Introduction

The Kawai K800 Upright Grand Piano is one of the few “true” upright grands to come out of Asia.  Built in Japan entirely by Kawai, the K800 has full sostenuto, premium hand-selected spruce soundboards, premium double-felted mahogany hammers, oversized music desk, and grand-like key sticks for a super high level of accuracy and speed.

Kawai K-800 Upright Piano Review Video Transcription

Thanks for being here. In this article, we’re going to be looking at Kawai’s 53-inch K-800, the best professional upright piano that Kawai is building, and one of the very best upright pianos in its class, and certainly at the very top of what’s currently coming out of Japan. Its elegant form and exceptional tone will fulfill the needs of any professional teaching studio or intimate performance setting. The height-adjustable bench on all K Series models is ideal for teaching studios with many students and for families with more than one player. We’ll be covering the action parts and the piano’s tone, as well as looking at some really unique features about that instrument that I find to be of extraordinarily high value.

Background:

The K800 is a 53-inch upright piano, which actually makes it one of the larger upright pianos available on the market regardless of what price point you’re looking at, and regardless of country of origin as the typical maximum size uprights from most manufacturer’s are often 52 inches. The K-800 sits at the top of Kawai’s K-series of professional upright pianos, and it starts right at the K-200, goes through the K-300, K-400, K-500, and finally the K800 (with a K-600 and K-700 available in Europe and Asia but not North America.) We often try to have one on our showroom floor, but it’s made in such limited quantities that it can be difficult to showcase it year-round.

By every definition of the word, this qualifies to be called an upright grand piano. Not only is it well over 600 pounds, which means it’s heavier than quite a few of the baby grands that are on the market, but the string length, particularly in the bass, puts it in a longer bass string category than most baby grand pianos. It’s actually closer to a mid-5-foot grand in terms of the clarity that you get out of the bass. There’s also a grand piano-style music desk, which is great for composers who still prefer to work with pencil and manuscript paper as opposed to a laptop when composing.

The soundboard surface area is also larger than the vast majority of 5-foot class grand pianos. As a result of these various factors, it does put the price point well above what you would typically be thinking about for a Japanese upright piano. This gets right up into the mid-range German upright price point. If we’re in Canadian dollars, we’re talking about a price that exceeds the $20,000. Keep on reading to find out why you should consider this piano if your budget is around $20,000 CAD for an upright piano.

Piano Tone:

The K-800 has a thick, powerful tone. A key reason why has to do with the presence of duplex scale. On a grand piano, when you create a duplex scale, you actually put another fulcrum on the other side of the bridge, so there’s this extra speaking length which is kind of just free to resonate sympathetically when the instrument is being played. This thickens the tone and creates all of these subtle harmonics that add to the color of the treble. Duplex scale is not common in upright pianos. The K-500 has it in the top section, while the K-800 has in the top two ranges of the keys on both the front of the string length, as well as on the back of the string length. The addition of duplex scale here in the K-800 results in all kind of extra color coming off of the treble range.

The K-800 also has full agraffes, which ensures greater uniformity of string alignment and smoother tuning over a long period of time, also not overly common among uprights The overall thickness and projection of the tone reminds me of the Kawai GX grands, such as a GX-1 or a GX-2. If you’re looking for a nice upright because you don’t have space for a grand, getting some of the harmonic qualities that normally grands have, in the form of an upright is a pretty strong selling feature. It’s worth mentioning.

Another tone related feature we should highlight is the presence of Royal George Hammer felt. What is Royal George felt? Royal George are a third-party company that supplies high-end felt for hammer manufacturers. Kawai has decided to include this special felt in the K-800 as an extra premium feature. I can’t profess to be able to hear the difference between the Royal George felt and the premium Kawai felt that they put on the rest of the K-series piano, but I imagine this might show up more in how well the hammer could be voiced, or quite possibly, the overall longevity of the hammer. The K-800 also features mahogany core hammers, and with better felt, we know that that felt doesn’t distort even when you really punch it.

Due to the large tapered, solid spruce soundboard surface area, there is a huge amount of volume coming off of this piano. Behind the grand style, hard finish music rack are tone holes, which allows some tone to escape through the front.  There is also 6 back posts and 12 ribs attached to the soundboard, giving a strong responsive sound to the whole piano.

Going past the overall tonal power, there’s also a level of control you get when you’re playing quietly, and even without the quiet pedal that is very good. Most large upright pianos are notorious for being a little more difficult to control in the really quiet dynamic ranges, much more so than what you have on a grand piano. This is one of the reasons why traditionally, teachers and performers generally have preferred to be in front of a grand when they get to a high level of playing because the level of control doesn’t really seem to get sacrificed as you get further down into the dynamic range as you’re pianissimo or you’re triple pianissimo. Kawai has clearly regulated and set the geometry of the action up so that everything is speaking regardless of what dynamic range you’re playing in, so you’re not having to do a lot of compensating with the soft pedal for more control in the lower ranges.

From a tonal character standpoint, the K-800 is super different from a German piano. This is ultimately a good thing because it gives people a clear choice in the kind of sound they’re looking for. What are these differences? For close to the same price as the K-800 you can get into a 47 or 48″ in German piano, most of which are going to be generating a very clear bell tone, but possibly less colorful overall. That may make a German upright more appealing to some styles of playing, whereas the colorful sound of the K-800 might appeal to those playing romantic classical music or possibly jazz.

Overall. I would describe the K-800’s tone as colorful, with a rich lush palette of overtones. It really is quite different than what you would get if you were sitting behind say a Bechstein or a Steingraeber with laser-like clarity on every single note. Ultimately, whether you prefer the tone of the K-800 or a German upright is going to be pretty subjective.

Piano Action:

Like the rest of the K-Series uprights and many Kawai pianos, the K-800 features the Kawai Millennium III upright action. This action uses a combination of natural materials as well as abs-carbon fiber-reinforced synthetic materials. The exclusive NEOTEX key surface resists cracking and fading over the years of use and is used for both the sharps and the naturals for a consistent feel across the entire keyboard.

This is a very fast action. I wouldn’t describe it as a light action, but it’s super-fluid, quite effortless to play. We know that due to the presence of abs-carbon composites definitely there are some arguments to be made that this will be a lower maintenance action than some of the all-wood actions out there. I would say this will be more pronounced if you’re in a climate where there are frequent variations in the humidity levels. You’d notice it less if you were in a climate with more stable humidity levels, but there’s still an argument for greater longevity with an action built with composite materials.

Another cool thing we need to mention, and this is directly related to the action, would be that the K-800 has the full sostenuto. Sostenuto is, just like the full-duplex scale we mentioned earlier, is another feature usually found exclusively on grand pianos. The true sostenuto pedal, for those who don’t know what that is, is essentially a selective sustain pedal. If I want a B flat to sustain, but only the B flat to sustain, I’d press the B flat, and then press the middle pedal. The B flat will sustain, but nothing around it will. regardless of what other notes you play. Whereas if I was using the normal sustain pedal, everything I play would sustain.

This is not common to find this on a Kawai upright. There are other uprights out there with sostenuto, and obviously, most high-end models can be special ordered with a sostenuto, but it’s really nice to have this as kind of a standard feature, at least here in Canada. The middle pedal, as some viewers might know, on an upright is usually the mute pedal. Since the middle pedal here is a sostenuto, there’s a lever underneath the left side that acts as the mute pedal, so you’re not sacrificing that function with the addition of a sostenuto.

Other Observations:

From a construction standpoint, the K-800 is an absolute tank. The thickness and the quantity of the back posts on the instrument makes the case that K-800 could almost fall into a Shigeru Kawai category in terms of the quality of the build and in terms of the attention that this instrument receives. The steel-reinforced keybed and keyslip are also critical in supporting the long term stability of this piano. It really is in a class of its own in terms of the Kawai K-Series lineup.

Conclusions:

So there you have it. The K-800 sits at the top of Kawai’s upright lineup, and an absolutely beautiful instrument to play. The K-800 serves as a very interesting alternative to the German instruments that have this similar price point, and it gives an option for a more colorful sound. If you’re in the $20,000 price range, I would say even if you’re thinking about a baby grand for musical reasons and not aesthetic reasons, this would also be a really interesting piano to consider.