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MMD > Archives > January 1999 > 1999.01.16 > 12Prev  Next

American Piano Industry 1960's to 1981
By Don Teach

I have been reading with interest the comments about new pianos.
For the record I am in the piano retailing business and have been all
my life.  Yamaha, for one, still sells large uprights that sound really
good, as do several other manufacturers.  I am a Yamaha fan and have
been since 1963.

Yamaha's made in the 1960's bring more money used than they did when
new and there are not many pianos that you can say that about today.

A used Kimball, Wurlitzer, Baldwin from the 1960's will sell for one-
half of the price of a used Yamaha, although they sold new for the same
price.  In this market the American run-of-the-mill brands, like the
three mentioned above, just did not hold up as well as the Yamaha.

I and others in the piano industry have always thought that Yamaha came
to this country in 1961 with the finest piano they could make, hoping
for the Steinway market and not the Kimball, Aeolian, Baldwin,
Wurlitzer market.  Their goal was to be number one along with Steinway.

I have some observations on the piano industry over the past thirty or
so years and perhaps MMDer's can fill in some of the blanks in my

In the early 1960's Steinway put in Teflon bushings that proved to be a
mistake.  These were developed by Theodore Steinway.  Every Steinway
named Theodore had to be an engineer and leave their mark on the
Steinway heritage.  Another Theodore developed the Steinway Bell
because they had left a wooden brace off the piano, so one story goes.

I was lucky enough to work for a division of CBS Musical Instruments
not related to piano manufacturing.  Every year I got to have dinner
with the remaining Steinway family members.  Lots of stories.  As
pressures to produce revenue increased Steinway made many changes,
and it was not until the early 1970's that CBS actually put their own
personnel in charge of the Steinway plant.

Look at a Steinway of the 1970's and notice in many models that the
bridges are higher than they should have been so the Steinway craftsman
just raised the plate up.  Now the hammers hit the strings with their
back side.  Not the best tone.  One new Steinway showed up at a
dealership without any topcoats of lacquer.

My thoughts are that if you are looking at a used Steinway, then be
careful of the ones made from the mid 60's to 1981.  In 1981 a new
owner took over and things improved.  The other manufacturers were
not without problems also.

Kimball was making more furniture than pianos.  They also made cabin-
ets for a television manufacturer along with other wooden products.
Wurlitzer was having tough times and at one time was making pool table
parts for Brunswick.

Baldwin was becoming more of a financial institution than a manufac-
turer, with pianos only producing somewhere around 14 to 17 percent
of the income.  They moved their manufacturing operations to Arkansas
to cut costs and guess what else got cut: maybe quality.  The Baldwin
Accujust hitch pin was one way to help the new employees in Arkansas
learn how to set the plate at the right height to the bridges.  Pretty
easy.  The vertical pianos got shorter keys (the part you play on),
they no longer notched bridges on both sides, no more curved bridges
in the bass, no more weights in the keys, and shorter ribs on the

Aeolian moved their plant to Memphis, TN to cut cost (and as has been
reported quality).  The Aeolian company suffered a fire in the early
1970's.  The real crushing blows came in the late 1970's when Pete
Perez bought the Aeolian Company.

Sohmer continued to make a fine piano but the public wouldn't buy
it so they closed.  Everett made a nice piano but labor problems and
ownership changes hurt them.

Yamaha was the last owner of the Everett plant and really wanted to
have an American manufacturing site.  They brought in new machinery and
really made an effort to produce good pianos.

These Yamaha's produced in Michigan turned out to be the worst of all
Yamaha's produced.  The labor force just did not want to co-operate.
Finally Yamaha went to Georgia where they are still producing fine

The American manufacturers during the 1970's were trying to persuade
Congress to pass higher tariffs against the imported pianos.  Instead
of trying to produce a high quality instrument, many American manufac-
turers  went the opposite direction with their production during the
1970's in my opinion.

Don Teach, Shreveport Music Co
1610 E. Bert Kouns, Shreveport,  LA  71105

(Message sent Sun 17 Jan 1999, 00:15:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  1960's, 1981, American, Industry, Piano

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