Shigeru Kawai, heir to company founder Koichi Kawai was the president of Kawai Global from the 1960s up until the early 2000s. His vision in the 1970s was to design and build the most exclusive piano that Kawai had ever produced. What he didn’t realize was that he was about to create one of the finest pianos the world has ever seen – one that would impress the world’s finest professional pianists. With extremely limited production, these instruments are handmade with remarkable passion by an elite team of Master Piano Artisans in Japan with only the finest materials, and have completely challenged the perception of what a Japanese piano builder was originally thought capable of. Remarkably, every purchaser of a new Shigeru Kawai piano receives an in-home visit by one of the Master Piano Artisans within the first year of ownership for a complete concert-level regulation, voicing, and tuning.
The Shigeru Kawai SK-EX grand piano is the largest piano of the Shigeru line and serves as the ultimate expression of the series, conceived as the next step in the evolving art of the piano. At 9’1″, this Concert grand is built first and foremost for the finest concert venues in the world, while also suitable for high-end recording studios. Like every Shigeru Kawai, the SK-EX features a laundry list of advanced design features, executed with the highest level of craftsmanship. With a premium, industry-leading piano action, excellent tuning stability and projection, and a very clear, magnificent tone with excellent sustain, the SK-EX is considered a top concert piano in production today, alongside such staples as the Steinway Model D, C. Bechstein D282, and Fazioli F278.
The Millennium III action now found in many of Kawai’s other grand pianos was actually first developed for the Shigeru Kawai project. Its objectives were clear: maximum control and consistency, extremely quick repetition speed, and a versatility that would make it well-suited to any style of playing. The introduction of ABS Carbon composite actions allowed for a new standard of precision and over 100 hours of regulating PER PIANO by a Master Piano Artisan achieved a tolerance that could then be maintained for years (without the variable of wood). Another highlight of this action is the inclusion of NEOTEX key surfaces. NEOTEX is a composite material with moisture absorbing qualities for greater control regardless of playing situation.
The lengths of the key-sticks have been extended to allow for increased control and create a more even response from the front to the back of the playing surface. The increased control is especially apparent when playing really soft or really loud passages. This action’s penchant for incredibly responsive touch is one of the top reasons the SK-EX is so popular with elite-level pianists on the concert stage.
The SK-EX’s tone is the ultimate expression of Kawai’s core tonal philosophy; warmth, depth, and a kaleidoscopic range of tonal colours. This is a very different tonal profile than Yamaha’s trademark brightness that many associate with Japanese pianos. There’s remarkable evenness through the entire range of the instrument, and the dynamic spectrum is especially wide – perfect for intricate classical works. The tone can also be opened up to produce desired brilliance for contemporary styles.
There are of course many reasons the SK-EX offers up such a dynamic sound profile, but there are a few specific design features worth mentioning. The SK-EX features Concert Agraffes that are individually machined from billet brass rods. The presence of Agraffes allows for a very high level of precision and strength over a long period of time. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Temaki bass strings; every Shigeru Kawai features bass strings that are each individually hand-wound by the Master Piano Artisans. This allows for the highest possible degree of accuracy and precision.
The bridge in every Shigeru Kawai has been designed in same style as Hamburg Steinway and Fazioli: triple-capped with vertically laminated lengths consisting of mahoganies, maples, and beeches. This facilitates maximum energy transference from the string to the soundboard, but also allows for lateral sympathetic transference along the length of the bridge as well. The result is a surprisingly active and colourful palette in the lower dynamic range.
The SK-EX features the absolute top quality hammers Kawai produces – Shiko Seion hammers – which translates to “ultimate voicing” in Japanese. The team of Master Piano Artisans oversee their production from beginning to end and spend approximately 3-5 times longer voicing these hammers than the hammers found in the pianos of Kawai’s GX series. When all is said and done, these hammers receive a concert grand level voicing before leaving the factory.
Each individual double felted mahogany hammer is hand-pressed without the use of heat and meticulously voiced without artificial hardeners resulting in maximum dynamic response.
While all Shigeru Kawai pianos are built with extremely high-quality spruce, they reserve a special type for the SK-EX pianos – ultra exotic Ezo Spruce, a native Japanese spruce tree that grows on just a few islands in the country’s north. This wood is harvested from a very slow-growth tree with exceptional tonal properties. The grain is very consistent and among the narrowest growth rings in the world. It is exceedingly even in its response, and when combined with an ultra-dense rim, is capable of generating incredible sustaining times.
The wood is aged by the traditional kigarashi process which essentially means the drying period is not artificially accelerated in any way; the woods are aged completely naturally over a long period of time to achieve a state of natural balance. This is a painstaking process, but one Kawai is committed to; this is another critical area that sets the SK-EX apart.
The SK-EX features Kawai’s exclusive Konsei Katagi rim, which uses a blend of distinct hardwoods to achieve a highly balanced tone. The inner rim uses small-pored hardwoods to provide brightness and projection, which are interlaminated with dense, large-pored hardwoods for warmth and fullness. This use of different hardwoods is another reason for the SK-7‘s incredibly broad pallet of tonal colours.
The Shigeru pianos also feature another significant design feature with regards to the frame, what Kawai refers to as SOLID construction, short for Stretcher Over-Lap Integrated Design. This refers to the pinblock and stretcher bar being integrated as a single structure and anchored to the rim as one. The stretcher bar is very thick, which helps ensure stable tuning and structural integrity over time.
Kawai has been building pianos since 1927 and is currently one of the top-rated pianos manufacturers in the world. With over 200 piano products available, Kawai is highly focused on building a product to meet every customer need, whether that’s a portable digital piano for the touring musician, or a 9ft Concert Grand for the world’s finest concert pianists. Over the past 10 years, Kawai has won more industry awards than any other piano manufacturer in the world.
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