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Posts tagged cast iron

Who is Grotrian?

Piano Price Point.com ~ September 2017
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Who is Grotrian?

grotrian-piano-factoryThe World Fair became The World Exposition which became Expo as we know it. I stumbled upon a book about the musical instruments from the world fair in the late 1800’s. It was said of Grotrian “There is no effort to produce them in great numbers, but rather to create in every one, as it passes through the factory, an instrument fit for the inspiration of great artists who have long accorded to its makers the highest place.” Of their experience, “It is said that nowhere in the world are there more veteran employees than in the factory of Grotrian.” Grotrian has been, and continues to be a piano manufacturer where 80 percent of the manufacturing is still hand made. (Grotrian Website FAQ)

bvk_d_signet-246x300Who is Grotrian? Grotrian has always been a luxury piano manufacturer based in Braunschweig/Germany. Founded in 1835, Grotrian bought in with Theodor Steinweg (Son of Heinrich Steinweg, Americanized Henry Steinway). The company was then known as Grotrian-Steinweg. Less than a decade later, Theodor was called to help with operations at Steinway, New York. In 1865 Grotrian eventually acquired all remaining shares and the company has continued building high quality pianos to this day. They are part of BVK (Bundesverband Klavier = German Association of Piano Manufacturers).
Fast forward to this century, I have had the delight to sit down and play these pianos at the NAMM show and speak personally with Burkhard Stein (former CEO and now Senior Associate). I’m always curious to know what’s happening behind the scenes in companies. Recently, the Grotrian Company was sold out of family hands to Parsons in China. And while many could view this as detrimental, I see this as an opportunity to secure the future for this German company.


Grotrian-Cast-IronWhat does Parsons have to offer? Parsons is a piano manufacturer and retail giant in China. They have 100 of their own stores and partner with over 500 more retailers of pianos in mainland China. They employ over 5000 people and export to over 24 countries of the world. I recently found out that they own their own soundboard forest of Alaskan spruce in northern Canada, they own their own sawmills and cast iron foundries for building pianos. With a dozen manufacturing facilities, Parsons Music has been propelled to the world stage. They manufacture pianos and piano parts for many companies globally. But their interest isn’t simply in manufacturing. Believe it or not, Parsons had humble beginnings as a piano teaching studio that soon became a piano retailer and eventually a manufacturer. Those roots in music subsequently have led to annual education of 35,000 students, master classes, multiple music festivals and even the Hong Kong Music Teachers Union. They have established a music foundation and scholarships for musical education. They are substantially invested in the advancement of music.

Grotrian-Factory-Pianos
Friedrich-Grotrian-FG275And so what does this acquisition mean for Grotrian? Firstly, they are committed to continuing with German manufacturing. So often people believe that if a piano company gets sold, it is in name only. Not so with Grotrian. They are continuing to blossom with this new-found partner. Parsons also connects maker to market – having a direct audience and buyers in China, who, I might add appreciate the fine craftsmanship of German piano making, Grotrian is a perfect fit for their retail outlets. Like most piano companies today, they also have started releasing sub-lines of pianos that are more cost effective. In the 21st century, there is a theme: fill in all of the price points and provide something for everyone. At the NAMM show in 2017, they released the Friedrich Grotrian piano and coming this fall will be the Wilhelm Grotrian (named after the first two generations of Grotrians). Pianos designs are fully Grotrian with sub lines made more cost effective in the areas listed below.

Grotrian: 100% Made in Germany. Renner action parts, Renner or Abel hammers, Roslau wire, Kluge or Laukhuff keys

Friedrich Grotrian: Rim, cast iron plate and Alaskan spruce soundboard made in China. Assembly, action and finishing are in Germany. Still meets requirements for Made in Germany because so much of the piano is manufactured in Braunschweig.

Wilhelm Grotrian: Completely made in China with Renner hammers, Roslau strings

Grotrian-Damper-InstallIn 1954, Grotrian established a piano competition in Germany to foster piano performance and excellence. Now over 60 years later, this competition is still thriving. Perhaps it was this love of music that was a common thread to their new found partner, Parsons. Regardless, it is good to know that strategic alliances like Parsons with Grotrian will solidify the future for such a high end niche company. If you can spend a few moments, watch their company video below and you will be able to more closely see and hear what goes into making a Grotrian piano.

Visiting Pearl River Piano Factory

Piano Price Point.com ~ May 2017
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Pearl River Piano Factory Tour

On this latest trip to China, I managed to catch a glimpse into the transformation of Pearl River Piano. Already the largest piano company in the world manufacturing more than 130,000 pianos annually, Pearl River Piano has its sights set on even greater advancement.

One hundred thirty thousand pianos annually equates into about 400 pianos being manufactured per day. Imagine though what it must be like to produce 400 pianos daily. With roughly 225 tuning pins per piano, that’s 90,000 coils per day. Conservatively a piano contains 200 pounds of iron for each frame. That would be 80,000 lbs of iron plates per day, 35,200 hammers and piano keys per day, 2.4 million action parts per day… you get the picture. These are staggering numbers. And behind these numbers are equally massive storehouses of wood, machinery, and a company employing thousands of people.

Touring the existing facility, as you will see, many processes are done either by hand or mechanically. In the new facility, millions of dollars are being invested into state of the art CNC and robotic equipment for even more efficient, more refined piano making.

We started the tour in the lumber yard. If you scroll below, you will get a sense of just how vast the warehouses are. If you are a woodworker, you will appreciate how much material is here. Stockpiled are high quality woods from around the world – enough wood for 5 years worth of pianos. Visible are spruce beams for keys, soundboards and ribs, walnut and beech for rims, maple for bridges, pins and action parts. All wood is kiln dried and then moved indoors for further storage and rotation.

Below is a panoramic image of the lumber yard. You can “grab” the image by pressing and holding the mouse button down and then moving the mouse. Alternatively, you can use the arrows in the image.


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Without question my favorite part of the tour was the foundry where cast iron frames are pulled out of beds of sand. This is the traditional way of making the frame of the piano without which the piano would not be able to withstand the 19 tons of string tension. Molds of piano frames are pneumatically pressed into the sand. Once the sand holds the impression, molten iron is poured into the relief to create the cast. The frames are then processed and painted vibrant gold and silver, ready for installation in the piano. Again, it’s hard to get your mind around seeing hundreds of frames all to be used up within days.


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The traditional way of making a grand piano rim is to clamp layers of wood around a form. Pearl River has automated this process with a massive press applying thousands of pounds of pressure to ensure the wood is tightly glued together. It looks effortless when these steel machines press together.

In theory, how do you individualize a piano on an assembly line when there are anomalies in wood and metal as raw materials? Pearl River has a brilliant solution to this. Each piano undergoes “electric eye scans” that take readings on variances. These variances are then printed out onto a card which accompanies the piano throughout the assembly process. It allows for subtle changes to be made to each piano to optimize and accommodate so that it’s not just a “one size fits all” approach to piano making. They actually alter the assembly to individualize the piano.


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isoAs you can see, there are lines upon lines of pianos being assembled simultaneously. One main difference between small manufacturers and large is the amount of tasks each worker is responsible for. Whereas small piano manufacturing requires workers to perform various tasks, large scale manufacturing like Pearl River has workers focusing on just one or two tasks. You get good at something when you’re single-minded. Quantity necessitates efficiency. And if that is true, it could also be said that sales require proficiency. Pearl River has in recent years become the world’s best selling piano because of great designs but also brilliant implementation in manufacturing.

What is also impressive is that Pearl River Piano has also achieved ISO14001 certification for environmental management systems. These are International Standards that have been set as recent as 2014.

Where are all of these pianos going? I thought you might ask that. When you think of a population of 1 billion people in China alone,

130,000 pianos only represents 0.01% of their population. And while they are the dominant manufacturer in China, they also export to 120 other countries around the world.

If you haven’t heard of Pearl River before, you might want to remember this name. They have already achieved world status and once the new facility is in full production, their presence in the music industry will be formidable.

So how was China? It was brilliant. Pearl River Piano did an incredible job hosting. Thank you. At the end of the tour, we sat and listened to a performance in their recital hall and it struck me that where music is involved, we speak the same language.

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