Secondhand Piano Shop

Orient vs. Occident, and other controversies


Released: 11/10/2009 12:26:50 PM    Source: Singapore Piano Shop

Orient vs. Occident, and other controversies (U.S.- vs. Asian-made pianos)
Many people are unaware, as they go looking for a piano, that instruments made in different nations often have completely different sounds. They may, for example, buy a Japanese- or Korean-made instrument expecting to get the same sort of sound and performance they have become accustomed to from American-made pianos such as Steinway, Mason and Hamlin, or Baldwin. (On the other hand, they may purchase an American piano, expecting the same tone and touch they experienced from a Yamaha or Kawai.) Ignoring the oft-overlooked, but significant differences between Asian- and American-built pianos can be a prime ingredient for disappointment, and one does not have to be a great pianist or have a highly cultivated ear to hear the difference. Materials, design, and construction techniques used in the making of pianos from Asian countries vary significantly from the traditional norm here in the U.S.A. It is for this very reason that, without really knowing why, pianists accustomed to playing on American-made instruments often discover there is something missing from the sound or feel of the Asian instrument. A piano may have 88 keys, a lid, and a shiny black finish, but it's what lies underneath, specifically, those critical things that usually aren't mentioned in the promotional literature, that make all the difference. (This is not to say that Asian pianos can't be high quality. Many are. The point to understand is that playing an Asian piano is a very different experience from playing a U.S. -built one. )
A further source of confusion, however, is that, just like with cars, several stateside piano companies are now having many of their instruments made overseas. Recently Steinway, for example, came out with a new piano line called the Boston, made in cooperation with Kawai of Japan. Baldwin has also had pianos labeled Howard, D.H. Baldwin, or Wurlitzer made for them variously by Japanese or Korean manufacturers such as Kawai, Young Chang, or Samick. One of Baldwin's brands, Kranich and Bach, formerly a revered old American-made piano, is now built in China.
The official position is that these pianos are designed to Baldwin's or Steinways's specs, and then built for them by the Asian manufacturer. But then really, what are you getting? Is it an American, or an Asian sound and construction? Or perhaps, a hybrid? In an additional complication, Japanese manufacturers such as Yamaha and Kawai have also set up factories in the U.S. for the purpose of assembling pianos, frequently from Japanese parts.
Much of the "tradition" of piano playing is based on what people and pianists are accustomed to hearing, and performing on, over the years. Insofar as Asian pianos differ from the American standard and American pianos differ from the Asian standard, it is important to be aware of what those differences mean.
It is true that in recent years we have become much more of a "world economy," with competing countries learning piano building from each other and adopting each other's ways. Today, in fact, a piano may consist of assembly and parts from several different contributing nations. But in spite of that, it seems that each nation still engraves its own unique signature on its work.