Commentary on Yamaha's Grand Pianos

by Ed Ting 

Updated 12/13/12


Index to Piano Section:
As some of you may know, I am a classical pianist of modest (some would say very modest) accomplishment. I recently sold my 1986 Yamaha G2R (5' 7") and replaced it with a new Yamaha C6 (6' 11"). These are the experiences I gathered along the way.



The Yamaha C6

My test pieces are as follows. Click on links for MP3 audio bits. On some pieces, only portions are posted here to preserve memory and bandwidth. Some of you may have to turn up the volume a bit (remember to turn it back down after you're done!) I am an amateur, please make allowances

Charles Alkan:  

Prelude #21 (1.6 M, 1:47, Played on the Seiler Upright) 


Nocturne op. 9 #1, Bb minor 

Nocturne op. 32 #1, B major (1,143K, 1:13) 

Nocturne op. 27 #2, Db major 

Nocturne (post.) op. 72 #1, E Minor (979K, 1:02) 


Sonata op. 27 #2 "Moonlight," 1st movement 


Intermezzo op. 117 #1 (1,080K, 1:07) 

Intermezzo op. 118 #2 


Sonata op. 78 (D894) in G, 1st movement (640K, 0:43) 

Impromptu op. 142 #2 

Jim Brickman:  

Remembrance (arr Ting) (1.5 M, 2:35) 

I Said...You Said (arr Ting) (1.6 M, 2:34, Played on Seiler Upright) 

Bittersweet (arr Ting) (2.00 M, 2:52, Played on Seiler upright) 

Mannheim Steamroller:  

Interlude One from "Fresh Aire One" (2.2 M, 2:22) (Ambient taken from Brenton Point, Newport, RI) 

Philip Glass:  

Escape from "The Hours" soundtrack (3.0 M, 3:16) 

Metamorphosis Five (2.2 M, 3:10) 

Percy Grainger:  

Irish Tune From Country Derry (arr Ting) (3.2 M, 3:27) 

Zigman, Aaron: 

--> Compare the sound of the Seiler Upright to the Yamaha C6! <-- 

Main Theme From "The Notebook" Motion Picture (2004) (2.9 M, 3:07, Played on the Seiler upright) 

Main Theme From "The Notebook" Motion Picture (2004) (2.7 M 3:00, Played on the Yamaha C6 grand)

(Technical Notes: Yamaha C6 grand, 3 Rode NT1 microphones, or one Rode NT-4 stereo microphone, 2 ART MP1 Professional vacuum tube preamps, or one Behringer MX802A mixer, or one Symetrix SX302 mic preamp, Darla Echo 20 bit sound card and recorded at 44.1 Khz, 16 bit word length direct to hard drive. Xing! or Musicmatch MP3 encoding later done at 56K and at 128K.) 

How does microphone placement affect the sound? Click Here to find out (430K, 1:05). I play the same 15 second piece from the op 72 Nocturne three times, with the mics in three different positions: 1) ORTF: Mics placed high in air behind pianist, spaced about 7" apart, facing 90 degrees away from each other 2) Left-Right: Mics placed on either side of piano, about 12" above soundboard 3) Over-Under: Right mic placed over the middle of the soundboard, left mic placed about 12" below the middle of the soundboard. 

Also, take this test to see if you can tell the difference between a $15 mic and a $200 one.

The Pianos:  

Prices given are "list" which is pretty much meaningless in most cases -- expect a discount of 20%-30%. The prices also reflect the standard "Ebony" (Satin) finish. Also, keep in mind that Yamaha changes its list prices often, to the point where I've given up trying to keep up. Consult Larry Fine's latest Piano Book Supplement to keep up with the latest list prices.  


Yamaha A1 (4' 11", about $8000 street) 

This cute little grand drifts in an out of the Yamaha lineup. Recently, it has just been reintroduced again. At first it looks like a joke, but in reality it is not bad for such a tiny instrument. When I sat down to play it I gritted my teeth, preparing for the worst, but after a few minutes I thought to myself, "Hey, this isn't half-bad." The A1 has a thin, tinny, bright sound, but at least it's even throughout the whole range and the action is quite responsive. I'm not sure I'd recommend one of these, but they are an example of what can be done with such a small instrument given careful engineering. I actually like this piano better than the GH1B. 

Yamaha GH1B/GP1 (5' 3", $11,990-$13,290) 

The GH1B (and its cheaper-cabinet brother, the GP1) are the price point grands in the Yamaha lineup. The less said about these, the better. The tone is hard and unforgiving. Technicians tell me that they almost never stay in tune for long (one tech referred to GH1Bs as "picture frame" grands due to their popular use, with the lid closed and a lacy cloth on top, as supports for framed pictures of the owner's family, usually children or grandchildren.) The GH1B has no duplex scaling, no tone collector, no soft-close keyboard, no lid or fallboard locks, and the center pedal is the useless bass-sustain type. Older versions (GH1) are even worse. 

Yamaha C1 (5' 3", $16,790 list) 

A rescaled G1, these C1 pianos are very well made and play rather nicely for such a small grand. Not bad - I expected worse. Also, they are much better than the GH1B/GP1s. 

Yamaha C2 (5' 8", $19,090 list) 

This piano was of some interest to me, as its lineage can be traced back to my 1986 G2R. The G2R was one of the last of the 5' 7" G2 pianos. The piano was upgraded to the G2F (5' 8") and then changed to the C2 in 1995 when most of the G series grands were dropped. C2 grands are warmer and mellower than the G2 units. However, with careful voicing, even some of the older G2s that have developed the trademark harsh and brittle sound with age can be made to sound quite nice (I know; I had it done on mine.) I liked the tone and touch on the C2s I tried, although the bass is just a tad thin sounding below the bass bridge break. Intelligent scale design largely covers up for this, however. The C2 shares the same action assembly as the C3. 

Yamaha C3 (6' 1", $26,190 list) 

Although it is only 5" longer than the C2, the C3 is in another class altogether. It is a huge leap in performance above the C2. The 6' 1" frame is starting to give you a taste of that "real bass" feeling that you find in larger grands. I've played many of these and have always been impressed with the tone. If I wasn't so greedy, I might happily live with one of these pianos for years. The C3 units (and above) use Yamaha's "Ivorite" key covering, a synthetic material that mimics the properties of ivory. It's a porous material that grips your fingers a little better than the white plastic used on the smaller grands. Ivorite has a dull finish, and doesn't throw up as many annoying reflections in bright light. The C3 co-existed with the G3 (6', discontinued) for a few years. These G3s were nice but not quite to the level of the C3. The good news for bargain hunters, though, is that the G3s have come down in price on the used market. Check your local classifieds! 

Yamaha C5 (6' 7", $28,290 list) 

Caught in the no-man's land between the 6-foot and 7-foot range, the C5 isn't as big an improvement over the C3 as I expected, despite the 6 inches and the extra design freedom the longer length offers. The biggest improvement is (no surprise) in the bass region, with more of that "big piano" feel to it. This is due, it is said, largely to the direct bass bridge on these larger grands (the C5 and up.) However, playing the C3 and C5 side by side in the Chopin Nocturnes, I found I could barely tell the difference unless I listened hard, or played loudly on the bass notes. This is not an indictment of the C5; the C3s are just plain that good. The C5 is the last of the small and medium sized Yamaha grands. Al- though at 6' 7" it is getting up there in size, it still has the look and feel of a mid-size grand. The C5 is the last piano with bass break at Bb 26, and the last one with the 40" height and the 59" width (the larger grands have heftier frame structures to support the increased weight.) Yamaha grands are known for their nearly perfect quality control, but I did play on one "flaky" instrument at a dealer. The voicing was all wrong, harsh and strident, as if it had been sitting, unplayed, atop a heating duct for 10 years or so. However, other C5s I've played are simply wonderful. Despite these lukewarm-sounding comments on the C5, I almost bought one, especially when I saw the breathtaking cost of the C6 I was planning to order. In retrospect, I don't think I would have been much worse off with the C5, at least in my room. Older versions are 6' 6". Also, do not confuse the C5 with the older G5, which, although nice, has an inferior scale design and isn't quite as desirable. The C5 doesn't share action assemblies with any of the other models. 

Yamaha C6 (6' 11", $31,390 list) 

After much hand-wringing, this is the piano I bought. Anyone who thinks that a 4-inch difference can't amount to much should play a C5 and a C6 side by side. The C6 is good leap in performance over the C5. Subjectively, the C6 looks and feels positively huge next to the C5, already a large instrument in its own right. Bass notes have that nice, tight slam to them, and the rest of the scale is impressively even and smooth. The tone is rich and pleasing. About the only thing I don't care for is a slight wooden-like quality to the lower treble, and some "metallic" sounding low bass notes, both of which I plan to get voiced down. I played many C5 and C6 pianos in showrooms before making a decision. These are wonderful pianos, but still have a bit of that bright sound that one associates with a Yamaha. They also play much louder than comparable units from Kawai (the RX-6) or Schimmel (the CC208) and even the Steinway B (a gorgeous piano.) When I started out shopping for a new piano, I had "decided" beforehand to get the 6' 10" Schimmel, based largely on the enthusiastic comments in Larry Fine's book. While I found that I liked the Schimmel, the Yamaha wasn't far behind. In fact, in certain ways, the C6 was actually a little better, and better in typically "Japanese" ways -- the QC was tighter, and the pianos are more consistent. In the end, I was willing to give up a little in tone quality (something many German pianos possess) for this consistency and tightness of the QC. The C6 is a relatively new model. It has its bass break somewhat unusually placed at G23, and shares the action assembly with the C7 (the action on mine is actually stamped "C7.") (Read more about the C6)  

Yamaha C7 (7' 6", $35,790 list) 

The C7 is 7 inches longer than a C6 and represents another healthy leap in performance. As a concert hall-class grand, it's too big and too expensive for most homes and budgets (at least mine!) They are a blast to play, however, for those of us who are used to smaller grands. At the climax to the op. 27 #2 Nocturne, I felt an enormous rush as I tapped into a seemingly endless reserve of power on this piano. I kept thinking of Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor ("More Power, Argh, Argh!") when I pounded on the deepest bass notes. Early versions are 7' 4" and have designations like C7D and C7E. There is some debate as to the merits of these older C7s. Many technicians and pianists don't like them. I did play on a couple of these 7' 4" C7 units and found the tone pleasing. They seem warmer and more diffuse-sounding than the new 7' 6" models. I liked the ones I tried. 7' 4" C7s are currently a great bargain in the large grand arena. I've seen pristine 15-20 year old samples for sale in the $14K-$17K range. They're worth checking out if you must have a large piano. You can recognize these older C7 grands by the large wooden brace inside the piano's lid (new C7s don't have the brace.) I've never played on a CFIII.

Some brief comments on Yamaha upright pianos 6/27/06 

I've been asked from time to time to comment on Yamaha upright pianos. I've played on a number of them through the years and can offer come observations and opinions. In general, the Yamaha uprights are well-engineered instruments and are good values. As you move up the line, they get better, and you should get the best one you can afford. If you're on the fence between two models, get the better one if at all possible. Also, in general, the units made in Japan seem to have tighter quality control and better workmanship than the Thomaston GA models. Having, said this, there are some really nice Thomaston pianos that I would not hesitate to buy. The M450 series are entry level units. They are OK, but an M500 is simply better all around and doesn't cost much more. For me, the M500 is the lowest Yamaha piano that I can recommend if you intend to actually play the instrument (many M450s and M500s are purchased as furniture, rather than musical instruments.) An M450 will run you about $3500-$3800 and an M500 goes for about $4000-$5500 depending on the finish. 

A little further up the line, the P22 is the next big leap. I think these are great pianos. Made in Thomaston, they are robust, well-made, simple, and play well. I was on vacation lately in a college town and P22s dominated the practice rooms. For several days I played on nothing but P22s. I was surprised how well they sounded. Note: if you're a "furniture snob", these pianos may be a little too plain-looking for you. A P22 goes for about $5000. 

The final big leap in performance comes at the U1 level. A U1 is a fell-fledged pro-level musical instrument and makes no apologies. I would prefer to play a U1 than on many "baby grands." The U1 is the Honda Accord of pianos. It's reliable, well-made, and offers excellent performance for the money. It also has good resale value. A U1 sells for $7000-$9000 depending on finish. Note that there are a number of grey-market U1 and U3 pianos for sale on the used market. Beware - don't buy one of these unless you have a piano technician look it over first. It'll be the best $50-$100 you ever spent. Many of these used U1s have beautiful casework surrounding worn actions.

Happy music-making to you all, -Ed Ting  

E-mail me about pianos or telescopes  

Back to Scope Reviews Home Page