American Piano Makers

The heyday of piano building was in the early 1900s until two events happened. First, radio started to reach more and more homes and the piano ceased being the sole entertainment source in the home (especially the player piano). Second, the stock market crash wiped out many piano builders. The ones that were left enjoyed relatively good times until the arrival of imported pianos from Japan in the seventies. In the eighties Korean pianos started to arrive in showrooms around the country. They were well made with high gloss finishes and good sound.

This story is starting to sound like a summary of the automobile industry’s woes. The mid 1990 saw Chinese pianos arrive. Same lustrous finishes as the Japanese and Koreans were offering, but they were not as well built as their Asian cousins. However, at half the price of the competition US consumers were snapping them up. Now, even the venerable Yamaha and Kawai were starting to shift production to China in order to stay competitive. Most of The remaining US companies followed suit and started to manufacture in China. Marketing ploys were developed to disguise the origin of these pianos for the hapless average US customer using phrases like “designed with imperial German scale, with finest royal george felt” etc….In the mid 2000s production had shifted to Indonesia (presumably cheaper wages and raw material).

From a purely technical viewpoint, we prefer older pianos because of the quality of the materials and the workmanship. We have some 100-year-old pianos that are still very solid and I wonder if the new arrivals have even a tenth of that lifespan. Of the American manufactures only a few are still actually making pianos in the States. In fact Steinway and Mason & Hamlin are the only ones. Both of these brands are more expensive than most. Even Steinway’s less expensive models like Boston and Essex are made in Japan and China.

From the greatest numerical piano manufacturer, we are vanishing into stencil named pianos in unnamed countries.
That’s all folks!
M

Posted on April 2, 2011 .