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Piano Making

  There have been many piano makers since the history of piano making began over 300 years ago in Italy when Cristofori made the first piano. Piano making slowly developed and improved throughout the 17 and 18 hundreds. The process of building this instrument is very labor intense. Much skill and knowledge are required for makers to build a good quality piano. Although it may be almost as labor intense to build a low quality instrument.

  There can be as many as 7000 parts in a piano action, plus many more parts contained in the body or casing. The body or case is a very sturdy piece of making. It is not fragile and easily broken like TV shows or movies somtimes make it out to be. The casing is strong thick wood tightly glued and screwed together with 4 x 4 wooden back beams for extra support. Plus a heavy cast iron plate bolted and screwed to the inside of the casing.

  This thing is not easy to rip apart! If someone fell inside of a grand piano, even if they weighed 300 pounds, they would not tear through the casing and fall to the floor, with the strings wrapped around them. The comedians you see doing this are just making fun with a prop that looks like a piano! It would take a tremendous weight and force to crash thru a real grand piano. The mechanism or action inside of the piano is much more delicate.

  If a person of any weight fell onto or into an action then they would cause a lot of damage. The small parts may be strong by themselves but a small amout of weight or force can crush them. Fortunately this action is contained within the instrument so that the case gives it some protection. This part of the piano is the one with 6000 to 7000 parts.

  These are the working parts that strike the strings. The keys lie just under these parts. When the key is pressed down then it comes in contact with the action and sends the hammer forward to strike the strings. Most pianos will have around 230 to 250 strings. Each string is pulled tight to about 165 pounds of tension. The strings are made of high quality steel.

  The bass strings are a steel core with a copper wrapping. In the process of making a piano the case is first assembled. Sides, beams, soundboard, pin block and cast iron plate. The action is assembled separately. The making and cutting of the keys is also a separate process. After the casing and basic structure is built, the the strings are put on.

  They hook to the cast iron plate, pass over a bridge and are hooked into and wrapped around a steel tuning pin. Then pulled tight. Total tension when all strings are tuned up can be as much as 20 to 30 tons. So you see, it's gotta be a strong piece of equipment.

  But before it can be fully tuned, the keys, action and dampers are installed. Now the action is fully regulated and then the piano is fine tuned. This is a whole lot of work! And of course if the instrument is a fine one then there was much time spent in designing it. A poor or sloppy design will result in a poor quality piano.

  Along with cheaper parts and materials another thing adding to a poorly made instrument is inferior workmanship. Basically workers who don't know anything and don't care to know anything! Oh! Let's don't forget about the head of the company. If he's building a bad piano what does he care? So you see, it's not just the physical building of a piano that makes it a good one, it's the skill and care that went into the design.

  In the matter of quality there is probably a company CEO who truely cares about building a fine piano. This type of care is what all the great piano makers have. A true heart felt desire to build the world's greatest instruments. Sadly many piano builders throughout the history of piano making have not had this desire. Almost just as sad. Many may have had the desire but not the skill or knowledge. Making a good piano is a very unique ability.


More About The Piano Industry & It's Makers

  The piano was once the king of instruments, the center of entertainment and a much prized possession. What I call the rise and so called fall of the piano can be traced from the mid 1800's to now (2011). I refer to it's fall as "so called" because even today many of us in America and the rest of the world still love a piano. So it's not gone.

  This fall that I refer to is really more about the tremendous loss of so many piano makers over the decades. And not just in the United States but the entire world. Of course China in the last 20 years has gained a lot of makers while America has lost a lot. The fact is pianos and their music still get a lot of attention, but not as much as 50 to 100 years ago.

  I'm afraid in America nowadays we love sports and hunting way more than a piano. No time for the arts. We gotta watch the game or kill a deer. Not to mention all the gadgets and electronic stuff kids and adults have now. So in a way maybe sports and gadgets really are killing the piano making business.

  In 1850 good pianos were luxury items that were still quite expensive. That sounds like today! Costly pianos (grands at $20,000 and up - verticals 7 or 8 thousand and up) are the good ones. Any new grands costing $10,000 or less are the bad ones. When I say bad I mean cheaply made or low quality.

  Wait a minute you say! A bad piano costs $10,000!!! Yep, that's right. Inflation. As stuff costs more, the price of even the poorly made items will go up. That's what inflation is doing to us. Of course at some point people stop paying out good money for junk. But, we still love a piano. And even an "in tune" cheap piano can still sound pretty good.

  By 1852 England, France and Vienna were producing most of the approximately fifty thousand pianos being made in the world. American and German production was still quite small. Maybe around 10,00 or less for the US. But that would soon change. By the late 1800's America was producing a growing number of pianos. Total world production by 1899 was around a half million.

  By this time decent pianos (grands and uprights) had become more affordable to middle income families amd musicians. This middle income affordability was to last till about the end of the twentieth century. It seems that nowadays only the wealthy, or at least the extremely well to do's, can afford a good new piano.

  Just like in the 1800's! Notice I said a good piano. The middle income buyer may still be able to afford the cheaper new pianos. But not for long. As pianos get higher in price (inflation) the average buyer will no longer be able to afford a new piano. And of course cheap pianos will continue to be inferior and most likely become even worse in quality.

  What is inferior (junk)? Some of the Asian pianos and any other inferior made instrument. US, European or otherwise. Have we made junk in America you may ask? Well, yes we have. As the cost of manufacturing has gone up, so has the price. But I'm afraid that quality has suffered. Not with the very expensive instruments like Steinway and others in their class.

  Only the middle to lower end stuff has lost a noticeable amount of quality. I wish that the piano industry did not have such a wide spread of quality. To bad that everyone can not at least afford a nice Yamaha or Kawai.

  One hundred fifty years ago or more many workers were considered craftsmen. They used their hands and skill to build pianos. Then machinery started being used. In order to produce affordable and larger numbers of instruments even more machinery had to be used. At first the craftsman way of thinking and working was combined with at least a semi hand made quality.

  This old world craftsman thinking slowly began to become more and more watered down as the 20th century moved forward. Rising costs such as labor, materials, shipping, etc., caused piano makers to slowly (and somtimes quickly) lower the quality of their pianos. This lowering of quality made it possible to keep the price down or at about the same.

  In the name of profits, some companies stopped caring about quality. Some maybe did not understand quality in the first place. After World War II large scale mass production also picked up.  Slowly many post WWII workers developed an "I don't care attitude". Where did all this come from? Inflation? Some of it did. Greed or selfishness? Some of it.

  The companies were greedy and the workers felt cheated. Have we and our piano makers grown complacent about the instrument? Yes, I'm afraid so. It seems like in modern day America a lot of people take the piano for granted. But not me. I still view it as "The King of Instruments". Long live the king!!


Piano Brands

  Below is a partial list of piano brands and piano makers. There are hundreds of brands and makers. These are the more familiar names that you may have seen. Plus some that may not be familiar. Many are no longer in business. Some of the names have been bought by other companies. Some of the names that have been bought are still not back in production.

  Things change. So in the future some may be made again. Please make note. Very few of these pianos listed that are still in business bear much resemblance to the original instrument. The ones that do are only the high end pianos like Steinway. Some high end pianos in this list are European. Just about all the others are made in China or some other Asian country. Yamaha and Kawai, which are Japanese, cover mid grade to the high end.

  Most other Asian companies are mid grade to low end quality, because of cheaper labor and materials. In the 1990's when I first learned that many companies were moving to China, I was told that Chinese laborers barely made 50 cents an hour. Now do you see why so many of our companies have moved to Asia. Most of the time this caused a drop in quality and brought about changes in the appearance and design of the instrument.

  Which is why I said most bear no resemblance to the original piano. Also a few American and maybe some European companies are based in their homeland while they contract Chinese companies to make their pianos. Now of course some American makers like Kimball changed the look and design (for the worse!!) of their instruments when the Jasper Corp. bought them in 1959. And kept production in the US. Kimball stopped making pianos in 1996.

Here's the list. We have indicated which ones we believe to be the best piano brands. This is based on evaluation of current new production along with evaluation of the used ones that are no longer being made.

1. Acrosonic: Old ones are very good.

2. Aeolian

3. American Piano Co.

4. Apollo

5. Armstrong Piano Co.

6. Astin-Weight: Some say it's good and some say it's not so good. I've never seen one in my part of the country.

7. Atjoli

8. Atlas

9. Autopiano Co.

10. Bacon, Francis

11.  Baldwin: Old Baldwins are very good pianos. Baldwins built from roughly the late 1970's are not as good.

12. Barratt & Robinson

13. Baur, Julius

14. Beale Piano Co.

15. Bechstein, C

16. Becker Bros.

17. Beckwith

18. Behr Bros.

19. Bent, Geo. P

20. Bentley

21. Bogart

22. Bohemia

23. Borgato

24. Bosendorfer: High quality and very very expensive.

25. Boston Piano Co.: Good piano

26. Bradbury

27. Brentwood

28. Broadwood & Sons

29. Bush & Lane

30. Bush & Gerts

31. Cable

32. Cable, Hobart M.

33. Cable-Nelson

34. Challen

35. Chase, A. B.

36. Chickering Bros.

37. Chickering and Sons

38. Clark Melville

39. Conn

40. Conover

41. Cosmopolitan

42. Currier Piano Co.

43. Daewoo

44. Ellington

45. Emerson

46. Essex

47. Estey Piano Corp.

48. Estonia

49. Everett

50. Fazioli

51. Fischer

52. Foster- Armstrong

53. French Jesse

54. Grand

55. Grotrian

56. Gulbransen


58. Hallet, Davis & Co.

59. Hamilton

60. Hammond

61. Hardman Peck

62. Harrington

63. Heintzman & Co.

64. Henry F Miller

65. Hoffmann

66. Howard

67. Huntington

68. Hyundai

69. Ibach Sohn

70. Ivers & Pond

71. Janssen

72. Jewett

73. Kawai: Good pianos

74. Kawai, Shigeru: Very expensive. Made by Kawai in Japan.

75. Kemble: Good piano.

76. Kimball

77. Kirschner

78. Knabe, Wm. & Co.: Great piano 100 years ago. It got worse over the years. Currently made in Asia.

79. Knight

80. Kohler & Campbell

81. Krakauer

82. Kranich & Bach

83. Krell

84. Kurtzmann

85. La Petite

86. Linderman

87. Lester

88. Lowrey

89. Ludwig

90. Lyon & Healy

91. Marshall & Wendell

92. Mason & Hamlin

93. Mathushek

94. McPhail

95. Meister

96. Metropolitan

97. Monarch

98. National Piano Co.

99. Packard

100. Pearl River

101. Petrof

102. Pramberger

103. Samick

104. Schaeffer

105. Schafer & Sons

106. Schaff

107. Schimmel

108. Schultz

109. Seeburg

110. Seiler, Ed

111. Smith & Barnes

112. Sohmer & Co: Older ones are good pianos. Not sure if it's currently made.

113. Sojin

114. Starr

115. Starck, P A

116. Steck, George

117. Steinway & Sons: Very fine piano

118. Sterling

119. Story & Clark

120. Tokai

121. Tonk

122. Valley Gem

123. Vogel

124. Vose & Sons

125. Vough

126. Waldorf

127. Walter, Charles R.: Good piano

128. Weber

129. Westbrook

130. Wheelock

131. Whitney

132. Winter & Co

133. Wissner

134. Wurlitzer

135. Yamaha: Very good.

136. Young Chang

137. Zimmermann

Remember the above list is only a partial number of piano brands and makers. All in all it's an amazing fact that so many piano makers have come and gone in 300+ years of piano history. I have only stopped to observe this fact in the last 5 or 10 years. I have been tuning and playing the piano for just about my whole life.

But now it seems like the industry of piano making is literally passing away before my eyes. Of course that's not really true. I'm sure that piano making will continue to survive even though piano makers are now fewer in number.

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