The piano is arguably the most beautiful musical instrument in the world. For centuries, these key-based string/percussion instruments have delighted listeners around the world.
There have been countless piano manufacturers throughout the instrument's rich history, and many of these builders have become go-to brands for professional and casual pianists alike.
With so many piano builders on the market, some rise above the others. In this article, we'll consider the best of the best piano brands/manufacturers in the world.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Age/experience of the company
- Variety of the company's pianos
- Performance of the company's pianos
- Longevity of the company's pianos
- The company must be currently in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The Top 11 Best Acoustic Piano Brands Are:
- Steinway & Sons
- Steingraeber & Söhne
- Shigeru Kawai
- Mason & Hamlin
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 9 best digital piano brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable piano model, and a link to their official website.
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Steinway & Sons
The year was 1853, Manhattan. A German piano builder began crafting the future of high-end pianos in the world. Since its birth in that year and until 1862, the company won 35 gold medals for their pianos. A new legend was born in the streets of New York City and was ready to take the world by storm.
Fast forward to the next century, the company grew so much that it had to open another factory in Hamburg, Germany. While that factory supplies the entire world, American Steinway & Sons pianos still come from New York City.
Fast forward again to the current century, Steinway represents 80% of the high-end piano market in the world today. No other brand has obtained their status; naming them is like speaking of Rolls Royce. They have been the benchmark for the highest-quality acoustic pianos for decades.
Steinway is a synonym for “the best money can buy”. According to sales and fans in the music world, it is entirely true.
Notable piano: Steinway & Sons Model D Concert Grand
Speaking of “the best money can buy”, this is the quintessential grand piano by Steinway. One of the keys to its legendary sound is that the entire tonal component is built over a homogeneous foundation. This provides the resonance and natural harmonic overtones that can captivate an audience in a heartbeat.
Also, the hand-fitted, resinous sugar pine ribs ensure strong and constant support for the strings down-bearing over the soundboard. This makes each Model D resonate from leg to top, and with this vibration, projects the sound as clearly as humanly possible.
Speaking of sound creation, the European spruce, chip-resistant, stain-proof, individually weighed keys activate hammers made with premium wool specially treated to resist insects and moisture.
Finally, the three pedals (soft, sustaining, and sostenuto) are made of solid brass.
Although premium specs would be too many to list in this post, this is the pinnacle of acoustic piano engineering. You may favour another brand, but the craftsmanship and performance of every Model D are impeccable, to say the least.
1853 was a great year for the music industry. Three major piano manufacturers in the world were founded within those 365 days. One of them was Steinway & Sons, which we just saw, and the second one was C. Bechstein. This master piano builder was not founded in the United States but in Berlin, Germany.
In that city, Carl Bechstein began a relationship with Franz Liszt and Hans Von Bülow, which gave recognition to his pianos. Such was the acclaim they got from the musicians and general public at the time that by the year 1900, the company had four factories, the biggest showrooms in the world, and was building 5,000 pianos a year.
Furthermore, they were Queen Victoria’s favourite. The Buckingham Palace and the Windsor Castle featured Bechstein pianos before World Wars I and II.
After the wars and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the company was struggling to stay afloat. During that time, it struck a deal with Samick to conquer the international market. Today, although a public company owned by stakeholders, the craftsmanship, quality, and legacy remain intact in every key.
All C. Bechstein pianos are still made in Europe.
Notable piano: C. Bechstein D 282 Concert Grand
This is another quintessential piano by one of the greatest brands in music history. The Grand Concert Model D 282 is commonly found in opera houses and high-end studios around the world. It doesn’t only represent the past either since some new updates on the design keep it as dynamic and responsive as modern music requires.
Although it was originally designed for sound projection in concert halls (there were no PA systems or microphones back then), its unique voice sings at any volume.
This is largely due to the wood selection. The mountain spruce used in the construction is grown slowly at 1,000 meters in height. In case you are not familiar with it, Stradivari used the same wood to make violins.
Also adding to the volume and overall character, the classic membrane-like soundboard is custom-made precisely to match each piano’s acoustic assembly. Indeed, the construction of each D 282 takes approximately 420-500 hours of labour over 15 months.
This is another company that can fit the bill for the “the best money can buy” category. Although it is not as famous as Steinway, for most people, it is just as good.
The third jewel in the royal crown of the best pianos in the world was also founded in the year 1853 and is called Blüthner. Just as you would expect, it is a German brand based in Leipzig.
Along with C. Bechstein, Bösendorfer and Steinway & Sons, Blüthner is frequently referred to as one of the “Big Four” piano manufacturers.
Although not as famous as the previous two brands, Blüthner was manufacturing and selling over 5,000 pianos a year in 1900 and was awarded the Royal Warrant of Appointment by the court of Austria-Hungary. They even built the piano that was on board the Hindenburg.
After the factory was destroyed in an air raid in 1942 and East Germany nationalized the company, the Blüthner family regained control in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Due to innovations made by Julius himself, such as the aliquot string, the angle cut hammers, and the cylindrical soundboard, every Blüthner piano is still an engineering wonder and a fantastic musical instrument. It is not uncommon to find them in many of the biggest venues in the world.
Notable piano: Blüthner Model One Concert Grand
This is the company’s flagship instrument; for some players, the most underrated piano in music history. But what exactly separates the Blüthner Model One from the two Model D grand pianos we just went through? Well, there’s plenty to talk about.
To begin with, the gaps that form the harp inside the piano are larger than what you would find in other pianos this size. This provides more dynamics and accentuates the treble side in a very musical way, enhancing the instrument’s natural resonance with harmonics that bring out the detail and nuances in every pianist’s hands.
Moreover, you can strike a chord on the bass side and cut through all that magnificence with the right amount of treble on your right hand. This is partially because the design includes the patented aliquot string, which adds a sympathetic resonance to the treble side, making it sing through even the muddiest compositions.
Finally, they use blue felt, whereas other brands use red, which gives it a nice touch of distinction. Speaking of which, you can also check the modern creations by the company here.
They have some superbly cutting-edge acoustic pianos among their impressive products.
As you could expect, here is the fourth piano manufacturer from the “Big Four”.
The history of this brand goes beyond that fantastic year of 1853. Ignaz Bösendorfer founded the company in 1828. By the year 1830, they were the official pianos of the Emperor of Austria.
The pianos became so famous that the company even opened one of the premier concert houses in Vienna from 1872 to 1913. By then, the company was managed by Ludwig, Ignaz’s son. Ludwig sold the company to Carl Hutterstrasser in 1909, just ten years before his death.
By 1966, Kimball International bought Bösendorfer, and it wasn't until 2001 that the company returned to Austrian hands after being purchased by the BAWAG PSK Gruppe.
Since 2007 and until this day, the Yamaha Corporation owns 100% of Bösendorfer.
It is under the watch of this giant piano manufacturer that Bösendorfer continues to manufacture 300 pianos a year from their Vienna factory. The legacy remains intact, and the quality, too; Bösendorfer is still one of Europe’s best piano brands.
Notable piano: Bösendorfer Concert Grand 290 Imperial
The name of this piano is quite accurate since it offers the player a staggering amount of 97 keys to perform.
According to the company, Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, while transcribing Bach’s organ work, found out he was missing the lower octave and asked for a complete 8-octave grand piano. After him, composers like Ravel, Debussy, and Bartok took advantage of this revolutionary design by Ludwig Bösendorfer.
But that's not all that is revolutionary about this piano; the list goes on. We could begin with the resonating case, which is a 10mm quarter-sawn piece of woodworking as a rim and bent to match the entire silhouette of the piano. Hence, whenever a note is struck, the whole piano becomes acoustically active.
Also, the company manufactures its own low strings from a steel core with one or two layers of copper on top. These strings can create a 20-ton tension on the frames.
This is why Bösendorfer allows the sand-cast raw frames to rest outside the factory for six months. This is how the inner strain of the forging process gets released, allowing maximum stability.
Each of these pianos can take up to six years to be completed from the initial order. Are they worth the wait? To most people’s ears, they are. Here’s a great clip to see one in action and judge for yourself.
Founded in 1981 by Paolo Fazioli, the Fazioli Piano Company is a relatively new player in the game.
The fact that Paolo got a degree in mechanical engineering and came from a family that built high-end furniture might be a partial reason for Fazioli’s success.
But adding to that, Paolo also has a piano diploma at the Rossini Conservatory and a master’s degree in music composition at the Academy of St. Cecilia.
Thus, Paolo Fazioli is not only an engineer but also a high-level academic musician. With this leverage on his side, he embarked on the mission of creating a revolution in the way acoustic pianos are made, which he started in his family furniture factory.
Such was his mastery at building the pianos that, soon after having started, his creations were in high demand by some of the world’s most acclaimed musicians.
Nowadays, notable pianists such as the Argentinian virtuoso Martha Argerich, rock icon Nick Cave, and jazz player Herbie Hancock prefer a Fazioli if there’s one available.
All of them, in interviews, speak of musicality in the instrument that makes it come alive during their performances. A piano made by musicians for musicians, Fazioli currently produces 120 to 130 units a year in Italy.
Notable piano: Fazioli F308 Concert Grand
Technology, attention to detail, exquisite craftsmanship, and the finest materials in the world are used in each Fazioli leaving the factory. This piano, in particular, represents the pinnacle in Fazioli's line; in other words, it is the best, most expensive, largest piano they make.
Some technical refinements separate this piano from the rest of the world—for example, Fazioli's own four-pedal system. The pedal to the furthest left of the player allows them to reduce hammer-blow distance, thus reducing overall volume without affecting the instrument's timbre.
Another great addition to the traditional piano design is the company’s Duplex Scale technology. This allows players to tune both the part of the string hit by the hammer and the resonating portion. The sympathetic vibration between the two sections brings an extra harmonic quality to the sound.
Finally, the production process involves a 2-year drying of the main piano soundboard, which gives it the strength and resonating qualities the piano needs to perform in the most demanding scenarios.
A piano revolution started by a musician engineer is taking the acoustic piano world by storm; if you haven’t come across a Fazioli yet, you will soon.
The story behind this German premium piano company dates back to Mr. Henry Steinway (also known as Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg). He founded this company in 1835 along with Friederich Grotrian before emigrating from Germany to the USA.
The company reached its peak of production and popularity during the Roaring 20s, in which it manufactured up to 3,000 pianos a year. Moreover, they even built their own concert hall in Germany. But the depression in the 30s and WWII in the forties left the company empty-handed.
By the 1950s, the firm fully recovered and launched an annual competition to identify young promising talents.
Like Steinway, they also branched across the ocean to the USA but faced legal issues because of the “Steinweg” part of the name. Thus, Grotrian sells pianos in the US under the name “Grotrian” alone.
Nowadays, the company is owned, after six generations of family ownership, by the Parsons Music Group based in Hong Kong.
That being said, the Grotrian family remains represented as stakeholders. Their grand pianos are still considered among the best, along with Steinway, Fazioli, Bösendorfer, and Blüthner.
Notable piano: Grotrian-Steinweg G – 227 Concert Grand
This is another high-end music-making machine made with the finest materials available. It also comes from one of the most cutting-edge piano factories in the world; it obtained a DIN ISO9001:2008 certification, creating a virtuous cycle in production and continuous improvement.
All Grotrian pianos feature a soundboard manufactured with 200-year-old, hand-selected mountain spruce. The rest of the piano and the bracing are made of solid red beech trees.
Finally, the extremely powerful resonance comes from the iron frame that is hand-selected and hand-finished inside Grotrian’s facility.
Every concert grand coming out of Grotrian’s factory is ready to conquer the world, one note at a time.
This is another brand founded in Germany. This was earlier, in 1819, by Johan Grimm, who was Carl Sauter I uncle. Johan Grimm was an apprentice of Johann Andreas Streicher, who built Beethoven's pianos and was the piano teacher of Mozart's son.
Carl Sauter and his family inherited the business and created very capable instruments until 1993, when Carl Sauter III finally retired, and Otto Hott acquired the company's majority of stakes.
Nowadays, Sauter is one of the very few piano makers that manufacture every unit utilizing only Germany-made pieces. They produce up to 500 pianos a year in its German facilities and export to the entire planet.
Notable piano: Sauter Concert 275 Concert Grand
The treatment that each of these units receives inside the factory makes it an ideal instrument to be passed on by generations. At its core, a hand-selected mountain spruce soundboard beats the piano's heart and is the secret to its sound.
But that’s not all; several other aspects make this a magnificent piano: ebony sharps, the multilayered notches with integrated beech wood beams and a glued frame, the adjustable titanium duplex, and the hydraulic damping on the fallboard.
Finally, the ability to fine-tune the duplex makes this a very stable, accurate, and unique-sounding instrument capable of lighting up an entire concert hall.
Steingraeber & Söhne
The year was 1852, Eduard Steingraeber, a young piano builder who took care of the pianos that Franz Liszt “demolished” during his touring of the country, founded the Steingraeber Piano Factory.
Soon after, the company became the biggest piano manufacturer in Bavaria, providing pianos for the illustrious Wagner family, among many others.
Furthermore, the Parsifal Bell, the iconic instrument from Wagner's opera Parsifal, was personally requested by Wagner to the company, including very detailed specs.
To this date, Steinberg & Söhne has built over 40,000 grand and upright pianos and is responsible for a large number of innovations, including the widely acclaimed carbon fibre soundboard for grand pianos introduced in 2008.
Notable piano: Steingraeber & Söhne E-272 Concert Grand
The E-272 Concert Grand is the revamp of the 1895 model of the same name. It is not only a superb update but can also be considered an evolution in terms of piano manufacturing. Some of the enhancements that set this instrument apart result from generations of R&D by the company.
A pair of good examples would be the star-shaped braces and the sound-reflecting inner casing. They help produce a unique timber with a strong emphasis on dynamics.
Playing-wise, this instrument is a joy to most musicians due to its playability, especially on the treble side.
Steingraeber & Söhne managed to reduce the amount of wood weight to set keys in motion by 27% in the treble part. For this to happen, the company restored the “classic relationship,” shortening the treble strings. As a result, the performance is effortless, and the sound sings uncannily.
From the Berlin Philharmonie to the Teatro Nacional in Quito, Ecuador, Steingraeber & Söhne pianos still represent the top of the crop.
Kawai Musical Instruments is a well-known musical instruments company founded in Japan in 1927. Koichi Kawai happened to have a reed organ builder and watchmaker named Torakusu Yamaha as a neighbour. He took Koichi as his apprentice.
Koichi worked in the company that was to be the Yamaha Corporation for many years. After Torakusu died in 1919 and the consequent diversification of the company’s scope, he left to build his own empire.
Koichi died in 1955, and his son, Shigeru Kawai, took over the company at age 33. He opened the Ryuyo Grand Piano Factory to build the grand pianos that today bear his name. Shigeru died in 2006 after being president, chairman, and advisor.
Today, every Shigeru Kawai piano is made entirely in Japan and competes with Bösendorfer, Fazioli, and other premium brands globally.
Notable piano: Shigeru Kawai SK-EX Concert Grand
Something that set Kawai apart from the competition is that they started utilizing alternative materials to wood in the 1970s. Indeed, their use of ABS to replace certain wooden parts makes each of these pianos an utterly stable instrument oozing playability.
This grand piano is an excellent example of Kawai’s Millennium III technology.
This technology utilizes a composite material (carbon and ABS) for all action parts, making the player reach a more powerful performance with less effort since the weight of the parts, compared to the same made of wood, is significantly lighter.
Adding to that, the Shiko Seion hammers covered with Australian and New Zealand wool help achieve perfect pitch. Finally, the in-house, handmade, solid spruce soundboard and hand-wound bass strings are where the warmth is born. They also are a great reflection of the experience and the high skill level of every artisan at Kawai.
Arguably, this could be one of Japan’s finest acoustic pianos being built today.
The Yamaha Corporation requires no introduction. This company has been manufacturing keyboard instruments since 1887.
Although the corporation grew to monstrous dimensions, manufacturing all kinds of musical instruments, motorcycles, and more, it still carries on the tradition of Torakusu Yamaha and is among the best piano builders in the world. Moreover, the corporation bought Bösendorfer in 2007.
Indeed, the company dedicates the Kakegawa Factory exclusively to the manufacture and assembly of its pianos. These units are handcrafted from up to 12,000 parts.
According to the company, because wood is a living material, the process can never be fully automated if the aim is to achieve perfection.
It is not uncommon to find grand pianos by Yamaha in the best concert houses in the world.
Notable piano: Yamaha CFX Concert Grand
This is Yamaha’s flagship piano, the pinnacle of their craftsmanship. Not only because of its size but also because it results from a healthy combination of high-tech research and skilled craftsmanship.
To begin with, the soundboard is made of hand-selected European spruce, and the ribs are attached to it with a revolutionary method that reduces stress while adding rich overtones. This enhances and enlarges the colour palette of the piano’s sounds.
Also, the metal frame is entirely hand-modelled and cast in-house at Yamaha. This precision and attention to detail translates into superb intonation stability and sustain.
Finally, the heavier bass strings, entirely made by Yamaha’s skilled craftsmen and women, give the instrument uncanny warmth.
The Yamaha CFX Concert Grand can compete with any of the major high-end piano manufacturers in the world.
Mason & Hamlin
Boston, Massachusetts, 1854; the son of Lowell Mason (American Hymn composer), Henry Mason founded the company, along with Emmons Hamlin, a mechanic and inventor who had worked for melodeon makers in Buffalo.
In the first three decades, the company manufactured only reed organs, but in 1883 began building upright pianos.
By 1895, Richard Gertz, an independent German piano designer, was hired to revamp the piano department completely. Gertz included the Tension Resonator, a patented invention of Mason & Hamlin, in the design of the company’s first grand pianos.
In 1996, Burgett Inc. bought the company and continued to manufacture pianos in Haverhill, Massachusetts, under the highest standards reached through decades of perfecting the initial design.
Today, Mason & Hamlin pianos are regarded as some of the best pianos currently manufactured in the USA.
Notable piano: Mason & Hamlin Model CC-94 Concert Grand
The jewel of the crown for Mason & Hamlin is the CC-94 piano. Speaking of which, the crowned soundboard is a core element of its sound. It is made entirely from solid, hand-selected, white European spruce and bears the company name loud and proud right at the heart of the instrument.
The technology used by Mason & Hamlin to enhance the piano’s longevity is aimed directly at preventing the soundboard from flattening. They call it the crown retention system and require four components: the soundboard, the tension resonator, the thick ribs underneath the piano, and the hard-as-rock maple rims.
The company ensures that with this system in place, the sound of the piano will be preserved for decades.
Finally, the action bar made by Wessel, Nickel & Gross features a composite material construction, making it lighter and more responsive while also ensuring perfect performance in any weather.
This concert grand piano by Mason & Hamlin could proudly stand next to any other on the list and perform at any time.
Though the aforementioned 11 brands get full-featured spots in this article, I cannot leave you without the following honourable mentions. Please check out these brands as well (I've linked to their official websites below):