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10.10.2010
Category: Interviews

Quantity can still mean quality…

"Mechanical production will never replace traditional craft. Our pianos are handmade" - interview with Peter Grote of Kawai.

The first Kawai instruments were produced by hand, but that changed...

Indeed, Koichi Kawai, who founded the company in 1927, produced his first concert piano by hand. At first the company was made up of only 10 employees. In the 30s and 40s demand for keyboard instruments grew, mainly for pianos for everyday playing in the home. It was necessary to find a technology that would speed up production. Thanks to Kawai, the market for musical instruments changed much like the automobile industry changed during Henry Ford’s time. This doesn’t mean that the quality of Kawai instruments has suffered. The traditions of hand craftsmanship are still alive: our concert pianos are always put together by hand. Mechanical production can’t match the work of a skilled worker who can properly evaluate the quality of materials and the sound of the finished instruments. Currently, we produce up to 50,000 instruments of various types – including uprights and concert grands – although we don’t take full advantage of the production capacity of the company. Most piano producers have decreased production in response to shrinking demand and growing competition.

What sorts of materials does your company use to produce instruments?

For large-scale production we don’t use expensive materials. Kawai’s patent is the adoption of coal, which has similar qualities to wood but doesn’t react to changes in humidity. Many elements made of wood in instruments produced by other makers are made out of “black coal” in Kawai pianos. This makes certain parts, which can’t be lacquered or otherwise protected against atmospheric conditions, more durable. Another Kawai innovation is the use of “mock” ivory for the keys. This material contains cellulose, which keeps it from chipping and staining.

What motivates a Competition participant to choose a Kawai instrument?

Not many piano competition contestants choose the Kawai piano. Most of them play on Steinway instruments, but their choice is often automatic, not founded on experience. The few who do choose Kawai praise the quality of our instruments. Many of them get high marks at competitions. We make an effort to create a comfortable instrument that’s helpful and not obtrusive. In truth, upright and grand pianos that are produced on a larger scale are most often used by pianists for practising; they are a bit “tougher”, but it’s decidedly easier to play a concert piano that’s been built by hand.

Interview by Klaudia Baranowska. The interview published by courtesy of the “Chopin Express” editorial staff.
Peter Grote

Peter Grote