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Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141263
07/25/08 01:47 AM
07/25/08 01:47 AM
Joined: May 2005
Posts: 8,622
Phoenix, Arizona
Carey Offline OP
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My 7 foot Mason & Hamlin BB was built in 2003. As we all know, for many years M&H was ranked by Larry Fine in the lower end of Tier One (along with Steinway). In 2007, for reasons which he has gone to great lengths to explain in the annual Piano Book Supplement, Mr. Fine decided to move M&H products down a notch to the upper end of Tier Two. I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Fine's rationale, and would like to believe M&H when they say they seek to use the best quality parts in their pianos regardless of country of origin. But that's not the purpose of this post.

Given that my piano was built by M&H five years ago is it possible that Mr. Fine would still consider it to be a Tier One instrument? In other words, is it fair to assume that all M&H pianos produced during the past 15 years are now demoted to Tier Two (guilt by association) or only those produced in the last 2-3 years with the "imported" parts??? Conversely, now that the Kawai Shigeru has been moved to Tier One does that mean all Kawai Shigerus qualify to receive that elevated status (I don't think so) or only those built recently?

Quite frankly, I don't really care how Mr. Fine ranks my piano. I know how well it is built, how it plays and sounds, etc. It has its strengths - and it also has its idiosyncrasies - as do all of the pianos I've had the opportunity to play over the years that are listed in Tiers One, Two and Three. But I'm very grateful to have it !! I also appreciate the service the Mr. Fine provides to the field through the Piano Book. A great source of information - subjective as it may sometimes be !!!


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141264
07/25/08 02:14 AM
07/25/08 02:14 AM
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torrance, CA
turandot Offline
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Did you notice any change in the performance level of your piano from the day that the new ranking came out? smile

I know that Mr. Fine has become a powerful figure in the piano industry, but I don't think his influence can extend to your piano.


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141265
07/25/08 07:49 AM
07/25/08 07:49 AM
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Sir Lurksalot Offline
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Because his rational for the "demotion" was the recent re-sourcing of components, I'm sure that Mr. Fine would still consider pianos made before that re-sourcing to still be Group One instruments.

I don't remember his reasoning behind the Shigeru promotion. If it's because of recent changes to the instruments, then it wouldn't be correct to assume that Shigerus made before those changes should be promoted.

By elevating Estonia to the top of Group Two, he did comment that they "probably belong in Group One," based on changes made in the first part of this decade, but their reputation in the tech community hadn't quite caught up with the reality of their quality and musicality. In that case, it might be safe to assume that any upcoming promotion would be backdated to around 2003-ish.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141266
07/25/08 08:28 AM
07/25/08 08:28 AM
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Georgia, USA
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Okay, this discussion is way over my head but what the heck… I’ll make a comment anyway. First of all, I don’t have a copy of “The Piano Book” by Larry Fine. I once stopped by my local library to check it out and they didn’t have it either. So, I don’t have a clue what is in the book, except for what I have read here on the PW forum and what I have heard piano salespeople quote.

Secondly, it is my observation that those in the piano industry use Fine’s book as it best suits them. For example, I have had a couple of piano salespeople pull out Fine’s book and start quoting something he said in an effort to sway my decision their way. I have also had piano salespeople to say derogatory things about Fine and his book, which I’ll not quote here on the forum.

The bottom line… many in the piano industry use Fine’s book as it best suits them. If Fine’s comments serve them in a positive way, they use it; if Fine’s comments do not provide a positive outcome, they trash him and his book.

How objective and accurate is Fine’s assessments, observations and opinions? It depends on who you ask and whether or not the comments are in their favor. I don’t have a clue.

Best regards,

Rickster


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141267
07/25/08 09:05 AM
07/25/08 09:05 AM
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Central TX
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Quote
Originally posted by turandot:
Did you notice any change in the performance level of your piano from the day that the new ranking came out? smile

I know that Mr. Fine has become a powerful figure in the piano industry, but I don't think his influence can extend to your piano.
And folks thought Steve Jobs' "Reality Distortion Field" was powerful!

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141268
07/25/08 09:43 AM
07/25/08 09:43 AM
Joined: Sep 2006
Posts: 46
Southern California
PIANOLatte Offline
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Hi Carey,

You have a fine instrument. Your piano was built before the outsourcing he references occurred, so technically your Mason and Hamlin is a tier 1 instrument. However, the most important factor is whether the piano speaks to you. If you love it, it was the right selection for you. Enjoy!


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C. Bechstein 7'4"

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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141269
07/25/08 10:00 AM
07/25/08 10:00 AM
Joined: May 2001
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Maryland/DC/No. VA
Steve Cohen Offline
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I agree with the others that have posted that you piano is top rated. However the entire issue is misleading.

Mason & Hamlin designs their pianos and to meet thier rather stringent "specification standards" for manufacture. Parts specifications and assembly tolerances must meet those standards or M&H would reject them in a heartbeat. Whether M&H makes the parts or buys them, as long as they meet the standards and tolerances, it make no difference.


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141270
07/25/08 11:32 AM
07/25/08 11:32 AM
Joined: Sep 2007
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Central Iowa
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Hi Carey,...

My experience is similar to Rickster's,...

Since there are many versions of the Piano Book and their Supplements,... some Piano Dealers will pick one version that has the best ranking for the piano they sell and use it in their pitch,...

Many people in the midwest are very trusting so they won't do the research to find out the ranking that corresponds to the year of manufacture of the piano.

I myself chose to purchase a Tier 2 2006 M&H A over a Tier 1 2002 M&H A,... I never for a moment wished that I had purchased the higher ranked 2002 M&H A instead smile

Regards,

Robert


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Roland A-90 EX
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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141271
07/25/08 12:36 PM
07/25/08 12:36 PM
Joined: May 2001
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New York City
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I think that the change in action parts was a mistake and Fine's ranking makes a difference psychologically. I have a BB from the new period which I love, but I wasn't happy when the ranking switched to 2A.

I was hoping Fine would switch the Mason's ranking to 1C in the latest edition. Who wouldn't rather own a 1C than a 1A even if it was the same piano?

Don't you think that Estonia owners who had bought their pianos before the 2A ranking switch were very happy about the new ranking even though the it didn't change their piano's tone?

It's psychologically more appealing to have a 1C rated piano.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141272
07/25/08 12:42 PM
07/25/08 12:42 PM
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North Carolina, USA
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"...that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

--Shakespeare

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141273
07/25/08 05:13 PM
07/25/08 05:13 PM
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Steve,

For the benefit of folks like Rickster who have not read Fine's reasoning, it should be mentioned that Fine does not challenge the physical specifications and tolerances of the newly-sourced parts. His concern - whether it's valid or not - is that the parts are not yet "time tested."

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141274
07/25/08 05:30 PM
07/25/08 05:30 PM
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Not to reopen an old argument, but what does "time tested" mean? How long will Mason have to wait before being restored to Group 1? And does anyone know whether Larry Fine is consistent across brands in demanding "time-testing" for imported parts? For example, if Steinway or another brand at the top of the heap were shown to use imported parts, would Steinway be demoted to Group 2 until those parts were "time-tested"?

I find it frustrating that, on the one hand, Larry Fine sounds (according to Turandot, in another thread on this forum) like a "corporate merger press release" when he talks about Steinway, but demotes Mason to Group 2 on the theoretical ground that the imported parts are not "time-tested." A healthy skepticism is good, but only when evenly applied to all manufacturers.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141275
07/25/08 05:38 PM
07/25/08 05:38 PM
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My M&H BB was built in '06 making it a tier 1 piano. It was'nt until sometime in '07 that I decided to lower my opinion of Larry fine! bah

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141276
07/25/08 06:05 PM
07/25/08 06:05 PM
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N. Texas
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Rank Piano Am, you make very good points. I like his books but I too don't think that he is consistent enough. Maybe he is too skeptical about the source stuff. And I am concerned that his method discourages innovation in piano design. I am interested in what Steingraber and Phoenix and a few others are doing. I like the fact that M&H has new parts designs which they are selling to rebuilders. Too bad they would be killed by Fine's rating if they put them into their new pianos. frown


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141277
07/25/08 06:48 PM
07/25/08 06:48 PM
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This whole notion of parts not being time tested is pretty absurd IMO. The parts in question are almost certainly action parts, and one can do accelerated testing by subjecting the action that contains them to an action "pounder" or whatever the right name is. Within a few days, one can subject the action to years of use. Many industries do accelerated aging testing. It's not rocket science. The electronics industry does it, the car industry does it, and no doubt many more industries do it.
Actions have been built with no substantive changes for over 100 years. Does anyone think there are deep dark secrets as how to make good ones? Piano actions are really very simple as compared to the many sophisticated devices and products that are and have been sold for many decades.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141278
07/25/08 07:38 PM
07/25/08 07:38 PM
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Unfortuantely, it is even worse!

Action parts VERY rarely fail. So, not only can accelerated testing be done easily, but there wasn't even an action parts problem with the old Memphis-made Aeolians, and the Chinese-made pianos (and parts) are considerably better made then Aeolians.

Easy testing and no histroy of problems.


Piano Industry Consultant- http://www.linkedin.com/pub/steve-cohen/6/b92/b80

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Since 1937.

www.jasonsmusic.com
My postings, unless stated otherwise, are my personal opinions, not those of my clients.
Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141279
07/25/08 10:02 PM
07/25/08 10:02 PM
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Parsonsfield, ME (orig. Nahant...
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You mean like this?
(from our tour of the Mason & Hamlin Factory).

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

Let's think about this.

The Burgett's sunk a lot of time, work, and money into Mason & Hamlin, with the promise to restore it to the reputation it had many years ago.

They've continued to invest in their infrastructure and their pianos, which now enjoy a great reputation in the industry.

Do ya really think they would do anything to jeapordize their instruments now? I think not.


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141280
07/25/08 11:25 PM
07/25/08 11:25 PM
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Sir Lurksalot Offline
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For the sake of fully-informed discussion, here is the passage in question. I'm not qualified to agree or disagree - just sharing it with those who have not read it:

"The phenomenon of Western makers of high-end pianos sourcing parts in China may be inevitable, but it does trouble me a little more than the other manifestations of globalization...I'm especially concerned about action parts...when a customer is laying-out tens of thousands of dollars for a high-end piano, he or she expects that the manufacturer will use only the most time-tested components...I don't want to sound alarmist...but especially with regard to action parts there are a myriad of opportunities for things to go wrong, and some may be ones that do not show up in tests other than the test of time. In fact, some may not show up as "problems" at all, but rather as a subtle difference in musical expressiveness or as slightly greater wear and tear over the long term...purchasers of high-end European and American pianos probably do not expect Chinese-made components in their instruments, and the pianos are certainly not advertised that way..."

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141281
07/26/08 12:01 AM
07/26/08 12:01 AM
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Louisiana, USA
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Quote
Originally posted by Robert H:
some Piano Dealers will pick one version that has the best ranking for the piano they sell and use it in their pitch,...
My dealer pulled out the Larry Fine book to explain to me why the Charles Walter was superior to the Baldwin Acrosonic.

I've been glad that he did.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141282
07/26/08 12:24 AM
07/26/08 12:24 AM
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torrance, CA
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Quote
My dealer pulled out the Larry Fine book to explain to me why the Charles Walter was superior to the Baldwin Acrosonic.

I've been glad that he did.
So then wiz,

Was that moment forever suspended in time when your dealer pulled out his Fine book the genesis of your passionate affair with Tier rankings? laugh


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141283
07/26/08 02:07 AM
07/26/08 02:07 AM
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Los Angeles/Burbank
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I don't currently represent Mason & Hamlin. Wanted to say that up front. I believe strongly that Fine's ranking on MH is dead wrong. They are wonderful pianos and represent the best of what an American sounding piano has been and is.


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Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141284
07/26/08 06:37 AM
07/26/08 06:37 AM
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New York City
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Does anyone know exactly when or starting with what serial number did M&H switch to non Renner actions?

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141285
07/26/08 07:50 AM
07/26/08 07:50 AM
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Philadelphia
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It is my understanding that a new piano guide is about to be published to offset the multitude of concerns associated with the Larry Fine Book. Hard to get much info on it yet other than the publisher is Wobegon Press.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141286
07/26/08 09:37 AM
07/26/08 09:37 AM
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New York City
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Quote
Originally posted by fathertopianist:
It is my understanding that a new piano guide is about to be published to offset the multitude of concerns associated with the Larry Fine Book. Hard to get much info on it yet other than the publisher is Wobegon Press.
That would probably be an interesting book but I think "multitude of concerns" is way overstating the truth about Fine's Piano Book or Supplements. The only real concern seems to be about the newish M&H ranking.

I think the huge majority of us who have dealt with Mr. Fine find him incredibly knowledgable, helpful and totally honest in his evaluatons. It's hard for me to imagine a better book on pianos than the one he has written.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141287
07/26/08 10:12 AM
07/26/08 10:12 AM
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Pianoloverus: you might want to take a look at the thread that I started about the comments on Boston and Essex pianos in the 2008-09 supplement, if you have not done so already. I agree that The Piano Book is an excellent resource, but it does seem to require educated and skeptical reading--as, of course, all such guides do. It has had a long run as the only such source, and it is hard to imagine that competition from another guide will be a bad thing.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141288
07/26/08 11:30 AM
07/26/08 11:30 AM
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Sir Lurksalot Offline
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Hmm... a Google search for "Wobegon Press" returns nothing. Perhaps Noona hasn't launched her website yet.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141289
07/26/08 12:52 PM
07/26/08 12:52 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Sir Lurksalot:
For the sake of fully-informed discussion, here is the passage in question. I'm not qualified to agree or disagree - just sharing it with those who have not read it:

"The phenomenon of Western makers of high-end pianos sourcing parts in China may be inevitable, but it does trouble me a little more than the other manifestations of globalization...I'm especially concerned about action parts...when a customer is laying-out tens of thousands of dollars for a high-end piano, he or she expects that the manufacturer will use only the most time-tested components...I don't want to sound alarmist...but especially with regard to action parts there are a myriad of opportunities for things to go wrong, and some may be ones that do not show up in tests other than the test of time. In fact, some may not show up as "problems" at all, but rather as a subtle difference in musical expressiveness or as slightly greater wear and tear over the long term...purchasers of high-end European and American pianos probably do not expect Chinese-made components in their instruments, and the pianos are certainly not advertised that way..."
Although Fine's book has been very helpful to many, many people. I still claim he's way off base with this opinion. Actions can be tested, materials can be specified. It seems to me that all he succeeded in doing is raising FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). It is on old salesman's ploy.

Although I attribute no hidden motives behind Fine's words, I do think they are very counterproductive. At some point in time, everything is new, be it a new company, a new idea, a new design, or a new way of making an old design. If only "time tested" products are considered worthy, then progress in any field of endeavor becomes impossible, because no matter how much better something may seem, it is a priori judged inferior and/or not to be trusted by not being time tested.

It is exactly this kind of thinking that has impeded progress in the piano industry. If the auto industry acted like this, maybe the Ford Model A would be a new design, because it took so long to get away from the time tested horse and buggy. So, Fine's demotion of M&H is clear. It doesn't matter how good the pianos sound, it doesn't matter how good the action is and how beautifully it plays, it doesn't matter how high the build quality is, it doesn't matter how well prepped their pianos are--M&H committed a mortal sin--they used Chinese parts. Oh the horror!

Sorry for the rant, but the kind of thinking evidenced by Fine particularly rankles me.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141290
07/26/08 12:53 PM
07/26/08 12:53 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Rank Piano Amateur:
Pianoloverus: you might want to take a look at the thread that I started about the comments on Boston and Essex pianos in the 2008-09 supplement, if you have not done so already. I agree that The Piano Book is an excellent resource, but it does seem to require educated and skeptical reading--as, of course, all such guides do. It has had a long run as the only such source, and it is hard to imagine that competition from another guide will be a bad thing.
As I remember, the major point was about the phrase "designed by Steinway" which many believed to be incorrect or irrelevant. Even if the above is true, when you look at the total of all the information in the Piano Book and its supplements, I think this is not much of an arguement for some of the negative statments about these books.

It is almost like a grain of sand on a beach IMHO. I also feel that many(NOT all) of the people who criticize Larry Fine are far less knowledgable than he is. As far as knowlege of a wide variety of pianos, I think he is among the most knowledgable in the country.

Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141291
07/26/08 01:02 PM
07/26/08 01:02 PM
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Joined: Apr 2007
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Quote
Originally posted by carey:
is it possible that Mr. Fine would still consider it to be a Tier One instrument?
Who cares? You like your piano or you don't. Don't be so concerned about what somebody else thinks.


PTG Associate Member

"There is always room above; there is only the ground below."....F.E. Morton (with props to Del F.)
Re: Larry Fine - Mason & Hamlin Ranking #141292
07/26/08 02:01 PM
07/26/08 02:01 PM
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Too much emphasis is placed by some on Larry Fine’s piano brand ratings. He even cautions against reading too much into them. In his 2007-2008 annual supplement, he says “Don’t get too hung up on small differences [in the piano ratings]. The distinction between one group and the next (especially between Groups 1 and 2) can be subtle, and the difference between adjacent subgroups can be miniscule, even questionable. Furthermore, the preparation of the piano can be far more important to the quality of the product than many of the distinctions shown on the chart. When it comes to dealer prep, it really is possible (to some extent, anyway) to turn ‘a sow’s ear into a silk purse’. Look for a dealer known for providing thorough and competent make-ready and you won’t have to worry so much about what group your piano is in!”.

Regarding Mason & Hamlin and the use of Chinese parts, Fine states in the same supplement that “Though this approach has raised eyebrows in some circles, and there is obviously some risk, the company says it has kept a close eye on quality. In fact, for some items, it’s possible that the quality available from China is better than from other sources. Most of my contacts felt that the quality of the piano had not diminished during this time and may, in fact, have improved.”

When I was shopping for a piano recently, I heard conflicting opinions as to why Mason & Hamlin was assigned the rating it received in the 2007-2008 supplement, some from people in the business who know Fine personally and provide input for his ratings. In fact, the exact methodology Fine uses for assigning piano brands to different classes is not revealed in the supplement. The 4th edition of “The Piano Book” contains more information about the rating methodology but not enough details to convince one that the comparisons were done in a rigorous and comprehensive way. If the comparisons were done properly, then there should be more of an attempt to compare individual piano models (e.g. Mason & Hamlin BB as opposed to the entire Mason & Hamlin line of pianos). In the event that a piano’s rating changes, the serial numbers corresponding to the old as well as the new ratings should be specified. The fact that this information is not contained in the ratings indicates how much of an approximation they are.

The bottom line is that you should take Fine’s disclaimer about his rating system to heart and not read too much into the ratings. The factual information in “The Piano Book” about pianos and how to buy them is considerably more valuable than how Fine classifies top tier pianos into groups 1A, 1B, 1C, and 2A in each supplement.

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