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#104291 - 07/09/07 09:44 PM Kawai-built Howard 550-C
Rixware Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/09/07
Posts: 3
I'm having trouble finding any information (detailed or otherwise) on a line of pianos built by Kawai for Baldwin under the Howard label in the 1970s.

My wife and I are considering the purchase of a 1973 5' 10" Howard 550-C. We are both church musicians, and I am also a composer. We live in Minnesota. This would be our first grand piano, and there is a possibility it would be used to teach lessons. We expect it to be the piano our children practice on when they get old enough.

We like the sound and the action of this instrument, and it appears to have been well-maintained. The hammers have been serviced by the dealer, at our request, to minimize a brightness it had developed with age, and we did not detect any other major issues in two sessions of evaluation.

However, we are concerned about some alligator-like checking on the finish. It's minor, but definitely visible. The dealer's technician suspects that the piano sat by a window. They say that it is not bad enough to justify the cost of repair, and they believe that the damage is wholly cosmetic. Their report says that the rim and structure are fine, but the layers of lacquer on top have been damaged. (Our technician has not yet examined the instrument.)

We're interested in information about the typical issues people have had with pianos in this line (which is reportedly similar to the Kawai KG-2), as well as some sample prices. (I was not able to locate any information about this line in Larry Fine's The Piano Book or its annual supplements.)

Specifically, we're interested in hearing what types of problems we might expect with this piano, what issues might develop as a result of whatever caused the checking, and if those are not deal-killers, what type of discount we should expect on the purchase price as a result.

Any help and advice would be greatly appreciated!


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#104292 - 07/10/07 03:15 AM Re: Kawai-built Howard 550-C
pianobroker Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 4346
Loc: North Hollywood CA.
550 was the predecessor model to Kawai's KG2C (5'10") in the late seventies. I always thought structurally they were built pretty well not much different than the early KG models. If you change the hammers/Renner they actually sound great. My only reservation would be the age factor. It is 35 years old which is old for an Asian piano. Is it all original as for the bass strings and action parts? Are the action felts hard (kluncky/noisey)
Bass strings (thuddy) have minimal life at 35 years old. Unless you are getting this piano at a great price I would look for a newer low mileage preowned piano. If original it is an eventual fixer. To restring the piano and change at least hammer,shank,flanges, refinish, you are talking more than the value of the piano. The finish is an issue eventually. It sounds to me it is not polyester though the early KGs were. Refinishing the piano is 3-5K by itself. I get these pianos for under 2K if I want them ( in need of full restoration) which I don't. Did the dealer do anything to the piano. What are they asking? That is the magic question.
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#104293 - 07/10/07 03:40 AM Re: Kawai-built Howard 550-C
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10780
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Very interesting.


I OWN a 1971 Howard/Kawai 550. It was the piano my family bought for me when I was 15 and getting serious about playing. It is the piano my son started learning on six years ago. And it is still a fine piano that has aged very gracefully.

My family maintained it quite well. It always sat in a climate controlled room away from direct sunlight. For a few years when I was away earning degrees it was tuned less often than it would have been had I been living with my parents, but then I had it shipped to me and resumed its care.

It's in the walnut finish and it has at most a few minor cosmetic scratches. The inside is clean and well maintained (I vacuum it periodically). The strings are not rusted and the soundboard is in perfect condition. A few years ago I had it thoroughly regulated and had the hammers shaved and voiced. In my view it is still a very fine instrument to learn on. A well maintained Japanese piano can last quite a long time without any unusual deterioration.

You and your tech will have to examine this one to determine whether it has any age or maintainance related issues. My experience is just meant to indicate that age alone should not prevent you from considering it for your purposes.

For full disclosure, I bought a new grand a year and a half ago, but not because of any particular deterioration of the Kawai. My son got good enough that I felt he would benefit from a significant upgrade. And I also just pampered myself with the purchase ...midlife crisis and all that.

The Howard/Kawai is now our 'second' grand, curled up next to the new one. The Kawai is used for exercise practice, for messing around, and for me if I play two-piano works with my son.

BTW, I think the Kawai cost about $2,100 in 1971. That was serious money for my school teacher parents. I realized this later on when I had to start living within my own earnings.

Hope this helps.


#104294 - 07/10/07 04:30 AM Re: Kawai-built Howard 550-C
Rixware Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/09/07
Posts: 3
The dealer is asking $7K with a one-year warranty which includes voicing as necessary in our space.

It looks like everything inside is original. There appear to be no signs of rust, but I'm no expert at inspecting such things. The pins were described by the tuner as "very tight." The bass really sounds good and clean -- not muddy in any way. Tone is very even from top to bottom, with only a couple of minor bright spots near the middle.

The dealer has done some work on the hammers (at our request), because it sounded much too bright overall when we first played it. I don't think they've done anything else beyond tuning.

It apparently was a consignment piece that they bought for resale. Not sure what this means from our standpoint. My wife has purchased from them before (for her church) and we've found them to be very accommodating. But the price seemed a bit high to me for a piano that age.

David, thanks for giving your impressions. It sounds like you've been satisfied, and that's very helpful information.

The help is appreciated!


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#104295 - 07/10/07 04:37 AM Re: Kawai-built Howard 550-C
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10780
Loc: Williamsburg, VA

I suspect there is a fair bit of room in that asking price. As a dealer paying cash, pianobroker may buy a Howard for 2K or less from someone who wants to get rid of it, but like any dealer I suspect he would charge quite a bit more to sell one retail. When I brought up valuing my piano a while back (when I was considering selling it privately) dealers here thought that I should ask in the 5K to 6.5K range, but accept 4K or 5K.


#104296 - 07/11/07 02:25 AM Re: Kawai-built Howard 550-C
Rixware Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/09/07
Posts: 3
UPDATE: Our tech is scheduled to look at this piano tomorrow, so we'll have a better idea of its condition.

So, we'll probably be deciding tomorrow on whether to proceed with this purchase. Any other sample prices out there would certainly be helpful...




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