Shigeru Kawai Vs Steinway Piano (Differences Between Shigeru Kawai And Steinway Piano)

Shigeru Kawai Vs Steinway Piano
Shigeru Kawai Vs Steinway Piano

You may have caught a previous article I wrote comparing pianos of note, and in this informative post, I hope to extend this a little further. If you are in the privileged position of being able to consider buying either a Steinway or a Kawai piano, the excellent news is that you are unlikely to be disappointed by either the build quality or the historical pedigree. Both manufacturers are at the top of their game and have a formidable heritage. They are also supported by a raft of famously named pianists.

The important side of this delicious dilemma is not so much the finer details of manufacturing techniques, but the characteristics of each instrument that can only be judged on their own merits. What I am alluding to is the fact that when you are looking at buying a high-quality piano like a Kawai or a Steinway, unless you simply want it to look good in your lounge, or office lobby, then you are probably interested in how it plays and how it sounds. This is inevitably going to be different for every piano by either Steinway of Kawai.

Shigeru Kawai Vs Steinway Piano

What I should point out is that whilst Kawai is a name well-known in the world of the piano, the Shigeru Kawai Grand Piano is a piano considered to be at the absolute top of the range of pianos produced by the company. The extent of the catalog of grand pianos goes from the SK-2 at a humble 5’11” right up to the Concert Grand at an impressive SK-EX at 9’. By way of a little illustration of the exact and unique way that the Shigeru Kawai is made consider that when they shape the ‘rim’ it is not done traditionally by using a ‘rim press’ but steam to create every curve individually. This is with the idea that the fibers in the wood remain in as natural a state as possible.

Kawai has also been the pioneer of the use of carbon fiber technology in the manufacture of their pianos. This began in the grand pianos but has gradually been employed in the whole range of instruments. The advantage of using a material such as carbon fiber is that it is extremely durable and not a victim to humidity as other materials traditionally have been. It also ‘transmits’ kinetic energy efficiently making the action on Kawai pianos quite untouched by other manufacturers.

If this is not enough evidence of the astonishing time and effort that Kawai put into their instruments, the soundboard holds another fascinating truth. Unlike some manufacturers, Kawai does not use drying kilns but treats their Ezo Spruce to an open-air drying method that can take over five years. If you like the idea of the personal touch then the Shigeru Kawai Grand is for you. When you decide to purchase one of these beautiful instruments, you will be assigned an individual Master Piano Artisan who oversees the building of the piano from beginning to end.

From them, you will receive a certificate with the Master’s name on it and a short biography. These Piano Artisans will also guarantee you a visit within one year of purchase to your home at no additional cost. They will devote their entire day to servicing the piano and ensure that you are fully happy with it. As far as I am aware no other piano manufacturer offers such a bespoke service.

Steinway pianos offer a standard of manufacturing that is certainly in the same league as Shigeru Kawai pianos. Some would argue that Steinway is really in its own division and incomparable to other pianos but today’s market is full of viable alternatives that have made Steinway’s once unreachable top spot venerable.

What Steinway used to deliver as an incentive to buy one of their pianos was the unique methods of construction but also the equality of tone and response. No other piano sounds or plays like a Steinway but this may not be what you are looking for in an instrument.

Like Shigeru Kawai, Steinway offers an impressive array of Grand Pianos. The smallest is the Model S that is a baby grand coming in at 5’1″. In the middle of the range comes the Steinway Model C at 7’4″ followed by the ultimate grand piano, the Model D with an impressive length of 8’11 and 3/4″. This stunning instrument has  ‘braces’ of spruce, ‘ribs’ of sugar pine, a ‘rim’ moulded from one continuous strip (comprised of 17 layers), of hard rock maple, and ‘soundboard’ close-grained, quarter-sawn Sitka spruce.

There is little room for doubt about just how much skill and passion goes into making the Steinway pianos but a criticism I am picking up on more recently is that the techniques Steinway use are now perhaps outdated. Instead of drawing on new manufacturing innovations as Shigeru Kawai has, Steinway has rested on its historic reputation for making the greatest pianos. Another voice of dissent highlights the fact that there is no longer a living member of the Steinway family involved in the company. In fact, what is alleged is that the successive buyers of the firm have had to pay off significant debts resulting in the possible compromise in the manufacturing of the instruments. Unfounded these rumors may be but this is sometimes all that is required to topple a king.

What we can be certain of is that the cost of buying a new Steinway Grand piano is increasing seemingly by the year. They always were expensive pianos, but in today’s economic climate the Steinway has almost become an icon for the extremely wealthy rather than an instrument for everyone to aspire to own. Is it true then that if you do buy a new Steinway you are only buying the name? I doubt it. I find it almost impossible to believe that a piano maker with a reputation to uphold like Steinway would ever compromise with any aspect of his piano manufacturing and that the instruments they make today are still extraordinary.

One final point to consider is one of age. For many commentators, the new option belongs to the Shigeru Grand range whereas if you elect to purchase a Steinway from the early 1900s then you are likely to possess and play on a Steinway that comes from the golden age of the company and is supposedly unparalleled in every way.

4 thoughts on “Shigeru Kawai Vs Steinway Piano (Differences Between Shigeru Kawai And Steinway Piano)”

  1. You can make any number of intelligent and well informed comments based upon manufacturing technique.

    The TRUTH of Any instrument is *how it sounds*. I have spoken with recording artists who acknowledge what I have also learned first hand: it is The Sound of the instrument that is of Paramount Importance. ( playability is a close, but not determinative second characteristic )

    What you hear is the Most Important characteristic of an instrument’s performance: it doesn’t matter whether it’s built with carbon fiber or bent pins —IF it can sound majestic, modest and magical.

    And that comes down to the individual instrument: it is Not uniquely a function of the maker, because instruments built from the same materials, using the same techniques, finished, voiced and tuned by the same factory experts *Will Not Sound the Same”. That’s why Jonathan Boyk requested Steinway Serial Number 42 when he performed in New York. To his ear, it could play loud or soft and still be compelling.

    This fact defies common logic, but each instrument has its own voice, strengths and / or weaknesses. So manufacturing technique is merely a part of the Process that results in an instrument of distinction, or one with a voice one one could overlook in the mix. Infuriating though that may seem, it has been my experience, but more importantly this is confirmed by others of such elevated and estimable stature as Patricia Barber and the aforementioned Jonathan Boyk.

  2. I used to own a steinway Model A. and now own a Shigeru SK3, it makes me laugh what Steve Bennet’s comment, Shigeru key action definitely a big stet up compared to Steinway that I owned, it sounds flat and the action is a bit shallow. My SK3 sounds bigger and the tone is such a dream.

  3. I am confused by the comments of Steve Benton. He praises Steinway for using techniques that have been tested and proven for over 150 years, and then questions Kawai for using a rim bending method that is more than 100 years old. It makes me question the objectivity of his remarks.

  4. An interesting review – I commend you for taking on the challenge of comparing the entire offerings of one piano line to another.
    There are a few details that are incorrect.
    First, you note both brands are endorsed by a “raft of famous artists.” In reviewing the Kawai Artists site, they list 35, of which only one most people could pick out of a lineup would be Neil Sedaka. At least one of the artists listed works for Kawai, so it’s a stretch to say that those endorsements are unbiased.
    Steinway & Sons, by contrast, has over 1,500 concert artist who actively endorse Steinway and play them exclusively. And to be fair, we’re talking the deep end of the talent pool of today’s best, who’ve livelihood depends on how their pianos perform, including Lang Lang, Olga Kern, Yuja Wang, Harry Connick Jr, Jonathan Batiste, and so many more who are not paid or given pianos in exchange for their endorsement.
    Secondly, Kawai’s use of Carbon Fiber in their piano actions is blurry. What they use is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene with Carbon Fiber. While their literature is vague about this, it appears the only reason to have the carbon fibers in the ABS material is to make them black – like Legos. Further, as their hammer shanks are still made of wood, one wonders how kinetic energy come into play.
    Finally, the comment that Steinway is using “outdated methods” to build their pianos is simply unfair and unexplained. There are countless articles available online detailing how the current and past owners have invested millions into improving the factory, implemented modern methods that improve quality, and purchasing suppliers – including the OS Kelly iron foundry, Kluge key manufacturer, and Renner action part maker – to insure the quality of their pianos for future generations. The casual reader must wonder if those “criticisms” you refer to are coming from frustrated competitors, as they are not based on any facts.
    By contrast, you point out that Kawai uses steam to bend their rims. Sure, it makes it easier to bend the wood, but anyone who works with wood knows it is not the way to get load bearing wood to stay in the desired shape. The concept of making “the fibers in the wood remain in as natural a state as possible” is completely contradictory to the purpose of the rim.
    In other words, Kawai is using a rim bending method that every other piano builder abandoned about 100 years ago.
    Overall, it appears Kawai is doing things different than every other piano builder today. Nothing here indicates these methods are better, just different.
    Which opens another consideration for the consumer. Would you prefer to purchase a piano built using proven methods that have been tested for over 150 years or one from a company that still seems to be trying to figure out how to build a piano?
    Thank you for opening the door to this conversation.

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