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Joined: Jan 2014
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I had a chance to play the Matchless Cunningham concert grand, and thought some people might be interested in my impressions.

In my way of looking at pianos, there are two types of piano, performance grade and everything else. A performance grade piano doesn’t have any weakness in sound, it has a smooth easy action, an excellent tone and is designed to produce a particular sound. When we talk about these pianos, it’s pointless to talk of ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ because they are all magisterial. Can you say who was a better artist, Van Gogh or Rembrandt? Each had their own style, and likewise, performance pianos each have their own style. So this review will be focusing on what gives the Matchless Cunningham style.

I sat down at the piano to play, and the first note rang long and clear. I let it ring perhaps longer than the music indicated, enjoying the sound. A sustain like this is exactly what you would expect from a top-level piano.

I played loud and soft. The action, which is a modified Renner action, gave me excellent control, and the piano had reserves of power that could be tapped when needed. Every performance grade piano gives excellent control across the entire dynamic range, and I wasn’t disappointed in Cunningham.

I played chords across the piano, trying to feel what it could do with different notes. What if I tried to emphasize the bottom notes of the chord? What if I tried to make the top notes of the chord into a melody? What could the piano do if I pushed it?

The bass had just a touch of electricity, lively and true, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside; but a special mention goes to the tenor section, where beautiful harmonies easily flowed from my fingers and the piano melted into smooth richness. There was an earlier thread on PW where people mentioned the tenor section, and the recording didn’t lie, everything I played here sounded good, effortlessly.

Overall the piano was solid, worthy of the title ‘performance grade.’ So I moved on to trying to characterize the sound. What style did it have? Is it a Van Gogh, or a Rembrandt?

When thinking of piano styles, some pianos want to impress you, intimidating as the virtuosic Rachmaninoff. Other pianos sing you to sleep with sweetness, as a Stephen Foster lullaby. This piano seems to aim at a sweet spot: being virtuosic without being intimidating, intimate and capable. It’s a Gershwin.

The Matchless claims to have an “American sound” which is frustrating because everyone has a different meaning for the term “American sound”. In this case it means a sound with the strength of a Steinway, but the roundness of a Baldwin, and to me the piano does reach that goal.

[Linked Image]

Last edited by phantomFive; 04/22/14 02:47 PM. Reason: Corrected error in description of action

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Great review, phantomFive.

Thanks for posting it!


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Thanks for the review! Shame we can't try them in the UK!

The action is really made by Steinway?


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I doubt Steinway would make actions for anyone else, let alone for a dealer that is not one of theirs.


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Hi phantomFive,

Thank's for your detailed review. I have yet to play one, but I am looking forward to putting the Cunningham Concert through its paces. As many who read this forum know, I have high regard for the Cunningham pianos.

I don't believe that the action is built by Steinway, however. That's a minor point which I'm sure that Rich will clarify.


Marty in Minnesota

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what's the retail price on the concert grand? are we allowed to know that on the forums?

Well done on Cunningham creating a range of affordable high quality instruments. Is it a Chinese instrument? Or at least partially Chinese?

I'm enjoying the recording on the microsite.


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The Cunningham is designed by Frank Emerson & the staff at Cunningham and is built by Hailun. Depending on finish, the "tag" price is ~$60K.


Marty in Minnesota

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Wow - so that means it's about 36,000 UK Pounds - considering a worn out Steinway D will cost at least £25,000 and then you'd have to spend the same again having it rebuilt (at LEAST the same again), the Cunningham is at an incredibly competitive price.

Interesting, I want to try one in the flesh, but currently that would mean going to Philadelphia (which is not out of the question).


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Hey PhantomFive!

First of all, thank you for taking the trouble to fly from California to Philadelphia just to see if I could back up my claims on the Bosendorfer. Frankly, I am glad you had the experience you did.

Secondly, I am so happy that you played so many of what we have to offer. PW folks, although Phantom is not a "professional" pianist, he knows much more about the instrument itself than many "professionals" I have met.

But I do have to correct a mistake he made. This Matchless Cunningham concert grand piano was assembled by Hailun, but it was also partially completed here in Philadelphia. We DID customize the geometry and knuckle placement in this instrument and, to that end used Renner parts to our desired dimensions to accomplish that. We strung the piano here and installed hammers here.

We love Steinway pianos. We rebuild many of them each year and we have universities, performers, composers, and music professors as our clients. Because of this we chose to use American Steinway D hammers and customize them for use on this piano.

This information is not on our website or in our brochure and this is the only Matchless Cunningham that uses these hammers, but I must say that the result is satisfying to me.

I don't think Phantom made any video during his visit, so I took the liberty of including a snippet of Sandrine Erdely-Sayo auditioning the piano. Sandrine recently played a Carnegie Hall recital and prepared for it by playing the same repertoire here in Philly.

Here is her first reaction to the piano:



I hope to have more video in the near future. If there is interest here, I am happy to share it.

Thanks,


Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Company
Visit one of our four locations
(215) 991-0834 direct
rich@cunninghampiano.com
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I was wondering what hammers this piano would get. I'm intrigued by the choice - I do admit a particular fondness for the NY Steinway hammer. Though I know there are plenty of technicians who frown on the idea of needing to lacquer hammers to get the tonal response you want, to me there really is something special in the sound of a lacquered and well voiced NY Steinway hammer set.

The hammer choice also helps explain that wonderful tenor tone! It's a shame I rarely find my way to the east coast - I'd love to try the piano in person. smile


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I love it, Rich. Sure would like to try one in person. I'd be intersted in seeing more videos.


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Very nice!

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Rich:

I quite agree with the original poster. Your new concert grand most definitely DOES sound like a "performance grade" instrument.

Congratulations in every way for this fine accomplishment.

Karl Watson,
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I second the OP's stellar review of the Cunningham Piano.

One of the biggest gripe I have with my condo is that I don't have a place to put the Cunningham, and had to settle with a nice upright.

It is indeed is an astonishing instrument. I try to attend every events at Cunningham so I get a chance to play it. Until, Rich finds out my scheme and kick me out. That moment is right now. :-(. Shouldn't have said too much.

When I get an ACTUAL house with a piano room, a Cunningham will be residing there.

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Congrats, Rich. You know I really was impressed when I got to play the Concert Grand at your store last year.


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Phantom Five-

I totally echo your description. Although I have not played the Matchless Concert Grand, I own a Matchless Parlour Grand.
It is a "Gershwin" in deed. Seemless tone, rich, consistent and full bodied. I fall in love, every time I play it.

Cunningham Piano - The New American Sound



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