I had a call out earlier today to inspect a four-year-old Kawai upright for a buyer looking for a used piano. The buyer lived in Wiltshire whereas the seller lived in the area of Hansworth in Sheffield, so she needed a Sheffield piano tuner on the case (not literally)…
As always with pianos in this range, the tone is superb – mellower sounding than a Yamaha, but with a light touch and a similar ebony-polished aesthetic. Its Millennium III action is built from carbon-infused components resulting in a strong, sturdy and precise mechanism that can withstand loud playing for long periods of time without the need of regulation.
Even though the piano had been bought new four years ago and hadn’t been tuned since arrival, the pitch had stayed close to A440 with most notes being just two to three cents flat (with the unisons needed touching up of course). A quick testing of the keys gave me the impression that this would be an excellent choice for players looking for a wide a dynamic range – pianists who like to play both pianissimo and fortissimo. The surface texture of the jack (at the point where it meets the hammer) enables a great level of consistency in touch and the sturdiness of its action parts in general means much less regulation work is required of the piano tuner.
The music rack is wider than you typically find on an asian piano which is useful if you’re a pianist who switches between pieces on a regular basis. The music rack and fallboard are tightly fastened into place preventing any annoying drops while playing.
At 227 kg it’s not something that you’ll be able to move very easily, but the double casters are a nice touch that make it easier for professional piano movers to transport the piano. The piano in question had been moved upstairs without any damage to the case (although the credit there goes to the piano movers).
If you’re a piano buyer who is feeling patriotic, you might want to look at this piano made by the sadly-defunct British manufacturer, Knight (1936 – 2003) one of the finest companies to ever grace Her Majesty’s shores. Likewise, if you’re not so fussy about where your piano was made, but would like a great-sounding piano that fits in your new house or flat, this measures in at 112 cm in height, 140 cm in length and 56 cm in depth and matches bigger high end pianos in tone – so depending on your budget, it would be a much better choice than the run-of-the-mill console or spinet piano if you’re pushed for space.
One of the things that impresses me the most about this piano is the bass tone. It’s easily as powerful as the Yamaha U1 which is 9 cm taller – this is thanks in part to the bass strings on the K10 being overstrung at a greater angle than is typically found on a 112 cm piano, making them much cleaner and more resonant. Speaking as a piano tuner, I’ve found that the overtones are more consistent and you don’t get the weird harmonics that are found on smaller bass strings (which is a relief). The middle and treble are similarly mellow in tone, though can be made brighter with a little voicing work by the piano tuner if you so wish. Those who complain that Yamaha and Kawai pianos are too sharp/bright would do well to look at the K10 and other Knight pianos if they want something warmer and more mellow sounding.
Over the course my piano tuning career I’ve never seen a Knight piano that didn’t leave a positive impression on me, and I’ve tuned many of them in my travels in Sheffield and beyond. The soundboard, frame and action are all made of top quality parts which allow them to last a lot longer than the average upright so they typically need very little in the way of maintenance. This also makes them very resistant to changes in humidity and in being moved, giving you a greater bang for your buck as far as paying for piano tuning goes.
Here’s a nice sticker that I often see on Knight pianos (and other pianos built in the UK):
Where to buy them? Alan King’s Piano and Violin shop on London Road in Sheffield would be the best place to try first, as he has always been a fan of Knight pianos and I still see some in stock from time to time. Another place to try is the piano centre on Chapel Lane, Rotherham – a shop I’ve only been to once but are known to have a wide-selection of different brands in stock. A favourite piano shop of mine is the Piano Man in Leeds, but I haven’t seen this particular piano in there – although the pianos they do sell are all of a consistently high calibre.
As always, if you’re unsure of the piano your buying and would like me to come and inspect it, I charge a £20 call out fee to inspect and evaluate a piano in Sheffield, and £25 if it’s outside Sheffield. Outside of my daily work as a piano tuner I also have experience in piano repairs, restoration and selling, which can be helpful to you as a buyer if you’re unsure of a piano’s condition. Never be afraid to ask for help!
Anyone searching for a wide-ranging instrument at an affordable price might take a look at this elegant 45″ studio piano, a remarkable feat of German engineering using traditionally old-fashioned methods of production (wasn’t it great when they built things to last?). I haven’t encountered a great number of them in my piano tuning work, but the few I have made an immediate and lasting impression on me – largely thanks to their hugely diverse tonal palette.
Here’s a snippet from a Pianist magazine article detailing the superior production of its spruce soundboard:
Anyone can work out that a ‘budget’ upright can’t be made exactly the same way as a concert grand, but differences are rarely spelled out. One important area is the soundboard, the heart of the piano’s tonal response. It’s not simply a matter of which material you use: there is also the question of how you put it together.
There are two fundamentally different methods of constructing the soundboard of a piano, says Simon Loat of Schimmel’s UK distributor, Forsyth Bros. ‘The mid-market tends to be where the two methodologies cross over and explains why two pianos of the same size can produce sounds which are totally different.’
For mass production where speed is of the essence, a flat soundboard is attached to ribs cut with a curved profile, immediately forming a crown once the two are joined. The traditional ‘German’ method, where high humidity straight ribs are joined with a low-humidity soundboard and the transfer of moisture results in the crown, takes around six months. It delivers a richer tonal character, but costs a lot more.
In order to produce the Vogel, a mid-market priced piano with an expensive traditional soundboard, Schimmel makes the soundboard assembly in its Braunschweig factory. It then ships the ‘strung backs’ (soundboard, wooden back frame and bracing and iron frame plus tensioned strings) to the Vogel assembly plant in Poland to take advantage of cheaper labour costs.
Speaking of beautifully-built pianos from the Far East, today I introduce you to the Kawai K6 – one of the finest upright pianos on earth.
Why you might consider this piano:
As with the Yamaha U-series, the core components of each K6 piano are almost identical making each piano of consistently high-quality.
It stands at a towering 132 cm giving the bass notes a richness rivalling many concert grands.
Kawai pianos, like Yamahas, increase in value every year meaning it could potentially become an investment.
Carbon fibre action is gives a very consistent touch. Regulation is usually quick and easy for the piano tuner.
Its polished ebony-finish makes it a piece of furniture that could beautifully adorn your front room.
Needless to say, if you’re thinking about investing in a new piano it’s always a good idea to try out several to see which has a touch and tone to your liking.
A complaint I sometimes hear in the piano industry is that Japanese pianos can be too bright for some people. Personally, I love their sound – but I can see why someone accustomed to the darker sound of their old Welmar or Knight piano might find a Kawai or Yamaha too bright in comparison. The acoustics of the room also have to be taken into account when choosing a piano. The last time I tuned a Kawai K6 was at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield and the natural reverberation of the theatre hall sounded truly spectacular.
This post is inspired by a recent piano tuning job in the Crosspool area of Sheffield which reminded me of have much I enjoy working with the magnificent Yamaha U3 – and the Yamaha U1 for that matter!
A favourite amongst professional pianists, recording engineers and piano-collectors alike, the Yamaha U3 is an incredibly impressive piano signifying numerous advances in piano technology and setting new standards of construction in the industry. Even if you haven’t heard of the model, you will recognise its sound – many high-profile musicians insist on using this piano (as heard on countless pop songs).
Speaking as a piano tuner, one of the remarkable things I have noticed about the Yamaha U series is how little variability there is between each piano – every U3 (or U1) I have tuned in Sheffield has been very similar in tone and touch. While other manufactures have out-sourced to China, Indonesia or Korea (to cut costs at the expense of quality), each U3 piano is made in the hamamatsu factory in Japan, renowned for their consistently high build-quality. The bridge, soundboard and ribs are made of the highest quality hard woods, ensuring strong tuning stability (every one I have tuned has been close to concert pitch for this reason, even when neglected for a few years). If bought new it’s likely to last a generation without needed much in the way of repairs and the tuning (particularly the unisons) will still sound extremely close even six months after its last piano tuning.
Although almost identical in construction, the Yamaha U3 has a slight advantage over the U1 – mainly in its size. The U1 stands at 121 cm, while the U3 is a towering 131 cm. The larger cabinet allows slightly longer strings to be installed and gives extra room for a larger soundboard, resulting in a richer, warmer tone. If you thinking about spending a large amount of money to upgrade to a first-rate piano, perhaps the extra money would not be too much of a stretch and the U3 might be worth investing in. Either way, they are both beautiful-sounding pianos that are a joy to tune, regulate, repair and play.