Yamaha vs. Kawai – The Real Story

yamaha piano kawai piano

Coke vs. Pepsi. Ali vs. Frazier. Ford vs. Chevy. These are but a few examples of famous competitions over the years. In our world of ebony and ivory here at SoCal Pianos, a famous competition/comparison that would be a good fit for that list is Yamaha vs. Kawai. We are proud to carry both – for rental and purchase – and we are going to take a look at the differences between the two and what makes them great. These two companies also share a unique historical connection, so here’s a little history and background info on each.


Torakusu Yamaha first established Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd. – now known as the Yamaha Corporation – as a piano and reed organ manufacturer in 1887. The company made its first upright piano in 1900 and began producing grand pianos in 1902. Today it is the largest manufacturer of pianos in the world. But that’s not all. The Yamaha brand is known internationally for its wide array of electronic devices/equipment, audio equipment, motorcycles, snowmobiles and more. 


Koichi Kawai, the company founder, actually began his career as an apprentice to Torakusu Yamaha and was a vital member of the Yamaha research and development team that brought modern pianos to Japan. After Yamaha died in 1916, new management restructured the company in the 1920s. This prompted Kawai to leave the company and found the Kawai Musical Instrument Research Laboratory in 1927. They made their first grand piano in 1928 and today are among the world leaders in the manufacture and sale of grand pianos, upright pianos, electronic keyboards and electronic synthesizers.


First, let it be said that both of these manufacturers are the very best at what they do. Their pianos are universally respected around the world and you can’t go wrong with either one. But there are differences between the two. Here’s a look:

  1. Technology. Yamaha has since its inception manufactured their pianos in the traditional way: with handcrafted wood and other materials constructed with modern techniques. Yamaha is changing the interface of pianos with such technological advances as their exclusive silent feature, which allows for silent playing of an acoustic piano using headphones. Kawai uses some synthetic and carbon-based composite materials in their action mechanism, which some say makes them more durable and stable. They also feature longer keys that can enable pianists to navigate difficult pieces with confidence and ease.
  2. Tone. Most piano enthusiasts recognize a difference in tone between the two. Yamaha is known for their rich, bright, clear sound which makes it the favorite of many modern or rock/pop musicians. Kawai is generally regarded as having a warmer tone, often preferred by classical pianists.
  3. Personal preference. The afore-mentioned tone is a subjective and personal preference. Some may prefer the sound a Yamaha makes when the keys are struck, others a Kawai. That is why it is imperative to play any pianos you are considering purchasing and see how it feels and sounds…they are all different.


SoCal Pianos offers the best comprehensive piano services in the Ontario, CA area. Come check out our large selection of new and used pianos in all the best brands and models. We also offer piano rentals, so you can check out that touch and feel we talked about today before buying. SoCal will also be happy to help you or your piano student locate a highly-rated piano teacher. And please know that you can also visit SoCal at our Palm Desert location by appointment only.