Who are the Best Piano Makers in the World?
We move thousands of pianos each year and often get asked who are the best piano makers. There are hundreds of piano makers in the world but only a few have the quality and history to stand out and be claimed as the world’s best piano makers.
There is no scientific metric that can be used to measure the true quality and value of these beautiful instruments. It is a combination of the tone, sound, action, history and passion that imbues each instrument. The best piano makers build timeless instruments that produce unrivalled sound, be that power, tone or range. As such choosing the best piano makers is a subjective assessment but over the years we have listened to the views of pianists, tuners, players and sellers and compiled this combined wisdom into our list of the world’s best piano makers.
In no particular order, here are our Top 10 Piano Makers:
Bösendorfer is one of the oldest luxury piano makers in the world, having started in Vienna, Austria in 1828. Ignaz Bösendorfer founded the company and was endowed with the honour of “official piano maker” to the Emperor of Austria in 1830. Bösendorfer is famous for inventing the extension to the 88-key keyboard with the Imperial Grand that boasts a 97-key keyboard, giving 8 octaves. This extra range made the Imperial Grand one of the most loved concert grands in the world, which continues to this day. The extra keys were so popular that Bösendorfer have extended the keyboard on many of their range.
“We are world famous for our quality, our outstanding richness of tone colour and our typical pure and inspiring sound. Acquiring a Bösendorfer is a lifetime dream for many people. For them, we build something very special, with devotion and professionalism: the Bösendorfer among the grands”
Bösendorfer offer luxury and exclusive pianos, they make only a few hundred pianos a year and each piano is handmade. Their pianos are known for a darker or richer sound than the purer but less full-bodied sound of other pianos.
Another great piano manufacturer from Germany, this time Leipzig. In 1853 Julius Blüthner started the company that is still run and managed by the Blüthner family. Forty-seven years later Blüthner had become the largest piano maker in Germany, producing over 5000 instruments a year. Blüthners are still renowned for their quality and a clear tone. Wilhem Kempff, the acclaimed pianist, praised their pianos as ‘precise’ and having ‘unrivalled beauty’.
A Blüthner grand was the first piano to be used in an airborne recital, the company had built a piano for the famous airship Hindenburg which crossed the atlantic with the piano. World War Two impacted the piano maker quite heavily and their factory was destroyed by an air raid in 1943, fortunately it was rebuilt in 1945.
Over the years and to this day Blüthner has built and maintained a reputation of outstanding quality. Blüthner pianos have been purchased and played by Queen Victoria, Listz, Brahms, Tsar Nicholas II, Rachmaninov, and Tschaikovsky.
Blüthner have been awarded no less than 5 gold medals by the Leipzig Fair for their handcrafted and stunning pianos. If you can’t afford one of their premium instruments Blüthner also offer two other ranges, the Heassler and Irmler ranges.
Steinway & Sons
Steinway & Sons are possibly the most well known and revered piano manufacturer in the world. Every Steinway & Sons piano takes over a year to be built by their master craftsman and each piano is made of more than 12,000 parts. Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg began making pianos in his kitchen in Sessen, Germany at the ripe old age of 20. Twenty-five years after building his “kitchen” piano and 482 instruments later Heinrich decided to move to America. In New York, the now Henry E Steinway founded possibly the most famous of our piano makers, Steinway & Sons with his family in 1853.
Steinway & Sons are considered the founders of the modern piano and have127 patents to their name to date.1700 professional pianists swear by their Steinway & Sons piano and many other musical institutions use them. Steinway & Sons still build pianos in New York and also have a factory in Hamburg. The company produce grand and Upright pianos and also have two bespoke lines called Crown jewels and Custom for the customer who wants a real statement piece.
“Each Steinway grand piano a unique masterpiece produced by the hands of craftsmen. We take our time in production – everything is done quietly and with care.”
Steinways & Sons have received awards from New York, Paris and many organisations for the quality of their pianos. This does mean that their pianos are not cheap but the good news is that if you can’t afford a Steinway & Sons then the company also produce two more affordable brands, Essex and Boston. Essex is Steinway’s entry-level brand and Boston is aimed at the mid-level market.
Bechstein are celebrated for producing pianos with great tone and beauty. As with all the elite piano makers listed here, Bechstein handcraft each of their instruments. Remarkably Bechstein is another German piano manufacturer that was formed in 1853, this time in Berlin. Carl Bechstein built his first piano for the vigorous and energetic player as well as the subtle and delicate pianist.
In 1885 Bechstein had grown and opened a store in London and the allure of the manufacturer was massively enhanced when Queen Victoria bought a gilded Beckstein grand. The London store grew to be the largest showroom in Europe and the company went on to build the Bechstein Hall, what we now call the Wigmore Hall. Many other stars and artists have been supporters of the brand including the Beatles, Elton John and Freddy Mercury.
Claude Debussey said “One should only write piano music for Bechstein”.
In 1992 Beckstein moved from Berlin to their current location in Seifhennersdorf. Since then Bechstein have invested over £18million on new technology and design to keep Bechstein at the forefront of piano design. The passion and dedication to perfection are second to none within the Bechstein family. The Technical Director has his staff individually select each hammer shank for the treble, middle or bass areas dependant on the shank’s natural pitch.
Beyond the tonal qualities of their pianos, Bechstein have become known as the creators of the one-of-a-kind art case piano. This is where craftsman individually embellish and decorate the piano cases to make individual and unique piano cases. So you not only get a great sounding instrument, it is also a piece of art in its own right. In fact some of Bechstein’s art case pianos are museum pieces.
Although the company only began in 1981, Paulo Fazioli has created one of the best piano makers in the world. As a concert pianist and the son of a famous cabinet maker Paulo Fazioli had the perfect background to create a unique piano. He went well beyond this with a passion to create an instrument with unrivalled touch and tone and without compromise. Simply put Paulo Fazioli wanted to make the best piano money could buy.
“To produce grand and concert grand pianos exclusively, aiming for the highest quality with no concern for large production”
Built in Italy these pianos don’t come cheap, their price tag ranges from $100,00 to as much as $300,000. That is a lot of money but the company only produce between 120 and 130 pianos a year, they even make a 24-carat gold leaf piano. However, Fazioli only make grands or concert grand pianos, they do not build upright pianos. Also, don’t try and move their largest concert grand piano on your own, the beautiful F308 weighs a massive 570kg and measures over 10 feet in length.
This young piano maker has really made a mark producing exquisite instruments with an unrivalled reputation and respect. If you can afford it a Fazoili is a really beautiful instrument and, given the low production numbers, has a real potential to be a great investment.
Shigeru Kawai is a bespoke brand that span out of the Kawai Piano stable. Kawai pianos was founded in 1927 by Koichi Kawai, his son Shigeru took on the company and built on his father’s dream of building the world’s finest piano. Nothing but the finest quality pianos come out of this premier Japanese piano maker.
“The passion, the honour, the soul.”
Shigeru Kawai pianos are a blend of traditional craftsmanship, technical innovations and state-of-the-art materials. The soundboards are built using 10-year aged wood from the rare Ezo Spruce that is found in snow-shrouded mountains of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. This is combined with a piano action, the Millennium III, which is made from modern composite. This action has received many plaudits, with some saying the Millennium III is the most significant development for the piano in our generation – some accolade.
All Shigeru pianos have a supremely rich tonal depth and fewer than 250 pianos are produced each year which bear the name Shigeru Kawai. Every piano is a personal legacy of the Kawai family, you will see not just the labour and love but part of Shigeru Kawai’s life, one of the truly great piano makers.
Mason and Hamlin
In 1854 two Massachusetts gentlemen, Henry Mason a classical pianist and Emmons Hamlin a great inventor, formed the Mason and Hamlin Company to manufacturer a new type of instrument that they called the Organ Harmonium. Their attention to detail, passion and limited production volumes proved immediately popular. From these early beginnings the team went on to win first prize for their American Cabinet Organ in the 1867 Paris Exhibition but it wasn’t until 1881 that the company turned their attention to pianos. At that time Mason and Hamiln’s pianos were the most costly to produce but widely considered the best in the world.
“Mason & Hamlin pianos have a mystique about them.”
Mason and Hamlin slowly lost their way after the Second World War but since they were bought by PianoDisc in 1996 they have regained there former glory as a leader in the world of piano makers. They are still the costliest pianos to build but once again they adorn many concert halls and musical institutes. With a focus on quality not quantity the 70 skilled craftsman produce 50 uprights and 300 grands a year. Each one is inspected no less than 12 times during its birth.
Stuart and Sons
The youngest of the piano makers on our list, Stuart and Sons started life in 1990 and herald from New South Wales, Australia. What they may lack in years they certainly make up with in home-grown passion and awards. What they are not is mass produced, according to their website to date Stuart & Sons have only built 55 pianos.
Stuart and Sons produce two grands, a studio grand and a concert grand (measuring 7.2’ and 9.5’ respectively) but these two models are made with various beautiful and rare natural timbers. You can get your grand piano made in Red Cedar, Tasmanian Sassafras or Tasmanian Huon Pine and they all look exquisite.
“A rare and beautiful instrument that respects tradition while embracing innovation.”
The Stuart and Sons pianos not only look good they really perform, the range of their instruments is immense with each piano having 97 or 102 keys. They claim that no other piano makers reaches as high pitch as can be reached on their instruments.
The Schimmel brand began life in Leipzig in 1885 and will soon celebrate 130 years of piano production. Wilhelm Schimmel was the founder of this stellar piano manufacturer, famed for the quality of the actions and tone of their pianos. The Konzert range is the pinnacle of the pride and innovation that resides at the heart of every Schimmel instrument. Their Konzert upright model highlights this, Schimmel have produced an upright to emulate the tonal and performance qualities of a grand piano.
Schimmel produce their pianos using traditional techniques and their proprietary CAPE system (Computer Assisted Piano Engineering). The pursuit of perfection combined with a national heritage of 300 years building pianos allow Schimmel to proudly stand as one of the best piano makers in the world. In fact, Schimmel are now the largest and most awarded piano manufacturer in Germany.
In 1927 the company moved from Leipzig to what remains their home Braunschweig. Now with a fourth generation Schimmel at the helm, the legacy of artistry, passion and craftsmanship continue with this great piano manufacturer. Schimmel are renowned for timeless and tasteful piano casework designs. This combined with beautiful sound and touch endears them to their fans. Their glass grand piano was unveiled in 1951 and has since become a cult classic.
Gortrian Steinweg can trace its roots all the way back to 1835 when Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg began building pianos. Theodor Steinweg was the son and heir to Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg who founded Steinway & Sons in America. Theodor Steinweg was joined by Friedrich Grotrian in 1853 after Friedrich returned from his music business in Moscow. This duo then went on to create another amazing piano maker from Germany.
“Build good pianos and the rest will take care of itself”
The company builds the astonishing Gotrian Duo. This is two grand pianos joined together so that they can be played as “one” instrument. Fortunately for us, you can split the piano into two to move it. This piano is a reflection of the philosophy which is at the heart of the company – A unique tone and love for music. Other Gotrian Steinweg innovations include the star-shaped back frame and a unique string scale that allows the hammers strike the strings at the optimal spot.
Gotrian Steiweg have been family piano makers for 157 years and the 6th generation of the family is still running the business. The longevity of this business can be traced back to the founding philosophy of uncompromised quality. The company now produce about 500 uprights and 100 grands a year.