Introduction

The C. Bechstein Classic 124 upright piano is being reviewed by Merriam’s own Stu Harrison. This piano is an absolute favorite upright in the Oakville showroom right now. We are going to be covering what makes this piano such an exquisite musical instrument and why so many have an excellent overall impression of the piano.

And for people out there who are thinking, “Why would anybody ever spend this amount of money on a new upright when you could get a very, very good grand piano for the same amount of money, or why not just go for the 124 Imposant?” Well, it all comes down to tonal clarity, it comes down to sympathetic resonance out of this instrument and of course, it comes down to exquisite touch. Because for people who are really focused on the very best musical experience possible, achieving the same quality control, materials, and design sophistication in a grand is going to run you into the $100,000’s.

So, while it might seem unusual to be thinking about an upright piano in this price range, for anybody who is space challenged but wants a fine, fine, fine instrument, this actually turns out to be an incredibly good value to invest this level of dollars into an C. Bechstein upright piano of this caliber, of this prestige, of this heritage.

And so, we are going to be talking specifically about where this instrument gets this crazy level of sustain that it has, how it gets this amount of just intense sympathetic resonance out of the instrument. When you play this piano you genuinely feel like the entire body of the instrument is speaking to you, not just the soundboard. And of course, this silky smooth action assembly which piano makers C. Bechstein has been famous for, for well over 100 years. So, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time with us today.

C. Bechstein Classic 124 Upright Piano Review – Video Transcription

Musical Impressions

I’m left with so many distinct first impressions. And for those of you who are privileged enough to have been able to sit down at a fine instrument, whether it’s a grand or an upright, and just have one of those immediate first impression aha moments when you’re in front of a piano that really touches you musically, you know what I’m talking about. You’re struck with these tones in your ear, or this combination of the physical and the aural experience where it genuinely causes you to play differently immediately. And I get that when I’m in front of this instrument – and certainly more so than even the best W. Hoffmann’s or Academy uprights that C. Bechstein manufacturers.

Action

For an upright piano, I would say the biggest challenge for a manufacturer is: “how do you get ultimate control at both a high dynamic range and a low dynamic range?” This is something that you really don’t usually have the opportunity to choose between or really demand out of an upright, even a really high end upright. Sometimes this is super difficult to get the geometry right in the action, to get the regulation so good in the action that when you play it feels like you can be as expressive as you can on an equally priced grand.

On the Classic 124, the key responds so fluidly that as long as you’ve got the technique somewhere in your head or in your arms, the note speaks with total intuitiveness. Bechstein spends an insane amount of time regulating these actions in the factory, and that’s one big difference between the Gold Action and Silver Actions: the stringent requirements they impose on there tech department. I really like the fact that on Bechstein’s website they actually list how many hours are spent creating this instrument. We’re talking about well over 40 or 50 prep hours in the factory on the R124’s action. That is something that is very difficult to replicate outside of the factory because it’s hard to find C. Bechstein concert technicians that are willing to do that level of work on an upright and if you did, you’re paying thousands and thousands of dollars in labor just to get that happening. So, the efficiency of having that level of prep done at a factory is far higher than trying to get it done after-sale on an instrument either like this or something a little lower quality.

Bechstein is using genuine felt for all of their bushings. They’re using aged hardwoods that are super stable and crafted down to 4/1000 of an inch. Once that action gets regulated, it is not gonna have the same level of change whereas a lower cost wood action where the wood simply hasn’t been aged or they’re using a slightly less dense wood is going to be a little more reactive to humidity and climate.

Sound & Tone

Let’s move on to the tone because this is where the construction, the design of the instrument, play a huge role in producing the highest sound quality possible. And this is where another reason why C. Bechstein instruments have had the reputation with uprights specifically, over 100 years. To sort of paint this with a broad stroke, one could say that Bechstein is one of the only builders that actually puts as much cabinetry care, case design, and as much engineering care into their uprights as they do their grands. That’s pretty unusual. So, what you’re getting on this upright are vertically laminated bridges, you’re getting triple A grade mountain spruce, which is being taken from thousands of feet up in the air in terms of…from a European source. And the concert series (what they call the Residence class) is Val di Fiemme spruce. This is something that the Faziolis use, but more famously the same wood that Stradivarius used. To get this in an upright piano is incredibly unusual.

The other thing, or I should say other things that are also contributing to the tone. That trademark scissor connecting between all of the planks on that soundboard. So, it’s not simply one plank and another plank, faced right up against one another. In that joint, there’s actually three or four back and forth 90 degree, it almost looks like a scissor cutter or fabric cutter. And that’s doubling the surface area between those two planks, so tons of sympathetic resonance throughout the soundboard.

Then we get to the cabinetry of the instrument. And this is where visually it’s very, very easy to see some of those differences. And we’ll make sure that we are able to show you some B-roll of the back of that piano because what you’re gonna notice is you’re gonna notice a lot of tension bars and a lot of full perimeter cabinetry on this instrument, which uses the same type of laminating techniques as C. Bechstein is using on the concert grands. This is super unusual. And what does it mean? Well, it means that energy regardless of where it’s being put in through bridge on the piano is actually being reflected and transmitted through the entire instrument. And that’s where you get this full voice coming from this piano. And so the dynamic output of the instrument is pretty impressive. Well, I wouldn’t say pretty impressive, it’s just downright surprising.

The sheer volume that this piano is able to create is going to outplay the vast majority of 6 foot pianos. And so in terms of bass tone, what are we getting? Well, really full clear powerful bass. This is coming obviously from the fact that we’ve got hand wound bass strings on this instrument. We’ve got a really nice length. We’re talking about a 49 inch class piano. So, in terms of a string length, we’re gonna be in and about the same range as a 5 9, 5 10 grand.

In terms of the mid tones to me, obviously, super clear sustain is really quite exquisite. I mean, this tone will just keep going on and on forever. But the mid tones have a really nice balance between that first fundamental, as well as the upper three or four fundamentals. So, it’s not sounding too sharp, it’s not sounding too muddy. It’s just got this beautiful clarity to it.

And of course, a treble with a beautiful projection. And unbelievably, like straight as an arrow upper harmonics coming out of this. The feedback that I’ve got from our tuners is this instrument is incredibly easy to tune on the upper end compared to many other upright pianos because it’s so easy to hear the fundamental pitches up in the very top octave or two. That on its own is pretty unusual.

Summary

So, all in all, what we have here is a 49 inch C. Bechstein Classic 124. We’ve got a piano that for customers who are really looking for absolutely the pinnacle of what acoustic piano tone is capable of timeless design that you get when you go right to the very, very top of the best practices. And you spend this time during the manufacturing process creating an instrument like that at factory. You’ve got a C. Bechstein piano, that for under $50,000 is going to give a grand piano of $90,000 or $100,000 a serious run for its money in terms of the responsiveness of the action assembly, in terms of the clarity of the tone, and in terms of the sustain of the instrument.

Yes, you’re missing out on the grand look. And so, for people who have the space and have the budget, of course, this often doesn’t come up. But there’s more and more of us who are living in urban areas and townhouses where there’s just not enough room for a 6 or 7 foot grand, let’s be honest. And so, this up against a wall, or even pulled out against the walls, I would suggest by about 3 or 4 inches is gonna give such an exquisite tone. And hey, you’re saving more than half the budget.

So, thank you very, very much for watching. Be sure to watch the video in which I’m just gonna play this instrument for about five minutes. We’re recording it with an AKG C414 for those of you who are curious, there’s no EQ whatsoever. There’s no compression whatsoever. So, be sure to check that out so you can just hear the instrument on its own. Thanks so much again for joining me for another acoustic piano review. Good luck with your shopping. And of course, if you’re in the Toronto area, please come and join us at either one of our showrooms in Oakville and Vaughan. We’d be happy to see you anytime.i