Group 1: Highest quality performance pianos

These pianos are for those who want the best and can afford it. They utilize the very best materials, and the manufacturing process emphasizes much hand labor and refinement of details. Advanced designs and painstakingly executed, putting quality considerations far ahead of cost and production output. They are suitable for the most advanced and demanding professional and artistic uses. Most of the pianos in this group are made in the U.S. and Western Europe. Comparison with automobiles: think Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Mercedes- Benz.
Verticals:      $14,000 to $34,000
Grands 5’ to 7’: $40,000 to $90,000
Group 1A:   Blüthner
                Steingraeber & S?hne
                Steinway & sons (Hamburg)

Group 1B:   Bechstein,C. (Concert series)
                F?rster, August

Group 1C:   Kawai, Shigeru
                Steinway & sons (New York)

Commentary on Group 1: It was easier to arrive at a consensus on Group 1A than on any other subgroup in this rating system. So celebrated are the pianos in this subgroup that dealers eagerly nominated their competitors for the list. These pianos have everything, and the attention to detail can only be called fanatical. Some of the names in this group are well known and expected, but one that is not is Steingraeber & S?hne. I was aware of this brand, but was surprised at how many others with even passing acquaintance with it named it without hesitation. Note that Steinway & Sons (Hamburg) is not routinely available in North America; I include it for informational purposes only.
The pianos in Group 1B are also fabulous, and very “fussy,” but there was little doubt that they were second to the pianos in Group 1A, either because their workmanship is not quite as fussy as the first group, or because their musical designs are considered slightly less desirable, or both. However, preference throughout Group 1 is highly dependent on musical taste, and the brands in Group 1, are beautifully crafted and sound terrific, but the company tends to maintain a low profile in the U.S. and the tone is not as distinctively European as the others, so it’s easy to overlook.
As for Group 1C, Shigeru Kawai, another newcomer to Group 1, is the first piano from Japan to make the grade. It is beginning to gain acceptance in universities and other venues as one of the great instruments of this the day. I’m still not sure where in Group 1 it belongs, so I’ve put it in 1C as a start.
Steinway & Sons (New York), at its best, has one of the finest sounds of any piano in Group 1— and, relative to the others in this group, the worst workmanship. It’s a testament to the amazing piano designs of this venerable brand, and the integrity of its sound-body construction, that instruments with so little finesse in workmanship can potentially sound and play so well. They vary, but if you bother the salespeople until they get their technicians to prep them, you can find some really nice ones.
A brand I did not feel familiar enough with to place accurately, but which would probably fall in Group 1, is Feurich.

                   Group 2 High- performance pianos

These instruments are built to a standard favouring high-performance design features, materials, and workmanship. They are suitable for home, institutional, and some professional and artistic uses. Greater hand labor is put into refining touch and tone during manufacture, although perhaps not quite as much as some in Group 1. Cost considerations, virtually absent for Group 1 instruments, may affect decisions regarding materials and production methods to a limited extent. For a variety of reasons, these pianos have not received as much critical acclaim as those in Group 1. Although the difference in quality between the two groups is small—and for many buyers will be undetectable—the price difference is substantial, making these pianos a great value for those who can settle for “almost the best.” Most pianos in this group are made in the U.S. and in Eastern and Western Europe. Comparison with automobiles: think BMW, Saab, Volvo, Audi, Lexus.
Verticals:      $6,000 to $20,000
Grands 5’ to 7’: $18,000 to $50,000
Group 2A:  Estonia
               Mason & Hamlin
               Schimmel (Konzert series)

Group 2B:  Bechstein (Academy series)
               Schimmel (Classic series)
               Schulze Pollmann
               Steinberg, Wilh.
               Walter, Charles R.
               Yamaha (“S” series)
Group 2C:  Baldwin (grands)
Commentary on Group 2: Group 2A contains three brands that are close runners-up for Group 1. Estonia, formerly at bottom of Group 2, has become so much more advanced over the last five years that it may belong in Group 1. However, this fact has not yet been appreciated or confirmed by much of the piano community, so I am testing the waters by putting it in Group 2A.
I have always thought of Schimmel as being perfectly engineered, but not a luxury instrument and just a little lacking in soul. Apparently Mr. Schimmel decided he wanted to leave a better legacy than that, so before he retired, he pulled out all the modern and mature series of instruments. The innovative design decision he made, combined with the perfect execution for which the brand is known, have elevated the stature of the company’s instruments to a new level.
The rating of Mason & Hamlin has been reduced slightly to Group 2A. It is still a great instrument, but I believe the company’s current manufacturing approach is more consistent with Group 2 than Group 1.
I found it difficult to further subdivide Group 2, and sensed little agreement among my contacts about how it should be done. I believe the instruments in Group 2B have just a little more finesse (I use that word a lot) than those in Group 2C. Each of the brands in Group 2B is quite different, but I couldn’t figure out a way to reliably subdivide them further. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Group 2C pianos are at the bottom of Group 2. They are still wonderful instruments, and some of the best values in the piano world.
Baldwin brands are a special case. I have placed them here out of respect for their great designs and specifications and their former reputation. But they are currently not living up to that reputation consistently and must be examined carefully before purchase.

     Group 3: Better quality consumer-grade pianos

These instruments give roughly equal weight to economy and performance. The dominant pianos in this group are by Japanese-based companies manufacturing in Japan, the U.S., and Indonesia. They are mass produced but with attention to detail, and are consistent, predictably uniform instruments with few defects, suitable for both home and institutional use. For decades they have been legendary for their high quality-control standards and group are the higher-level pianos made by Korean-based companies in Korea or Indonesia, with more variation in quality, but enhanced by some advanced design features. Comparison with automobiles: think Honda, Toyota, Subaru (Group 3A); upper-level Kia, Hyundai (Groups 3B and 3C).
Verticals:   $3,500 to $12,000
Grands 5’ to 7’: $9,000 to $34,000

Group 3A:  Boston (Kawai with Steinway)
               Kawai (verticals and RX series grands)
               Perzina (verticals)
               Pramberger, J.P. (Samick)
               Weber (Sovereign series) (Young Chang)
               Yamaha (vertical and C series grands)
               Young Chang (Platinum Edition)

Group 3B:  Baldwin (verticals)
               Essex (Young Chang/Korea with Steinway)
               Kawai (GM and GE series grands)
               Knabe, Wm. (Samick)
               Weber (sovereign series) (Young Chang)
               Yamaha (GB and GC grands)

Group 3C:  Kohler & Campbell (Millennium series)(Samick)
               Pramberger, J. (Samick)
Commentary on Group 3: Group 3A consists of most pianos made by the Japanese-based companies Yamaha and Kawai and the highest-level Korean-made pianos of Young Chang and Samick. The latter are built to advanced designs, and when expertly prepared by a technician, can play as well as some pianos in the higher categories. However, their quality is more variable and most dealers do only enough make-ready to make them acceptable. Also in this category are Perzina verticals, the only pianos made in China thus far to make it out of Group 4. They have excellent tone and action, and have been out in the field without problems long enough for me to feel comfortable recommending them.
Group 3B consists of the smaller Kawai and Yamaha grand models with simpler case construction and features, mid-level Korean-made models from Young Chang, and mid- to upper-level pianos from Samick (Wm.Knabe) made in either Korea or Indonesia. I’ve also put U.S.-made Baldwin verticals in this category though, to be honest, Baldwin has been keeping a low profile of late, and feedback about the verticals in sparse.
Group 3C are mid-level Samick pianos made in Korea or Indonesia (Kohler & Campbell Millennium) and upper-level pianos entirely from Indonesia (J.Pramberger). The same comment made about Korean pianos in group 3A also apply to the Korean and Indonesia pianos in Groups 3B and 3C.

     Group 4: Medium quality consumer-grade pianos

Most of the instruments are somewhat more oriented toward economy than performance. In general, Quality control is not as perfect as many in Group 3, so the pianos may need a little more attention by the dealer both before and after the sale. For some upper-level Chinese brands, the quality control and features might normally make the piano a candidate for a higher-level group, but their track record is short, so as a precaution, I am leaving them in this group for the time being. These pianos are suitable at least for average home and lighter institutional use, and sometimes more. Students with smaller models of some of these brands may wish to upgrade to a larger or better instrument after a number of years. Pianos in this group are made in China or in Indonesia by Korean-based companies. Comparison with automobiles: think Kia, Hyundai (and Chinese-made cars).
Verticals:      $2,500 to $7,000
Grands 5’ to 7’:  $6,000 to $19,000
Group 4A:   Brodmann
                May Berlin
                Perzina (grands)
                Steinberg, Gerh. (Perzina)

Group 4B:   Everett (grands) (Dongbei)
                Hallet, Davis (grands) (Dongbei)
                Nordiska (grands) (Dongbei)
                Story & Clark (grands) (Dongbei)
                Weinbach (grands) (Dongbei/Petrof)

Group 4C:   Bergmann (Young Chang)
                Essex (Pearl River or Young Chang/China with Steinway)
                Kohler & Campbell (except Millennium series) (Samick)
                Miller, Henry F. (Pearl River)
                Palatino (AXL)
                Pearl River
                Remington (Samick)
                Ritmüller (Pearl River)
                Steigerman (Premium series) (Hailun)
                Weber (Legend series) (Young Chang)

Group 4D:   Cable, Hobart M. (Sejung)

                 Everett (verticals) (Dongbei)
                 Falcone (Sejung)
                 Gulbransen (Sejung)
                 Hallet, Davis (verticals) (Dongbei)
                 Hamilton (Sejung/Baldwin)
                 Hardman, Peck (Beijing)
                 Meister, Otto (Beijing)
                 Nordiska (verticals) (Dongbei)
                 Steck, Geo. (Sejung)
                 Steigerman (Beijing)
                 Story & Clark (verticals) (Dongbei)
                 Suzuki (Artfield)
                 Vivace (Sejung)
                 Wurlitzer (Sejung/Baldwin)
                 Wyman (Beijing)
Commentary on group 4: Many of the Group 4 piano brands are new or rapidly improving. I have tried as best I can to estimate their relative quality positions, preferring to err slightly on the low side rather than overstate their quality. I expect the future will bring many changes to this list.
Group 4A consists of the best Chinese pianos. Some of these actually have the performance characteristics of higher-grade instruments and, like Perzina verticals in Group 3A, may eventually migrate upward on this chart as their track record and reputation warrant. The pianos in this subgroup are distinguished from those in lower subgroups by superiority in a combination of design, materials, and execution. Most use a large amount of parts and material imported from Europe or North America. They also excel in the oversight given them by the sponsoring company. Schimmel, for example, reportedly rejects a substantial percentage of the May Berlin pianos receives as not meeting the company’s rigid standards, and returns them to their origin. It then prepares the remainder of the pianos to even higher standards before sending them on to dealers. My contacts generally gave cautious praise to these brands, recognizing that they provide tremendous value for the money, but were not yet ready to abandon better-known, established, more expensive brands from other parts of the world in favor of them.
Group 4B consists of the grand pianos from Dongbei, distributed in the U.S. under a variety names by several distributors. These pianos don’t have the finesse of the ones in Group 4A, but are clearly distinguished from most other Chinese grands by the exceptionally well. Note that the Nordiska brand differs from the others, though there is some dispute among the distributors as to the degree of the difference and how consistently it is applied. The Story & Clark brand id prepared in the U.S. by its distributor prior to being shipped to dealers. Weinbach is a deluxe piano from Dongbei with a Petrof keyboard and action. Though it has been grouped with the other Dongbei grands, it’s possible it belongs in Group 4A.
Group 4C consists of the large, middle ground of Chinese pianos – those from the Young Chang, Pearls River, Hailun, and AXL factories—and the lower-level pianos from the Samick factory in Indonesia. These pianos are not likely to win awards for anything in particular, but with proper dealer make-ready and some follow-up home service, they should be fine for casual home use and sometimes more.

Group 4D pianos are a little less advanced in design or execution than those in higher categories. The smaller sizes of grands and verticals in particular are for those buyers for whom low price or furniture are the most important considerations. With thorough dealer prep, good after-sale service, and realistic expectations, these brands can be successfully purchased by buyers with simpler needs.