In 2001, the Baldwin Piano Company filed for bankruptcy. That same year, the Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corporation purchased Baldwin’s assets and began a major restructuring plan. Their strategy was to reposition Baldwin from the shrinking luxury piano market (where it competed with companies like Steinway and Mason & Hamlin – who were also undergoing major restructuring around this time) to the broader mid-priced piano market (where it would compete with companies like Yamaha and Kawai). Gibson moved Baldwin’s headquarters to Nashville and began promoting Baldwin pianos at their 18 offices around the world. In 2006, Gibson opened a new Baldwin factory in China and, finally, in 2021, Gibson introduced the world to its new, state-of-the-art piano factory in Zhongshan, China (where all Baldwin models will be produced for global distribution). As you might imagine, such a significant restructuring of a beloved American brand created quite a stir. Unfortunately, it also created a storm of misinformation. Baldwin’s competitors used this opportunity to denigrate the brand. Technicians who loved working on a handcrafted American piano panned the decision to modernize the instruments. Americans mourned the loss of yet another American product… and the internet did what it does.
Today, it’s actually quite difficult to find truthful information about Baldwin pianos… so that’s exactly what I am here to do. As a Baldwin piano expert and a piano industry veteran of over 30 years, I’m here to help you learn the truth about today’s Baldwin pianos.
An American Company
First and foremost, Baldwin is still an American company. For 113 years, Baldwin built their pianos in the US (winning countless awards across the globe for their quality and rich, expressive sound). …but even though their pianos are now built in Baldwin’s Zhongshan, China factory, Baldwin is still wholly owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation and headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. As with many companies who used to build pianos in the US (including Yamaha, Wurlitzer, Kimball, Chickering and many more), production locations change with shifts in global economics and supply.
In fact, many of our favorite “American brands” today are made in China. Companies like Levi Strauss, Ray-Ban, Apple and even “American League” baseballs make their products in China. You’d probably be surprised to find out how many “iconic American” products are now made in other countries. Globalization gives businesses the chance to maintain their high standards of quality without pricing themselves out of the market. As much as we’d love to have everything made in the US, we have to accept the new global reality. For consumers, it’s a good thing!
Made The Way They Used to Be
The truth is – MOST things aren’t made like they used to be. Advancements in manufacturing and design have improved the way virtually everything is made. Computers and modern machinery have actually made piano building more precise and consistent, which benefits everyone! …but that doesn’t mean Baldwin pianos don’t receive a ton of “hands-on” work by master technicians. They do!
Baldwin is an iconic global brand. Gibson will not dilute their brand by producing anything but the highest quality instruments for their intended price point. Most companies use automated production lines to manufacture their pianos. American-made Baldwins were built the “slow way” with a lot of work being done by hand. Modern Baldwins are made with the same attention to detail. In fact, several models (like the BP-211, BP-190, the B-252, the Hamilton Studio and the Acrosonic) are updated editions of time-tested models. Baldwin still uses their iconic American Spruce soundboards, Wisconsin Maple pin blocks and inner rims, and custom-made soft felt hammers for that traditional Baldwin tone. Baldwin is also the only piano line with a working center pedal on all of its pianos. Most manufacturers today use the middle pedal as a “practice pedal” which mutes the strings and makes the volume significantly lower. Baldwin uses a “practice lever” switch on the left side of the piano which lowers a felt strip in front of the hammers. This gives players the full functionality of their piano and the modern “practice rail” feature! Some of the newly-designed Baldwin pianos (like the BP-1, the BP-3 and the BP-165) fill gaps in Baldwin’s old line – meeting the needs of modern piano players in ways Baldwin never could before. Truly, though Baldwin pianos are made differently today than they were 10 years ago, they are still made very well – especially when compared with other pianos in the mid-priced piano market.
A Fantastic Value
Baldwin made its name by designing and building the best pianos in the world. Yes, American-made Baldwins are superlative instruments, but – when you play them side-by-side with modern Baldwin pianos – you might be surprised to discover which piano you actually prefer. When the Arkansas factory closed, Riverton Piano Company purchased all the remaining American Baldwin pianos and – today – our stores are the ONLY stores in the US that can offer new American Baldwin pianos side-by-side with modern Baldwin pianos. …and – believe it or not – when folks play both pianos, they often prefer the Chinese Baldwins! The truth is, when most people play a modern Baldwin, they love it. In fact, moving production to China has been a great thing for the brand AND the consumer. It means you can still buy a traditional, American-designed piano for a fraction of the price you would have to pay if it had been built in America. You can own a new Baldwin 52” professional upright for less than a fourth of what you’d pay for a 52” Steinway or half of what you’d pay for a 52” Yamaha. …and once you play one, you’ll wonder why anyone would ever pay so much more!
The truth is – most of today’s piano shoppers are looking to spend less than $40k. It just doesn’t make sense to design pianos with a lot of hand work or features that put the piano out of reach for most consumers. Most people simply want a good-quality piano that sounds beautiful, plays well, looks great, and will last for many years. Moving production to China gave Baldwin a much needed competitive advantage: the power to build a world-class piano for the mid-price piano market.
That American Sound
Probably the hardest thing in the piano industry is helping clients understand the individual nature of piano sound. If ten people listen to a piano and five say it sounds good and the other five say it doesn’t sound good – which group is correct? Whether a piano “sounds good” is impossible to measure. It’s a just product of personal taste.
Modern Baldwin Pianos have the same warm, deep, “American sound” that made Baldwin “America’s Favorite Piano.” Thanks to the careful watch of Baldwin’s master craftsmen (some of which have been with the company for decades), that is one thing that really hasn’t changed. Today’s Baldwin Pianos still have that iconic American sound. It isn’t as dark as some European pianos and isn’t as bright as many Asian instruments. It’s a unique tone all their own. There is no harshness or “brassy” sound in the lower register. Baldwin Pianos deliver a “creamy smooth” rumble that seamlessly blends to a clear, singing treble as your hands move up the keyboard. The combination of updated scale designs and traditional American woods work together so that even their smallest baby grand will have the tonal quality to compete with pianos a foot or more longer. This is the unique sound made Baldwin the choice for pianists like Liberace, Ray Charles, and Billy Joel. This is the sound that still inspires today’s players every day!
The truth is this: things change. Every major piano manufacturer in the world has either had to re-imagine their instruments or change something about their production in the last decade. Globalization has changed how every product in the world is made – from cell phones to concert grand pianos – and, whether it’s an American-made Baldwin or a Chinese-made Baldwin, you can count on a fantastic musical experience. …but don’t take my word for it. Come on in and see a modern Baldwin Piano for yourself. You can compare it with its (more expensive) American siblings and decide for yourself which piano has the ideal sound, touch, look and price for your home, church or school. …because – in the end – there is only one opinion that matters: yours. …and that’s the truth!