Secondhand Piano Shop

Korean Pianos


Released: 11/10/2009 12:38:35 PM    Source: Singapore Piano Shop

The 3 major Korean piano producers are Young Chang, Samick and until recently, Sojin/Daewoo. These three conglomerates produce or have produced, besides pianos with their own names on them, instruments with recognizable American brand names such as Weber, WM. Knabe, Wurlitzer, Kohler & Campbell, Schafer & Sons, Sherman Clay, or PianoDisc, and also with a wide assortment of "stencil" or "trade" names such as Hyundai, Schumann, Stegler, Cline, Daytron, Royale, Wagner, Bernhard Steiner, Otto Altenburg, Horugel, Maeri, and a host of others. Since all 3 of these Korean piano makers have made themselves available to build pianos to order, and will put virtually any name desired on the piano, a number of respected U.S. piano companies are currently using them to build their 2nd or 3rd line pianos.
It is not always easy to say which Korean entity produces a given U.S. brand name of piano: U.S. dealers and piano companies have typically used one Korean producer for several years and then switched to another. Baldwin has used both Young Chang and Samick in recent years to make their Wurlitzer and D.H. Baldwin grands. With the entry of China and some of the new Eastern European nations into the world piano market, Korean manufacturers have apparently climbed up a rung on the perceived quality ladder, and their pianos are now a little too high a quality or a little too expensive for some U.S. companies, who have recently started to import their "price-leader" instruments from mainland Chinese manufacturers. Steinway, who currently has Kawai build their 2nd line "Boston" piano, is reportedly now having a 3rd line (Essex) built for them by Young Chang. Some take this as an indicator of how Korean pianos (or at least Young Chang) have moved up in the world. (...Or has Steinway taken a step down? Hard to say.)
Korean-built pianos constitute the larger percentage of the less expensive grands and uprights in high gloss cabinets that can be seen in piano showrooms across the country. Young Chang, Samick and Sojin together produce a huge quantity of pianos for international consumption, today rivaling even the Japanese in numbers. For the most part, the quality of these instruments is basically "acceptable". Korean-built instruments are usually purchased by people who have minor to moderate expectations of a piano, or who may be more concerned with furniture than musical issues, and who want to keep the price down. The quality usually gets somewhat better, however, as you get into the bigger and more expensive Korean grands (6 through 9 feet) which often come equipped with Renner (German-made) actions. Some of the larger Korean grands I have played have been quite nice, actually, after they have been worked over for a few days by a competent piano technician. (The pianos are generally a bit rough out of the crate, and it takes some work to make them playable. Many dealers apparently don't know anything about doing this work, because from what I have seen it most often is not done, which has given the pianos somewhat of a bad rap they really don't deserve.) Longevity of these pianos is often a question mark, when compared with Japanese- or U.S.-built instruments.
Korean piano companies have actually only been making pianos since after the Korean War, in comparison to the Japanese, who have been making them since the turn of the century. Like the first Japanese pianos to be sent to the U.S., the first Korean-made pianos that arrived here had some problems with the stability of the wood, reportedly because of a lack of experience in knowing how to season it properly for our diverse climates, (e.g. the disclaimer that this was a new and untested market or environment for the pianos, which supposedly held up well in other, previous locales.) More likely, though, was that they had not yet learned how to build a piano that was up to U.S. or International standards or requirements of construction; this can take quite a few years to achieve. (Since that time, the Koreans have made much progress in developing a more "competitive" and/or "robust" product, and now new Korean pianos have far fewer problems than they did.) Some older or used Korean made instruments for sale on the market, from the period when they were first imported to the U.S., may have problems with loose tuning pins or other structural defects. (This was also reportedly true of some of the very first Japanese instruments that were shipped to this country.) Incidentally, the "climate" problem often had more to do with indoor climate than outdoor: Many U.S. citizens, unlike citizens of Asian countries, tended to make extensive use of heating and air conditioning, and often did not keep track of the humidity or lack thereof in the home. (Today, people tend to be more informed about/aware of the effects of humidity on their musical instruments, particularly pianos). The consequent indoor humidity changes and resultant stresses placed on the pianos' inadequately designed/seasoned wooden parts caused a lot of problems with warping, delaminating and loose tuning pins, among other things.) So the problem was exacerbated from both sides: by environments that were far from ideal for any piano, as well as inadequate piano design, construction, or seasoning of the pianos lumber.
The fact that Japan has now been building pianos for a longer time than Korea gives the Japanese instruments somewhat of an edge, but the Japanese instruments are also more expensive. Since the Korean-U.S. exchange rate has recently been much more favorable than that of Japan, the Korean pianos have really been giving the Japanese some competition for those buyers who want a grand piano, or a large upright, on a budget. Kawai's price-leader GE series and the Yamaha's economy GH series of pianos came on the market about the same time the Korean pianos started biting into a larger segment of the world piano market pie chart.