Secondhand Piano Shop

Why people buy Asian Pianos - Pros and Cons


Released: 11/10/2009 12:45:14 PM    Source: Singapore Piano Shop

There are advantages to buying Asian pianos, whether Japanese or Korean, or now Chinese. They are still, in general, less expensive than new high quality U.S.-made instruments, but the gap seems to be closing, just as it did with automobiles. Because of the lower cost of labor in the Orient, and often, also, a more motivated labor force, the fit and finish often appears to be better on Asian pianos. (U.S. manufacturers, beset with management, labor, and also some "vision" problems, had been letting quality slide so that often their dealers had to struggle with a wide assortment of factory defects, sloppiness and outright blunders. As dealer and pianist disillusionment set in, U.S. manufacturers lost substantial ground to the Asian pianos.)
Please note: There is as much difference in tone quality and touch between Japanese, Korean and Chinese pianos as there is between Japanese and U.S.- made pianos. However, when compared to U.S.-built instruments, Asian pianos as a group do tend to have more elements in common, tonally and otherwise. As a group, for example, they are usually less expensive than U.S.-made models, and construction materials (specifically woods) on Asian pianos tend to be more similar, and generally endemic to the Asian locale. An exception might be the top-of-the-line Japanese grands, which tend to emulate U.S. construction and materials more closely these days, but the run-of-the-mill grands and verticals still tend reflect a more Asian practice of construction.
It is true that several Asian manufacturers came to the United States to learn piano building techniques first-hand from the American manufacturers (Yamaha, for example has mentioned this in some of their ads). They also have learned piano-building from European countries such as Germany. Korean companies learned piano building from the Japanese, among others. In this respect, it can probably be said that Asian pianos are really a hybrid of a number of different construction practices, including German, American and Japanese. Korean and Chinese makers introduce elements of their own culture and construction practice into their pianos, as well.
In the past, the choice was usually between getting a smaller American-made piano, or a larger Asian one, for the same price, but even that is changing now as U.S. manufacturers get their acts together and struggle to compete in a more difficult and fiercely competitive world economy. For the first time in years certain U.S.-made pianos are being offered at prices competitive with Asian pianos. Retail prices on both Asian and U.S. pianos still remain high. But Asian pianos are often offered at substantially greater discounts, as the Asian manufacturers seemed to have made the (intentional) mistake of opening up far too many dealers in any given metropolitan area, and the competition between them is quite lively (See "dumping," above).
Today pianists frequently will compliment Japanese pianos on their feel, and on their finish, even though the materials on which the finishing is done may not be as high quality or as durable as what they have come to expect from the best U.S.-made instruments. Because of a dearth of materials in their own countries, and the fact that much of the wood they use must be imported, at significant expense, Japanese and other Asian piano makers have also been using substantial amounts of softer, less expensive, or tropical woods in order to build the large quantities of instruments that they must mass produce. Many pianists and technicians feel these softer or cheaper woods are not optimum for best piano tone or life-span. But many pianists also seem to be willing to accept a compromise in the tone quality and durability of the instrument in exchange for an action that is more or less trouble-free and feels good to the fingers. (Remember, though, that, at least among the Japanese pianos, there are several different quality levels; the more you are willing to pay, the better the instrument you can get. Also, in general, among the offerings of each maker, as the piano size increases, so does the quality.)
Recently, however, certain Asian manufacturers have been buying forests and lumber mills in the United States and other countries, in order to acquire the more desirable or "traditional" hardwoods and softwoods for their instruments that are in scarce supply in their own locales. On their more expensive models, harder and more traditional piano-building woods are being used, which has improved the tone quality.
As stated above, the feel of the action (keys and moving parts) is one of the major reasons many pianists have switched to Japanese pianos over U.S. models. The Japanese, with their "high touch" ethic, have apparently chosen to be be much more meticulous about the way they build and regulate their actions than what most U.S. piano manufacturers are willing to do today, and pianists have definitely noticed the difference. The general consensus is that the Japanese actions just "feel better" and are more "sensitive" to the touch, even though the sound quality of the piano may not be as good as that of some of the better U.S.-built models. The finish on Japanese pianos, as well, just looks like a lot more care has gone into it. It is a tremendous amount of work to put a high gloss finish on a piano, but the Japanese do this extremely well, however, even better than U.S. manufacturers do with the easier, satin or sprayed finishes. Larger Korean grands that come with Renner German actions installed can also be very nice, but usually still need considerable prep and adjustments by the dealer (which doesn't always get done.) More run-of-the-mill Korean pianos, and the Chinese pianos usually have so-so actions and so-so finishes, and the main attraction there is the low price.
Many pianists, however, are still very unhappy when asked to perform on Asian products. They feel that while certain Asian pianos (generally the Japanese-built ones) may have precise actions, they are not as durable and simply do not sound as good as a quality American piano. Another oft-expressed opinion that has some validity is that the better quality U.S. -made instruments seem to get better with age, while the Asian pianos are the best when new on the showroom floor, and then go downhill after that. On the other hand, critics of new U.S.- made pianos often level the accusation that it's not so much that they get better with age, but that they haven't been properly completed at the factory and it's up to the purchaser to work the bugs out over the next couple of years, similar to the recent situation with new American cars.