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Estonia Pianos
Estonia Pianos
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Hi all -

This is my first post to the forum, although I've been a "lurker" for many years. The information found on this site has always been quite informative and helpful.

I've recently decided to start playing again after an almost 15 hiatus. I graduated from a college in the US with a bachelor's in piano performance, so I am accustomed to relatively high-quality instruments. As I embark on this journey of "re-learning", I'm looking to upgrade my primary instrument. I had the opportunity to play both an Estonia L190 and a Schimmel Classic 189 this weekend, and I'm looking for some feedback from the community regarding their experience. Both piano are new with manufacturer's warranties, and with the trade-in of my instruments they are essentially the same price (mid-$20K). For all intents and purposes, they're equivalent instruments, essentially leaving my personal taste to be the deciding factor.

Neither piano sounded as if they were well-voiced, and neither were in particularly good tune. I'd also note the accoustics of the sales room were horrid. Those things aren't necessarily concerning to me, as I have access to an excellent tech in my hometown (these pianos were about a 2-hour drive for me) and I know both pianos are exceptional quality.

Thoughts:
- the L190 bass sounded very muddy and indistinct, and simultaneously the treble seemed very faint. Across the board, I felt the piano's sound needed more 'focus' or 'point'. Not necessarily to be brighter, but the tone felt 'flat'. I would say the treble issues were somewhat resolved with the lid fully down - I suspect the accoustics of the room are somewhat to blame for the lack of balance.
- the L190 also sounded very soft, but I suspect that's my perception. In research, I understand that the Estonia hammers may be 'oversized' from other comparable pianos, due to the soundboard design (apparently it's less-tapered). I've had issues with tendonitis in the past, so I'm leery of an instrument that's going to require more "work" due to the engineering. Obviously that can't be changed, so I'm interested in other's experiences and sensations.
- the sustain on the Estonia was glorious. I truly understand why folks have been gravitating to the instrument.
- the C189 sound had essentially the reverse problem of the L190 - it felt too bright and the sound decay felt very quick. The higher treble did sound weak.
- the C189 una corda essentially didn't function - there was no noticeable softening of the sound. Obviously, this points to issues both in preparation and in accoustics.

Core questions:
- What have folks' perceptions been of the 'heavier' Estonia hammers? Obviously some of this comes down to personal preference, but have you noted that more energy is required to produce the desired sound out of an Estonia?
- obviously voicing can be performed on any instrument, but will attempting "down-voicing" on the Schimmel sacrifice anything about its innate beauty? I've seen a couple videos from Merriman and Cunningham Pianos that lead me to believe my ideal tone is very achievable on the Schimmel; I'm a bit more concerned about the Estonia, simply because it's more-unique tonal quality (allegedly).

Thanks in advance!

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You mention the innate beauty of the Schimmel but it's brightness and the good sustain but heavy action of the Estonia.I suggest you tell the dealer to tune and prepair these pianos so that you can hear and play them.

As technician once said to me a great tuning can solve many things.Schimmels are known for their great sustain as well so it's rather odd that this piano is lacking in sustain..


My piano's voice is my voice to God and the great unknown universe, and to those I love.In other words a hymn.That is all, but that is enough.Life goes on, despite pain and fear.Music is beautiful,life is beautiful.


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1. Don't buy any piano that you don't like with the hope it can be improved to your liking. Both Estonia and Schimmel are considered high quality pianos, but there's always a chance that the pianos you are considering a flukes or can't be made to sound and feel the way you like. Every piano manufacturer occasionally makes pianos with serious problems that may not be fixable.
Since you already have a great tech make use of him to help evaluate any major candidates.

2. Ask the dealer to try and deal with the problems the pianos have. It's even possible that the dealer will let your tech do some work on the pianos before you buy them. Although this is not so common, I have heard about instances where this was done.

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I played both Estonias and Schimmels in my piano search this spring and found both to be very nice instruments. I ended up buying an Estonia L210. The Schimmels were very nice, seemed very consistent in character across both the Classic and Konzert lines, as well as between sizes, but they just didn’t speak to me in the way the L210 did. I did not find that Estonias on the whole had particularly heavy actions, and the one I chose had an action that was on the lighter side of average of all the pianos I played. With the pianos I played, I thought both Schimmel and Estonia pianos were quite clear in how they spoke (no muddy bass, definitely no faint treble, and balance between treble and bass registers was very good for both manufacturers). For me, the Estonia pianos had a prettier, very lyrical, singing quality, coupled with a very clear tone, and this combination was appealing to me.

If the pianos are not in tune and not well voiced, it is also possible that they’re not well regulated, which could be an issue with the Estonia feeling heavy. But I agree with pianoloverus - you should talk with the dealer about your concerns and see if they can address some of the issues. You’re talking about a good chunk of money for either piano, and if you’re going to pay that amount of money, you should love how the piano plays and sounds BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.

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No point in playing these pianos if they are not prepped for sale.

Who goes test drive a car with a rough running engine and a slipping clutch?


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I should clarify - I'm more than a little skeptical that the current dealer is going to be capable of providing any better preparation. While it was offered, I'm not convinced that, with his location, he's got a solid tech that could complete any refinement work. It sounds like the majority of his clientele is over the internet.

So yes, it would be a bit of a gamble, but again - both instruments seem quite solid and I'm likely asking for a high level of refinement.


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I think I may be to blame for the perception of Estonias having a heavy action because I mentioned that is a problem with my L190 made in 2005 in another thread. I have however played many Estonias that were made later that were a delight to play with actions much lighter and faster. This is because Estonia started using soundboards with the same Italian spruce used in many other fine European instruments instead of the Siberian spruce used in earlier years. They also changed the soundboard engineering and size of the hammers. I might look for another dealer if you're skeptical of this dealer's ability to provide proper preparation.


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I presume these are used pianos where the dealer is not the authorized dealer for these pianos.I find it difficult to understand that the dealer does not have a technician who can do some prep work, touch up the voicing,repair the uni corda pedal and the tune the pianos that you are obviously considering buying...It sounds like a sad state of affairs.
I do not think I would want to buy from such a dealer

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Sounds like your piano may not be at this location. There are a few other good dealers in your state, for what it’s worth… (Farley’s, Hulbert, maybe Hartland based on what I heard several years ago, though not firsthand) Two of these are technician-owned.


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Originally Posted by PJ_Piano
I'm more than a little skeptical that the current dealer is going to be capable of providing any better preparation. While it was offered, I'm not convinced that, with his location, he's got a solid tech that could complete any refinement work.

Based on your location and my speculation of who you are dealing with, you could be right. If they would offer to prep the pianos, would they pay YOUR tech. to prep the pianos? It seems like a win/win for them. Either you buy one of these pianos or they have well prepped pianos to sell to someone else.

My 2 cents,


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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
I think I may be to blame for the perception of Estonias having a heavy action because I mentioned that is a problem with my L190 made in 2005 in another thread. I have however played many Estonias that were made later that were a delight to play with actions much lighter and faster. This is because Estonia started using soundboards with the same Italian spruce used in many other fine European instruments instead of the Siberian spruce used in earlier years. They also changed the soundboard engineering and size of the hammers. I might look for another dealer if you're skeptical of this dealer's ability to provide proper preparation.

Actually Steve, Stu Harrison from Merriam actually called it out in one of his recent reviews as well.
Merriam SK-3 vs L190 Review

My experience wasn't that the piano was necessarily difficult to play, but that it was very quiet (odd for a 6'+ piano). Given Stu's comments about requiring more energy to activate the soundboard, my guess is that my brain was a bit confused over the amount of effort exerted compared to what I was hearing as the end product. My immediate impression when sitting down to the instrument was that the action actually felt almost easy to depress and 'shallow', but I adjusted quickly to that difference with no appreciable challenge.


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Originally Posted by PJ_Piano
Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
I think I may be to blame for the perception of Estonias having a heavy action because I mentioned that is a problem with my L190 made in 2005 in another thread. I have however played many Estonias that were made later that were a delight to play with actions much lighter and faster. This is because Estonia started using soundboards with the same Italian spruce used in many other fine European instruments instead of the Siberian spruce used in earlier years. They also changed the soundboard engineering and size of the hammers. I might look for another dealer if you're skeptical of this dealer's ability to provide proper preparation.

Actually Steve, Stu Harrison from Merriam actually called it out in one of his recent reviews as well.
Merriam SK-3 vs L190 Review

My experience wasn't that the piano was necessarily difficult to play, but that it was very quiet (odd for a 6'+ piano). Given Stu's comments about requiring more energy to activate the soundboard, my guess is that my brain was a bit confused over the amount of effort exerted compared to what I was hearing as the end product. My immediate impression when sitting down to the instrument was that the action actually felt almost easy to depress and 'shallow', but I adjusted quickly to that difference with no appreciable challenge.
My piano is not a quiet one, in fact it is quite capable of jumping out of the box. All the other Estonias I've played have been similarly responsive. While Stu sells Estonias he's only sold them for a short time due to acquiring a competitor and he has long term loyalty to Kawai. Frankly, I couldn't watch more than 10 minutes of that video. I've played many Kawais including Shigerus and I like them a lot, but they've always struck me as more a Mozart/Haydn piano than Beethoven/Rachmaninov. I have fond memories of one SK7 that was quite possibly the most controllable piano I've ever played, but it wasn't the loudest.


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These must be prepped to acceptable standard. Do not buy unless you are satisfied, and don’t rely too heavily on YouTube reviews. There are plenty of alternates to these two instruments you can consider. Buying based on what you imagine is possible, at least for a consumer, carries substantial risk. This cannot be over emphasized.

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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
I have fond memories of one SK7 that was quite possibly the most controllable piano I've ever played, but it wasn't the loudest.

So true!

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The Estonia is bigger so you should buy it.

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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by PJ_Piano
Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
I think I may be to blame for the perception of Estonias having a heavy action because I mentioned that is a problem with my L190 made in 2005 in another thread. I have however played many Estonias that were made later that were a delight to play with actions much lighter and faster. This is because Estonia started using soundboards with the same Italian spruce used in many other fine European instruments instead of the Siberian spruce used in earlier years. They also changed the soundboard engineering and size of the hammers. I might look for another dealer if you're skeptical of this dealer's ability to provide proper preparation.

Actually Steve, Stu Harrison from Merriam actually called it out in one of his recent reviews as well.
Merriam SK-3 vs L190 Review

My experience wasn't that the piano was necessarily difficult to play, but that it was very quiet (odd for a 6'+ piano). Given Stu's comments about requiring more energy to activate the soundboard, my guess is that my brain was a bit confused over the amount of effort exerted compared to what I was hearing as the end product. My immediate impression when sitting down to the instrument was that the action actually felt almost easy to depress and 'shallow', but I adjusted quickly to that difference with no appreciable challenge.
My piano is not a quiet one, in fact it is quite capable of jumping out of the box. All the other Estonias I've played have been similarly responsive. While Stu sells Estonias he's only sold them for a short time due to acquiring a competitor and he has long term loyalty to Kawai. Frankly, I couldn't watch more than 10 minutes of that video. I've played many Kawais including Shigerus and I like them a lot, but they've always struck me as more a Mozart/Haydn piano than Beethoven/Rachmaninov. I have fond memories of one SK7 that was quite possibly the most controllable piano I've ever played, but it wasn't the loudest.
I thought Stu was quite positive a about the Estonia...or not.


My piano's voice is my voice to God and the great unknown universe, and to those I love.In other words a hymn.That is all, but that is enough.Life goes on, despite pain and fear.Music is beautiful,life is beautiful.


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Originally Posted by Sgisela
I played both Estonias and Schimmels in my piano search this spring and found both to be very nice instruments. I ended up buying an Estonia L210. The Schimmels were very nice, seemed very consistent in character across both the Classic and Konzert lines, as well as between sizes, but they just didn’t speak to me in the way the L210 did. I did not find that Estonias on the whole had particularly heavy actions, and the one I chose had an action that was on the lighter side of average of all the pianos I played. With the pianos I played, I thought both Schimmel and Estonia pianos were quite clear in how they spoke (no muddy bass, definitely no faint treble, and balance between treble and bass registers was very good for both manufacturers). For me, the Estonia pianos had a prettier, very lyrical, singing quality, coupled with a very clear tone, and this combination was appealing to me.

If the pianos are not in tune and not well voiced, it is also possible that they’re not well regulated, which could be an issue with the Estonia feeling heavy. But I agree with pianoloverus - you should talk with the dealer about your concerns and see if they can address some of the issues. You’re talking about a good chunk of money for either piano, and if you’re going to pay that amount of money, you should love how the piano plays and sounds BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.

I myself chose the Estonia L190. It’s action was buttery smooth and somewhat lighter than the C3 I had at home. I had wanted to try the Schimmel C189 but the dealer only had the C169 to try. I could order the C189. The Estonia I tried and bought was totally amazing to me. I fell in love.
From your post it doesn’t seem that either piano “spoke to you”, so if it were me, I’d keep shopping.

Both of the pianos are beautiful and well made. Whichever you choose would be the right choice, but if either or both aren’t compelling, it might mean you need to try more pianos.
Best Wishes on your search!


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The current era Estonia's do not have particularly heavy actions, though we do see some variation in the hammer felt density that can require some other adjustments to get the action to feel its best. Most often on a New Estonia, if it feels heavy, we have more regulation to do in the damper regulation or checking. In the older Estonia's, the action setup was intentionally on the firmer side of average.

I don't really see any correlation between "big hammers" and non-tapered soundboards. I see a correlation between "big hammers" and more filing needed in preparation of additional voicing. Additionally, your comments suggest, again, a lack of attack causing you to work hard to try to achieve attack, but not that the action itself was heavy or difficult to play.

And your observations of the Schimmel also suggest a lack of final prep or, in the very least, a prep for someone that really wanted a hard attack. The lack of change with the una corda is a sign of being unfinished. I would expect the sustain to improve if it was taken to completion.

Were both pianos brought through the final steps of tone regulation to achieve a medium tone, you'd be better able to appreciate their intentional differences from a place where both are good instruments.

If the dealer has a willingness to communicate with you and set a future appointment to try the pianos after some attention, you might have a useful comparison before you. If not, then simply make a note of that experience and try fresh elsewhere. Good technical help can be a temporary issue (working with a backlog) or it can be blindspot with some dealers that operate differently.

Taking a fine piano the last mile requires technical skill, but also some vision of the piano's capability. That vision is usually born from experience with the brand being prepared, though not exclusively. We learn from mistakes as well as from from those who came before us.

We recently redid the action in a pre-Laul era Estonia where the owner had gone down several roads to tinker with his piano, not with the best results. Together, we settled on a new set of Renner Blue Point hammers, some advanced action geometry tweaks, and its now the way the customer wants it.


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