COMPANIES TO WATCH
|Schimmel has a long history of pushing the design envelope with unique instruments including the Pegasus, designed by noted aerodynamic specialist Luigi Colani.
Continual refinement in search of the perfect piano.
THE UPRIGHT PIANO is the definition of a “mature product,” but that fact hasn’t stopped the Schimmel Piano Company from continually looking for ways to improve it. Not willing to leave well enough alone, the Braunschweig, Germany-based piano maker has spent the past year refining its top-selling C116 and C120 upright models. The latest iteration features a new model C121 with subtle but significant enhancements—a redesigned back and plate design, along with a redesigned pressure bar for better tuning stability in shifting climates, and a reduced-mass bridge that delivers greater dynamic range. These technical advances come packaged in the same elegant cabinetry that have made them widely accepted in markets around the world. In November at a North American dealer meeting in Indianapolis, Schimmel introduced an all-new version of its Twin Tone System, which allows for silent playing—an optical sensor translates the movement of the piano hammer into MIDI data, which activates an onboard digital tone generator.
Founded in Leipzig, Germany in 1876, Schimmel has built a global reputation on pushing the design envelope. Founder Wilhelm Schimmel was winning gold medals at international exhibitions within a decade of launching his piano company. His guiding maxim was “quality will prevail.” Subsequent innovations included the first small upright without backposts and the first Plexiglas grand piano. Over the past two decades, Schimmel has received accolades for unique case designs, typified by the Pegasus model, designed by Luigi Colani, an aerodynamic expert who created a gracefully rounded case without sharp edges or corners.
In 2016, Schimmel entered into a strategic alliance with Pearl River Piano, China’s largest piano maker. In the ensuing three years, the relationship has proved beneficial to both companies, providing Pearl River with new design technology, and expanding Schimmel’s product line and global distribution network.
Unlike most previous European-Asian tie-ups that have simply involved pasting a well-known European logo on the fallboard of an Asian piano, the Schimmel and Pearl River union has involved an intensive collaboration between engineers in China, and at the company’s headquarters in Braunschweig, Germany. This collaborative effort is reflected in the completely new Fridolin Schimmel piano line, introduced last year. The first three models in the Fridolin Schimmel line, the F 123, F 121, and F 116 uprights were designed by Schimmel, using the company’s proprietary Computer Assisted Piano Engineering (CAPE) system, which allows engineers to precisely balance the variables of string length, soundboard dimension, and bridge placement to optimize musical response.
Pearl River, for its part, made significant investments in production tooling at its Guangzhou factory to manufacture the new piano line to the exacting tolerances the Schimmel has been famous for since 1885. The result is exceptional quality at a more affordable price point. Based on positive market response, the Fridolin Schimmel line has been expanded this year with a new larger upright, the F-130, and a 5'1" grand, model F156.
The brand name pays homage to Fridolin Schimmel, the younger brother of Schimmel Piano’s founder Wilhelm Schimmel. Fridolin Schimmel immigrated in 1893 to the U.S., where he launched his own piano company in Faribault, Minnesota. The name also accentuates the Schimmel family piano building tradition, creating a logically segmented product lineup that addresses all major price points and market segments. First-time buyers can access Schimmel design and manufacturing quality with the Fridolin Schimmel line. The next step up is the Wilhelm Schimmel line, produced in Schimmel’s Kalisz, Poland factory. For the most discerning buyers, there are the Schimmel “Konzert” and “Classic” series, manufactured entirely in Braunschweig, Germany.
At the Schimmel factory in Germany, building superlative musical instruments involves a complex interplay between man and machine. Computer-controlled routing equipment shapes component parts such as bridges, ribs, and pin blocks, to exacting tolerances, ensuring absolute consistency. However, assembling these parts and turning them into a responsive musical instrument requires the handwork of skilled piano makers who have been trained through a formal apprentice program.
Schimmel CEO Zhaoyin Chen and Lothar Kiesche, director of sales and marketing, have made it a priority to replicate this balance between man and machine at Schimmel production sites in China as well. Rapid growth in the burgeoning Chinese piano market indicates that their efforts have been successful. As Chen explains, “By keeping up the tradition and the culture of piano building in Germany, we are strengthening the Schimmel brand in the national and international markets.”