An introduction by James Foulds.
I have visited many piano factories throughout the world, but to visit the C.Bechstein factory at Seifhennersdorf in south-east Germany near the border with the Czech Republic is to experience a completely different level of obsession with the art and skill of piano-making. This is the site to which C.Bechstein re-located from their central Berlin factory in 1992. Since then they have invested 18 million euros into new design and technology to take C.Bechstein to a new pre-eminence in the piano industry.
Not one single component of any C.Bechstein piano escapes the scrutiny of Technical Director Leonardo Duricic. Leo’s avuncular charm and cheerful outlook mask a complete dedication to finding the perfect tonal qualities from each apparently insignificant component. He can tell the tonal difference between hammer-heads that are bonded onto walnut cores and those that use mahogany. He has technicians going through boxes of hammer shanks (the stems of the hammers) and dropping them on a table to hear the natural pitch of each one so that they can be graded into treble middle and bass areas of the piano. This is the sort of attention to detail that makes a C.Bechstein so much more special than other pianos.
James Foulds meets with Technical Director Leonardo Duricic on a recent trip to the Bechstein factory in Seifhennersdorf
So what is the difference between C.Bechstein and Bechstein B?
The answer is many things – except the overall quality control and attention to detail which is a constant throughout the factory.
The pianos marked ‘C.Bechstein’ mark the highest possible standards of tonal and playing excellence, where no compromises are made in the manufacturing process. The very best frames from the best German founders, the very best German strings, the best available action parts and timbers are selected. The manufacturing techniques – even the methods used in the various stages of construction – such as the fitting of the soundboard – are all quite different, and considerably more time-consuming.
The construction of the wrest-plank (the block into which the tuning pins are sunk) is quite different. The construction of the soundboard is different, with a sophisticated tapered sound-board – again a much more time-consuming process.
The C.Bechstein model Concert 8 upright piano is the only one of the upright pianos to have the same design standard as the top concert grands. Once again its construction is very different and very much more time-consuming then the other upright models – and this is why it has earned its widely-held tag of ‘the world’s best upright piano’. All the other C.Bechstein uprights use the same top quality components.
The Bechstein B series takes advantage of some of the time-saving developments in manufacture that are widespread in other factories. A massive investment in technology has allowed C.Bechstein to speed up some of the purely mechanical areas of piano-making, so as to allow the same amount of care and attention in those areas of the process where only the human hand and ear can really give a piano its true voice. These pianos, in the quality of their components and in the methods of their construction, are more comparable to other top-quality German pianos – except that they too receive the incomparable finishing and voicing of C.Bechstein’s finest technicians, making them an obvious, and surprisingly affordable choice amongst pianos in this class.
Hoffmann pianos, built just a few miles away across the Czech border, are also made under Leo's beady eye - he spends half of his time there. The Tradition series is traditional Bechstein manufacturing - using all the same processes, and benefitting from the cheaper resources available to Czech manufacturers compared with Germany. The Vision series makes small compromises - such as in the soundboard construction - to produce pianos that can compete very comfortably with Japanese competitors.
Zimmermann pianos are manufactured in China to exacting Bechstein standards and design. It took some time to achieve a quality level that would satisfy Bechstein to the extent that they would put their name to them, but now they do so with confidence, and we have been very impressed with these very affordable pianos.
All in all, C.Bechstein are rapidly entering another golden era in the company’s history. Where other piano makers are content to stand still, C.Bechstein are investing everything they can into making the pianos better and better – to making the best pianos in the world. Even in today's difficult market, the C.Bechstein factory is working round the clock to meet demand, which says much for the enduring popularity of this marque.