Kimball is a name that resonates throughout the world or pianos as a producer of quality pianos. They have manufactured some of the finest instruments on the market from modest beginnings in the business, as far back as 1857.
These pianos were made by the company known as W.W Kimball and Company, who if the stories are to be believed, traded at first from the back of a jewellery shop. At this time, as far as records go, Kimball was dealing in pianos rather than an established manufacturer of pianos.
From the jewellery shop, Kimball is thought to have moved premises to the Crosby Opera House in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Kimball continued to deal in pianos from other manufacturers at this stage including popular names such as Chickering & Sons and Hallet & Davis.
Kimball Baby Grand Piano Review
In October of 1871, a terrible fire raged through the city of Chicago killing somewhere in the region of 300 people and destroying over three square miles of the city.
The fire is thought to have begun in the southwest of Chicago and given the wooden construction of many buildings and prevailing wind, some 100,000 people found themselves homeless. For Wallace Kimball, it meant that his small business and most of his assets were lost to the fire.
Working out of his home, Kimball began to rebuild his business, and by 1882 the Kimball Company was officially recognised and complete. Kimball was not focusing on piano manufacturing at the time, instead, they made reed organs at a rate of around 15,000 units per year.
The Kimball factory was an impressive one and production was at a fever pitch trying to meet the demand for the organs. They were credited with being the largest organ manufacturer in the world at this stage of their history.
With sufficient funds behind him, Kimball was able to extend his business to include pianos. 1887 was the year that saw Kimball construct a huge, five-story factory dedicated to the production of pianos.
Perhaps Kimball had been astute enough to realise that as the 19th century drew to a close, so too did the interest in reed organs: pianos were the way forward. By 1922 Kimball had stopped making reed organs.
An important change came to the Kimball Company in the late 1950s. A furniture manufacturer by the name of the Jasper Cooperation (founded in 1950 by Arnold Habig), was making plans to fully exploit the exceptional woodworking skills of its employees.
Habig, by many accounts, was a clever and entrepreneurial man who was keen to see the Jasper Corporation expand. Kimball was under a great degree of financial strain by the end of this decade and received Arnold Habig’s offer with open arms.
Habig bought out the Kimball Company in 1959 and the pianos from 1961 onwards were created in West Baden Springs, Indiana. They became immensely successful as a result. In all probability, Kimball would have closed its doors permanently without this buyout.
As extraordinary as it may sound, Habig’s initiative was a huge success and from records, it is possible to see that Jasper/Kimball was shipping orders in the region of 250 pianos every day from the factory.
This was an amazing feat and perhaps supported the company’s claim to be the “largest piano maker in the world”. During this illustrious period Kimball, under the Jasper Corporation, manufactured ‘console’ pianos, uprights, and grand pianos.
Sadly, by the mid-1990s piano sales were dwindling. The competition perhaps from other manufacturers and changes in tastes meant that Kimball International finally shut its doors in 1996. The company, under the name of Kimball International still makes furniture.
Kimball pianos were highly sorting after instruments in the Midwest of the United States for many years. By many, they were never considered to be in the bracket that you would find a Steinway & Sons but close to the lower end of the popular market.
They were sold as relatively inexpensive pianos destined for the mass market. As such, they were well respected and well received.
What seems apparent from a number of dealerships, and reviews of Kimball pianos is that the often-cited mediocrity of Kimball instruments is not entirely founded. The pianos, notably the baby grand and grand pianos, built before the 1930s were fine instruments.
They were well-made with pleasing tonal qualities that often attract people to renovate and restore these instruments to their former glory. One of the most outstanding criticisms of the grand pianos is levelled at the La Petite Grand Pianos.
According to some opinions, these instruments were designed to attract the customer by price alone. (In some respects, this makes sense as Kimball had a formidable reputation as a salesman).
As such the La Petite piano was a reasonable instrument but one without genuine durability and a somewhat brittle tone.
A quick search of the current market shows there is no shortage of Kimball pianos, from uprights to grands, available. The prices perhaps reflect the contemporary opinions regarding these instruments.
They are not overly expensive and generally available in the USA as opposed to Europe. A Kimball Baby Grand from 1983 I discovered was priced at a very reasonable $5600, one from 1993 at $6,750.
The vintage models seem to attract higher prices and if they have been professionally restored, come in at around $20,000. These include models like the ‘Jacobean-Style’ and Jacobean ‘Gothic Style’ baby grand pianos. Equally, the Kimball player pianos and uprights command similar prices.
If it is a Kimball you have set your heart on or perhaps an instrument you have inherited, it would appear that the earlier the model the more likely it is an instrument of quality.
It is, of course, impossible to judge an entire company’s work in this way and each instrument needs to be evaluated on its unique merits.
However, the Kimball pianos were essentially mass-produced instruments destined for the homes of middle America. If you are fortunate you may just find a beautiful example.