Europe or the USA – since the birth of the piano, your choices were limited to one of these two regions if you wanted a top-of-the-line piano. Japanese pianos have been a dominant player in the mid-range market since the 1970s, but the high-end market remained relatively unchanged until the recent emergence of Yamaha’s CF and Kawai’s Shigeru Kawai series of hand-crafted instruments. Master Piano Artisans (MPA’s) build the Shigeru Kawai’s in very small batches with the goal of producing the very best piano from Japan the world has ever seen. And with a visit within a year of ownership by one of Kawai’s elite MPA’s, the Shigeru Kawai series makes a pretty strong case for being the best pianos from Japan.
The SK-6 is one of the larger pianos in the Shigeru Kawai series that totals 6 models. At 7′, it’s the perfect size for a variety of institutional and commercial settings, as well as for homes that can accommodate a large grand piano. The SK-6 boasts an enviable list of specifications, including one the industries most innovative and well-regarded actions, unassailable tuning consistency, and a sustain that never seems to end, the SK-6 holds its own against other highly regarded 7′ grand pianos, including the Steinway Models B and the C. Bechstein B212.
The SK-6 offers one of the finest actions in any 7′ grand piano with Kawai’s Millennium III ABS-Carbon action. Synthetic materials like carbon fiber have been steadily replacing wood in all types of manufacturing sectors, and while the piano industry is notoriously resistant to change, Kawai has led the way in abandoning the problematic wood actions of the past in favor of modern materials.
The result is that the Millennium III action is not only less likely to require maintenance, but also an absolute pleasure to play, due to the fanatical level of factory regulation it receives. The key-stick has also been extended, so the action actually feels much closer to a 9ft concert grand piano.
The SK-6 epitomizes Kawai’s tendency to produce pianos with a distinctly warm and round tone, a far cry from the bright tone Yamaha’s pianos are known for and often associate with pianos from Japan as a whole. The SK-6’s tone is consistent throughout and offers a wide dynamic range at home with both classical and jazz/pop repertoire.
Full-length Concert Agraffes are included to reduce distortion and increase precision, and Kawai’s Temaki Bass strings, which are hand-wound by the MPA’s, are another feature worth highlighting.
Double felted hammers of mahogany, hand-pressed without chemicals are used in the Shigeru Kawai pianos. Kawai refers to these as the “Shiko Seion” hammers, which translates to “Ultimate Voicing”. While the fundamental materials are the same as in the GX series hammers, these hammers receive excessively more hand-voicing by the MPA’s.
The largest Shigeru Kawai’s, including the SK-6 feature ultra-exclusive Ezo solid spruce soundboards. Kawai began stockpiling this and aging this spruce by the traditional kigarashi method decades ago, well in advance of the first Shigeru Kawai, in anticipation of one day building a Concert level series of instruments. The soundboards are tapered prior to installation for maximum resonance.
Kawai’s Konsei Katagi rim design is a veritable fortress, guaranteeing a generational lifespan for your SK-6. But more than just a structure to house the SK-6, its blend of several different hardwoods means the rim also plays a large in the sound-producing capabilities of the instrument.