Our search began at Steinway Pianos of Calgary. I had booked a Look Inside the Piano workshop and Owner/President Brent Hay gave a fantastic presentation. His passion for our instrument was infectious we learned lot about how pianos are made. My student zoomed in on the Boston and Essex lines, which are Steinway's student models.
We learned about the manufacturing differences between the three product lines as well. For instance, Boston pianos are manufactured in Japan, whereas Essex pianos are manufactured in China. Steinway designs.
We learned to look at the posts in the back to determine if their functional posts or mere decoration (think joists in a home). And, we learned about little adjustments manufacturers make when the frame is just a teensy bit too big for the guts.
Our next trip was to St. John's Music to test out Yamaha pianos. I got to try the "silent" model of the piano I grew up on, the U1. It truly is a hybrid piano. It has the similarities to the piano I honed my skills on but the benefits that technology has to offer. Turn on the unit underneath and this acoustic piano becomes a digital piano. However, unlike digital pianos, this is first and foremost and acoustic piano.
We also tried Yamaha's new "B" line, manufactured in China (Yamaha has design control). The piano I tried had a nice, rich tone and for families just starting out, a nice price tag. The Cable-Nelson piano just felt heavy compared to the Yamaha's.
My student fell in love with the GB1. Those Georgian legs, the rich dark finish. More importantly, the piano sang for her. There was an instant connection, akin to when Harry Potter's wand chose him in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. For a 5'0" grand, it sounds more like a 6' or even a 7' grand piano.
Our last stop was Michael Lipnicki's Fine Pianos. She tried the student line (the Palatino) but found it a little "clunky". Then we both tried the Bechstein (I think it was the B120 but I'm not 100% sure). What beautiful tone. So rich. And those pedals! We're still talking about how smooth the pedal action is. It was on sale too! We even liked it better than the Grotrian pianos.
Just to give her a frame of reference, I urged my student to try the top of the line pianos in each store. Steinway & Sons, C. Bechstein, Fazioli and Yamaha's best melted for her - as they should! Half-jokingly, I compared it to test driving a Ferrari.
There is undoubtedly a difference between handcrafted and mostly machine manufactured pianos. Personally, I think both have their pros and cons.
In the end, the Yamaha GB1 was the winner. It was love at first sound and first touch. She went back a second time to just confirm.
Accompanying my student was a learning experience for me too. When I purchased my Yamaha WX-7F, I was a music student. My music teacher didn't accompany me. However, my brother and I were at a high enough level and on enough pianos to know what to look for in terms of sound and touch. Piano shopping as a teacher is a little different. I learned a bit more about piano construction and what to look for in terms of the soundboard and the the posts in the back. I paid more attention to the key action and the voice of each piano I played.
However, next time I go shopping for an acoustic piano for my studio, once I have a short-list, it will still come down to sound and touch. And which piano chooses me. For I think, like Harry Potter, the piano chooses the musician.