We hear so many piano brands nowadays, but who are the top 10 piano brands in the world today, and what are their stories? Get your oohs and ahhs warmed up as we will take you back to the pre-depression era, Fall of Berlin, and how these piano manufacturers play a huge role during the World War era.
Be inspired by the amazing stories of these great people. Some stories might inspire you to open your own business tomorrow
Founder: Heinrich E. Steinway
#of pianos produced per year: 400 grand pianos
Bösendorfer is an Austrian piano manufacturer founded by Ignaz Bösendorfer. Ignaz Bösendorfer was a son of a carpenter and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He did an apprenticeship with the renowned piano manufacturer Joseph Brodmann. He took over Joseph’s workshop in 1828 and subsequently founded Bösendorfer.
Bösendorfer’s venture quickly expanded when grand pianos became very popular for home concerts at the house of nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie.
Bösendorfer is known to produce highly respected instruments especially on the grand pianos. The company was purchased later by Carl Hutterstrasser in 1909 and eventually sold to American company Kimball Pianos. Bösendorfer later returned to Austrian hands when BAWAG PSK Gruppe purchased it in 2002. BAWAG then had a contract with Yamaha and sold all of its stocks to Yamaha in 2007. Since 1829, fewer than 50,000 Bosendorfer pianos have been made. The company now makes close to 400 grand pianos per year. The company has about 150 employees.
2. Steinway – Steinway and Sons (also known as Steinway)
Founder: Heinrich E. Steinway
# of pianos produced per year: 2600
Henry E. Steinway was a German immigrant that lived in New York City. He was the youngest of twelve children and was his family’s sole survivor at fifteen. He lost his family during war. Some have died from natural diseases.
Steinway had a natural gift and talent to music. He invented various musical instruments before he founded his company and his creations received first prize at the Brunswick State Fair in April 1839.
He along with his sons, Henry Jr, Albert and Charles – went to work for a piano manufacturer and eventually opened up their own piano business that would become the Steinway & Sons today. He and his wife had ten children.
William Steinway, the fifth son of Henry, was gifted and was the one who struck out to do many things. He was a visionary. He then became the first president of the company and skillfully managed the day-to-day affairs of the business including sponsoring concerts, supplying prominent artists with pianos, using famous people such as Thomas Edison and Czar Alexander ll to convince prospective customers of Steinway’s quality work.
The company has a factory in New York which supplies pianos to the Americas. They later opened a factory in Hamburg, Germany which supplies the rest of the world. They have 200 authorized dealers operating 300 showrooms worldwide.
FUNDA PIANO COLA 280 CMS. BOSENDORFER M280
Founder: Torakusu Yamaha
#of pianos produced per year: 200,000
Yamaha Corp. is a Japanese multinational corporation, founded in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha. Torakusu Yamaha was a son of an astronomer, which gave him access to many books about astronomy. Torakusu became fascinated with machines and technology. He also showed interest in martial arts. In the 1860s while in his twenties he saw many opportunities as the Japanese society transformed when westernization and new technology were introduced in Japan. In 1871, Torakusu studied watchmaking and became an expert in the field. He became interested in medical equipment and moved to Osaka to study medical equipment where he lived behind a medical equipment store.
In 1886, at 35, Torakusu moved to Hamamatsu to repair medical equipment as a career but Hamamatsu was a tiny town so he needed extra jobs to make a living. Torakusu repaired watches and served as a rickshaw man for a hospital director on the side.
A local elementary school at this small town asked him to fix their broken organ, they did not have anyone who was qualified to fix the organ. Torakusu accepted the offer and soon discovered the cause of the problem, which was two broken springs.
He then studied the broken strings intending to produce them himself and got on this project with another colleague who assisted him. The director of the hospital gave him some financial help on this project. In 1887, just two months after the project started, Torakusu and his colleague produced the first Japanese-made reed organ. Torakusu received some negative comments, so he then later moved to the music department of Tokyo and attended lectures about different theories of music at the university for a month. He then built his improved second organ just two months later in 1888. In 1899 Torakusu made a five-month tour to the United States, visiting W.W. Kimball, Mason and Hamlin, and Steinway and Sons. In 1900, he produced his first upright piano.
Today, Yamaha is the world’s largest piano manufacturer and makes 200,000 pianos per year.
After World War ll, the company re purposed the remains of its war-time production and used them to manufacture motorcycles. 125 motorcycles were built which was named in honor of their founder, YA-1 (AKA Akatombo, the “Red Dragonfly). This resulted in the founding of Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd, in 1955. Yamaha’s music foundation continued to reflect in the company’s logo today – a trio interlocking tuning forks.
Yamaha’s expertise in musical instruments made them become the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments to include pianos, “silent” pianos, guitars, grass musical instruments, violins, and much more. They also made the first top end successful digital synthesizer in 1983, the Yamaha DX7.
Yamaha has acquired other piano companies as well to include Bosendorfer.
Yamaha’s electric pianos have proven to be successful as well. Their Yamaha YPG-625 digital piano was awarded “Keyboard of the year’’ and “Product of the Year” in 2007 from “The Music and Sound Retailer magazine”.
Founder: Dwight Hamilton Baldwin
The history of Baldwin traces back 1857 when Dwight Hamilton Baldwin started teaching organ, violin and piano in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baldwin started as a piano dealership company and grew the dealership business. By the 1890s, Baldwin became the largest piano dealer in the United States. During this time, Baldwin vowed to build “the best piano that could be built” and subsequently built two companies to build pianos. A year later, he released his first piano, an upright piano. About four years later, in 1895, the company introduced its first grand piano.
In 1899, Baldwin died and left most of his estate to fund missionary work. His partner, Lucien Wulsin, ultimately purchased Baldwin’s estate and continued the business.
The company won its first golden award when their model 112 won the Grand prix at an event in Paris. It was the first American manufactured piano to ever win such an award. Baldwin’s piano won several more awards and Baldwin brand was in high market demand. Baldwin was building over 2,000 pianos a year until the great depression hit. The company had a large reserve that it was able to ride out the market downturn.
In World War ll, the US War Production Board ordered all piano manufacturing plants to cease its production so they could use the factories for the US war effort. Baldwin factories were used to build plywood airplane components for various war aircraft. After the war, Baldwin resumed selling pianos, and by 1953 the company doubled its production.
In the 1960s Mergers and acquisitions occurred and the company started expanding its business by other companies from various industries including financial services business. Under Morley P Thompson’s leadership, by the early 1980s the company owned over 200 financial institutions including MGIC Investment Corporation. The company had taken on significant debt to finance its acquisitions and new facilities. The company eventually was forced into bankruptcy after it could not meet its loan obligations of over $9 billion, the largest bankruptcy ever. The piano business, however, wasn’t part of the bankruptcy.
During the bankruptcy a new company acquired Baldwin and eventually moved its production overseas to reduce production cost. The company is now a subsidiary of Gibson Guitar Corporation, continuing its production in China.
Founder: Young Carl Bechstein
Date Founded: 1853
Bechstein is a German piano manufacturer founded in 1853. Young Carl was a piano craftsman and when piano was in great demand in the 1850s, he wanted a piece of the pie. In 1870 two popular composers Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow endorsed Bechstien’s piano. This endorsement made his piano became a stable in many concert halls and private mansions. Bechstein along with two other piano manufacturers, Blüthner and Steinway & Sons became the established leaders in the piano industry across the world.
In 1862, he won gold medals at the London International Exhibition. Bechstein became the major piano supplier and held a Royal Warrant as the principal supplier to Queen Victoria. In 1885, Bechstein became the largest showroom and dealership in Europe.
During the First World War, the growing anti-German sentiment affected many German piano manufacturers. They ended the Royal Warrant on April 13, 1915. All of Bechstein’s property, including concert halls and showrooms full of pianos, were confiscated as “enemy property”. Eventually, between the war, Bechstein factory resumed its production in the 1920s.
During World War ll in 1945, the bombings in Berlin had destroyed Bechstein piano factory. After the war, Bechstein produced piano again and eventually increased its production to about a thousand pianos per year. The economic situation post-war was terrible for the piano business. Eventually a German entrepreneur, Karl Schulze, bought Bechstein piano and continued its legacy today.
6. Steingraeber & Söhne
Founder: Eduard Steingraeber
Steingraeber & Söhne is a German maker of upright and grand piano.
They have built over 40,000 grand and upright pianos since 1852. The company became the largest piano factory in the German state of Bavaria. They also sought solutions to and built pianos that can be used for people in wheelchairs.
Another innovation from Steingraeber & Söhne is the grand piano with a special fibre soundboard which enhances the stability especially if it is housed outdoor or extreme weather fluctuations. They also ship unfinished grand pianos to a company in England. The company would then modify and finish the piano themselves before they are sold to the market.
Founder: Julius Blüthner
Blüthner is a German piano manufacturer. Julius Blüthner founded the company in 1853. Blüthner was named one of the “Big Four” piano manufacturers in the world along with Bechstein, Bosendorfer, and Steinway & Sons.
Blüthner’s piano was famous for its one of a kind of lightweight piano which was used in an “air-concert” radio broadcast. The piano was made of aluminum, which saved about 100 kg of weight compared to a regular cast iron plate piano of the same size. The piano was removed from the flight in 1937, so it luckily survived Hindenburg’s infamous crash. Unfortunately, this masterpiece was destroyed during the World War ll bombing.
Blüthner continues to make specialized custom designed pianos. One example was the reversed designed for a left-handed person to play tenor with his left hand and the bass with his right hand. Today Blüthner pianos are owned by many Royals, Composers, Conductors, Artists, Authors, and Performers.
One of the German famous composers Sergei Rachmaninoff even once said “There are only two things which I took with me on my way to America…my wife and my precious Blüthner”. Blüthner pianos have been used in many popular movies and music. To mention one, the amazing sound track of The Beatles’ famous song “Let it Be and “The Long and Winding Road” were made using Blüthner piano.
8. Mason and Hamlin
Founder: Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin
Mason and Hamlin is an American piano manufacturer, founded in Boston, Massachusetts. Mason’s father was a hymn composer and musical educator. Hamlin was a son of an inventor who was a melodeon maker in New York.
Originally, Mason and Hamlin were only manufacturing melodeons, then later started producing organs. The company began manufacturing pianos in 1883 and released its first upright pianos where they featured the new patented tuning method and string tension.
In the 1990s, the company gained popularity when the Golden Age of the Piano was in full force. Popular concert artists used Mason & Hamlin piano.
During the WW ll in the early 1940s the company ceased its production and their plant was used to produce military gliders. Post-war, ownership of the company changed hands several times. Over the decades, their piano designs were altered, and it was no longer the same as the “classic” Mason and Hamlin pianos of the pre-Depression era.
In 1989, a Seattle businessman Bernard Greer purchased the Sohmer company, which also owned Mason and Hamlin along with several other names. He took these companies and established a new business Mason and Hamlin Companies. Greer moved the company to a new plant he recently purchased from another piano manufacturer, Santi Falcone.
With the technical specifications and manufacturing equipment that he acquired when he purchased the company, he vowed to resurrect the Mason and Hamlin pianos of the pre-Depression era. Between 1990 to 1994 Greer produced approximately 600 pianos and eventually sold the company in 1995 to Premier Pianos. Today, Mason and Hamlin continues its production in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Founder: Koichi Kawai
#of pianos produced per year: 1,500
Kawai is best known for its grand pianos, upright pianos, electronic keyboards and electronic synthesizers. Before Kawai company was established, Koichi was a neighbor of Torakusu Yamaha, a watchmaker and reed organ builder who founded Yamaha. They were both members of the research and development team that introduced pianos to Japan. Yamaha died in 1916. This led Kawai to leave the group and found the Kawai Musical Instruments Research and Laboratory.
In 1927 Koichi Kawai established Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Since the 1970s, Kawai has pioneered the use of alternative materials to improve the stability and consistency of piano performance and quality.
In 2002, Millennium lll Kawai grand piano was released. The new piano featured a new combined ABS with carbon fiber material supposed to increase strength for its action parts, reducing its weight, and designed to respond accurately to the player’s intention while playing. Some of Kawai’s unique materials used on its piano like the ABS materials are stronger than the comparable wooden parts and are far less susceptible to shrinking and swelling because of humidity.
Today, Kawai has 2,813 employees and makes around 1,500 pianos per year.
Founder: Paolo Fazioli
Fazioli is an Italian corporation headquartered in Italy, founded by Paolo Fazioli in 1978. Fazioli came from a family of furniture makers. In 1969, he graduated from Sapienza University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In 1971, he received a diploma in piano at the G. Rossini Conservatory. He later earned a master’s degree in Music Composition at the Academy of St. Cecilia. Fazioli’s elder brother took over the family furniture business building office furniture using rare and exotic woods such as teak and mahogany. Paolo Fazioli joined the company later, but he never gave up pursuing his dream of building the world’s finest grand pianos. At the end of 1970s Fazioli Piano Factory was founded within the same furniture plant.
Fazioli is known to produce grand and concert grand pianos focusing on highest quality, not imitating any other existing pianos but creating an original sound. The demand for an instrument having even greater power and richness of tone for concert halls is the reason Fazioli continue to produce between 110 and 120 grand pianos per year today.
During the September 11 attacks memorial ceremony in Newyork City in 2003, 21 Fazioli’s pianos were used for the world premiere of “Sinfonia per 21 Pianoforte” by Italian composer and pianist Daniele Lombardi.
Wasn’t that an incredible story? You learned about history, courage, perseverance, entrepreneurship, and of course, the piano. If you like this article, please take a moment to leave us a comment. If there are any other topics that you would like us to write about, let us know, and we will add it to our list.
Jen and Bree