Commentary on Yamaha's C6 Grand

by Ed Ting Updated 6/24/00
The Yamaha C6

I've lived with this piano for nearly a year now, and can offer some additional comments. Hopefully this will be of some use to some of you out there. Overall, I am very pleased. It took about a month for me to get used to the size of the instrument; it's subjectively almost twice as large as the G2R it replaced. Also, I bought a Poeschel Artist's Bench (about $400) beforehand, and never even bothered to open the carton for the cheap (Made in China) bench that came with the piano. Those of you who are serious about your piano playing, take my advice and get one of these benches! Also, I bought a Dampp-Chaser system ($350), which regulates the humidity through a network of heater rods and a small water reservoir. Through the winter months, the system used almost 1/2 gallon of water a week, which gives an indication of just how dry it gets around here. The Dampp-Chaser dramatically reduced the amount of drift in the tune of the piano. I'd estimate the amount of drift at 1/3 to 1/2 of the drift in the non-equipped G2R. Despite the weather changes, and the fact that the piano is new and is prone to string settling and stretching, it remained playable and listenable. I should have done this to the G2R a long time ago; it would have saved me much heartache. It is sometimes amazing to experience how well this system works. Once, after a one week business trip, I returned to find the temperatures fifty degrees higher than when I had left. The piano was a mess. The tone sounded as if the piano was underwater. I called my technician and told him the piano needed a tuning -- the sooner the better! However, the earliest he could come over was in about a week. This sounded like an eternity at first. But as the week wore on, the Dammp-Chaser brought the piano back into tune. It actually sounded quite good by the end of the week, and I wound up cancelling the appointment altogether. Also, those of you who think you can get away with just the dehumidifier rods, think again. Here in damp New England, the dehumidifier ran a grand total of nine weeks through the first year. The rest of the year, the humidifier was running. Don't skimp; you need the whole system. Finally, I bought a string cover (about $60) to keep my cat's paws away from the strings when they jump inside the piano (this "cat problem" is kind of a touchy issue around here.) I was shocked at how big this piano was when they first muscled it into the house. It took three burly guys over an hour to ease the instrument into position. My tech told me not to worry, in about a month it'll look the same as the other one did. He was right. So now I'm spoiled. A 7' grand is now "normal looking" to me, and during my subsequent trips to piano stores with friends, I am always struck by how small the pianos there look. Ain't life awful? The action of the piano is just wonderful. In a typically Japanese fashion, the QC on the action parts is astonishing -- it's as if someone cut the keyboard with a laser beam out of a solid chunk of wood and Ivorite. Any non-Japanese keyboard (even the much-vaunted Renner units) look a little "sloppy" to me now. I think (and have thought for some time now) that the actions on Yamaha and Kawai pianos are the great unsung heros of the piano industry. As what of the tone? Ah...well...the tone. The sound of the Yamaha might best be described as easy to like, but somewhat harder to love. Like all other Asian pianos, this one is bright sounding, with a short decay time, especially in the treble. Some think these Japanese pianos sound like laser beams out of a science fiction movie. I've already had it voiced down once, and will probably do so again in the near future. Right now it's mellower, but there is a trace of brightness starting two octaves above middle C. Also, there are some "metallic" sounding bass notes, which my tech says is not a problem to fix. Also, like most Yamahas, this is a loud piano. It has no problem achieving room-shaking bass. Some like the tone of these Japanese pianos, some don't. Having "grown up" with this kind of sound, I've always liked it. For classical music, which often sounds best with lush, sweet tones containing lots of complex overtones, it sometimes falls a little short. I find myself pedaling more on a Japanese piano, in an effort to sustain the tone, which sometimes decays just a little too quickly for my tastes. I am reminded of videos I've seen of Horowitz playing his Steinway, and not using any pedal at all for long stretches of time. Try that on a Yamaha! While some feel these instruments may fall a little short in tone quality, they are at least consistent, which is more than I can say about some other makes. When I walk up to a "strange" Yamaha piano (in a bar, hotel lobby, etc.) I know exactly how the instrument is going to sound, and how it will play, before I even touch it. There's a kind of friendly reassurance with a Yamaha or a Kawai that I don't think you get with any other brand of piano. There are, however, classical pianists out there who like the Yamaha a lot and don't view them as a compromise at all. Richter liked them, as does Andre Watts, Frederic Chiu, and others. The Yamahas may sound a little "thin" to the seated listener, but to the pianist, the short decay times actually help you to hear what's happening a little better than on the more complex-sounding units like the Steinway. Conversely, I once played on a Steinway B in front of some friends. It was a bit of a struggle for me; it seemed as though I couldn't hear anything through the thick cloud of sounds coming at me from the soundboard, and I got a little confused. However, the people in the room said it sounded just fine. This difference in sound perception between the pianist and the seated listener may help explain why some prefer one type of piano to others. Thus, it may be possible to place pianists into two diverse camps: 1) A "geeky" or "engineering" camp, comprised of pianists who value con- sistency, tight QC, and the ability to hear what's going on, even in complex passagework. They are perhaps willing to sacrifice something in the tone department to obtain these qualities. These people tend to be "into" piano technology and can often quote you specs, current prices, model numbers, etc. Mostly they favor Yamahas, but they may like Kawais, Bechsteins, Bosendorfers, or Schimmels as well. I guess I am one of these. 2) A "sound sensualist" camp. These pianists place a higher emphasis on absolute sound quality. They tend not to care how or why a piano works, only that it expresses their innermost thoughts and feelings in the most direct way possible. They are not particularly into piano technology. In extreme cases, they do not even know what kind of piano they own. Sound sensualists are really into Steinways. They may also like Baldwins or Mason & Hamlins (and their derivatives.) The renovations in these "C" series grands are said to overcome some of the deficiencies of the previous "G" grands. I'd say they've done a good job. This C6 sounds much, much better than the G2R did. There are times, playing the piano late at night (my favorite time) when I lose all sense of the fact that I am playing an instrument. I have a similar sense of losing myself when looking through one of my astronomical telescopes at an especially beautiful object. For those all-too-rare moments, all the stresses and pressures of the world melt away, and there is only myself, and music enveloping me. ...and I guess that's the highest compliment I can give any piano. Happy music-making to you all, -Ed Ting
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