Posts tagged pearl river
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
Recently I sat down with June Wang from Pearl River Piano Group and corresponded with Rob Slayman from Schimmel Piano to discuss their strategic alliance as I was curious how it had affected both companies. It was announced at NAMM 2016 that Pearl River had purchased a controlling interest in the Schimmel company.
Why do piano companies purchase other piano companies? We hear of company mergers in the news all the time. What is the impetus – the driving force for one piano company to acquire another piano company? If we paint with large brush strokes, on one side there is massive demand to be fulfilled in China. Nearly 80% of the world’s piano purchases occur in China. Alternatively, Germany, Japan and the USA have decades (if not centuries) worth of experience manufacturing pianos but have a “mature” market that could really only be described as “slow and steady”. While European and North American companies have struggled to stay competitive and make inroads into distribution in China, China has become the world’s leader in volume for manufacturing. Back to the question of why? Let’s hear from the words of June Wang, representative from Pearl River’s Foreign Trade department:
June Wang: Collaborations must be mutually beneficial. Pearl River had it’s beginnings in China approximately 60 years ago and has had cooperation with Yamaha and Steinway as well as partners in Europe for training and quality. Some of these ventures (like Yamaha) lasted more than a decade. When looking to expand our company, it seemed appropriate to look for a company with like-minded philosophy of piano making. When I met Nikolaus Schimmel, the way he described piano making… he was like a new mother with a child – excited, passionate – even though he was more than 80 years old. It’s this kind of enthusiasm that we were looking for.
Click on the image to take a quick look at the NAMM oral project of a 2 minute interview with Nikolaus Schimmel. In his words “piano making is really fun. It must be something that you like – that you love to do. My father loved it, my grandfather loved it and so did I. I’m sure the next generation will as well.”
JW: Schimmel has 130 year history (established in 1885). Pearl River has been operating for more than 60 years. Our companies share common elements and yet are different. Together, we benefit in technology and market share. We will continue to operate as separate manufacturers (Schimmel in Germany and Poland while Pearl River manufactures in China) but we will benefit together. Pearl River has a very competitive share in Asia and North America having just won the Dealer’s Choice Award for 2015 and 2016. Schimmel has a dominant presence in Europe & America. This will compliment our business because our companies have strengths in different parts of the globe.
Rob Slayman: The Alliance between Schimmel and Pearl River has strengthened Schimmel and opened a unique perspective for growth in the Chinese market, the biggest market for pianos in the world. At the factory in Germany and in U.S. distribution, virtually nothing has changed in the year since the alliance was announced. The Schimmel brand will remain 100% made in Braunschweig, Germany and the Wilhelm Schimmel brand will remain 100% made in Kalisz (Poland). We will continue to fulfill the very strict criteria of the BVK-Certificate for “Made in Germany.”
GB: And 4th generation Hannes Schimmel-Vogel will still be at the helm. What do you see in the future working together?
JW: I like to think of this somewhat like a marriage. As partners, you first of all need to understand each other, then grow together and finally benefit together. You remain independent yet together. To be successful, both parties need to be happy.
RS: For Schimmel, this alliance brings the stability of solid financial backing and the chance to successfully grow our business in China with support from Pearl River, the country’s market leader. In accordance with this aim, production for Schimmel will grow and continuous investments in Schimmel’s facilities will continue. As allies, both companies have their strengths in different areas. For both brands that results in being able to offer the best quality and value in the piano industry. As a side note, it can be challenging to build a brand in China without a strong partner already there. Pearl River is the strongest partner we could have and we anticipate much better market representation and more opportunities in China as a result.
GB: Although remaining separate, this last year has seen a joint venture between the 2 companies, namely Fridolin Schimmel. Fridolin Schimmel is a line that will be manufactured by Pearl River and designed by Schimmel. Can you tell us a little about that, Rob?
RS: The Fridolin Schimmel line was launched a couple of years ago as a conventional effort to expand the market and to increase name recognition for the Schimmel brand. Now, with the Schimmel and Pearl River alliance, there are unique possibilities for a world-premiere entry level piano developed as a true joint-effort between Schimmel and Pearl River. For the first time ever, a piano line made in China is designed and developed by a German company without any restrictions. As of April 2017, the all new Fridolin Schimmel models will be available. These instruments are completely designed by Schimmel. Pearl River adjusted its production facilities and processes to match our specifications. They will be distributed and warrantied by Schimmel. The first models are three uprights, F123, F121, and F116. At a future date there will be grand piano models and a taller upright.
GB: What’s the current line-up of pianos for Schimmel?
RS: The three Schimmel-produced lines are Konzert, Classic and Wilhelm Schimmel. They each fall in a different price range to fill various needs of players and budgets.The fourth line is the Fridolin Schimmel by Pearl River. Here is a brief summary of each line.
The Konzert Series represents the pinnacle of Schimmel’s 130 years of piano building. They are designed and meticulously built for the most discerning players and artists. There are no compromises. As such, these are in the upper price level. There are 6 grand piano models from 5’9” to 9’2” and three uprights. All grands since 2013 feature the exact same action and key length as the 9’2 concert grand by way of a Schimmel- designed and patented process. Only these models go through a special voicing department in the factory (created just for the K Series) and they have several unique features as well.
The Classic Series is also made 100% in Germany and is geared towards professional pianists and those who appreciate German quality. The line consists of three grands 5’7”, 6’3” and 7’ and several vertical models up to 130 cm. These are models that have been in the Schimmel line since before the current Konzert Series and have been tried and proven for many years. The three grand models are based on the same scale designs as the three small Konzert Series grands.
The Wilhelm Schimmel Series is a high-quality European piano in a moderate price range. This series is built in the Schimmel factory in Kalisz, the oldest city in Poland. After acquiring this factory in the early 2000s, Schimmel modernized it and expanded it with new buildings and equipment. This factory produced the Vogel brand which underwent the name change to Wilhelm Schimmel in 2013.
The Fridolin Schimmel line as mentioned above fills a niche for the entry level buyer who wants a quality Schimmel German design. They are made by the Pearl River Company to Schimmel’s specifications exclusively for Schimmel dealers.
GB: What elements of design are historical and timeless with Schimmel and what areas are forging forward with technology and being modified?
RS: Schimmel is somewhat unique in how they combine traditional piano building with technology and the creation of new designs. Being a major training center for apprentice piano technicians, they employ many master craftsmen, a title which takes many years to attain through schooling, work and certification. So, Schimmel has a long history of traditional piano building with an emphasis on quality and attention to detail. Schimmel tone is clear and expressive with long and even sustain qualities. Schimmel uses technology when it can improve the quality and consistency of certain parts and operations. They pioneered sophisticated software called CAPE (Computer-Assisted Piano Engineering) which enormously shortens the time and expense of building many prototypes. Through this technology Schimmel was able to completely redesign and improve their grand pianos starting in the year 2000, making the sides taper outward, creating space for larger soundboards. They also came out with a 9’2” concert grand which was not previously in the line. In visiting different piano factories over the years, I’ve noticed that some in Asia are very modern, clean, and highly-automated while others in Europe are old-school with much less machinery and more old-fashioned handcraftsmanship. The Schimmel factory is a unique juxtaposition of both of these, using the best practices from each and even designing and inventing their own equipment. In production, tone-related operations are still accomplished by hand while steps that require great precision and accuracy are accomplished by computer-driven machines to increase quality and consistency. Schimmel exists to craft fine pianos first, and to maintain a profit to ensure continued viability second. This art-over- profit approach may strike some as risky but as Hannes Schimmel-Vogel has said, “If we don’t have the skills to build a fine piano, we have no reason to exist.”
Nikolaus Schimmel, now retired from active management has stated, “We can never be the cheapest piano maker, but if we keep our skills, we can build the best pianos. As long as there are people interested in a fine piano, there will be a place for Schimmel.”
Thank you to both June Wang and Rob Slayman for shedding some light on your new strategic alliance. It is both helpful and informative to know how your piano companies are moving forward into the future. Next month Piano Price Point will be in China visiting the Pearl River factory. Be sure to join us and see the pictures from what is now the world’s largest piano factory. I leave you with an excellent video of the Schimmel Company which depicts piano making in Braunschweig, Germany.
The National Association of Music Merchants had their annual show again this year in (not so sunny) Anaheim California from January 19th-22nd. NAMM used to be merely a trade show for wares in the music business. It has now morphed into so much more: I was speaking with music school owners whose sole reason for going to NAMM is the educational component (called NAMM U for University) where teachers and schools discuss ideas and share what works. There are clinicians giving demonstrations in every field from banjo to music writing. The NAMM oral history project also has been going now for years where interviews are done with iconic people in music arts and industry. The main stage has music going continuously as well as events in various hotels in the surrounding area. Those are just the official NAMM events but there’s so much more that happens from business meetings, networking to a major Christian worship night. Regardless of your involvement in music, there is truly something for everyone to gain at NAMM. This year’s attendance eclipsed 100,000 attendees!
Breaking the silence of 30 years, Steinway made a presentation with Spirio, their automated digital player system. I sat and watched legendary pianists on a display and simultaneously those same notes were being played on the Steinway grand in front of you. Digital systems were a bit of a theme this year. Yamaha presented Music Cast, a way to broadcast their Disklavier sound to anywhere throughout your house. QRS (Story & Clark pianos) – one of the oldest innovators of player pianos has moved to Bluetooth and introduced control of the piano through smartwatch. PianoDisc (Mason & Hamlin, WNG) also introduced a redefined ease-of-use app for their player systems. When you start to see video of your favourite performer and then see the keys move in sync with the performance, it’s quite fascinating to watch.
Also in attendance were Bechstein and Steingraeber – both companies are from Germany and haven’t been to NAMM for several years. It was great to not only see these pianos but to sit down and play, listen and feel their latest iterations of manufacturing. I really enjoy meeting the families behind the pianos. Seventh generation Alban & Fanny Steingraeber were at their booth. Christian Bluthner was present at the show as was Paolo and Lucas Fazioli, Hannes Schimmel Vogel and Zuzana Petrof. While there are many musical celebrities that show up at NAMM, I just happened to see Herbie Hancock, legendary jazz musician.
Always of interest are pianos that take the stage for eye candy. This year were 3 pianos: Although not a new concept, the grand piano from Kawai (seen in the video) looked visually remarkable. Seiler did a vintage car (seen below) in fire engine red. My favourite was the Gustav Klimt “Woman of Gold” painting on the Bosendorfer. It’s a 1906 painting that has been transferred and highlighted in 24K gold leaf on the under side of the grand lid. The music rack and legs also had art case highlights. You can read more about the Klimt painting on Wikipedia and read more about the reproduction on the Bosendorfer here. Below you can spin the view by either grabbing the picture with your mouse or using the arrows to walk around the grand.
In other news, Grotrian has introduced a new line called the Freidrich Grotrian – a joint manufacturing effort between China and Germany. Hailun Piano company debuted their 2.0 version of their hydraulic grand lid system where you need no prop lid stick at all to hold up the lid. On some of the larger grands, trust me the weight can be substantial. But their proprietary system allows you to lift the lid with one finger and simply place the lid at any position and it will stay there. Pearl River, who manufacture the largest amount of pianos annually (~130,000) continues construction on their new facilities. Speaking with Stephan Mohler, state-of-the-art computer systems are being equipped in the new transformation. Renner with Lloyd Meyer as well as the Piano Technician’s Guild (PTG) also had booths.
Brands at the Show (alphabetical)
Baldwin, Bechstein, Bösendorfer, Blüthner, Brodmann, Fazioli, Fridolan Schimmel, Geyer, Hailun, Hoffmann, Haessler, Hallet Davis, Hardman, Irmler, Kawai, Kingsburg, Knabe, Mason & Hamlin, Pearl River, Perzina, Petrof, Pramberger, Ravenscroft, Ritmuller, Sauter, Schimmel, Seiler, Shigeru Kawai, Steinway, Weber, Wilhelm Schimmel, Wilhelm Steinberg,Yamaha, Young Chang
Piano Price Point is starting a “Piano Walk-Around Channel” on YouTube where you can take a 10 second walk around grand and upright pianos. This was initiated at NAMM 2017 and will be available soon and searchable by make and model.
The NAMM show is always an exciting show. NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants) contains everything related to the business of music. If you’re a music teacher, musician, technician, sound man… every imaginable product is represented. Above and beyond the displays, there are workshops, concerts, demonstrations and specials happening for the full 4 days. It’s hard not to be excited with the buzz of almost 100,000 visitors all interested in something musical. Invariably there’s always one piece that stands out in the crowd. Without question this year’s prize went to Bosendorfer for the remarkable vision combining piano making with bronze sculpting at the hands of Franco Castelluccio. Better images can be found on the Bösendorfer website and you can also see the making of this extraordinary piece. In keeping with the theme on visuals, Pearl River has come out with a clever way of customizing upright pianos. The Panda upright pictured is actually a type of almost vinyl application on top of the white backdrop. Discussing this great idea with one of the Pearl River representatives, the overlays and background colors can both be customized ~ a simple yet effective concept. The possibilities are limitless for interior designers. The Panda, one of China’s national treasures, is featured in the zoo at Guangzhou, the same location as the Pearl River Piano Company.
I couldn’t help but take notice to the small display of Charles Walter pianos. Their furniture pianos are detailed meticulously and show the hand rubbed lacquer beautifully. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Mr. & Mrs. Walter before and we chatted for quite some time. I asked them to reminisce of their early days starting a piano company and it wasn’t long before we heard stories of the challenges raising both a family and building this piano manufacturing business. They truly are living legends and build very fine American-made pianos.
NAMM is a fantastic event to discover the piano. It’s a place to sit down and try out different instruments – to put aside pre-conceived ideas about brands, companies or country of origin and simply… play. You can try various uprights and grand pianos and feel how the keys respond – what tones are pleasing to your ears and view examples of fine cabinetry. This year on Piano Price Point, I decided to give the virtual tour version of the NAMM show. You can try looking around for yourself. While you can’t play the pianos on the virtual tour, it will give you a glimpse of what’s available. Below is a picture of the NAMM entrance at the Anaheim Convention Center. Simply click and hold your mouse button anywhere on the background of the picture (or on touch screen, press down anywhere) and then move the pointer in the direction you would like to see (while holding down). You should be able to see the scene move as if you are standing there. Click the location arrows (found just above descriptives) to move to the next location. The purpose of this tour is to give a brief glimpse into what it’s like being at the show. Although I included a few scenes from the main floor, the pianos are located on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The main floor exhibits go on for miles. Some of the images aren’t clear due to constant traffic movement and close quarters but it will give you the perception of what the show is like.
In attendance this year were Baldwin, Bösendorfer, Brodmann, Charles Walter, Geyer, Hallet Davis, Hailun, Hardman, JF Hessen, Kawai, Kingsburg, Mason & Hamlin, Ottomeister, Pearl River, Perzina, Pramberger, Ravenscroft, Rönisch, Samick, Schultze Pollmann, Seiler, Story & Clark, Yamaha and Young Chang.
Did you like the VIRTUAL TOUR? You can now visit INSIDE a piano factory. Hailun was the first to open the doors for Piano Price Point. You can visit that HERE. Petrof, from Czech Republic will be the next tour released (within weeks) followed by Sauter, in Germany so stay tuned to be able to see these virtual tours to see how pianos are made behind the scenes. Enjoy!
I always enjoy the back story – the behind-the-scenes look at why pianos are made and developed the way they are. This year I had the opportunity to have a few minutes with Christian Bluthner. Without question one of the eye-popping pianos was the acrylic Bluthner grand. I did not know that Christian Bluthner is actually Doctor Christian Bluthner ~ a certified physician. When speaking with him about the piano he remarked “It took me back to my medical days in researching the acrylic for this piano (released in 2014). We used to use Petri dishes made of medical grade acrylic which would not distort the light. With this high grade acrylic, it can be buffed and polished and will not turn yellow. That’s what we incorporated into this piano”. Absolutely fascinating.
One of my other favourite moments took place early on Saturday morning in the Pearl River room where I chanced upon Lothar Thomma and Stephen Mohler. I snapped this pic as they were making last minute adjustments to a Ritmuller grand piano. Piano Price Point featured these two (see October 2013 on Kayserburg)
Together they are the designer and builder for Pearl River, Ritmuller and Kayserburg lines. Although they are serious about their work they are actually quite humorous together. We laughed and had a great exchange for quite some time. Stephen Mohler who was raised in Switzerland, lives year round in China and spends his time teaching principles of piano building. He said “You cannot teach piano making on infrequent trips to China. It must be done consistently and daily”.
Also at NAMM: newcomers to the piano land – A.Geyer. Although not an old name, Geyer is an old German brand revisited again and manufactured in China. At the booth is no stranger – Colin Taylor (formerly Bosendorfer and Brodmann). Specs and stats will be on Piano Price Point when they come hot off the press. While many piano companies are raising prices slowly in the industry, Geyer is seizing entry level price points with pianos that present well. Congratulations to Geyer for their launch into what many deem a challenging marketplace for a start-up.
So fast I almost missed it… In fact I did a double take. In the midst of the Young Chang group was this grand named “Fridolin by Schimmel”. When I inquired about this instrument, I was told by Larry Fresch about this interesting and unique collaboration. It’s no secret that many companies build for other makers.
What makes this unique however is that Young Chang builds the piano and also sells it under its own dealer network. Usually if a company builds for someone else, the piano is then marketed and distributed by the commissioning agent. Not so in this case – it is completely built, distributed and marketed by Young Chang.
Introductions – Samick unveiled its Johannes Seiler line. Seiler is an old German name which was purchased from Ursula Seiler in 2008 by Samick. Now available are 3 lines – Still “made in Germany” Seiler – the company is continuing to manufacture there with models marked SE and sport Renner actions. Relative copies also called Seiler are made in Indonesia called the ED line. For the first time this year, the entry level GS series called Johannes Seiler were unveiled which are pianos made in Indonesia with different yet beautiful designs.
Perzina also introduced the Gerhard Steinberg for North American distribution (not to be confused with Wilhelm Steinberg). Under direction of Marti Gordon formerly of Empire Music, both the Perzina and G.Steinberg pianos are hand built instruments from Yantai Perzina factory in China.
I’m not into digital pianos but there’s one piano that I must mention worth noting. Ravenscroft under the direction of Michael Spreeman make 2 models of concert pianos which he meticulously recorded into digital samples. This new division called Ravenworks – a combination of piano sounds and custom built keyboards are made to emulate the real McCoy. When I listen to most keyboard recordings I can spot them a mile away. Not so with Ravenscroft! If you ever need to do serious recording in the studio, I have to go on record by saying this is the most believable piano sample I’ve ever played. And it also takes a technician like Michael Spreeman to deliver a keyboard that has touch response like an acoustic piano.
Finally, Bosendorfer showed a prototype of what will most likely be officially released mid year – the new 280 Concert Grand. Although not at liberty to say anything technical at this point, Ferdinand Braeu (senior technical director for Bosendorfer) said the new design will deliver wider dynamic range and was on display for sampling.
This year was an exciting trip connecting again with friends and contacts. My only regret – not catching Paulo Fazioli to talk about piano design. Hopefully next year.
To view the entire slide show of 140 photos, click HERE.
Present at the show in alphabetical order:
A.Geyer ~ Baldwin ~ Bluthner ~ Bosendorfer ~ Brodmann ~ Cline ~ Fazioli ~ Fridolin ~ Grotrian ~ G. Steinberg ~ Hailun ~ Hallet Davis & Co. ~ Hardman ~ Irmler ~ Johannes Seiler ~ Kawai ~ Knabe ~ Mason & Hamlin ~ Otto Meister ~ Pearl River ~ Perzina ~ Petrof ~ Pramberger ~ Ravenscroft ~ Samick ~ Schumann ~ Shigeru Kawai ~ Seiler ~ Wilh. Steinberg ~ Weber ~ Yamaha ~ Young Chang
If you’ve never heard about NAMM, it’s the largest music trade show in North America. NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants. So if you’re in the trade, whether it be musical instruments, band instruments, music software, support – like sound reinforcement, lighting, guitar strings, music books… this is the place to be. Established in 1901, the show now has reached an attendance of 95,709 visitors. Hosted in sunny Anaheim, California, the following pictures are the piano highlights for me. Hopefully they’ll give you a glimpse in terms of what it’s like. Enjoy!
In the middle of the trade show was a small concert highlighting Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, hosted by Schimmel. It was an intimate event in a venue that held only about 80 people. Kudos to Schimmel for this. For years I’ve followed the musical careers of both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Joey and Branford play at such a high level and yet somehow make it so incredibly accessible and fun… best moment of the show for me. And it also brought back home again why we are involved in the music business… to make music.
Many of the brands that you see in stores were represented at the show. On the 3rd floor were Kawai, Samick, Schimmel, Pearl River, Kayserburg, Ritmuller, Hailun, Kingsburg, Petrof and Cline. On the 4th floor on display were Fazioli, Bluthner, Ronisch, Baldwin, Otto Meister, Hallet & Davis, Schumann, George Steck, Schulze Pollmann, Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, Perzina, Story & Clark, Ravenscroft as well as Young Chang.
I always count it a privilege to meet people at this show who are what some would call ‘movers and shakers’. It was great to meet Mr. Hailun Chen (from Hailun pianos). He’s this unassuming man humbly standing in the corner. After I showed interest in the technical side, we then started dismantling his pianos in order to show me the finer points. Despite the language barrier (he’s pointing out features and I’m nodding) we still managed to connect about some of the new features of Hailun. When you consider that the Hailun company is responsible for manufacturing not only tens of thousands of pianos but is also a supply house of action parts to many companies, it was truly an honor to meet him. Connecting with Christian Bluthner (Bluthner pianos), Michael Spreeman (Ravenscroft pianos), Kirk Burgett (president Mason & Hamlin), Del Fandrich (designer of Young Chang), Thomas Dolan (CEO of QRS and Story&Clark) was also very exciting to hear what is going on in each of their respective companies.
One of the FIRSTS this year was the Kayserburg release of their grand piano from Pearl River Piano Group (see Piano Price Point blog October 2013 for more details on Kayserburg). The piano played and sounded wonderful… and although the price is TBA, in usual Pearl River fashion it will represent excellent value when it hits the market in North America. Unbeknownst to me, someone snapped a picture of me playing the Ravenscroft piano. They also released a VERY fine computer based sample of their piano. Pictured to the right is the unmistakeable look of Bluthner music rack and legs.
Carte blanche literally translated means “blank card”, a canvas ready for creation. But it also denotes “blank cheque”, signed with no numerical value yet filled in. Such was the case for famed piano engineer Stephan Mohler and designer Lothar Thomma when asked by Pearl River to build a line of pianos with no holds barred. They were given creative and financial freedom to produce pianos similar to their heritage in Europe – having worked for both C.Bechstein and Steingraeber. Pearl River, presently the largest piano company in the world producing more than 100,000 pianos annually has impressed the musical community with the vast improvements in their pianos yearly with contributions from Thomma on both the Pearl River and Ritmuller lines. In the largest growth market in the world (China), they have become the undisputed champion surpassing even Yamaha in volume.
For those of you who are sceptics, I can relate. It wasn’t until interviewing the CEO of Pearl River America, Al Rich at NAMM 2011 that I started to follow this company more closely. He stated that instead of hiring a small army of manpower to facilitate manufacturing, they chose rather to invest millions into automated CNC machines. So advanced is their manufacturing that companies like Steinway (with their brand Essex) have entrusted them to build their pianos.
Fast forward to January 2013, Pearl River Piano Group (PRPG) released the all new Kayserburg line. PRPG successfully constructed a “company within a company” – a separate division to undertake building their highest level of instruments to compete with European makers for the most discerning pianists. So what makes a piano compete at this level? Only those with a background, namely Thomma and Mohler would know.
Introducing Kayserburg pianos featuring:
Louis Renner premium hammers from Germany ~ Ebony wood sharps ~ European Roslau strings ~
High elevation spruce soundboard ~ Maple bridges vertically laminated with rosewood, beech capped ~
Traditional sand cast plate ~ Nickel blued tuning pins ~ Schwander type action with all maple parts ~ Solid spruce keys with maple buttons ~ Tuned hammer shanks ~ Hand wound bass strings ~ Quarter sawn ribs doweled to the soundboard and mortised to the rim ~ “Ivolan” German keytops (mineral-plastic substance that is very ivory-like) ~ Hand-made by the Artist team and each finished product inspected by Mohler
What caught my attention was a blind ‘taste test’ in California this January where the Kayserburg went head to head against some of the most expensive pianos in the world. The results? 80% thought that it was the highest priced piano. 100% thought that it was within the top 2. In fact, the retail price was the lowest.
It was stated by one pianist “the touch of this piano is so far superior to the others that it MUST be the most expensive one.” Why mention this piano? I think it’s going to be one worth watching in the coming years. Never before has China produced a piano that can compete on a Tier 1 (highest) level of pianos… all for a price that is by most considered reasonable. Grands to follow within the next year.
My only caution is to not get the branding levels of Kayserburg confused. Apparently Pearl River has in past used the Kayserburg name in Australia. This new series is appropriately called the “Artist” series and is labelled in the top right corner of the cabinet (as pictured). The other Kayserburgs are apparently more similar to the Ritmuller line except with laminated soundboards. New Artist pianos have the model designation KA while the others are UH. They are vastly different pianos… and just wanted to clarify. If you want to see the pianos in Piano Price Point, simply press the button below.
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