Secondhand Piano Shop

Comparison of Korean with Japanese instruments


Released: 11/10/2009 12:44:07 PM    Source: Singapore Piano Shop

Currently, though, the perception remains that, in all the important areas - tone, touch and durability - the Korean pianos are still not considered as high quality as the Japanese products, even though they are constantly improving, with new scales, designs, etc. Disassembly of Korean pianos for servicing, or rebuilding, frequently reveals less emphasis on quality of construction and workmanship than that of the Japanese instruments: they just don't seem to be as carefully assembled. And finishes on Korean pianos often appear somewhat rougher and more uneven than those of Japanese pianos. While the Japanese instruments have a reputation of coming out of the shipping crate "ready to play," needing very little, if any, regulation, voicing, or even tuning, the Korean instruments often arrive needing a lot of work, or dealer prep, which doesn't always get done simply because there is so much of it to do. However, Korean pianos usually cost less than the Japanese pianos, so it's all somewhat relative. Some technicians feel, though, that the price discount isn't enough to justify the decrease in quality. It is usually possible for a competent technician to spend a few days going over a Korean piano and make it sound and feel much better than it did when it arrived. It is doubtful, from what I have seen, that it can be ever made to sound as good as the higher quality Japanese or U.S. instruments.
As far as design, materials and methods of construction, the Korean pianos seem more similar to the Japanese products. (Young Chang, in it's earlier years, was actually an assembler of Yamaha pianos for the Korean market, and in many respects their pianos appear strikingly similar to those of Yamaha.)
When Korean Pianos were first exported to the U.S., they faced an uphill battle to establish brand credibility. This they set about to do, ingeniously, with assistance (association?) from the internationally recognized piano parts community. Frequently you would see a Korean- made instrument advertised as having Renner action parts (a prestigious German action manufacturer) Roslau wire (prestigious German wire manufacturer) or Royal George felts (prestigious English felt maker), among other things. In other words, "you may not know us, but you know these people." By comparison, the Japanese piano makers never resorted to this tactic; apparently Japanese-made parts were good enough for them. Curiously, however, the Korean manufacturer's emphasis on the pedigree of their parts started a number of people wondering just who, then, made the parts for all the other piano makers. (By the way, in the earlier years of the piano industry, some of the more prestigious manufacturers such as Steinway actually made most all of their parts in-house. Today, however, just like in the automobile industry, most piano manufacturers farm out the making of specialized parts (such as plates, action parts, keys, hardware, tuning pins, pedals, etc.) to specialty manufacturers, who may furnish parts for several different brands of pianos. A piano may actually be assembled from parts from several different countries.) Some huge companies however, like Yamaha, still pretty much make all their own parts.
(It's important to keep in mind, when buying a piano, that no matter how high the purported quality of the parts, they are still a relatively minor portion of the cost of making the piano. It is the workmanship that goes into the installation of those parts and materials that is the major expense involved in making a piano, and the real difference between a quality instrument and a mediocre one. I've seen a lot of new pianos lately with great parts and materials, but poor workmanship. (What a waste, I thought to myself.) Sometimes the carelessness or shoddy work can be fixed, but more often it's deeply embedded throughout.the piano.)
Korean piano concerns like to capitalize on yet another relationship in what has come to be known as "the German Connection." In the minds of many, apparently anything made by elves in the Black Forest must equate with quality, or at least, be worth a lot (judging by the high prices of such commodities as Mercedes-Benzes, BMW's, and certain pianos made in that general vicinity, to name a few). Thus, it behooved the Korean piano manufacturers to point out another prestigious association they had with German quality: the Scale Designer. Scale designers are the engineers who decide how a piano is to be built, much the same way an architect designs a house. They are the people largely responsible for the initial plan and specifications.
To make a long story short, the Korean piano makers contracted the services of some well-respected German scale designers (or at least some with German-sounding names, if they weren't actually born in Germany) to specify the size and type of strings that would be used on their pianos, among other things. Now this is all very well and good, and it was probably a step in the right direction. But as everyone knows, or should know, there is quite a difference between, say, designing a house, and actually building it to a quality specification. There's the architect, and then there's the builder. Architects are limited by the tastes, budgets, available materials and construction skills of their clients and/or building contractors. The same is true of scale designers and piano manufacturers. They may work closely together, but ultimately the scale designer is at the mercy of the manufacturer, in much the same way that a composer is at the mercy of those who either perform, or execute, his music.
Quality German scale design and parts may help enhance a piano's tone. But they are only part of the picture. As we said before, it's the workmanship that is one of the most significant factors in whether a piano turns out to be a quality instrument, or just another assembly-line product. So far, the Korean pianos still have a ways to go. But they are also in a lower price niche, as is to be expected, for a piano of this quality level. The general rule is, the more suspect the quality of the piano, or the lower the price point, the more they have to rely on name- or prestige- association devices of this type.
In tone quality, the consensus seems to be that the Korean pianos really sound neither distinctly Japanese, American nor European; but in some ways they seem to have qualities of all three. If you are contemplating buying a Korean piano, I personally think it would be worth your while to look at the Young Chang, which sometimes also goes by the names Weber, PianoDisc, or Knabe. Other technicians I have spoken with prefer the Samick, for various reasons. Incidentally, Young Chang also makes the Kurzweil line of electronic pianos and synthesizers/samplers. Kurzweil is considered by many to be the industry leader in digital keyboards.