What began as a dream more than 5 decades ago became a reality in the year 2000, with the release of the handcrafted Shigeru Kawai series of grand pianos.
With production levels that border on the bespoke, every Shigeru Kawai piano is handcrafted to a radical degree by a small cadre of elite Master Piano Artisans, and these pianos have completely raised the bar of what was once thought possible from a Japanese piano maker. Each and every purchaser of a new Shigeru Kawai pianos is visited in their home by one of the Shigeru Kawai Master Piano Artisans within one year of ownership, for comprehensive regulation, tuning and voicing (COVID permitting.)
With the latest version of the Millennium III action, hardwood rim with alternating layers of maple and matoa, cold-pressed hammers, and naturally aged soundboard spruce, the 5’11” Shigeru Kawai SK-2 grand piano which serves as the entry point to the Shigeru series boasts an absolute laundry list of covetable attributes. Together these features give the Shigeru Kawai SK2 a lighting-fast action, impregnable stability of tuning, with a very clear, colorful sound with sustain for days. These pianos are a real joy to play for any advanced pianist and have been chosen by many prize-winners at some of the most prestigious world competitions. At roughly half the price of a similarly sized Steinway and even less than half of an elite European piano such as a Bechstein, the value an SK-2 offers is simply unmatched.
If you were to ask what the single most important innovation Kawai has probably ever made, the answer you’d most often come across is of course their Millennium III Action. Kawai was one of if not the first manufacturer to move away from wood-based actions and into composite materials, which was initially viewed as a major act of apostasy by the rest of the industry. But time has vindicated Kawai, and today’s ABS-Carbon based Millennium III Action is widely considered one of the top piano actions available due to its superior durability and incredible speed, exciting both pianists and piano technicians alike.
The keytops are made from Kawai’s NEOTEX composite, which like the ivory keytops of the past, absorbs moisture and provides a comfortable grip for the player.
Another critical feature with this latest incarnation of the Millennium III is the extended length of the key-sticks; the longer lever allows for better control and more even weighting. This means the 5’11” SK2 actually feels much more like a 7-foot grand, easily demonstrated by comparing the SK2 to other larger instruments in a piano showroom.
While Kawai has always been known for the warm tone of their pianos, especially compared to Yamaha’s much brighter sound, the SK-2 takes this to another level. The SK-2 is incredibly warm for a 5’11” piano with a superb richness of tone, and despite a wide range of sound colour, the underlying warmth across all registers is especially apparent. Truly a musical instrument at home in a variety of musical styles, with enough complexity for high-level classic pianists, but also clear enough for jazz.
While we could write an entire book about the SK2 sounds just the way it does, we’ll highlight some critical features; machined Concert Agraffes for maintaining the precise placement of the strings, Temaki bass strings (hand-wound bass strings) and a triple capped bridge with laminations of beech, maple, and mahogany for incredibly efficient energy transference.
Kawai is one of very few manufacturer’s who still makes their own hammers, and they reserve their absolute best for the Shigeru Kawai series. The SK2 uses the signature Shiko Seion hammers, which translates to ‘Ultimate Voicing.’ The Shiko Seion hammers receive up to 5 times as much voicing time as to the GX series hammers, and prior to crating, receive a final concert grand esque voicing.
The material is double felted mahogany, which are pressed by hand, and voiced without the aid of chemical hardening agents used on lesser hammers to accelerate the voicing process.
The soundboards in every Shigeru are another highlight of the series, and the SK-2 is no exception. Every soundboard is made of super high-grade solid Sitka spruce, which is then aged by the traditional kigarashi process that allows the wood to dry naturally and attain a state of natural balance. Every soundboard is also custom tapered to allow for greater energy activation, which is one of the reason it’s so easy to get the entire structure of the SK-2 vibrating.
Any discussion of the SK-2 would be lacking if there was no mention of the rim. The SK-2 features Kawai’s own Konsei Katagi rim design, utilizing a concoction of various hardwoods. The inner rim uses small-pore hardwoods that facilitate projection and brightness, combined with large-pore hardwoods for added depth and warmth. Another consideration here is long-term stability. These rims are very thick and structurally sound, easily able to stand up to long term use.
The Shigeru pianos also utilize Kawai’s now ubiquitous SOLID construction design (Stretcher Over-Lap Integrated Design). This is a fancy way of saying that the pin-block and extra-long stretcher bar joined as one and anchored to rim as one piece, ensuring long-term integrity of the structure.
|Touch||White key surfaces||NEOTEX|
|Black key surfaces||NEOTEX|
|Sound||Soundboard||Solid Spruce, Tapered|
|Agraffes||1-54 keys / Shigeru Kawai concert agraffes|
|Duplex scaling||Fore & Back|
|Exterior design||Pedals||Damper, Sostenuto, Soft|
|Music rack||Position||5 positions|
|Other features||Stretcher Over-Lap Integrated Design (SOLID)|
|Steel-reinforced keyslip & keybed|
|Vertically laminated treble bridge|
|Longer period of natural drying process|
|Hand-wound bass strings|
|Dual Pivot Damper|
|Reinforced Hammer Shank|
|Final voicing by MPA (Master Piano Artisan)|