Two of the first questions that I get from parents of my piano students are “What kind of piano should I get?” and “What are the best piano brands?” The facts of the matter are that our modern piano is a 19th century invention about which many people, even pianists, don’t know a lot about, and the current piano manufacturing industry is always changing. For many families, it’s one of the larger purchases that you’ll ever make for your home. It’s important to devote the same kind of careful research that you’d give to any big buy. Two of the biggest and brightest stars in the piano world right now are Kawai and Yamaha. So in a battle of Kawai versus Yamaha, who makes better pianos?
ThePianoBuyer.com is a great place to start before making your purchase. You can order a free, 280-page semi-annual publication from the website that details both generally unchanging aspects of piano buying and the ever-changing world of piano manufacturing. There’s even a classified section on the website where you can peruse the listings of those both buying and selling electronic and acoustic pianos. Most importantly, though, you can see what piano experts have to say about Yamaha, Kawai, and other piano brands.
Kawai, as a company, has long spoken out in favor of building pianos with plastic and composite materials, instead of wood, which inherently changes the texture, tone, and touch when played. Kawai also boasts a longer key than is found on most pianos, including Yamaha’s. Their claim is that this aids pianists in the performance of passages requiring great dexterity, in other words, passages with lots of ornamentation or especially fast-moving measures. Unfortunately, though, Kawai’s tone sounds especially dead, metallic, and dark to me. The sound is so utterly clean that in a way it reminds me of a toy piano.
Yamaha is known for having a distinctly bright tone, and I think it’s true. It’s so distinct, in fact, that I think that I could pick out a Yamaha piano out of several played if I were blindfolded. The sound, however bright, is still full and well-rounded. Neither Kawai nor Yamaha, as with many pianos made in Asia, possess the kind of warmth that we hear from pianos made elsewhere. But some of Yamaha’s newer models actually sound a little warmer in the treble section of the keys than Kawai’s. Yamaha’s action (the way that the key respond to pressing) and sustain (how long tones last) are noticeably better.
The truth is, you can visit a piano store, play both Kawai and Yamaha pianos, and decide for yourself which sound is more appealing. But in the end, as a piano teacher and parent myself, my final and most important factor in choosing between two piano brands (or two brands of almost anything) is durability. For many of us, pianos come into our homes as part of a long-term plan to be passed down to future generations. For this reason, I believe that Yamaha is the builder of more solidly constructed and longer-lasting instruments. Many institutions, schools, and performing artists favor Yamaha for this very reason. Perhaps you should consider it, too.