Today, we’ll be taking a deep dive into one of the most popular baby grand pianos in the industry (and, certainly, one of the most popular at our showrooms): Kawai’s GL-10 baby grand piano. While we’ve explored this model in the past, we gets tons of questions about the GL-10 and decided to address those questions in this updated Kawai GL-10 review.
With that said, let’s revisit and take an even closer look at the amazing Kawai GL-10 grand piano.
Kawai GL-10 Background
The first time we had a chance to take a look at this instrument up close was back in the spring of 2016, just after Kawai released the GL series grand pianos at NAMM. Upon its launch, it received MMR Magazine’s prestigious “Product of the Year” award. It was the first time that an acoustic piano line had won across all categories, which was for a good reason.
The new GL series combined the best of what Kawai was offering with the previous GL series as well as the GE series. There was also quite a bit from the RX heritage that wound up in the updated GL series. By doing so, they successfully unified all three of those lines.
They advanced the pianos in several ways, including a larger selection of sizes as well as longer keys, which won the praise of many Kawai piano customers. The construction quality was also improved and, in particular, the hammers received meaningful upgrades from their previous state. These improvements checked off most of the boxes and rectified the issues that some customers had previously had with the line’s predecessors.
Simply put, the Kawai GL10 is packed full of innovations and top-end features. From the V-Pro Plate’s crossbone design, stretcher over-lap integrated design (SOLID), multi-grip pin blocks, and solid brass agraffes that ensure even string spacing, it’s clear that no stone was left unturned during Kawai’s development process for this instrument. Even subtler features like the music rack, lid props, and incredibly smooth-rolling casters showcase Kawai’s dedication to quality.
All in all, these initiatives have led to Kawai creating the most advanced and dominant baby grand piano on the market in this price category.
Kawai GL-10 Millenium III ABS-Carbon Action
The action is one of the clearest value points for customers to see and understand. The GL10 is unique because, unlike other piano manufacturers’ introductory lines, it features Kawai’s top action. While the GL10 may be Kawai’s introductory grand piano, it is not considered an entry-level instrument by any means. When you look at the entire landscape of the baby grand piano market, you can still get some baby grand pianos from lesser-known Chinese brands in the $6000 to $7000 USD range RRP. At just over the $10,000 USD mark in most major markets, this instrument delivers absolutely undeniable value to the end user. The fact that even some digital pianos sell for over the $10,000 price point puts things into perspective in terms of what Kawai has achieved. The action is where that value starts to become quite clear.
The GL10 features the same action Millenium III ABS-carbon action that you would get on the GL-20, GL-30, GL-40, and GL-50. It’s even the same action that you would get with any model from the GX series. In fact, aside from a few tiny design changes, it’s also the action that you would get on fully-handmade pianos from the Shigeru series. So, by getting into the GL series and GL10, you’re accessing a level of engineering that very few pianos in its price range are going to be able to compete with in terms of touch and feel. Given that one of the most critical parts of any piano experience is how the player interfaces with the instrument, the GL10 is a truly unique offering.
Does playing the piano feel natural? Do you feel unrestrained as a player? Do you feel like there’s an organic connection between how the piano responds to you? These are some of the key questions that players should ask themselves when assessing a piano’s action. In the case of the GL10, the answer to each of these questions is an emphatic “yes”. Featuring ABS-carbon technology, extended-length keysticks, and concert-length key buttons (doubled the usual length for maximum energy transfer and optimum power), the Millennium III action has an exceptional touch that embodies all of the essential qualities you’d come to expect from a top-tier action. With its featherlight touch, it provides optimum energy transfer from the player to the instrument every step of the way.
While we do not advise that you do so at home, it’s incredibly easy to take apart Kawai’s action. You don’t need any screwdrivers or tools, which is a blessing for technicians. Another blessing for technicians is the optimum strength and stability that the carbon fiber components in spite of seasonal temperature and humidity changes. Upon pulling the action, the quality and value of the GL10 is even more apparent. From the ultra-slow, soft fall fallboard to the steel-reinforced keyslip and multi-laminated keybed, it is abundantly clear that Kawai hasn’t cut a single corner.
Unfortunately, the piano industry is notorious for having a huge amount of disinformation circulating about a wide variety of brands. We have even heard customers report that they received some supposedly “expert” advice from an industry “insider” that claimed all Asian pianos were essentially just being put together in a modular way in which one giant faceless factory was making the action parts while another was making all of the frames, while another was making all of the pin blocks, while another was making the una corda, sostenuto, and damper pedals, and so on. They further elaborated that, because of this modular manufacturing process, it really didn’t matter that much anymore as to what brand a customer purchased because Kawais, Yamahas, Steinway’s Bostons and Essexs, and Pearl Rivers are all essentially coming from the same place. While there are a lot of manufacturing sharing agreements that do occur with some Chinese pianos and other major piano brands, the claims of all Asian pianos being the same are simply not true.
Just for the record, Kawai builds Kawai pianos. So, when you are purchasing an instrument that bears the Kawai name, that instrument has come out of a Kawai factory and Kawai has produced virtually every part that is in that piano. While domestic Japanese customers are able to able to get Japanese-made GL10s, every other market’s GL10s are assembled in Indonesia. With that said, many critical components, including the action, are built in Japan. So, not only is the action the same design, it’s literally the same action that’s going into virtually all of the other Kawai grand pianos. Now, is are you getting anything more when you buy a GL-20, GL-30, GL-40, or a GX model other just the size? Well, yes, of course.
There are going to be small parts of even the action that are slightly different. One of the easiest places to see this on the GL10 compared to other models is the smooth white surface of the keytops. There is a slight texture to it, but really, it’s not the same as higher-level grands which feature Kawai’s NEOTEX finishing. However, by and large, the main bulk of the action, including the double felted hammers, are there on the GL10. While the action is a primary selling point of the GL10, let’s talk about some of the other parts of the instrument because it’s not just the action that is delivering really extraordinary value with this piano.
Double Width Stretcher Bar
A second aspect of the GL series, and this includes the entry-point GL10, is the double-width stretcher bar. Now, with quite a few instruments, especially in the price range that we’re talking about here, this specific piece’s function is somewhere between aesthetic and structural, but it’s not harmonic. On a higher-end grand piano, is very common for this piece to actually be the same type of engineered material as you’d find around the rim of the instrument, meaning that this piece is actually designed to connect the cabinet in a harmonic sense. It increases the amount of sympathetic cabinet resonance. Because of this, when you play the GL10, you can actually feel the vibrations running through that piece of wood. It’s almost like the veins of the piano are connected across the front. In fact, it’s quite obvious that you can feel the vibrations through the wood even 10 seconds after the instrument has been played. It’s even very easy to detect those vibrations with your fingers.
That piece of wood is actually helping to generate tone. You could try that on any other $10,000 grand piano and see how much activity you can feel in that specific piece of wood and my suspicion is that it’s not going to be very much. Ultimately, this is an incredible innovation for the GL line that the GL10 also receives.
While I’ve known this about the model for several years, another aspect of this instrument that stands out each time I play it is the level of sustain that it has for its price range. Even at a mezzo-forte range, the sustain is gorgeous. Every not sounds truly beautiful. The whole frame is so harmonically active. Even when you start to play into the forte range, there’s no “meow” on the attack like you often get in pianos of this size and price range. So, to summarize, you’re getting very low distortion and very high sustain out of this instrument.
In order to achieve great sustain and low distortion simultaneously, there are all kinds of things that have to be right with the piano. I don’t know any pianist who would try to argue that sustain and distortion are not really critical parts about what makes a piano satisfying to play on, record on, and practice on. It takes good engineering.
That sustain is coming from the fact that we’ve got a solid spruce precision tapered soundboard in this piano. Again, pretty unusual for this price range. That soundboard has to be fitted precisely to the rim. So, you’re not getting all of this energy that’s just flying off the side of the soundboard, and nothing is really containing it and reflecting the energy back through the soundboard. For this to occur, the bearing has to be engineered properly, so there’s not too much or too little tension on that soundboard. The bridges also have to be fitted properly.
The bridges in this instrument are capped. They’re not vertically laminated. You do not usually get that at the $10,000 price point. You do not usually get that at the $20,000 price point in the industry anywhere. Alas, in the GL10, you have a capped maple bridge that is very tightly constructed. The tolerances are extremely fine.
The lack of distortion also speaks to the quality of the felt on the hammer, how well the scale design has been built, and how precisely the strings terminate even on the capo bar. There are just all sorts of these little footnotes that you pick up as you start to get to know this instrument a little bit better that exemplifies the fact that the GL10 punches above its weight.
Now, where does the GL-10 fall short? Because, obviously, we sell a lot of grand pianos at Merriam Pianos for a lot more than what the GL10 sells for. Customers are regularly investing $20,000 or $30,000 on grands and a few very lucky individuals are investing $100,000. So, where does the GL10 not deliver? There obviously has to be some drawbacks both to the size and to the quality. Naturally, there are a few things.
If a GL10 is next to a GX model in the Kawai line, or let’s say a C1X Yamaha or C2X Yamaha, where are you gonna hear the differences? Well, first, the length of the instruments. At 5-foot-1, there’s only so long a bass string you can cram into the instrument. So, for me, as soon as you get down into the break and below around the note F2 for example, you start to hear more upper harmonics on your bass notes than you’re going to if you’re playing a 6-foot grand piano or a 50 or 52 inch upright piano. There’s still lots of presence there. There’s lots of colour, but it’s not as clear on the fundamental pitch as if you were to spend more to get a larger or a higher quality bass string.
With that said, the bass strings are not cheap. They’re thicker bass strings because they have to be when it’s a shorter piano. Therefore, just by the nature of the beast, you get a big, thickly wound bass string and you’re going to have some higher harmonics in the lower part of the instrument’s voice. However, even through this range, the instrument provides a positively gorgeous sound.
Now, on the top of the shorter bass strings, the GL10 does not have duplex scaling. So, it has a thinner treble. It’s still very clear and, as we were discussing earlier, the sustain is lovely. But, nonetheless, there’s still less colour in the GL10s treble than one would get from a piano with duplex in many cases. There’s a number of extra harmonics in that range that aren’t present, or at least much less present, if you had the duplex. Does that make it less enjoyable for playing? Probably not. 98% of people wouldn’t even notice, but it might take it out of the running for recording, for example, because there’s just not enough meat there for those notes to necessarily compete with the thickness of the mid-range.
Another thing about this piano is the warmth of the tone overall. It’s a very warm, nice, lush broad tone. That’s coming from the fact that it’s using a really nice high-quality piece of spruce and with high-quality hammers striking the strings. Overall, there are lots of aspects harmonically to the piano that are directly related to the engineering choices that Kawai has made.
For somebody who enters the market looking either for the aesthetic quality of a baby grand piano or you’re looking for the best possible instrument around the $10,000 budget range, I am unaware of a baby grand piano that can sit side-by-side with a GL10 with a similar level of prep and outplay it. Of course, there are many pianos that are going to be able to outperform the GL10 when you get into the $20,000 and $30,000 price points. But, in its price category, the GL10 remains, to me, as one of the best constructed, best designed, and fully-featured grand pianos you can find and I continue to encourage people to put it on their shopping list.
It’s a specific tone. It’s a specific sound. It’s a specific touch and feel. So, of course, you have to try it. These are my opinions as a piano player. These are my experiences working in the piano sales side of things. But, I hope as there were in 2016, there will be people out there that find these thoughts helpful as they dig a little bit deeper into the research phase of their purchase.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through our review. Hopefully, you know the GL10 a little bit better now than you did previously.