Steinway vs. Kawai – Common Myths Debunked

November 6, 2019
The brand name of Steinway has always had a certain sway. But as the Washington Post reports, many pianists are looking beyond Steinway at other exciting high-end piano brands, like Fazioli, Bluethner, Steingraeber, Shigeru Kawai and several more, as many of them find Steinways inconsistent in their tone and touch.


But what if you don’t want to invest $100,000 or more into your piano?


Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Steinway Designed” pianos that carry a lower price tag than the Steinway pianos produced in New York City or Hamburg Germany – the “Boston” and “Essex” series. These carry lower price tags because they’re NOT produced by Steinway themselves. 

Boston Pianos are made by Kawai in Japan — on the same assembly line, using the same employees. Boston pianos have never been built in Boston like Steinways.

Steinway invented the Boston brand in 1992. Then, building on the success of the Kawai-built pianos, Steinway launched the Essex brand in 2001, contracting the manufacture with Pearl River in Ghaungzhou, China, to offer a cheaper option.

While there are legitimate design differences between similarly sized Boston, Essex and Kawai pianos, as Living Pianos points out in their “TOP 5 Steinway Piano Myths” blog post:

No company ever OEM’s higher-quality instruments to competitors! And the buyer must pay a premium since 2 companies have to make money on the sale. You are better off buying a Kawai or Pearl River directly from the manufacturer.

MSRP Comparison for Upright Pianos

Information pulled from, a 3rd-party piano review site.
All four pianos are of a similar size and reflect pricing for the Ebony Polish finish.

Steinway officially justifies these higher prices as “investments”, but their dubious claims that “every handmade Steinway increases in value” has really hurt some customers.

Furthermore, one of the main selling points of purchasing an Essex or Boston is the ability to trade-up to a Steinway later. And while this is a nice option to have, it’s also a very common option that most piano stores will also offer — although it’s typically not restricted to just trading up to a Steinway and/or only new instruments.

When customers want a high-quality piano at a reasonable price — we’ll usually point at Kawai Pianos.

Founded in 1927, Kawai quickly gained a reputation for quality and innovation, growing to be one of the largest piano manufacturers in the world.

One of their many, many innovations has been their pioneering work in using carbon fiber to produce superior piano actions. Carbon fiber doesn’t swell or contract with humidity so it stays incredibly consistent over time. Plus as a stiffer material, it transmits kinetic energy more efficiently for a better playing experience. And these actions are NOT built into Boston pianos — they’re only found in Kawais!
Kawai GL Series Grand Piano Action - Family Piano Co

Piano teacher Valerie Henderson chose the award-winning Kawai GL-10 in Snow White for her teaching studio

If you’re interested in trying the Kawai product line for yourself, we encourage you to stop into our showroomWe carry Kawai’s full line of grands, uprights, and digitals.

We’re open 7 days a week, and we pride ourselves on being knowledgeable, helpful, and not at all pushy.

We may be biased towards Kawai, but that’s because we have good reason to think they’re the superior choice for most families!

If you’re interested in further exploring the technical differences between the named instruments, we recommend checking out the Brand Profiles for each brand, as well as the model descriptions (with specifications) on the manufacturer’s website:

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