enabled the recording of nuances in playing, which took the automatonic playing of a machine into the realm of true musical playing. See Welte. See Mignon.
Weinbach: This piano was made by Petrof (see Petrof). The main difference seems to have been the casework. If you like the sound and touch, you probably would be pretty safe getting it. Please play it first, ok? Czech.
Weiss, Paul: Established 1955. Bought by Ludwig & Otto Willis (not the same as the Canadian company) in 1971. No production after 1993. Unlikely to be a good piano. Skip. German.
Wendl & Lung: Factory established in Vienna in 1910 and developed into primarily a piano restoration firm. A great-grandson by the name of Veletzky took over the business in the mid-1990s. He also happened to be a technical consultant to a group of Chinese piano manufacturers. In 2003, Wendl & Lung pianos were resuscitated (please forgive me!) and began being built by Hailun Piano Company. It appears that this piano is nominally, at least, a Viennese instrument produced in China by partnership, rather than a Chinese piano with a Viennese name. (Hailun also produces pianos under its own name.) I have no information about the quality of this piano. It may be ok. I’d tread carefully, nonetheless, and compare it with comparably-priced non-Chinese instruments. Chinese.
Wessell, Nickel, & Gross: I don’t think this is an actual piano manufacturing business but rather a maker of a critical component called the action. (Renner is another brand of action.) The company was found in 1874 by three Steinway employees who specialized in making the actions used in Steinways. See comments by a reader under Mason & Hamlin, which suggest Wessell, Nickel & Gross is an instrument, rather than a component.
Wentworth: See Doll.
Winter: See Sterling.
Whitney: See Kimball.
Whitmore: See Kimball.
Wieler: See Belarus. No. Belarusian.
Willis (variously Willis & Co.): Company established as sewing machine company (1880s) and changed to piano (1889). Bought by Lesage. Sales affected by Great Depression. Ok quality then. Would need a great deal of service; the keyboard action is a little squirrely. Bankruptcy in 1979. Presumably all its brands are out of production, too. See Lesage. No. Canadian.
Willis, L&O: Established 1900; out of business in 1979. Medium quality in its day. Old ones are not worth restoring. Newer ones are probably not very good. Canadian.
Wormwith: See [Canadian] Weber.
Wurlitzer: Not-so-ok piano. Now made by Baldwin. Baldwin bought Wurlitzer in 1988 (including all the brands Wurlitzer owned), and the Wurlitzer company came to an end. Wurlitzers were made in China through 2009. To my knowledge, no piano since 2009 has bourn the Wurlitzer name. Usually tinny. I’d try to find something else. American/Chinese. Note: Wurlitzer had nothing to do with Aeolian, even though Baldwin ended up owning some of the Wurlitzer name and some of Aeolian’s brands.
Wurlitzer theater organ: Superb instrument, nicknamed “the Mighty Wurlitzer.” Its production span is 1914 to 1943; the idea was to allow one person to command a seemingly-bewildering number of different instruments and sounds (played on four manuals; don’t forget the pedal board – that makes 5 keyboards) to allow the organ to accompany silent movies. In addition to orchestral instruments, the performer could summon bird calls, rain, train whistles, car horns, fire engine sirens, dog barks, and a host of percussion. I have played theater organs a number of times, and they are a HOOT! Such a feeling of power! Don’t pass up the opportunity to play one, if you are afforded it!
Wyman: Joint venture of former Baldwin people and China; factory in China. Current production has a PianoDisc, which enables one to turn the piano into a player piano. Probably just ok. Keep looking. Chinese.
Zimmerman: See Bechstein.
You have noticed that there are a great many “warhorse brands” among the above listings. Sadly, most of these pianos should be put out to pasture, as noted.
Most of these are some of the 12,500 piano brands made in America from 1850 to 1920/1930). Most of these instruments are “square pianos.” For those interested in pianos of the mid- to late 1800s, The Antique Piano Shop has a fine file discussing and giving drawings of the various square and vertical piano types. I recommend it.
Most pianos of this vintage are not worth restoration, as I have mentioned above many times, but they may be of interest for their purely antique value. Many of them have lovely cabinetry and/or exotic woods. Others are carved to the point of fairly drowning in curlicues, flowers, and maybe even a cupid of two. Hold on to your bonnet, Nelly! The carving on some of them will nigh blow off your straw and feathers!
Square pianos by Mathushek, Dunham, and Dubois are worthy of your rebuilding dollar, however, and should bring joy to your eye, as well as your ear.
Update, 2007: I am informed that the above discussion of Pratt-Reed’s moving its factory to Mexico, with negative results, implies that I think everything manufactured in Mexico is of inferior quality. Let me hasten to clarify that this is not so! I apologize for any offense given.
Every country has well- and poorly-manufactured products. As it stands now, in my opinion, Pratt-Reed’s business decision and its ramifications are reflected in the quality of Pratt-Reed actions.
What’s a Good Buy?
My technician said that now (2006) a Boston vertical (about $7000) is a good value. Also a Yamaha “school model” vertical (about $6000) should be considered. This Yamaha is not as pretty as their regular vertical because it’s made to be very sturdy for school use.
In a grand (5’4″), look at a Boston (about $20,000). A Yamaha grand (5’3″), model C1, is also good value (also about $20,000).
Update, 2009: Look at a Walter (U.S.). Excellent materials and parts, family-owned, high-end craftsmanship, hand-made. A vertical is $7500-$8000. They also make a grand for $30,000 (6’4″ size only). A comparable Steinway is $50,000. Walter has been called “the Steinway [in a good way] of the 21st Century.”
As noted above, Bostons are very good values now. Bostons (both verticals and grands) are made in Kawai’s “annex/good” factory (Japan). This is where the Kawai concert grands are made. This factory uses better materials and parts, and pianos made in the “annex” are made by Kawai’s most experienced and skilled artisans. About 20 Bostons are made annually (30 max). Avoid the Essex; it’s the entry-level instrument, as noted several times!
Shopping for a Piano
Go to several piano stores and play the same pieces on each piano. Write down the serial number of each instrument and make notes. I suggest you play [part of] the types of literature you prefer (for example, your preferences might be Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov but no Liszt, no Tchaikovsky) on each instrument. One piano might be wonderful for Mozart but too wimpy for Rachmaninov (particularly in the bass), so you’ll have to decide whether this compromise is acceptable if you love that piano otherwise.
If the instrument is for a non-player (or is being bought by a non-player for his child or teen), ask the salesperson to play the same piece or two on each piano. Call ahead and make sure (1) you get the person who plays the best – this is often the manager; and (2) you go in at a time when that person can give you undivided attention (likely to be an “off” day and at an “off” time); ask to make an appointment, indicating you want to come in at the least busy time of the least busy day. Ask the person to play, say, Mozart and Beethoven and maybe a show or pop tune. Make sure you don’t hear -only- pop stuff, as the teacher will be teaching Mozart and Beethoven [too]! Request this when you make the appointment. This is why you want the best pianist to help you select a piano, not someone who can play only pop.
Any brand’s cheapest model (often called “entry level”) is its worst piano. Go up a level. Note that sometimes a brand’s entry level tier is made in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, or Russia, rather than the factory where the company’s better models are made.
Find out if the piano you are considering is a stencil brand. Then find out where it was built. Particularly, be on the lookout for pianos with German-sounding names.
Beware of “loss-leaders.” Most companies make small grands to sell for under $10,000. Music stores advertise them as: “You can buy a grand piano today for less than $10,000 at our piano sale!” ($8999 is a common price for these.) The low price means that piano is the most stripped-down model in the company’s lines of grands. Because these instruments are meant to get the buyer into the store, that’s how they’re sold: draw the buyer in to view the store’s inventory, explain that “for not that much more money” one can trade up to the next level and get better quality in materials/sound/etc., and induce the buyer to purchase a more expensive instrument (“bait and switch”). Buying up can be a very good idea for the buyer, actually, as the instrument’s value (not just price) is noticeably better. Don’t buy the piano with the rock-bottom price. Think very carefully if you are purchasing one of these “loss-leader” instruments. You might well be better off buying up. (Be sure to bargain down the asking price of the next-level instrument. See how close you can get it to the loss-leader price!!)
I’ll do some research to find out what a “special factory sale” and “selling off a university’s practice pianos” mean. These “events” may be designed to move close-out stock brought in from other locations. I’m suspicious, at any rate! You might be as well!
Pianos from craigslist
I’d also like to say a word about pianos on craigslist and similar sites, including newspaper and “PennySaver” classified ads.
Sellers almost-uniformly are not trying to unload a piano to make a quick profit but to find a new home for an instrument they no longer need.
Despite these sellers’ ingenuousness, beware of pianos offered on such sites/classified ads. Almost to an instrument, they are warhorses: Grandma’s instrument, a piano rescued from a school that was being closed, a piano that sat in a family’s basement, a piano that was left behind by a previous tenant, etc. The seller knows it’s an “old piano” because the case is in ill repair but usually has no idea what condition the action (insides of the piano) is in. They are selling an “old piano” but assume that it plays as well as an “old piano” could be expected to play, when the fact is that the case is the best thing about the instrument!
Do peruse the listings but be careful! For example, a price of $500 may look appealing, especially when you’ve been looking at several thousands in a store, but you’re getting what you are paying for.
The seller probably isn’t trying to trick or fleece you, as I noted above, but you aren’t getting a very good instrument; in fact, it might be a pretty darned poor instrument!
If you are thinking seriously of buying from craigslist/etc., contact a tech. A tech can tell you whether $500 is a fair price and how much rebuilding you’ll need to do, how much repair you’re looking at in the ensuing five years, etc. In the end, $500 might be one of the worst investments you’ve ever made, and you’d be better off renting a piano until something else comes along.
Don’t forget that some techs sell instruments. They buy instruments they know are worth restoring, work on them, and then sell them. You’d be pretty safe buying a restored instrument in a situation such as this.
Please do you own due diligence. A piano is an investment.
And then…. find a great teacher who can show you how to get the best out of your new instrument!
IMPORTANT – IMPORTANT – IMPORTANT: A bad piano is lethal to a beginner: the pianist must “fight” the instrument’s physical shortcomings, in addition to everything else that is required in learning how to play. For example, maybe some keys stick. Maybe some don’t play at all. Maybe the pedal doesn’t work. These problems are not going to solve themselves when the piano takes up residence under your roof! (In fact, the move to your place might even make them worse!) If you can afford only a $500 piano from craigslist, instead rent a piano from a piano store. They will stand by their product. A craigslist seller sells “as is.”
An expensive brand’s vertical might not be as good as another brand’s grand. Or, vice versa.
A grand will have better tone than an vertical, generally speaking, though one manufacturer’s grands will not sound as good as another manufacturer’s verticals, as noted above.
A used piano should be considered seriously. Bear in mind, however, that used pianos are a law unto themselves. Do not fail to ask your tech to physically examine any used piano you are considering! Caveat emptor!
Pianos are as individual as children!
– Larry Fine has a new piano-buyers’ guide available. Updates are through his website.
– Sohmers are being made under two names, though both are being made in China. The mess is the result of not renewing trademarks, sale of a company, and so on.
– Some Samicks, a Korean company, are now being made in the U.S. (!!), as well as China.
– Some Yamahas are being made in China, but in a new factory and closely supervised by Yamaha. I think you’re probably safe buying this type of Yamaha, but you should investigate it, as noted above (playing it or having the best pianist on the store staff play it; also ask your tech’s opinion).
– Some cheaper pianos are now being made in Malaysia and Indonesia, rather than China. Be very careful of quality. (The quality of some Chinese pianos has risen. Investigate carefully. The Malaysian and Indonesian piano may be the “new Chinese grade” of pianos and probably to be avoided.)
I have spoken several times in this file (and in others on my site) about piano techs.
The field of piano tuning/repair/restoration is not overseen by any government agency (U.S. or otherwise). In an effort to standardize training, as well as methods and quality of work, the Piano Technicians’ Guild was formed. To qualify as a Registered Piano Technician requires passing a rigorous written test, plus an exacting hands-on tuning exam. You will always get better work from an RPT than a ‘piano tuner,’ so I encourage you to seek a real piano tech to care for your not-inconsiderable investment! A tuning should cost you $125-$225, depending on where you live and what the service includes. RPTs usually include more than just tuning when your instrument is serviced.
Ask for references for any tuner/technician or RPT you are considering hiring.
Many techs will give you a telephone consultation (if you arrange it in advance). Sometimes it is free, but be prepared to pay (perhaps $100, perhaps less). Contact the tech in advance: “I am going to look at a used [piano brand] this weekend. Would you be willing to give me your opinion on this brand by telephone? What is your fee?”)
Update, 2007: I am reminded by a reader that reputable and exceedingly skilled piano technical people choose not to join the Technicians’ Guild. My apologies for insulting these professionals.
Where should you find some opinions?
- As I have mentioned several times, a tech is a good source of information, especially the most current information.
- Piano teachers are an excellent source of recommendations. Ask what they would buy now (1) if price were no object; and (2) if price must be considered. Make the question more specific if you must have a vertical piano for reasons of space, etc.
- Use search engines (maybe that’s how you found me!).
- Post on one of the piano newsgroups, and so on.
- Asking piano salespeople probably will not net you much unbiased information, sad but not surprising to say!
A special thanks to my RPT, David Abdalian of Abdalian Pianos for his gracious and generous assistance in vetting and correcting this file and adding details only someone with his knowledge, experience, and connections would know!
I am often asked to give my opinion on harpsichords. Here are my thoughts, including a discussion of the Roland C-30 digital harpsichord.
When I bought my Hubbard (1975), I also looked at Zuckermanns, but the quality was markedly below that of a Hubbard. I felt quite confident in my purchase of a Hubbard. Quality of Zuckermanns may have improved, so check them out, too. There are many brands of harpsichords, so do a thorough search before purchase.
I have not done any research to speak of on harpsichord-makers. There are many ateliers. Some start with kits (often Hubbards), and some craft from scratch. Some simply make stock kits and don’t pretend to be anything more than a fabricator.
I have a list of makers, however, I cannot vouch for current-ness of the links, nor do I know anything about quality of any but Hubbards (which I love!).
If you are looking for a harpsichord, check the local want-ads for estate sales, as well as searching on the web. Sometimes they turn up on craigslist, usually as part of estate sale inventory.
Also check out The Harpsichord Clearing House, which features finished instruments by professional and amateur builders. Partially-finished instruments appear from time to time, as well as un-started kits. Prices appear to run $6000 and up for finished harpsichords. Although a kit is cheaper to start with (usually!), by the time you buy special clamps, wood for the case, veneer for the case, etc., the price is right up near $6000. Of course, you have the pleasure of building it and making it yours in all ways!
I wish someone made a small $3000 “student” harpsichord (finished, not a kit). I could sell dozens of them! Almost all of my students would love to have a harpsichord, in addition to a piano! A bunch more would like a fortepiano, too!
I have another file about the difference in touch between and piano and a harpsichord, along with pictures of my virginal and clavichord.
I want to make it very clear that I have not played this instrument, nor have I seen it. I base the following review on what I hear and see on the YouTube videos, plus my experience with and knowledge of acoustic instruments.
My choice is still an acoustic harpsichord, and I would recommend that anyone interested in owning one look at a traditional instrument first.
Immediately on the plus side of the ledger is that the Roland would be impervious to weather changes and never need tuning. The Roland is doubtless more portable than any but the tiniest acoustic harpsichord. In both the Roland and in acoustic harpsichords, the stand and the instrument are separate pieces. This makes the instruments easier to move (The Roland also has an earphone jack. And probably some MIDI ports.)
The Roland digital harpsichord sounds surprisingly good! Tiny aural snippets were “sampled” from the sounds of real harpsichords and used to construct the digital matrix.
A digital instrument is not the same as a synthesizer, which is what 99% of all “electronic keyboards” are.
The harpsichord setting in a synth is created by manipulating sound waves and generating the sound artificially. A digital instrument (such as the Roland) starts with real harpsichord sounds.
A synth is far, far less expensive.
The 2008 cost of the Roland is approximately $5000 (you would expect a Roland product to be expensive), as far as I can find out on the ‘Net. Nobody seems to want to quote/list a price, maybe because it’s so high they’re afraid the shoppers will bolt immediately! (Remember that you might be able to “bargain-down” the dealer.)
The Roland’s keyboard compass is larger than a harpsichord’s. There are two octaves above and two below Middle C, as well as three additional white keys above and four white keys below (with their appropriate black keys). A harpsichord normally has only one note below the last octave. On my Hubbard, I can tune it to GG or BB (Contra G and Contra B, for those of you who like to track that sort of thing!). The Roland gives you the convenience of having both notes all the time.
Rectangular in shape, the Roland similar to virginals and clavichords: shaped like a shoebox. I’m guessing at the size: 30″ x 20″, as this information is also difficult to come by! You sit at the long side.
The Roland can create several different sounds: Flemish harpsichord (Ruckers is the primary maker), French harpsichord (Taskin is the primary maker), fortepiano, celeste, and a small pipe organ (positif).
From the YouTube video files, it appears that the touch is the two-part harpsichord touch (virtually no resistance until the plectrum in the jack passes by the string, thus plucking it to produce the sound). The sound also includes the subtle “clatter” of the action of the wood in the keyboard and jack mechanisms. (But in good technique one should not “thump”! Roland has added just the right amount of “wood” sound, in my opinion.)
A weird aspect of the Roland harpsichord sound is that the keyboard is touch sensitive! (hard = loud; light = soft). The proper way to make loud/soft on a harpsichord is to add another set (“rank”) of strings or thin out the texture. The touch sensitivity is fine for the fortepiano, of course, but it shouldn’t be used with the harpsichord sound. The Roland appears to have the “coupling” feature (which adds the ranks from the second manual to the first one), so use that instead of using the touch-sensitive feature. Note: It would be good if there were a way to turn on/off the touch-sensitivity feature. Perhaps Roland will have seen this review before version 2.0!
The Roland has both the Flemish (brighter) and French sounds (see the 5th of the 14 files). Part 6/14, the instrument plays a fortepiano sound. In 7/14 demonstrates the positif organ (two dispositions: either Rohrflöte 8′ or Principal 8′ + Oktav 4′). The celeste is featured in 8/14.
There different temperaments and tunings are offered, also (9/14). Have fun with [really, really] old music! Amaze your friends with just intonation! Enjoy the minutia of the comma of Didymus. Savor Werckmeister III!
Concert/demonstration of entire pieces on 10-14/14. Part 1/14 is a quick overview of the sounds.
Perhaps in Roland’s future plans there will be that $3000 “student” harpsichord!
Note: Virginals and harpsichords were contemporaneous. Olivera erroneously states that the harpsichord developed from the virginal.
I would be pleased to add reviews of those who have played this instrument.
Obviously, a real piano is what you want if you want to learn to play the piano, but, sometimes, for various reasons, the solution for you is an electronic keyboard (synth). I have written a fileabout what to look for and what to avoid in an electronic. This file also has my recommendation of a specific brand and model (Yamaha YPT-300; the model’s former name: PSR-300).
I will study up on the new “hybrid pianos” and hope to have some information for you in a while. I am completely unfamiliar with these instruments, have never played one, and have a lot of research to do. Check back with me in 2015.
If you do buy one of these, be careful that the instrument is not a synth! Some of them are labeled “hybrids,” but they are not. A true hybrid is a digital instrument; a synth is not a hybrid because a synth is not a digital instrument!
copyright 2006-2014, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.