A nice gentleman came by last week searching for a grand piano for his oldest daughter. He was referred to our store by several close friends and colleagues. She has been studying piano for several years, and she is at the level where a grand piano will help her proficiency and prepare her for more challenging and competitive playing. She also really loves piano, and Papa wants to support her passion and hard work. Also, his younger daughter is nearly ready to begin playing. Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone else?
His family’s first piano was a Yamaha console. He bought it gently used from his local dealer and it served the family well. His friends, many of them musicians, safely suggested that a Yamaha grand piano would be the logical next step. His pursuit for a good deal on a gently used Yamaha grand (as well as the personal referral of those same friends) led him to visit with us one week ago. He spoke with my father and we had two good choices in range of his budget. I greeted him in our showroom.
While welcoming our new customer, we walked through our showroom discussing pianos and learning his needs. He stopped curiously to ask about a piano that caught his eye. He thought the piano was beautiful, but it was the name that puzzled him. He’d never seen an Estonia piano before. I spent a minute introducing the piano, but we continued on to the Yamaha grands. We had two Yamaha grands, a 5’3″ GC-1 and a 5’8″ C-2, both well-prepped and in the very best condition. After comparing, he saw the value in investing a little more for the larger C-2. The decision was basically made, but he was going to share with his family and let me know. Our visit ran into his next appointment, but his curiosity about the Estonia pianos caused him to spend a few more minutes with them and take a brochure. I think at that point he was as interested in Estonia, the company and the country, as he was in the piano that caught his eye. The brochure, while lovely, tells only part of Estonia’s story, so I put together a few extras from the world around to send to him after he left.
We continued to communicate over the next few days, still satisfied with his choice of the Yamaha, but asking questions about the Estonia. I’m going to share some of my substantive e-mails to him:
First, I will make the arrangements to have the Yamaha and Estonia on our showroom floor for side by side comparison. I can make that happen by Wednesday afternoon. I will convey to our staff this is will remain a surprise.
I feel the side by side comparison truly is the best way because selecting a piano is less about “the better brand” and more about subjective preferences. My advice to customers becomes simplified, look among pianos/brands whose quality you are comfortable with and then select the one you like playing/listening to the best. If your committee prefers the Yamaha, then wonderful, but if the conclusion is the Estonia, then I hope you will accept what so many of my other customers have come to learn about this relatively hidden gem. Yamaha is a big, successful brand and I’ve sold more Yamaha pianos than Estonias over the years, but the only times I’ve ever had a Yamaha selected over an Estonia is because of budget.
I’m going to answer your question as best as I can. I have nothing bad to say about the Yamaha C-series piano, but I do want to shed some perspective. Billy Joel, in an 2007 interview in Keyboard Magazine said “I’ve noticed with Yamaha, you’ll always get a good piano. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad Yamaha. But I don’t think Yamahas are exceptionally brilliant pianos. They’re always consistently good.” He goes on to talk about Steinways as either “flawed or absolutely brilliant” and “most Bosendorfers aren’t good – they’re really good. They’re always top-notch pianos.” This is the perspective that I consistantly see. When an artist or performer is traveling to different venues, their fear of a bad instrument outweighs their desire for a wonderful one. This is Yamaha’s strength, consistancy, predictability, utility. Beyond that, people, artists and the rest of us, will desire more for our personal choice.
Yamaha’s best known artist, Elton John, plays a custom built instrument that is nearly as much electronics as acoustics that allow him to create a unique stage show. The size and scope of Yamaha’s artist program is a wonderful thing that their success has afforded them.
If you ever watch the TV show House, in early seasons, Dr. House plays on an older Knabe piano, but with the success of the show, Yamaha saw an opportunity to fit in a product endorsement and put a huge logo on all sides of the now new piano.
Estonia pianos are a remarkable story. I love the Austin, Texas’ Steinway dealer’s comment from the AJC article. “We may only get 10 a year because they don’t make that many and they really are pieces of art,” showroom manager Matthew Bird said. “The technicians that tuned the ones we just got in already have been raving about their sound and quality.” That article ran in over 75 papers nationwide.
Barker Hickox, well-known music and arts philanthopist, became fascinated by Estonia pianos and helped put them on stage for Jazz festivals around the country. His love of the pianos led to friendship with Dr. Laul who was one of his pall-bearers when Mr. Hickox recently passed.
WRTI, Philadelphia’s only classical music station, had a new studio built including a state of the art” recording space that can also be used for live performance and masterclasses. The piano in the space is an Estonia 190. There have been numerous recordings made with this piano, particularly chamber music, as this space has become a preferred place for many Philly Orchestra members.” – Rich Gallassini, Piano Forum. Marc-André Hamelin recently recorded an album there.
http://bit.ly/1iLpSm is a link to Rachmoninov plays Rachmoninov (Amazon.com). The historical Ampico player recordings were reproduced and recorded on an Estonia Concert Grand. Great care went into this project, and Estonia was selected for the task.
In the last few months, one of Canada’s most prolific Jazz recording studios in Calgary run by Aaron Young has selected an Estonia.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5wVWWvFiNs keyboardist from the rock band, Smashing Pumpkins, gave a great video review of Estonia pianos.
Stories like these keep piling on top of each other.
An artist program is very expensive to develop, and even Steinway could not afford to start one today. They can largely rely on the existing instruments in various venues. For most companies, to support an artist, they have to truck the piano around with them. Very few artists can support this expense (by generating extra sales).
I know of several local teachers who have selected Estonia pianos from us in the past several years. I am reaching out to them to see if they are available for you to speak with.
Estonia is a brand that has, in the past, survived because of great value and is now thriving because of great quality.
Mostly, let’s see how your daughter likes it.
She visited, she selected the Estonia as her favorite, and her godmother (a very good player and member of the “piano selection committee”) was equally impressed. In that moment, the decision to upgrade the family piano changed. It went from “the right time to get a grand” to a genuine opportunity to add to the family. He saw the legacy being built, this piano inspired feelings about music, his relationship with music, music and his daughters. This was worth the cost; this is what we in the piano industry would prefer to refer to as an “investment.” He invested in the time spent and values of his family.
We delivered his new Estonia piano yesterday. Both the family and friends were gathered at their home as we pulled up with the piano. We had both trucks running around town, so Yes, I was back on the delivery crew. It was an exciting afternoon, and I think everyone was taking lots of pictures. Mom and Dad were pleased, daughter was playing and hugging the piano, it looks beautiful, and that is only the beginning of this piano’s story.
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