Yamaha vs. Kawai vs. essex

Yamaha vs. Kawai vs. essex

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The Key to a Great Piano

#40 is Middle C. Although all pianos have some keys that are bent to fit around the action rail's structural supports, Steinway has designed these Essex uprights to have longer keys and more straight keys located in the center of the keyboard, which receives the most play.


What is on this page?


  1. Why are today's Yamaha Pianos so expensive?
  2. Steinway's One-Piano Philosophy vs. Step-up Feature Philosophy 
  3. Premium Piano Features vs Standard Features
  4. Grand Comparison Chart
  5. Upright Comparison Chart
  6. About Pianos Made in China
  7. Why We Switched to Steinway, Boston, and Essex
  8. Essex EGP-155  vs. Yamaha GB1K
  9. Essex EUP123S vs. Yamaha U1
  10. Essex EUP-116 vs. Yamaha B2 (the piano that changed everything)
  11. What does all this mean?


We sold Yamaha for over 20 years, but we had to ask ourselves...Why does it take Yamaha $37,999 and three different models to offer almost the same premium core-features as Steinway's Essex does for $15,900?


What's Missing here?


What is in a price?

Though it has the second-lowest price on the chart, The Essex EGP-155, by Steinway & Sons has EVERY DESIGN FEATURE AND PREMIUM MATERIAL KNOWN IN THE INDUSTRY TO ENHANCE PERFORMANCE AND LONGEVITY. One has to wonder what justifies the price of the Yamaha C1X? And what, exactly, was changed in the GC1 "M" series and the C1 "X" series besides a higher price and and a letter added to the model number.

Step up features vs. one piano philosophy

The Yamaha GB1K has no premium features. In the Yamaha lineup, you would have to pay thousands of dollars to get duplex scaling on the GC series and then many more thousands to get the additional features of the CX series. In marketing, these are called step-up features. However, Steinway & Sons has a one-piano philosophy, where EVERY BOSTON AND ESSEX IS MADE THE SAME. Core features are never left out to meet a price point.


What does setting a standard mean?


Steinway & Sons is the only manufacturer we can find (at any price) who specifies in writing the number of grains-per-inch their spruce soundboards require.


What makes a piano great?

In the 300+ year history of the piano, there have been some specific advances  in design and construction that we know will make a piano perform better and last longer. Most manufacturers treat these as step-up features to justify price differences between models. We are proud that in each line of Steinway & Sons, Boston, and Essex pianos, EVERY MODEL IS MADE THE SAME and never are features left out simply to cut costs. Even the most affordable, small Essex upright has EVERY PREMIUM DESIGN FEATURE.   

Premium vs. Standard Features



So, which pianos have the premium features?


Every Boston & Essex grand has every premium feature. Competitor's pianos do not.





Let's take a look at the Boston GP-215 and compare it to the Yamaha S6X. This is the first model in the Yamaha lineup that has a MAPLE RIM. Why is it priced almost 40% higher? Take a look at the weight of these two pianos: THE BOSTON IS 30 LBS HEAVIER. More weight means more material and denser material. So what is in the Yamaha that justifies this price? Nothing we can find and nothing over 200 ALL STEINWAY SCHOOLS, that use Boston pianos exclusively in their practice rooms, can find either.  

The Yamaha GB1K has none of the premium features found in the higher-priced Yamaha grands, yet the ESSEX EGP-155 has ALL of them!

At nearly 3X the price, the Yamaha C1X almost delivers all the premium features, but why is soundboard quality and rim material left unspecified? The rim material on the SX series pianos is specified (it ought to be, for the price), which seems to acknowledge maple as a superior wood for rim construction, but rim material is not specified for any other pianos.

As experts in the field, we cannot imagine the difficulty a shopper might have in trying to compare pianos with Steinway's competitors leaving so many major components unspecified. But this chart shows clearly the components left out altogether.

About Maple Rim Material



"So when a piano ad touts a "hardwood rim," or a rim made from "select hardwoods," chances are that the woods involved are not very hard at all; if they were, the ad would likely name the actual species of wood instead of hiding behind such general and potentially deceptive terms." 

Larry Fine, Pianobuyer.com



About Roslau strings

Stahl- and Drahtwerk Röslau GmbH  is a German manufacturer of some of the finest piano wire in the world. Known for its consistency and rich tone, it is found in many high performance pianos...including Essex, by Steinway & Sons.

About Mapes Strings

Known for their "singing tone" and made right here in the USA, Mapes strings have been found on Steinway & Sons pianos for over a century. A fourth generation company, Mapes holds the first patent for a string winding machine. 



Even the most affordable Essex upright has every single premium design feature.


At nearly 2X the price of the Essex EUP-123S the Yamaha U1 is one inch shorter and has HALF THE BACKFRAME cross sectional area (CSA). At the same price, Yamaha's P22 is 4" shorter! Is it any wonder schools are switching to Essex? We came to the conclusion that Steinway simply delivers a better value with the Essex brand pianos.

The Yamaha B2 is certainly affordable, but has 25% of the backframe CSA of the Essex EUP116 and NONE of the premium features!

About Backframe Cross Sectional Area

A 5-post backframe is the first indicator that a manufacturer has taken the design of a piano seriously. However, the thickness of the individual back posts matters. A cross sectional surface area of 400cm or more provides massive support year after year for the the soundboard's crown and the nearly 40,000lbs of tension from the strings. The CSA is calculated by multiplying the width and depth of a post, times the number of posts, and it is a good indicator of an upright piano's structural integrity. The cheapest pianos will have very small backposts or no center backposts at all. 

Roslau strings? Only found on the most expensive Yamaha available, the YUS5. Why would you have to spend over 3X the price of an Essex to get the best strings?



For various reasons, opinion posts on the Internet (some of them over 20 years old) ignore all measures of quality and summarily put down all pianos made in China. 

We will be the first to agree that the finest pianos in the world are made right here in New York at the Steinway factory. We never talk anyone out of getting an American-made Steinway or a Japanese-made Boston. If you like those pianos and they fit your budget, you should absolutely get one. However, a large percentage of our customers are first-time buyers and are shopping for pianos in the Essex price range. We could probably add the Korean pianos in this comparison, but even they are priced closer to the Japanese brends today. Suffice it to say, all the most affordable pianos in are made in China/Indonesia, so the question becomes: who makes the best piano in China/Indonesia?

Most shoppers we meet have no idea that Yamaha and Kawai even make pianos in China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and other places. These are global companies that mass-produce pianos globally. It stands to reason that any global manufacturer is going to try to reduce costs. However, our research shows pretty clearly that these companies do not stop at lower labor rates, they go on to strip features and materials out of the pianos to reach the lowest price, but also deliver lower value.

Steinway's Essex pianos are unique, in that they are all built the same, regardless of price and regardless of size: ESSEX QUALITY IS CONSTANT FROM MODEL TO MODEL. It is also worth noting that Essex and Boston pianos are not mass produced. These pianos are built in small runs under the supervision of Steinway technicians that are stationed at each factory where Boston and Essex pianos are built. In any given year, only about 3,000 Boston and 3,000 Essex pianos are built. Limited runs, means high attention to detail and quality control. 

How do you feel about buying a piano made in China? Well, we're piano people at Artist Pianos. Again, we'll never talk you out of purchasing an American-made Steinway or Japanese-made Boston. But since Steinway is an American company, more of your purchase dollars stay in America with the purchase of an Essex than of any of the Yamaha and Kawais in the same price range. In fact, Since Steinway is a New York Company, it is safe to say more of your dollars stay right here in New York! 




Why we switched.

Big decisions require a lot of research; we did so much of it, this page became one of the most talked about pages in the piano world. When we sold Yamaha and Kawai acoustic pianos side-by-side, our impression was that, dollar-for-dollar, these two brands were equal in quality and performance and it really came down to which piano had the touch and tone a shopper preferred.

When the new Yamaha B Series uprights came out, we noticed several departures from what we considered to be good design. The new Yamaha pianos were not like the ones we had represented for over 20 years. Most of our clients are parents shopping for a starter piano for their children to practice on while they are taking lessons, so pianos in the more affordable price ranges represent a large part of our business. We have always prided ourselves on being "good shoppers," able to select the best values for our customers, so we set out to discover who was producing the finest affordable pianos in the world.  

Yamaha beat Baldwin.

It is worth noting that through the 1960s and 1970s, many would agree that Baldwin was the predominant affordable piano, recommended by teachers and technicians alike for beginners and recreational pianists. When Yamaha pianos were initially exported to North America they were not considered to be well made. In fact, the Japanese manufacturer had much to learn about seasoning wood materials for the North American market, as homes in this region are typically much drier than those in Japan—especially during the winter months when we heat our homes and dry the air. Today, Yamaha touts their "Seasoned for Destination" pianos, where the wood for pianos destined for North America is seasoned longer than the wood for pianos destined for the domestic Japanese market. 

By the 1980s and 1990's, Japanese factories produced very consistent quality products, beating out American manufacturers across a myriad of industries, pianos included. It took a long time, decades in fact, but Yamaha, and to a lesser degree, Kawai, won the hearts and minds of piano technicians and teachers, eventually replacing Baldwin as the most recommended affordable piano. Baldwin went bankrupt in 2001.

But that was before Boston & Essex.

In 1991, Steinway & Sons developed an entirely new line called BOSTON PIANOS. This new brand incorporated all the best design features of a Steinway, but instead of being handmade, it was manufactured on a production line under the supervision of a team of Steinway engineers. It was an unqualified success. Today, Boston is the #1 exclusive collegiate practice piano. Over 200 top colleges and universities use Boston pianos exclusively in their practice rooms, faculty offices and for any purpose not fulfilled by a Steinway piano. In the 300+ year history of the piano, no manufacturer has accomplished anything like this.

Essex simply delivers.

In 2001, building on the success of the Boston line, Steinway developed ESSEX PIANOS using the same formula. ESSEX benefits from global labor rates, bringing the cost down to about half that of a Boston, but retains ALL OF THE CORE DESIGN FEATURES. Essex is the only affordable brand we have ever encountered where EVERY MODEL IS BUILT THE SAME. Steinway does not eliminate features or alter material specifications simply to meet a lower price point. In fact, Essex pianos compare favorably with similarly-sized pianos by other manufacturers priced two to three times higher.

When we did most of our research, we found a lot of chatter about Essex in piano forums. We do not recall ever seeing anyone say they did not like the performance of Essex pianos. The only recurring criticism, however unsubstantiated, was that shoppers would be "paying for the name." In other words, the price of Essex was assumed to be elevated because it is a Steinway product. We can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Essex delivers value far beyond it's price. In fact, when you compare similarly-priced pianos side-by-side, it might be said that shoppers are paying too much for the Yamaha name these days.

In fact, when you compare similarly-priced pianos side-by-side, it might be said that shoppers are paying too much for the Yamaha name these days.



a deeper look

learn about premium features



5' 1"


4' 11"
Yamaha GB1K



Standard soundboard







Hammer underfelts



No Underfelts


Duplex Scale



no duplex


6.22 CM Total Rim Thickness

Maple Outer Rim (same wood as Steinway)

Beech Inner Rim



5.4 cm total rim thickness

unspecified outer rim

unspecified inner rim


Steinway style
rosette flange








Key Slip
the space
shows it


Spade Leg



square leg


Beveled Cabinetry



Straight Cut Cabinetry


Essex EUP-123 VS. Yamaha u1
a deeper look

learn about premium features


Essex EUP-123S



Yamaha U1




210% more mass
than the U1
5 Posts
10cm x 10cm ea.




Cross Sectional
Area (CSA)
5 Posts
6.6cm x 7.2cm ea.




























Essex EUP116 VS. Yamaha B2

learn about premium features



Essex EUP-116



Yamaha B2




Premium Soundboard


standard Soundboard

Actual plugged
knot on B2
# J30264709






with underfelt




450 cm CSA




104 cm CSA

ONLY 4 Posts


Each post
10cm x 9cm thick



Each post only
6.5cm x 4cm


Key Sticks
straight at
middle c



Key Sticks
bent at
middle c


Action Parts

Same wood as



Plastic Action

Not used in
Yamaha grands


Action Knobs



Action Knobs


Brass Casters



Steel Caster




So, What does All this Mean?

We thought to ourselves: if we were presented with two pianos with NO BRAND NAME, how would we tell one from the other? After playing each piano to get our first impressions, we would search for these features and materials, because we know they are found in the industry's best pianos. This is not just a list of Essex or Boston or Steinway features, it is an explanation of specifications found on most performance pianos. It just so happens that Essex pianos have them all, and at an affordable price.

We have received many kind compliments on this page from frustrated shoppers all over the world who are having trouble determining HOW to shop for a piano. While the "test drive" will ultimately tell you which pianos will inspire you, not all shoppers are accomplished pianists and some do not play at all! We hope this article makes your piano search more enjoyable. 

There is always something better and more expensive. With Essex, Steinway has created a unique affordable piano line, where EVERY MODEL IS MADE THE SAME and never are advanced features left out simply to lower the cost. Essex delivers exceptional performance well above its price and we feel anyone looking at new or used pianos in an affordable price range should absolutely give them a try.



"What more can I say? I bought an Essex myself."

Paul Jennings, General Manager of Artist Pianos.



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