|The Schimmel Piano factory in Braunschweig, Germany.|
Pearl River alliance yields family of pianos
addressing every market segment
Schimmel Piano, one of Germany’s oldest and most revered piano makers, entered into a strategic alliance with Pearl River Piano in early 2016. In the ensuing two 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. Perhaps the most positive indicator is that Schimmel managed to eke out a sales gain last year in what can charitably be described as a challenging global piano market.
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 line—the F123, F121 and F116 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 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 F130, and a 5'1" grand, model P156.
The brand name pays homage to Fridolin Schimmel, the younger brother of Schimmel Pianos founder Wilhelm Schimmel. Fridolin Schimmel emigrated to the U.S. in 1893 and 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 Poland. For the most discerning buyers, there are the Schimmel “Konzert” and “Classic” series manufactured entirely in Braunschweig, Germany.
Born in 1854 in Leipzig, Wilhelm Schimmel developed a love of instrument building early in life and signed on as an apprentice to a local piano builder at age 22. Eight years later, he was sufficiently confident of his design and manufacturing skills that he opened his own piano building shop in a ground floor storefront with just two windows. His confidence was not misplaced: Within two decades Schimmel manufacturing operations had expanded to occupy 50,000 square feet, and Schimmel Pianos had secured gold medals at several international exhibitions. As the company prospered, Wilhelm Schimmel’s guiding maxim was “quality will prevail.”
Over the century, operations were further expanded and moved from Leipzig to Braunschweig, innovative new products were introduced, including a small upright without backposts and the first Plexiglas grand piano, and global distribution was established. However, subsequent generations of the Schimmel family maintained the founder’s emphasis on quality.
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.
Working closely together, Schimmel CEO Zhaoyin Chen and Viola Schimmel, president and great-granddaughter of the founder, have made it a priority to replicate this balance between man and machine at Schimmel production sites in China and Poland 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.”