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 details. Advanced designs are 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:      $18,000 to $40,000
Grands 5’ to 7’: $40,000 to $90,000
Group 1A:   Bechstein,C. (Concert series)
                    Steingraeber & Söhne
                    Steinway & sons (Hamburg)
Group 1B:    Förster, 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 & Söhne. 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 perhaps because they are not as well known. However, preference throughout Group 1 is highly dependent on musical taste, and the brands in Group 1B definitely have their devoted following. Sauter pianos, relatively to 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 grate instruments of this the day.
Steinway & Sons (New York), at its best, has one of the finest sounds of any piano in Group 1 but relative to the others in this group, there is less attention to the detail in a number of areas of production and musical preparation. It’s a testament to the amazing piano designs of this venerable brand, and the integrity of its sound-body construction, that the can potentially sound and play so well as they do. The pianos vary, but if you bother the salespeople until they get their technicians to prep them, you can find some really nice ones.
A brand for which I have not had enough feedback 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 favoring high-performance design features, materials, and workmanship. They are suitable for home, institutional, and some professional and artistic uses. Greater manufacture 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:      $8,000 to $22,000
Grands 5’ to 7’: $25,000 to $55,000
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)
                  Hoffmann, W
Commentary on Group 2: Although the best pianos must of course be of the highest technical competence, part of what many buyers of luxury goods also seek (whether they admit or not) is association with things that will enhance the way they view themselves or how others view them—in other words, image. That is, for these buyers with these goods, “image” is not just superfluous gimmickry added to fool the public (as it sometimes is with goods of lower quality), but rather is actually perceived and sought out by the public as part of the product’s quality. I say this without judgment; it’s simply human nature. This is as true for high-quality pianos as for any other luxury items. Image is cultivated by manufacturers through the company’s name and history, printed literature and advertising, artist endorsements, and use in high-profile places and situations, among other things. Although I believe that most of pianos in Group 1 have at least slightest greater refinement in design, workmanship, or performance than most in Group 2, part of what separates the two groups in my mind is that to one extent or another most in Group 1 have broken the “image barrier” for luxury goods, while those for Group 2—some arguably of nearly equal technical competence—have not.    
Group 2A contains three brands that are close runners-up for Group 1. In fact, many people would place them in Group 1 based on their performance. But for each there is some factor that seems to me to dictate conservatism.
Estonia, formerly at bottom of Group 2, has become so much more advanced over the last five years that is virtually a different instrument. Likewise Schimmel, in its most recent series of redesigns, has elevated itself to a new level of perfection. In both cases, however, I feel these advances have not yet been sufficiently recognized by the piano community in general to deserve placement on a par with the pianos in Group 1. As for Mason & Hamlin, the company’s extensive worldwide sourcing of quality, low-cost parts seems more consistent with the manufacturing philosophy of Group 2 than Group 1, even the results to date have been excellent.
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, each in its own way, have just a little more finesse than those in Group 2C. 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.

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, China, Taiwan 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 commitment to excellent warranty service. Also in this 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; and some of the best pianos from China. 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 $36,000
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:  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)
                  Young Chang (professional Artist series)
Group 3C:  Brodmann (grands)
                   Kohler & Campbell (Millennium series)(Samick)
                   Pramberger, J. (Samick)
                   Story & Clark (Signature series) (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 a little more variable than with pianos from Japan. Also in this category are Perzina verticals, one of the few brands 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.
Group 3C are mid-level Samick pianos made in Korea or Indonesia (Kohler & Campbell Millennium) and upper-level pianos entirely from Indonesia (Pramberger ), and Brodmann grands, the only grands from China thus far to make it up to Group 3. 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:      $3,000 to $7,000
Grands 5’ to 7’:  $7,000 to $17,000
Group 4A:   Brodmann (verticals)
                   Ebel, Carl (Perzina)
                   May Berlin
                   Palatino (AXL)
                   Perzina (grands)
                   Steigerman (Premium series) (Hailun)
                   Steinberg, Gerh. (Perzina)
Group 4B:   Everett (grands) (Dongbei)
                   Hallet, Davis (grands) (Dongbei)
                   Nordiska (grands) (Dongbei)
                   Weinbach (grands) (Dongbei/Petrof)
Group 4C:   Cristofori (Pearl River)
                    Essex (Pearl River or Young Chang/China with Steinway)
                    Kohler & Campbell (except Millennium series) (Samick)
                    Miller, Henry F. (Pearl River)
                    Pearl River
                    Remington (Samick)
                    Ritmüller (Pearl River)
                    Story & Clark (Heritage series) (Samick)
                    Weber (Legend series) (Young Chang)
                    Young Chang (Gold series)
Group 4D:   Cable, Hobart M. (Sejung)
                    Everett (verticals) (Dongbei)
                    Falcone (Sejung)
                    Gulbransen (Sejung)
                    Hallet, Davis (verticals) (Dongbei)
                    Hardman, Peck (Beijing)
                    Meister, Otto (Beijing)
                    Nordiska (verticals) (Dongbei)
                    Steck, Geo. (Sejung)
                    Steigerman (Beijing)
                    Suzuki (Artfield)
                    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 that have not already graduated to Group 3. Some of these actually have the performance characteristics of higher-grade instruments and may eventually migrate upward on this chart as their track record and reputation warranty. The pianos in this subgroup (and also pianos from China that have graduated to Group 3) 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 (where applicable). My contact 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 excellent of their design. When properly prepared by the dealer, they perform exceptionally well. Most of these brands are quite similar to one another; however, there is some dispute among the distributors as to the degree of the differences and how consistently they are applied. 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—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.