Introduction

The C. Bechstein B212 is one of the world’s great 7-foot grand pianos. It has been a part of European musical history for over a century, and with a manufacturing time of 15 months, still remains one of the rarest and most sought-after instruments of any kind on earth. It’s immaculate carpentry and design have created a complex machine which resonances as a single entity, and its build-quality virtually guarantees that examples will be here a hundred years from now to continue to delight our fingers and ears. For new grand customers, this is one of the true treasures of the industry. Stu Harrison of Merriam Pianos takes us through a review of a current example of C. Bechstein’s B212, covering several areas of interest, as well as playing it.

C. Bechstein Concert B212 Grand Piano Review Video Transcription

Background

All right. So, now we’re in front of the C. Bechstein B 212 grand piano, their ‘salon grand’ model. This is their top 7 foot model and it’s the piano that probably gets compared to the Steinway Model D or Model B more often than any other instrument (not including comparisons to their own model, the C. Bechstein c234 semi-concert grand) . Now, I need to put C. Bechstein as a brand as well as this Concert Series into some context because for people who know C. Bechstein, people who have heard of C. Bechstein or are familiar with what they’ve done a century ago or some of the instruments from the golden age, will need to reintroduce themselves to these instruments. This is not the Bechstein of the 1920s, this is not the Bechstein of the late 1800s. The sound has changed, the direction of the company has changed. And what we are looking at is now rather than a company entirely focused on preserving tradition and entirely focused on creating instruments to sound like they used to, this is a company over the last 20 years that has completely turned itself on its head to create a lean, profitable, stable, growing company super focused on just making unbelievably killer instruments for contemporary tastes, discerning connoisseurs from international markets, and modern tonal demands.

The current state of C. Bechstein reminds me so much of NY Steinway from the later 1800s in New York – constantly evolving, constantly pushing themselves, and leading through innovation and quality. I think C. Bechstein is very much is enjoying a similar moment in their history, but rather than 120, 130 years ago, it’s happening right. Which…is pretty cool for those of us involved in the industry at this moment, or even customers who are doing their shopping for a lasting heirloom or a defining instrument. I have got with me to my left a breakdown of some of the common elements that you’ll see, not just in the 212, but some of the other C. Bechstein models within the Bechstein line. And of course, we’re gonna be contrasting that with the Steinway that we were just in front of and just pulling in a few other comparisons as well.

Construction & Design

Let’s start with the construction of this piano. If you’ve listened to our review of the NY Steinway B, we were discussing the extensive use of maple in the Steinway pianos, and how it affects the timbre and really provides much of it’s character. What you notice on the C. Bechstein instruments if you happen to visit a store that has one of these layouts, you’re going to notice that rather than the piano being built of one or two types of wood, Bechstein is using a wider variety of hardwoods in its room construction than any other piano currently being offered that I’m aware of. So, instead of just being hard rock maple in the rim, you actually have a really wide variety of woods and fibre lengths being built into the inner and outer rim of the piano. We’re talking about birch, beech, mahogany, and maples all included with different lamination thicknesses and pressures.

Why use all of this different wood? If Steinway was using all maple and it seemed to work just fine, what’s the advantage of using all of this other wood? Well, first of all, some of these other woods even though they’re still hardwoods, are actually quite a bit lighter. Which means it requires less energy to get these woods vibrating. That’s a really important thing. The second thing is with any type of wood, different hardwoods because of the pore size and the length of the fiber in those woods will be better suited for the transmission or vibration of certain frequencies. And so by combining a wide variety of hardwoods in a precision format like this, you actually get a rim which can speak in a wider hertz range than something that’s exclusively maple. So, whereas the Steinway sound has a lot of clarity in the mid-range, a lot of beautiful sustain in the mid range and you can also get a lot of growl because then you get this mid-range punch in the bass.

The Tone

The point of all of this design is of course to produce the highest quality of tone and production as is possible. What Bechstein has done is really built on I think what Fazioli started experimenting with in the 1980s which is the use of these multiple types of precision hardwood laminations to get an even wider frequency range. And now they have just taken it to a whole new level. So, what you have with the B 212 but you also get this with the 192 and the concert grand is you get this complete membrane all around the outside of where the soundboard would sit. Not just around the rim, but across this front cross member, cross support that is all rim material. It’s all vertically laminated like this and the entire thing is capable of vibrating almost like its own drum if you want to think of it like this, in addition to the soundboard. So, that’s the first thing that you really hear out of this piano is when you compare it next to Steinway whereas the Steinway, as I said, where you have this lovely mid-range tone. When you have the advantage of playing them side by side, there’s just a lot more frequency that you’re hearing. There’s a lot more color and harmonics happening in high end, there’s a lot more color and harmonics happening in the low end.

Now, this takes a little bit of adjusting to when you’re playing because, of course, we’re not used to instruments producing this much tone. But once you get used to working with all the different colors, you wind up with a very much an orchestral palette that lets you do things that your ear is telling you you want to experiment with, and after a few minutes, you just settle into it like crazy. It’s a wonderful instrument to play. You’ll also notice if you can see this on the camera that the Bechstein just like the Steinway also uses the treble bell. So, on top of all of the different hardwoods in the rim now starting to resonate a little bit better than just an exclusively maple rim, you also have this innovation that Steinway produced quite a while ago now being introduced on Bechstein as well just even further strengthen the treble. A lot of technicians and performers will tell you, brand aside, that one of the hardest things to get happening really, really nicely is good treble sustain and good treble clarity and projection on an acoustic piano. It’s a sign of great design. This comes in spades. So, that’s another very, very interesting feature.

A third feature would be the bridge. Now, the bridge – like the rim – is vertically laminated and capped just like the Steinway. And what’s interesting is the bridge on the Bechstein looks an awful lot like the Steinway, or Shigeru Kawai who also notably (and proudly) uses a virtual Hamburg Steinway bridge copy. So, rather than go away off in the deep end and try something completely new, in that particular case, Bechstein is actually sticking with primarily a maple bridge, maple cap and vertically laminated core. But the lamination style that they’re using is quite interesting. You really have to just take a look at it when you’re in front of one of these designs so that you can look at how perfectly matched the grains are in the bridge.

The pinblock is also a feature that Becshtein feels

The Soundboard

Another thing I’m gonna point out with the Bechstein, soundboard which is quite unique and nobody even pointed this out. We noticed this when we were really doing a deep dive on some of the training on these instruments a few weeks ago is that the planks between all of the… or the joints between all the planks on the soundboard are actually serrated. So, rather than just being one end a plank, another end a plank and you’re gluing those like a standard lamination. Of course, people who really know Bösendorfer well will know that Bösendorfer does a tongue and groove. So, they don’t do just the straight planking like most do. But what Bechstein has done here is they serrate them. So, you’ll see almost like a jagged three or four back and forth between each one. Now, what that means is you’re doubling the surface area that each plank is touching. Which means for double surface area, you can now have a thinner amount of glue and a higher amount of connection point between those two.

A very big deal to point out as well is that the soundboard material on the concert series Bechstein comes from the Val di Fiemme. So, this is exactly the same quality wood source that Stradivarius got for his violins. It’s a very exclusive wood lot. Very few trees come out of this place. Every tree is accounted for and there are not very many wood suppliers that have access to that area of the world. And so there’s only a handful of instruments and piano manufacturers that have the privilege of using that wood in their instrument.

So, again, the entire point of everything that we’re talking about because I realize it’s a lot of detail but just bear with me here. The entire point of what we’re talking about is a piano that is supposed to be capable of responding to very low levels of energy. And so the hallmark to all of this because, as I said, I know this is very technical but the hallmark to all of this is when you sit down at a C. Bechstein Concert B 212 and you play a single note, the most uncanny thing happens. And it’s the first piano I’ve ever had this happen to and it was shocking the first time I heard it. As you play the note, there’s actually a bloom to the note for about a quarter to a half second. The sound actually grows a little bit as that sound and that energy dissipates throughout the whole structure of the instrument. It’s like the instrument is just sitting there primed waiting for the tiniest little bit of energy to be sent through the strings and then the whole thing just comes alive. And you’re getting more back from the instrument than you’re putting in which is such a satisfying exciting thing as a musician. Very few instruments will give that to you regardless of whether you’re talking about piano or drums or violin but I do think that some string players can relate to this. A really great violin or a really great cello has this amazing bloom to the tone as well.

Comparisons to Bechstein Academy Grands

There is no doubt that C. Bechstein’s slightly less expensive line of grands and upright pianos, the Bechstein Academy line, also achieves a very high quality of piano. However, there are some very real differences in the design, materials, and construction of these high-value instruments, in comparison to the to Concert Line which the B212 is a member. Those differences include tapered vs. non-tapered soundboard, Val Di’ Fiemme spruce vs generic alpine spruce, hammer quality, Treble bell vs no treble bell, solid beams vs laminated beams, thicker rims, and a much longer production and preparation time.

Thank you for reading and watching, and we hope this has been an informative and helpful exploration into C. Bechstein’s B212 Salon Grand Piano. We hope to see you back for more in the future!