Commentary on Various Grand Pianos

by Ed Ting Updated 10/16/02

Below are brief impressions of other various grand pianos in the 6'-9' range. Hopefully they will be of some help to readers out there.
Baldwin SD-10 (9', $69,600 list) Seen and played at a local technician's shop, the sample I saw was a concert loan instrument in the Boston area. Since it was such a high- profile piano, this was was kept in meticulous tune and regulation. The sound was magnificent as well. As with the best instruments, this one seemed to be "helping" me. Connoisseurs of Asian pianos should take note: Baldwin's keys, especially the sharps, seem to be quite a bit bigger and taller than what you're probably used to. Baldwin pianos have come under quite a bit of fire (some of it deserved) lately. If you get one, have a good technician ready should something be less than you expected. These SD-10s seem to receive more care at the factory than some of the other models, so you should be OK if you buy one. Bechstein B (6' 10", $87,200 list) Without a doubt, this piano had the "cleanest" sound of any that I've played. Want harmonics and overtones? Forget about it -- the sound is all, pure fundamentals. The sound seemed to decay rather quickly, too. The action is incredibly light, almost too much so. Subjectively, it sounds like a piano that has that "just got tuned" sound to it. As with many other German grands, these are beautifully made and finished. Very expensive. Bosendorfer 214 (7', $103,980 list) If I had to name my all-time favorite piano, this would be it. Like all great pianos, it "helps" you along, but the Bosie was special even beyond this. I only had to think about a sound, and the piano would seemingly produce it on its own. While I have played and loved the Fazioli, Steinway D, Grotrian, etc, this is the one I would get (if I had the means), as it spoke to me the way no other musical instrument ever has. The soft wood rim and other design features makes for a sweet, intimate sound. Not for head-bangers. Ridiculously expensive. (A cheaper 214CS version has been announced. At $61,980, the case and plate have a satin finish instead of a polished one. There are other minor changes as well. I haven't tried one yet.) Estonia 273 (9', $45,780 list) I played through most of the first movement of the Schubert D894 Sonata in G on one of these and didn't want to leave afterwards. This would seem to be an incredible value on a concert-sized instrument. The sound is about midway between a "clean" Euro piano and a thick "American" sound. Minor QC issues have been reported, nothing apparently serious. Workmanship in OK, not great. But the sound and feel...marvelous. Worth checking out for those in the market for a concert-sized grand. Fazioli F228 (7' 6", $98,500 list) These absolutely stunning Fazioli pianos are often mentioned as the World's Best, when discussions of this sort come up. I can only wholeheartedly agree. The quality of the tone, touch, and workmanship are simply in a whole other league, compared with mere-mortal pianos (ie, anything you or I could afford.) The dealer would only let me play this while he was very close at hand, and I was a little nervous even touching it. The sound is nominally on the light and bright side, until you need the bass - when you do, watch out! These instruments can roar or whisper. These are the Ferraris of the piano world. Very expensive. Grotian Chambre (5' 4", $44,600 list, about $33,000 street) If there is someone out there willing to pay $33K for a baby grand, please contact me, as I would like to talk to you. You've got to hand it to Grotrian, building a "statement" product like this and offering it for sale to the public. Do I have to tell you that this is the best small grand I've ever played? That the bass, while not exactly earth-shattering, is far better than you would expect for a piano of this size? At a certain level, the laws of physics take over and the sound gets a little compromised, but the 'lil Grotrian sounds far better than it has a right to. For your $33K you could get a Yamaha C7, a Kawai RX-7, a big Petrof, a Steinway M (or possibly an L) or a host of other good instruments. But if you have the money and are getting ready to buy one of these, you don't need any advice from me. Grotrian Concert (7' 5", $62,000 list, about $47,000 street) Another beauty from Germany. The tone was light and quick, although not as thin or "clean" as the Bechstein. Amazing bass, gorgeous finish. It was hard to tear myself away from this piano. The action is a tad on the heavy side. Expensive and hard to find. Kawai RX-6 (7', $30,990 list) I'm not going to get into the thick of the Yamaha vs Kawai debate. I'm used to Yamahas, but I don't disparage anyone who prefers the Kawai units. In short, the Yamahas are brighter (detractors would say harsher), louder, and cleaner sounding, and a little short on the decay time. In contrast, the Kawais tend to be softer, warmer, even slightly mushy- sounding. One isn't necessarily better than the other, they're just different. Like the Yamahas, Kawai actions are nearly flawless and a joy to play on. I liked this piano, but since I "grew up" with Yamahas, I was more comfortable with the C6. Had I spent time with Kawais in my earlier days, I might well have preferred the RX-6. It all comes down to your tastes. Kawai RX-7 (7' 6", $35,790 list) I played one of these right next to an RX-6 (above.) Going from one to the other, the touch and tone of the RX-7 are similar to the RX-6, except the larger piano has stronger, tighter bass. For that matter, this piano is also similar to the C6. From memory, though, the C7 is more powerful (louder.) The RX-6 and RX-7 have a moderately heavier action and a slightly mellower sound than the C6 and the C7. Otherwise, they are all very similar in character. If you're in the market for a premium Asian piano in the 7' - 7' 6' range, you are very fortunate, as there's an embarrassment of riches in this class (RX-6, RX-7, C6, C7.) They're all good; buy the one that speaks to you. The RX-7 getting up there in size. Make sure you have the room for it. Good value compared to the German pianos in this size class. Petrof III (6' 4", $21,980 list) Remarkable value in a quality, medium-sized grand from the Czech Republic. The tone was very pleasant, with just the right amount of overtones, not too harsh. However, the 2 samples I played both had very tight key bushings, to the point where a few keys on each piano got stuck and wouldn't return. This can and should be fixed by any conscientious dealer. The Petrof III uses Renner action parts. Also available is the Petrof III-M, which uses complete Renner actions, has other minor upgrades, and sells for substantially more ($30,780.) Had I lived closer to the Petrof dealer, I might very well have wound up with one. The samples I saw were gorgeously finished. Petrof II (7' 9", $33,580 list) Another remarkable value, this time in a semi-concert grand class instrument. The tone quality was good but on the light side. Also, the one I played could have used some TLC by a good technician - the action was rough, the keys sluggish and slow to return. Have a competent technician ready if you buy one, and pay him well. With the piano at around $29,000 street, you'll still be way ahead of the game. A great value for a near-dreadnought class instrument. Pleyel P190 (6' 3", $39,200 list, about $30,000 street) A polite, well-mannered piano from Provence, France. The workmanship is beautiful. The tail is wide and fat, giving the piano a trapezoidal shape, rather than the traditional harp-like shape. This is the only grand in the Pleyel lineup, which includes a series of uprights. Note: "Pleyel" pianos from 1971 through 1994 were made by Schimmel. Schimmel CC208 (6' 10", $36,580 list) Having heard the raves, I was determined to play one of these for myself. However, I found that while I liked the piano overall, it didn't really get my juices flowing. The sound is clean, emphasizing the fundamental. Also, the sound seemed to decay rather quickly. The Schimmel sounds and feels a bit like a muffled Yamaha grand, albeit with beautiful workmanship. This is a very intimate-sounding piano, and I had trouble getting any real volume out of it (I have had similar impressions playing other Schimmels.) Technicians tell me that this is the norm for Schimmel pianos and nothing to worry about; they're just scaled for accuracy at lower volumes. The unit I played also had some tight bushings like the Petrof (above). Many people love Schimmels, but these didn't speak to me. Try before you buy. Schulze-Pollmann 190F (6' 3" $27,900 list) My heart skipped a beat when I first saw one of these Italian/German hybrids. The cabinetwork is stunningly beautiful, with intricate but tasteful inlays, covered by a high-gloss polyester. It's a work of art. It plays well, too. The sound is robust and clean, and particularly pleasant in the lower treble. The Renner action works well. Hard to find. Nice pianos. Seiler Maestro 180 (5' 11", $33,510 list) You couldn't ask for a more different piano than the clean-sounding Grotrian and especially the Bechstein grands. The Seiler tone is thick, robust, and just plain loud. It had an abnormally-long decay time as well. If the Bechstein pianos are like a glass of fine wine, a Seiler is like a big frosty mug of beer. When I first played it I thought it might have been a bit out of tune, but after a while I realized the designers meant it to sound this way. While I was intrigued by the boomy, muddy sound at first, it began to drive me nuts after about ten minutes. Personally, I also don't care for the styling, although the pianos are admittedly beautifully-made and very expensive-looking. Your tastes in sound and appearance may differ from mine, however. It's worth a look if you like this kind of sound. Pricey for its size. Update, 10/02: By a strange turn of events, I wound up buying a used Seiler 114 upright! The piano was sitting in the corner of a piano shop, out of tune and badly in need of regulation. I did the humane thing and took it home with me. A few session with a technician restored it to its original condition. The upright seems to have the same character as Seiler's grands - loud, thick, authoritative. The Renner action is simply heavenly. It's a stunning-looking piece of furniture. Everyone who walks into the room remarks on it. It's ornate, in a very old-world sort of way. I'm keeping her. Click Here to hear me playing an arrangement of Jim Brickman's "I Said...You Said" on the Seiler and see what you think. Steinway B (6' 10 1/2", $51,200 list) Incredible piano. It has a beautiful tone, generous bass, and a lustrous, full-bodied tone. In fact I felt as if the piano was "helping" me play. I spent about a half an hour with a well-regulated and voiced unit, and almost fell in love with it -- then I saw the price. Don't expect any massive discounting either. The piano I played (in basic black satin) had a $60,000 asking price (above list!) Some feel that the B is the best piano currently made by Steinway. Steinway D (8' 11 3/4", about $80,000-$90,000 street) It's the overwhelming choice of 95%+ of performing artists on stage, and the standard by which all other pianos are judged. It's not hard to see why. These big Steinways have a seemingly endless capacity to shade and color the sound; you'll likely run out of talent (as I did) before you run out of the instrument's ability to respond. From a distance (at concert halls, etc) all pianos look more or less alike. Up close, the Steinway D looks like no other piano made: it's loaded with personality and character. It provokes an emotional reaction before you even touch the keys. The look is turn-of-the-century industrial art-deco, with massive wooden braces, an immensely thick rim, and a thin tail that seems to go on forever. Recently the kind Steinway dealer in Boston left me all alone upstairs with not one, but THREE of these to play around with. Needless to say, I stayed a while. These are overwhelming pianos, in more ways than one. The bass is the strongest I have ever experienced. The sound is rich and full, although it may be too much so for a small room. If you're in the market for one of these, make sure you have the space to let it breathe. Spiritually, it is the opposite of the bright, thin Yamaha/Kawai pianos, and if you are used to an Asian grand, it will take you aback when you first start playing it. But don't worry, you'll get used to it... Minor unwanted action noise was noted on two of the three samples. This can be fixed by any good technician. This is one of the great musical instruments (and one of the major cultural icons) made in the world today. In this dreadnought class, perhaps only the Fazioli, Grotrian, and Bosendorfer (and perhaps the Baldwin SD10) can reliably compete with the D. I hope you have the means and the talent to make full use of one. Me, I'll have to watch from the sidelines. (Note: Devotees of Steinway and its instruments should read Steinway & Sons by Richard K Lieberman. It's a marvelously-written account of the history of the company and the family and is generously illustrated. It also has a great chapter on this history of the Yamaha company. Highly recommended. If you're a compleatist, also check out Susan Goldenberg's Steinway - From Glory to Controversy, and The Steinway Saga by DW Fostle, although the latter is not particularly recommended.) Charles R Walter W190 (6' 4", $30,694 list, about $24,000 street) I discovered this one after I had bought the C6. This highly-anticipated piano is the first grand from the respected house of Charles R Walter, which has produced some really nice handmade uprights over the years. I played one for a while in a local piano store and I can say that I'm impressed. The tone and touch are wonderful, and the bass could easily fool you into thinking the piano is much larger than it actually is. The workmanship is excellent, and the plate is signed by Walter himself, a nice touch. Street price is around $24,000. Update, 6/00: By odd coincidence, I was able to play on not one, but two more of these recently (long story.) In short, I like them. They seem to put forth a Steinway-like sound, for less money. There are some reports on inconsistency on this model, but the three I've played on all seemed just fine. Worth seeking out. Young Chang PG208 (6' 10", $19,990 list) Huh? A 7' class grand for around $17,000 street? I played one, and I'll try to be kind. The sound is thin and strained, and the action seemed weirdly unregulated; it seemed like I was fighting the instrument to get music out of it. This is by far the lightest sounding piano in its size range I have ever encountered. It gives the impression of playing like a 5 1/2 foot Japanese grand (if that.) A lot of these Korean pianos are like this; subtract a foot or so from the length to get the approximate real-world sound. And keep in mind, the Young Changs with the "P" in the model numbers are supposed to be the GOOD ones. I'm not telling you not to get one, just be warned. If you have somehow settled on this model, I strongly suggest you play a similarly-sized instrument from Yamaha or Kawai (or better) for a baseline. You may change your mind. Update: These Korean pianos seem to be getting better all the time. Some are actually quite nice (Chinese pianos seem to have filled in the niche once populated bu Korean pianos.) If you buy a Korean piano, get the newest model you can.
Well, there you have it. If price were no object I would have taken either the Bosendorfer or the Fazioli or the D. While I'm fantasizing, I'll ask a couple of rich friends to buy Bechsteins and Seilers for their homes so I can visit them get a different perspective on things once in a while. However, money is always an issue, and the Yamahas were 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of the German and American hand-made beauties. The decision came down to the C5, C6, or the Petrof III. I picked the C6 due to my familiarity with the Yamaha line, although I don't think I would have been unhappy with any of them. Happy music-making to you all, -Ed Ting E-mail me about pianos or telescopes Back to Scope Reviews Home Page