Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Piano-making in UK.

Once again the less-than-perfect state of new pianos has been highlighted this week. This week, I have seen or worked on 4 pianos not yet 2 years old that have needed extra technical attention before they can be considered satisfactory. Nobody likes hearing the same old moan time and time again, but the customer has to live with the reality of their choice of piano. Most of these keen pianists are paying good money and are at a loss to understand why their pianos are not as good as was expected.

I have been reading Alastair Laurence's book Five London Piano Makers, and I am sure I have detected in the book, hints of a similar mood of disappointment. He says in his introduction, "The near total collapse of British piano making means that there seems to be little likelihood of those fascinating centres of musical workmanship - the small piano factories - ever being seen again on these shores."

Anyone who has worked in a piano workshop will know something of the atmosphere of constant and affectionate labour over the many apparently lifeless components of a piano. Workers feel a strange and invisible force urging them towards the later stages of repair work - that stage when the piano is touched with the magic of creativity and is now finished! Maybe in other professions, something of the same drive is at work, but wherever there are pianos and music, the mixture is intoxicating.

The fact that there are fewer 'centres of musical workmanship' in the UK is partly due to the poor standard of piano produced during the late 1970s. Piano makers were now competing with imported pianos from the far east which, frankly, were better. Cost cutting meant, the fine finishing of the pianos was cut to a minimum, thus bringing forward the eventual demise of the industry.

Alas, many of the cheaper imported pianos are as less-than-perfect as was the case in the UK in the late 1970s. The best we can do is to make good what we can and hope that one day finesse, better reliability and the positive feedback that should follow a piano purchase will be rather more common than it is today. Let us hope that the tide of piano-making doldrums might be on the turn! 

Whether what remains of the piano industry in the UK can get its act together strongly enough to meet the challenge remains to be seen. I share Alastair Laurence's finishing word of hope: "With luck, a new, younger generation of piano makers here will help to ensure the survival of piano-making skills in Britain throughout the twenty-first century." 

We have work to do!

The Piano World

© Steve Burden


  1. Thought provoking post, Steve. Of course one could always say....look at how far the asian manufacturers have come. I remember when Pearl River grands had the keyslips glued on! But that certainly doesn't help the poor tech taking leads out of overweighted keys, regluing hammers on shanks, or picking wood chips off bridge notches.

  2. Thanks for comment. Odd isn't it, that pianos go all the way round the world, and when they get there, a Local Tech has to sort it out! The maker has his money, the tech has work but the customer, is taken for granted! It shouldn't be this way