Upstate New York's Favorite Piano Dealer

Artist Pianos Syracuse

5780 Celi Drive
East Syracuse, NY
Ph: 315-446-5660

Artist Pianos Albany

603 Watervliet Shaker Rd.
Latham, NY
Ph: 518-783-1695

Artist Pianos

Yamaha vs. Kawai vs. Essex Pianos



Start reading here or scroll down for ESSEX EUP-123 comparison



For many years, this page shared what we had learned from our 30+ years experience with Yamaha and Kawai pianos. We now add Essex to the list.

When we recommend a piano, we want to make sure we're recommending the best value in the price range.

When the new Yamaha B series came out, we noticed several changes from previous designs. After spending the better part of a year researching the industry's affordable pianos, we made the change to Essex, because we were very surprised by what we found.


Even the most affordable Essex upright includes
features reserved only for Yamaha and Kawai's most
expensive grands.



The piano industry changes slowly, but it does change.


Through the 1960s and 1970s, many would agree that Baldwin was the predominant affordable piano, recommended by teachers and technicians alike for most beginners and recreational pianists. Through the 1980s and 1990's, Japanese factories produced consistent quality products across a myriad of industries, the piano industry included. We think many would also agree that Yamaha, (and similarly, Kawai) built it's reputation during this time by competing with and winning against Baldwin, replacing Baldwin as the recomended piano of choice for most home users.


Enter Boston & Essex by Steinway & Sons

In 1991, Steinway developed a whole new line of pianos, the Boston brand, incorporating Steinway design features with cost-effective assembly-line factory production. Today, the Boston brand is an unqualified success, with over 175 colleges and universities using Steinway-designed pianos exclusively in their practice rooms. In 2001, building on the success of Boston, Steinway developed the Essex brand to offer Steinway-design at every price range. Today, more and more piano lovers are discovering the superior value and performance Essex pianos offer.



What Makes A Piano A High-Performance Piano?


What are the core elements of greatness? What features are found most often in high-performance pianos by the vast majority of manufacturers? Below we list the core "you either have them or you don't features" known in the industry to bring out the best performance and longevity in pianos. Any manufacturer can choose to include them and nearly every high-end piano has some version of these features.  


Click pictures to enlarge.



Not all "solid-spruce soundboards" are created equal. Premium spruce is sought the world over for its sonorous qualities and its favorable strength-to-weight ratio. A piano soundboard endures cumulative pressure from the strings as high as 700lbs. Grain lines that run closely together mean the wood is stronger. A soundboard should also be free of knots and irregularities.




The soundboard is sanded to gradually become thinner toward the edges. This design allows the soundboard to vibrate most freely, providing better tone and longer, stronger sustain. It is an extra step that is omitted from most lower-priced pianos.


Patented in 1880 by Theodore Steinway, who noted that replacing a solid bridge with one made from multiple layers of wood "more energetically propagated" vibration from the strings into the soundboard. By delivering more energy to the soundboard, every part of the musical experience is enhanced and the piano plays like a bigger piano. 




The best pianos in the industry are made with hammers that are reinforced with dense underfelt to maintain hammer shape. The underfelt prevents the hammer felt from wrinkling at the time of production and then prevents the hammer felt from becoming unglued or going out of shape from years of impact with the strings.




Nearly all the best upright pianos in the world have 5-post backframes, which serves as the support against approximately 20 TONS of cumulative string tension. pianos with strong backframes construction will likely have better tuning stability and perform better later in life. The cheapest pianos in the industry have only two outer posts, with no posts in the middle. 




This design creates three separate speaking lengths for each note in the treble. The main speaking length sounds the desired note, while the front and rear duplexes sound upper harmonics of the main note. The result is the strongest singing tone possible. 




The curved outer rim of a grand piano serves two important purposes. First, it holds the soundboard in place, so that it retains the necessary curvature (also called crown) to best project sound. Second, as vibrational energy travels to the outer edges of the soundboard, a dense rim will reflect a greater majority of energy back into the soundboard for long sustain and strong tone.





Which Uprights Have What Features?


There are 5 core features on uprights that we use to quickly guage value. In most product lines, these features are considered add-on features as the price rises. Essex pianos, by Steinway, have all 5 features in every model. 


  Solid Spruce Soundboard Tapered Soundboard Vertically Laminated Bridges 5 Post Backframe Reinforced Hammers
Essex Uprights          

All Essex Uprights






Yamaha Uprights          
CN116 (discontinued) Laminated        
CN216 (discontinued) Laminated        
B1 Laminated        
B2 X        
B3 X     X X
P22 X     X X
M460 X       X
M560 X       X
T121 (discontinued) X     X X
U1 X     X X
U3 X     X X
YUS1 X     X X
YUS3 X     X X
Kawai Uprights          
K15 X        
506N X     X  
508 X     X  
607 X     X  
907 X     X  
UST9 X X   X X
K200 X X     X
K300 X X   X X
K400 X X   X X
K500 X X   X(6) X

Steinway Makes it Easy.

All Essex Uprights Have All 5 Features.



Which Grands Have What Features?


Only Yamaha and Kawai's highest end pianos incorporate all the features that are known to bring out best sound and performance. Most of the features are left out of the mid-priced and affordable pianos. However, the affordable Essex, designed by Steinway, has all the features. It makes a difference. We can hear it and feel it.


  Solid Spruce Soundboard Tapered Soundboard Vertically Laminated Bridges Duplex Scale Dense Rim Material
Essex Grands          

All Essex Grands






Yamaha Grands          
CN151 (Cable Nelson) Laminated       Not Specified
GB1K X       Not Specified
GC1 X     X Not Specified
GC2 X     X Not Specified
C1X and up X X X X Not Specified
Kawai Grands          
GL-10 X X     Not Specified
GL-20, 30, 40, 50 X X   X Not Specified
GX1 Blak and up X X X X "Select Hardwood Laminates"

Again, Steinway Makes it Easy.

All Essex Grands Have All the Above Features.



A Tale of Two Pianos

Value is not what we are told something is worth.

We simply could not ignore the difference in value we observed between these two pianos. We have to buy them before you do and we are expert piano shoppers! There is a lot you can tell about an upright piano from the back. Take a look:




NY Retail $6190




MSRP $6549




  Essex EUP-111 Yamaha B2
  Number of Posts
5 4
  Post Thickness
45 cm2 25 cm2
  Post Positioning   Steinway design positions additional posts in higher-tension section of piano. Equally spaced
Spruce Wood Not Specified, painted.


The Backframe of the Essex EUP111 has more than 2X the material.



Essex EUP-111 Yamaha B2
The Essex soundboard is light in color, free of knots and has annual growth grain lines that are straight and run very close together. The closer the grain lines, the stronger the wood and the better it transmits vibrations. Here are some close-up shots from an EUP-111 soundboard.
This B2 Yamaha soundboard has areas where there are as few as 4 annual growth lines per inch. Small knots are present as well as several "plugs," which are areas where knots or other irregular sections of wood are removed and alternative wood is glued in its place. We do not present this as a question of longevity, but rather a matter of overall value. A soundboard free of knots and plugs and with straight consistent grain is considered to be better quality.
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge



Essex EUP-111 Yamaha B2


Essex hammers, like all high-end hammers are fitted with dense underfelt (red) to ensure best fitting of the hammer-felt to the wood and to help maintain hammer shape over years of impact with the strings. 

No Underfelt.




A Tale of Three Pianos (again, from the back)



Essex 123

NY Retail $7,490



Yamaha U1

MSRP $11,399



Kawai K3 Discontinued




  Essex 123S Yamaha U1 Kawai K3 (discontinued)
  # of Posts 5 5 4
  Thickness of Posts 100 cm2 42 cm2 35 cm2
  Post Positioning Steinway design positions additional posts in higher-tension section of piano. Equally spaced. Equally spaced.
  Material Spruce wood Spruce wood. (until recently, unspecified) Not specified


The backframe is largely responsible for maintaining the soundboard crown, which is the precise curvature necessary to project sound most efficiently. A strong soundboard crown will ensure projection and tuning stability. It is well known in the industry that pianos with strong backframes will generally last longer and perform better later in life.  


 Let us take a moment to appreciate how awesome a

10cm X 10cm Essex backpost really is.

 (we love this stuff.)



Key Sticks

Longer key sticks provide more leverage for power and balance for control. One of the advantages of grand pianos is that they generally have significantly longer key sticks. Below is a picture of the #40 (middle c) key sticks from the three Essex models and several popular Yamaha models. Essex pianos provide longer key sticks than similarly-priced Yamaha pianos. In addition, both the EUP116 and EUP123 have longer key sticks than any Yamaha upright in production.





All Steinway-designed Essex pianos use the highest-grade steel strings from the renown German company, Roslau. Yamaha uses Roslau strings only on the YUS5, the most expensive upright in the Yamaha lineup. However, even the most affordable EUP111 has Roslau strings. 


 Piano Model

Has Roslau Strings

 Essex EUP111


 Essex EUP116


 Essex EUP123


 Yamaha YUS5 (the most expensive in the line)


 All other Yamaha Uprights





So, What Does All This Mean?


We do not necessarily feel this is a choice between good or bad, but rather a matter of best value. We encourage anyone shopping for an affordable piano to try all three brands and see what they have to offer. In their price range, Essex pianos offer quantifiably superior value and performance. We think you'll be impressed by Steinway's Essex. We certainly were!