The Yamaha Corporation has been making pianos for a very long time. Founded in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha, the company has been producing fine instruments more or less uninterrupted for the last 130 years. But there are lots of piano companies that have been around even longer. What’s more, Yamaha didn’t really begin its modern production techniques until after World War II. So why would great players still choose Yamahas today over other well-established and reputable brands like Steinway, Kawai or Bosendorfer?
The answer turns out to be surprisingly similar to why luxury and sports car connoisseurs sometimes choose Japanese cars over their arguably more artful Italian or German counterparts. Let’s take a look at five reasons why Yamaha pianos are favored by so many great musicians and what makes them, arguably, the best brand in the world for high-end pianos.
Consistency of quality
One thing that indisputably sets Yamaha pianos apart from the competition is the almost supernatural consistency and quality of the build. This has been true for a very long time, to some extent even before modern production and quality control techniques enabled manufacturers everywhere to achieve some modicum of consistency.
But largely, this unique trait of Yamaha pianos can be traced to the quality control revolution that swept Japanese manufacturing from the 1960’s onward. It can also be attributable to the company culture of excellence and passion for building great instruments. This may sound like typical corporate drivel but with musical instruments it takes on a certain ring of truth. Yamaha has always gone out of its way to support musicians and showcase their products wherever possible. It has been the go-to brand for colleges and high schools across the globe due to generous discounts the company extends to educational institutions. At its core, Yamaha is clearly a company which believes passionately in what it’s doing, at it shows in the final product.
Yamaha enjoys economy of scale that other manufacturers can only dream of
In business, too often the notion that “bigger is better” turns out to be the most abject falsehood. General Motors of the 1970s and 80s comes to mind as a case of giantism causing not further vision and reach, but the organism being crushed under its own weight. However in the case of piano manufacture bigger indeed does seem to be better.
Yamaha has been able to harness all that it’s learned through decades of producing not just pianos, but all kinds of instruments. This has resulted in retention of the best talent in the industry. Yamaha has been a font of innovation in the production of pianos for the entirety of its existence. This level of innovation simply could not have come from a smaller producer. In fact, you see many other manufacturers doggedly following the same tried and true methods when they aren’t overtly copying Yamaha. The result has been Yamaha’s continued ability to stay a few steps ahead of the competition in everything from the production of electronic pianos to that of concert grands.
This is certainly among the most contestable areas regarding the preference of Yamaha over other brands. But no one can argue that at the high-end of their lineup, Yamaha produces pianos that sound and feel on par with the best names in the world. As a musician myself, I have to admit that there is nothing that sounds quite like a Steinway. Even in the 6-7 foot range, Steinway’s intonation has a quality about it that can only be likened to singing, as if the entire instrument were a living, breathing organism.
That said, the top-end Yamahas such as the Conservatory series or the majestic CFX are only the slightest baby-step behind the best concert Steinways. And some musicians will dispute that it’s behind at all. This is also where the steadfast Yamaha quality level shines through. Once you get to the $30 thousand price range, there really isn’t any such thing as a bad Yamaha grand, even ones that are ten or twenty years old. To say the very least, the same cannot be claimed for Steinways.
One of the least appreciated aspects of a piano’s characteristics for non-musicians or those who don’t play often is the action of the keyboard and hammers. Yamaha has, quite arguably, the hands-down best action of any piano brand there is. In fact, that may be the least disputable claim Yamaha has to superiority. Yamaha action is legendary and respected by almost all musicians. But it’s not just the action of new pianos that makes it so great.
Yamaha pianos have a level of balance, consistency and a quality of feeling the note being played that might be best compared to a sports car that allows the driver an exquisite sense of exactly what the car is doing or about to do. And this feel hardly diminishes with age. Yamahas are also legendary for being able to take abuse that would render other pianos unplayable. This is part of the reason that whenever you step foot in any college music department throughout the country you’re likely to encounter Yamahas in the practice rooms. Despite years of abuse, the action feels like new twenty years later.
They’re an incredible bargain
Finally we encounter what for many is Yamahas coup-de-gras – price. Yamahas are by far the most mass produced pianos out there. Despite this, they reach Steinway quality levels yet cost dramatically less. Steinways, even those in the smaller 5-6 foot range, are outrageously expensive. It’s quite possible to find a very nice 7 foot Yamaha C7 or similar model, maybe ten to twenty years old, for somewhere in the $10-20 thousand range. A similar Steinway might run you as much as ten times that.
All this goes back to Yamaha’s passion for creating fine instruments for musicians. Steinways and other models have become status symbols little different from pieces of art while Yamaha has retained its focus solely on making the best pianos possible for a decent price.