Knabe 5'4" Polished Ebony w/ Bubinga @ Soho House, Chicago
In the world of iconic American piano brand names, there are basically five names that are revered and helped America compete on the global stage — literally and figuratively. The Knabe piano is one of them. For the record, the other four are Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Chickering and Baldwin. Each of these brands has been through metamorphoses over their 150+ year lineage including good owners and bad owners, periods of building world class pianos and, well, not-so-good pianos. With each of these companies, just buying the brand doesn’t guarantee that you bought a great piano, but it does strengthen your chances more than with most brands.
Wm. Knabe Piano Company was established in 1837 — long before Steinway — and was the pride of Baltimore. They built beautiful pianos inside and out, specializing in fantastic cabinetry and case work. The pianos were also hugely musical. In fact, by 1926, Knabe was adopted as the official piano of the New York Metropolitan Opera. They handmade almost 200,000 pianos during their 150-year run — a number that doesn’t mean much until you compare it to Steinway, for example, who built more than twice that amount in the same period. Additionally, most perceive Steinway’s production as very limited, which makes a Knabe piano look like a boutique product. To put it into a broader perspective, Yamaha has made seven million pianos in almost half the time. Yamaha can produce in one year what it took Knabe 150 years to make.
Knabe’s fate in the late 20th century was no different from all the other major American piano manufacturers. They had different owners, tried different things and got through the challenges of stiff global competition. Today, Knabe pianos are successful again because of great ownership and because of a great lineup of pianos that makes sense. On a somewhat strange and related note however, their biggest success out of the gate with Cordogan’s is that Knabe is the ONLY brand that offers nickel hardware…on every model. For years, it has amazed us that piano manufacturers seem to either refuse to acknowledge furniture and design trends or they get to the game too late. Nickel hardware on pianos was popular in the early 20th century, but then, presumably in a lava-lamp fueled haze of the seventies, brass hardware on pianos seemed to become popular. Although the rest of the world has since stopped buying brass anything (look at fixtures and fittings in home goods stores), the piano industry continues to embrace brass hardware. Except Knabe.
In recent years, our most popular baby grand (until it got discontinued due to a factory / vendor change) was a Hallet, Davis & Co piano featuring nickel hardware. We have been searching to fill the void ever since. Knabe not only does so, but they bring even more to the table with nickel being an option on every piano. Their pianos also feature beveled lids, spaded legs and full-length music racks on even the smallest models — features that you don’t see in Yamaha & Kawai until the $20k price range!
Enough about cosmetics though. You're buying a piano first and a piece of furniture second, right? :) So let's talk about Knabe, the piano....
Knabe 243 studio @ Batavia High School
Today, like Steinway and other manufacturers, Knabe offers three levels of quality:
The Baltimore Series -- a value-priced line that is solid, durable and musically superior to anything in its price range. Even the smallest model has German hammers, which is unusual in this price range.
The Academy Series -- a mid-priced line designed to compete with new lower-priced models from Yamaha & Kawai. It is also a great option for the used Yamaha & Kawai buyer. These pianos also have German hammers along with maple rims (like most handmade brands) and maple inner rim veneers.
The Concert Series -- This is where it really gets interesting. These pianos have German Renner actions & hammers, asymmetrically tapered soundboards and rims with alternating layers of oak & maple -- like the original Knabes. Additionally the 5'8" and 6'4" models were reverse-engineered from the original models. They are carbon copies of the original Baltimore Knabe models. So if you would like to get as far away as possible from the Asian piano sound and experience a brand new world class piano from the early 1900's, you must try one of these models! The new Concert Series Knabe pianos will amaze you.