The History of Yamaha

Torakusu Yamaha, a watchmaker, developed Japan’s first reed organ, and founded Yamaha Reed Organ Manufacturing in 1887. In 1899, Yamaha visited the U.S. to learn how to build pianos. Within a couple of years he began making grand and vertical pianos under the name Nippon Gakki, Ltd. Beginning in the 1930s, Yamaha expanded its operations, first into other musical instruments, then into other products and services, such as sporting goods and furniture, and finally internationally.

Export of pianos to the U.S. began in earnest about 1960. In 1973, Yamaha acquired the Everett Piano Co., in South Haven, Michigan, and made both Yamaha and Everett pianos there until 1986. In that year, the company moved its piano manufacturing to a plant in Thomaston, Georgia, where it made Yamaha consoles, studios, and some grands until 2007, when a depressed piano market and foreign competition forced it to close its doors. Since then, the company has introduced new models, made in other Yamaha factories, to replace those formerly made in Thomaston.

Yamaha is probably the most international of the piano manufacturers. In addition to its factories in Japan, Yamaha has plants in Mexico, China, and Indonesia. Yamaha pianos sold in the U.S. are made in Japan, China, and Indonesia. In 2009, Yamaha closed its factories in England (with Kemble) and Taiwan. Models formerly made in those factories are now being produced in Yamaha’s other Asian plants. Yamaha also owns the renowned Austrian piano maker, Bösendorfer.

Yamaha Piano

Yamaha’s console line consists of the 43" model b1, in continental style, with a laminated soundboard; and the 44" models M460 and M560 in furniture style (freestanding legs), representing two levels of cabinet sophistication and price. All are internally similar (except for the soundboard) and have a compressed action typical of a console, which means that the action will not be quite as responsive as in larger models.

The studio line consists of the popular 45" model P22 in institutional style (legs with toe blocks) with school-friendly cabinet; the furniture-style version P660; and the 45" model b2, with a less-expensive institutional-style cabinet. The b2 replaces the Chinese-made model T118. All studio models are internally similar, with a full-size action. All Yamaha verticals under 48" tall are now made in the company’s Indonesian factory, which has been making pianos for more than 30 years and, according to Yamaha, adheres to the same quality standards as its Japanese plant.

The uprights are the very popular 48" model U1; the 48" model b3, which is made in Indonesia, has the same scale design as the U1, and replaces the Chinese-made model T121SC; and the 52" model U3. The U3 joins the YUS5 (see below) in having a “floating” soundboard — the soundboard is not completely attached to the back at the top, allowing it to vibrate a little more freely to enhance the tonal performance. A new Super U series of uprights (YUS1, YUS3, and YUS5) have different hammers and get additional tuning and voicing at the factory, including voicing by machine to create a more consistent, more mellow tone. The YUS5 has German Röslau music wire instead of Yamaha wire, also for a mellower tone. This top-of-the-line 52" upright also has agraffes, duplex scaling, and a sostenuto pedal (all other Yamaha verticals have a practice/mute pedal). The U- and YU-series uprights are all made in Japan and come with soft-close fallboards.

Yamaha verticals are very well made for mass-produced pianos. The taller uprights in particular are considered a “dream” to service by technicians, and are very much enjoyed by musicians. Sometimes the pianos can sound quite bright, though much less so now than in previous years. The current version of the model P22 school studio is said to have been redesigned to sound less bright and to have a broader spectrum of tonal color. Double-striking of the hammer in the low tenor on a soft or incomplete keystroke is a problem occasionally mentioned in regard to Yamaha verticals by those who play with an especially soft touch. This tendency is a characteristic of the action design, the trade-off being better-than-normal repetition for a vertical piano. If necessary, it’s possible that a technician can lessen this problem with careful adjustment, but at the risk of sacrificing some speed of repetition.

Yamaha grands come in several levels of sophistication and size. The Classic Collection consists of the 5' model GB1K, the 5' 3" model GC1M, and the 5' 8" model GC2. The GB1K has simplified case construction and cabinetry, no duplex scale, and the middle pedal operates a bass-sustain mechanism. It does have a soft-close fallboard. It is currently the only Yamaha grand sold in the U.S. that is made in Indonesia. The GC1M and GC2 have regular case construction, duplex scale, soft-close fallboard, and sostenuto pedal.

The Conservatory Classic and Conservatory Concert Collections of C-series grands were replaced in 2012 with the CX series, consisting of the 5' 3" model C1X, the 5' 8" model C2X, the 6' 1" model C3X, the 6' 7" model C5X, the 7' model C6X, and the 7' 6" model C7X. The new CX series incorporates some of the design elements of the limited-production CF series (see below) into the higher-production C-series pianos to create a sound more like that of a high-end American or European instrument — see our review in the Spring 2014 issue. Features include a European spruce soundboard crowned using CF-series technology, a thicker rim and bracing, German music wire, additional time spent voicing, regulating, and tuning by very skilled craftsmen, and some changes in cabinet design.

Both the C and CX models have the advanced construction, scaling, and cabinetry mentioned earlier, including a true sostenuto pedal and a soft-close fallboard. Both also have vertically laminated bridges with maple or boxwood cap. The vertically laminated design is similar to that found in Steinways and other fine pianos, and is considered to give the bridges greater strength and resistance to cracking and better transmission of vibrational energy. All C and CX grands have keytops of Ivorite™, Yamaha’s ivory alternative.

The new CF Series, one of two Yamaha Premium Collection lines, comprises the 9' model CFX (replacing model CFIIIS), and the 6' 3" model CF4 and 7' model CF6 . The pianos in this collection are made in a separate factory to much higher standards and with some different materials: e.g., maple and mahogany in the rim, which is made more rigid, for greater tonal power, than in the other collections; higher-grade soundboard material; a treble “bell” (as in the larger Steinways) to enhance treble tone; German strings, and hammer and scaling changes, for a more mellow tone; as well as the more advanced features of the other collections. The result is an instrument capable of greater dynamic range, tonal color, and sustain than the regular Yamahas. The new CF-series pianos have a thicker rim and more substantial structure than their predecessors, for greater strength and tonal projection, and the method for developing the soundboard crown has been changed to allow the soundboard to vibrate more freely and with greater resonance. The models CF4 and CF6 have an open pinblock design reminiscent of some European pianos, which gives the tuner slightly greater control over the tuning pins. Yamaha says that the CF series represents 19 years of research and development by its craftsmen, designers, and engineers. The Yamaha concert grand is endorsed and used by a number of notable musicians, including Olga Kern, Michael Tilson Thomas, Chick Corea, Elton John, and Frederic Chiu.

The second Premium Collection line, added in 2017, is the SX Series, positioned between the CX and CF lines and comprising the 6' 1" model S3X, the 6' 7" model S5X, and the 7' 6" model S7X. The SX series uses the same soundboard and scale-design approach as the flagship CFX model; has a completely new hammer design derived from testing more than 100 prototypes; and, most significant, has a new, thicker rim construction in which the wood is treated with a patented accelerated-aging process called Acoustic Resonance Enhancement, to give the piano a warmer, more romantic sound with a wider range of expression.

The price differences between the SX and CF models are related to their production processes: the CF instruments are fully handcrafted, whereas the SX pianos are built with a combination of handcraftsmanship and innovative technologies. Yamaha says that SX pianos are intended especially for institutions and smaller concert venues, the CF models for larger concert halls.

Yamaha grands have historically been a little on the percussive side and have been said not to “sing” as well as some more expensive pianos. The tone has been very clear and often bright, especially in the smaller grands, although the excessive brightness that once characterized Yamahas has long since been corrected. The clarity and percussiveness are very attractive but are less well suited for classical music, which tends to require a singing tone and lush harmonic color. On the other hand, Yamaha has long been the piano of choice for jazz and popular music, which may value clarity and brightness more than the other qualities mentioned.

In recent years, however, Yamaha has been trying to move away from this image of a “bright” piano whose sound is limited to jazz. First with its larger grands, and later with the smaller ones, Yamaha has changed such things as bridge construction and hammer density, and provided more custom voicing at the factory, to bring out a broader spectrum of tonal color. Now, with its Premium Collection models, and the innovative soundboard, hammer, and rim technologies used in their design and construction, Yamaha has come fully into the world of instruments suited for classical music (as well as jazz).

Both Yamaha’s quality control and its warranty and technical service are legendary in the piano business. They are the standard against which every other company is measured. For general home and school use, piano technicians probably recommend Yamaha pianos more often than any other brand. Their precision, reliability, and performance make them a very good value for a consumer product.

There is a thriving market for used Yamahas.

Yamaha also makes electronic player pianos called Disklaviers, as well as a variety of hybrid acoustic/digital instruments — including Silent Piano (formerly called MIDIPiano), the AvantGrand series, and the model NU1, that account for a substantial percentage of the company’s sales.

Yamaha's Other Brands

In Japan, Yamaha has a few sub-brands named Eterna, Miki and Kaiser. All of these piano brands will spot Yamaha logo on the piano action. It is very common to find used piano named Eterna, Miki and Kaiser in Malaysia that deems as secondary option to Yamaha. Many of these sub-brands are using Yamaha upright piano U series or grand piano C series as blueprint and selling at reasonable prices.

Eterna is built by Tenryu Gakki. Before the wars, Tenryu Gakki was established by some of Yamaha engineers after merger with Fuji Gakki.  Tenryu Gakki originally was a manufacturer for airplane parts, but Mr. Hirano innovated on the company and gathered Yamaha engineers. After the change to the Tenryu Gakki manufacturer, they started to design and create Eterna pianos. Thus, the model of E7 from Eterna was equivalent with E7 by Yamaha. ETERNA E1A has shared the same design and manufacturing instruction with YAMAHA U1A model, but tuning pins are upgraded from chromium plated pins to nickel plated pins. Owning to more advanced piano technology, Yamaha funded Tenryu Gakki in capital, and Tenryu had manufactured various pianos and parts as OEM product. In 1953, the Tenryu Gakki was merged into Yamaha.

Kaiser brand is actually owned by Kawai as sub-brand. It is initially founded by the son-in-law of Kawai founder.  Piano parts are found to be made by Yamaha because this is a collaboration between Kawai and Yamaha. Kawai owned the sale and distribution while Yamaha owned the manufacturing part.

In US recently, Yamaha made an entry-level line of pianos under the name Cable-Nelson. This is the name of an old American piano maker whose roots can be traced back to 1903. Yamaha acquired the name when it bought the Everett Piano Company, in 1973, and used the name in conjunction with Everett pianos until 1981. The most recent Cable-Nelson models were made in Yamaha’s factories in China and Indonesia.

In Korea, Japan had agreement with Young Chang to assemble and produce Yamaha piano for Korea market in the past. Since Young Chang has been able to product all the piano parts, Young Chang has become a competitor to Yamaha.

In 1995, Pearl River and Yamaha forged a $10M joint venture as Guangzhou Yamaha Pearl River Piano Group Ltd. which lasted more than a decade. They created the brand name Yamaha-Pearl River.  Yamaha gets a production line for its own low-end items.

Yamaha reportedly assembles two lines of pianos in Guangzhou, China, at a joint venture facility with Guangzhou Pearl River Piano Group, Ltd. (Guangzhou). One line is assembled from actions assemblies, plates, and keys made in Japan and backs, soundboards, and cabinetry made by Guangzhou and is marketed at Yamaha dealerships in the United States under the Eterna brand. The other line is assembled from parts made entirely in China by Guangzhou. These pianos are distributed by Guangzhou under the Pearl River label. About three-quarters of the pianos produced at the Yamaha Pearl River factory are marketed in Asia, with roughly 15 percent exported to Europe and 10 percent to the United States.

According to a Yamaha official, Yamaha felt it was imperative to establish a manufacturing presence in China. While demographics indicate that the markets for pianos in the United States, Europe, and Japan are mature and offer little prospect for substantial growth, the market potential in China is quite large. The Yamaha official reported that there are no piano stores in China; instead, customers buy directly from factories. As a result, foreign companies that want to sell pianos in China must produce them in China. Yamaha chose its joint venture partner, Guangzhou Pearl River, because of the latter's experience in local piano production and its location in a Foreign Economic Zone, making it easier for Yamaha to ship product in and out of China. Guangzhou Pearl River, however, also produces pianos under contract with a number of piano producers and distributors in the United States. These private label pianos compete with the Eterna brand pianos offered in Yamaha's dealerships in the United States.

In 2002, Yamaha has established Yamaha Music & Electronics (China) Co., Ltd. Later, Yamaha solely established Hangzhou Yamaha Musical Instruments Co., Ltd. to produce its Yamaha line of pianos in China. Yamaha pianos then are produced without OEM contract or joint venture.

Bösendorfer (L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH) is an Austrian piano manufacturer and, since 2008, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha. Bösendorfer is unusual in that it produces 97- and 92-key models in addition to instruments with standard 88-key keyboards.