Robert Estrin - piano expert

Why Don't They Make Pianos Like They Used To?

An insightful video about the history of pianos

In this video, Robert answers this question with fascinating details from the history of piano-making.

Released on November 20, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano store with a question, why don't they make pianos the way they used to? All the old pianos, the American pianos, many, many of the names that are just names today stenciled on Asian pianos were magnificent instruments, names that you don't even hear about anymore, like A.B. Chase and, of course, there's Knabe and Chickering, but here were over a thousand piano companies and there were dozens that were making stupendous pianos. You wonder why don't they make them the way they used to?

Well, sometimes you go downtown and you see a beautiful old car, and you go, why don't they make the '57 Chevy anymore? You wonder, it's such a cool car, I wish they'd make the old Corvettes the way they used to. Well, with cars, it's pretty obvious, technologies move on, mileage, safety standards, things have generally improved. But what about pianos, have pianos are improved? Well, not necessarily.

However, I would say, this to a great extent, they do make panels the way they used to, just in very, very tiny numbers. Steinway, Mason Hamlin to a lesser extent, because they're using some newer technologies with their action, but Steinways are made pretty much the way they were there. There's some new rigs and new robotics utilized in manufacturing, but for the most part, it's the old world style of wet sand cast plate, hardwood rim, and all of that. Indeed many of the great German pianos from, and other European pianos from 100 years ago are still building pianos the way they did years ago with some modernization for more exacting standards for some of the manufacturing processes.

But the vast majority of pianos today are made in Asia with very different methodology, and you might wonder why. Well, look at the difference in the price of a Bechstein or a Steinway compared to a Kawai or a Samick, and you go, "Oh my gosh," they could produce pianos that are quite functional and quite good for a fraction of the cost with different technologies.

Take a company like Pearl River, and there really aren't too many companies like Pearl River. Pearl River made, I forget how many hundreds of thousands of pianos last year, it's a mind boggling number. There's no way they could be producing pianos the way Steinway produces pianos. Steinway made a little over 1,000 pianos last year. It's just not scalable. In order to be able to produce the numbers of pianos and on a consistent level, it's necessary to utilize newer technologies and newer materials in order to do that.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you want that old world style of piano building, they're out there if you've got the bucks to pay for it. But opening up vast resources to people who couldn't afford those pianos, so there's some of the modernization and new techniques and making pianos in a way that they didn't make before, opens up a whole segment of the market. In China where they bought 450,000 new pianos last year, obviously those weren't mostly hand-built pianos. It would be impossible. That's why they don't make them the way they used to because it opens up markets at different price points, yet those old world style pianos are still available in very small numbers for very high prices.

I hope this has been interesting for you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Yvette Keller on November 20, 2019 @7:20 am PST
Is there any program that will take a composition and turn it into sheet music, or does that have to be done by hand? Thanks.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on November 20, 2019 @7:53 am PST
Hi Yvette and thank you for your inquiry. I am sure Robert will have his say, but I can also contribute to answering your questions.

Please, just to clarify, let me know what you meant with "a composition"... do you mean an audio recording? If so, there are a few applications nowadays that allow doing that, and I'll be glad to give you the name of the most well known. If instead, you meant something else, please, let me know.

Thank you again.

All the best,
Yvette Keller on November 20, 2019 @9:24 am PST
I want to compose music, but it seems tedious to fill in all of the notes by hand, especially if it's a. complicated piece. Is there a program I can use that will hear me composing at the piano or an electric keyboard and record my music on something that can be transferred to paper? Thanks again.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on November 20, 2019 @2:24 pm PST
Thank you for your reply Yvette and further information.

I second what Robert wrote below: the use of a MIDI-compatible keyboard is strongly recommended for your case. I may also suggest notational programs like Sibelius or Finale. These two are more focused on the "notation" side of the process, giving you perfect, press-like, resulting scores.

The Sibelius package also includes an additional application named "Photoscore" that, with some limitations, can import handwritten music, and another application named "AudioScore" which is supposed to translate audio recording into notation. I have tried both, and they both have strong limitations, but worth trying.

You can always try their free demos and see if they work for you. Just Google them for more information.

I hope this helps!

Please, let us know if you have any further questions.
Yvette Keller on November 21, 2019 @8:01 am PST
Thank you for your advice. I'll give it a try.
Ben Hundley * VSM MEMBER * on November 20, 2019 @11:04 am PST
Hi Yvette- the best one I'm aware of is Forte Notation Software from Germany! Forte 11 just came out but the basic version does what you're talking about)
Robert Estrin on November 20, 2019 @11:46 am PST
The easiest way to turn a piece of music you can play into sheet music is utilizing a MIDI music sequencing program like Logic, Audacity or Cubase (as well as others). However, in order for the music to be accurately represented on the staves requires playing precisely to a metronome as well as editing the results to make everything clear. For music that is either complex or has a great deal of rhythmic freedom, manual entry of notes is most likely required.
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