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Kawai Plant Reveals Key to Piano Assembly

Lincolnton was given a behind-the-scenes look into one of its most unique businesses Wednesday. As part of Business Appreciation Week, Kawai America Manufacturing, Inc. opened its doors for a public tour of its facility. About 40 people were given a brief history of the Kawai Musical Instrument Company, then guided through a maze of piano part assembly lines – witnesses to the construction of some of the world’s finest pianos. Founded by Koichi Kawai in 1927 in Hamamatsu, Japan, the company began as a research laboratory. The first Kawai grand piano was built a year later, and by 1935, the musical instrument manufacturer was producing 75 upright and 10 grand pianos per month. Kawai was and still is a family-run company. Today, Koichi Kawai’s grandson, Hirotaka Kawai, is the company’s president. In 1988, the company opened the Lincolnton piano assembly plant – its only production facility in the United States. “The most logical reason for establishing the company here is first, the proximity to the furniture industry and second, it’s basically the same climate as in Hamamatsu, Japan,” Director of Manufacturing Richard Eckburg explained. Lincolnton’s plant employs between 35 and 40 people, and has a peak production of 43 pianos a day. It assembles five different piano styles, including Steinway and Sons’ Boston upright. The 60,000 square-foot plant buys the piano cabinets locally and does not manufacture any parts. It is solely an assembly plant, and an amazing one at that. At the front of the plant, strings are strung and the backs of the pianos are assembled. Each piano is strapped to a dolly, which winds its way through the entire plant on a continuous set of tracks. After the backs are constructed, the strings are roughly turned and the hammers and action, which strike the individual strings, are installed. The keys are put in place and leveled before the piano is put into the “torture chamber.” The chamber is a sound proof room, which simulates about 20 small children banging on all the piano keys at once. “If anything’s loose, it’ll fall off in there,” Warehouse Manager Keith Hovis said. After 10 minutes in the chamber, the keys on the piano are spaced, leveled and buffed, then the pianos roll into two soundproof rooms, where they are finely tuned. After they are tuned, construction of the piano cabinets is completed, the wood finish is touched up and the pianos are boxed for shipping. Sixty four to sixty six pianos can fit on a tractor-trailer. Wednesday’s tour was piano tuner Allen Connor’s first look into the assembly of the instruments which have been his life’s work. “It’s like a mechanic going to a car factory and seeing it all being put together,” he said. “It gives you a greater appreciation for the process.” Connor may have enjoyed any piano factory tour, but the Kawai tour was special, and not just because he lives in Lincolnton. “I’ve always loved tuning Kawai pianos,” he said. “They’re great instruments.”