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Japanese Values Key to Quality at Kawai America

A rich Japanese history can be found in a small industrial section of Lincolnton. Kawai America Manufacturing, Inc. builds acoustic upright pianos in its plant on Kawai Road. Kawai employs 3,000 people worldwide and 37 people locally. The company was founded by Koichi Kawai in 1927 in Hamamatsu, Japan, as a research laboratory. It built its first grand piano one year later, and by 1935 was producing 75 upright and 10 grand pianos per month. Koichi Kawai was born in 1886, and at the age of 11 joined Yamaha Organ Manufacturing Co. Believed to be richly endowed with genius, he was the first in Japan to successfully produce a piano action, a system of levers that moves a felt hammer to strike the strings when a key is depressed. When he was 20 years old, he completed the first true piano in Japan. In 1988, Kawai America opened in Lincolnton. It is the company’s only production facility in the United States. From the first Kawai piano to those made in Lincolnton today, one thing has remained constant – the care taken to construct the finished product. The Japanese influence has a lot to do with that, said Dick Eckburg, director of manufacturing. “The big influence is quality,” he said. “Quality standards are higher.” Inside the plant, workers put the pianos together by hand. At one station, strings are strung and panels glued on. The pianos move easily through the 60,000 square foot building on a continuous track that transports them from one area to the next. The sound of keys being struck echoes off the high walls. The Lincolnton plant averages about 20 pianos a day. It’s peak production was 43 pianos a day. Kawai America assembles a total of 27 different styles and finishes of pianos, Eckburg said. Those pianos are sold to Kawai’s sales division, shipped to warehouses and then sent to franchise dealers. Kawai is one of the largest piano manufacturing companies in the world and produces a wide range of musical instruments.