June 2009 Archives

The Yamaha AvantGrand hybrid pianos introduced in January made a sensation in the industry and music scene. The most characteristic feature of these pianos is that they provide players with experience of authentic grand piano while they have solved those problems many home pianists have, i.e., limited space and sound control.

Today, general consumers see acoustic and digital pianos simply a piano. Based on this trend, Yamaha has reviewed since 5 years ago its keyboard lines from concert grand piano to portable electronic keyboard in the integrated concept as a piano, and restructured the Piano Division in every facet from product development to marketing.

The essential point in the move was what Yamaha piano could provide customers regardless of the incorporated traditional acoustic mechanism or digital technology. After countless number of meetings held in the last 5 years, the path narrowed and a future course began to take shape. That was hybrid pianos which incorporate grand piano action mechanism and digital sound engine. The details of targeted customer groups and price points came into view one by one. (photos below: AvantGrand N3 (left) and N2.)


In January 2007, engineers of Piano Division and PA/DMI Business Group formed a taskforce named 'Integrated Piano Project.' They set 'experience of authentic grand piano' as the ultimate goal in product development from the outset. It was to seek sound, appearance and playing feeling perfectly same with acoustic grand piano for the coming hybrid pianos.


"We carefully studied how pianists feel when they play grand piano. The AvantGrand has every factor we have found. It's apart from such basic matters as polyphonic capability or number of instrumental voices. They represent our design concept never heard before," says Shinichi Takenaga, Department Manager, DMI Marketing Department, NI-V Planning Department, Pro Audio & Digital Musical Instruments Division. (photo above: from l. to r., Takuya Nakata, Hiroko Ohmura, Shinichi Takenaga, Yuji Matsuoka and Hideyuki Orii.) 

To make the AvantGrand look a true and beautiful piano when players sit at them, the designers concentrated in every detail from height of the music rack to roof top open angle. As a result, the N3 and sister model N2 have authentic appearance of traditional grand piano though they come in much compact structure.

Players can feel deep resonance on entire body of the AvantGrand generated on bass tone range with their fingers and pedal works thanks to the newly developed grand piano action mechanism and tactile response key touch.

The heart of the AvantGrand was, without doubt, voicing. A host of innovative ideas included Spatial Acoustic Sampling which sampled sound in 4 channels, and Spatial Acoustic Speaker System, 4-channel speakers coupled with 3-way special amplifiers assigned for individual frequency response.

Looking back the development project, Hiroko Ohmura, Manager, Product Strategy Planning Office, Pro Audio & Digital Musical Instruments Division, says, "Every process from sound sampling, voicing to sound system for efficient play back of the created sound required our total dedication. We kept watching and monitoring the outcome countless of times before we are consented with the result."
The soundboard resonator, exclusive pedals, etc. joined the AvantGrand technologies in course of time. (photo left: grand piano pedal specially developed for the AvantGrand.)

Yamaha had 10 Japanese and foreign pianists monitor the new models. In most cases they gave professional comments on the AvantGrand in comparison with acoustic grand piano. It suggests high level of perfection the AvantGrand achieved. The development team was much encouraged with their positive response.

Targeted Marketing Plans
While the product development project launched, marketing and sales team presented their original plans. Yuji Matsuoka, Manager, CL・PK Group, DMI Marketing Department, Pro Audio & Digital Musical Instruments Division, says, "Our future piano business will be lined up with acoustic grand and upright pianos, hybrid pianos and digital pianos. Full concert grand piano comes top of the pyramid. We conceive all models as a piano with distinctive features and value meeting versatile requests of customers. The AvantGrand is categorized as hybrid product line.

Yamaha plans to distribute the AvantGrand at selected 100 retailers including combo stores besides keyboard specialist shops in the U.S. Distribution in Europe will be handled by about 100 Yamaha Premium Piano Dealers which sell S Series and other advanced models.

Piano marketing in the Japanese market shifted last fall. The DGP and DUP digital pianos formerly distributed exclusively by keyboard stores are now available at selected mega stores in an attempt to increase exposure of digital pianos and awareness for the hybrid models among general consumer. The AvantGrand will be sold at about 100 music stores throughout Japan.

Hybrid piano is a new product category, but its prospects are greater than conceived market group. Hideyuki Orii, Assistant Manager, CL・PK Group / EL Group
DMI Marketing Department, Pro Audio & Digital Musical Instruments Division explains, "The AvantGrand can be a good option for those consumers seeking an upright piano. We expect very much for sales strategies of the dealers. Yamaha has a broader selection of pianos matched to individual and specific needs of customers. Music store owners and sales personnel can present prospective buyers models best fit to their requirements with comprehensive knowledge on every product and well-planned marketing."

As Yamaha moved into an integrated distribution of piano last summer, sales reps cover all keyboard products from grand piano to portable electronic keyboard. In the past acoustic piano and digital musical instruments were promoted to the dealers through different channels.

In some cases, Yamaha sales reps advise retailer sales staff of Yamaha-controlled stores and part of its leading dealers products layout and marketing tools when they refurbish their sales floors. The Piano Selection-Hybrid & Digital Models Project is designed to present mixed lines of digital and hybrid pianos on the same arena.

Another Selected Keyboard Shop Project supports retailers to have consolidated inventories covering from grand piano to portable electronic keyboard. To add the AvantGrand line, Yamaha's piano business has celebrated another milestone.

Takuya Nakata, Executive Officer, General Manager, Pro Audio & Digital Musical Instruments Division, expresses his prospects in the new hybrid pianos, "Our first task was to examine our common understanding in piano before venturing on new innovative concepts. Yamaha has over 100 years of history and legend in piano manufacturing. It wasn't an easy task. By reviewing every factor which is believed to be legitimate, we could have defined what people seek in piano today.

"In course of development works, AvantGrand concepts took shape much more definitely. All people involved in the project shared one unified goal, and the Integrated Piano Project won cross-section support. As a first step we have come to provide customers with authentic grand piano experience with the AvantGrand. Second and third innovations in piano will follow in the coming years at Yamaha."

While Yamaha is planning store-front promotion campaign of the AvantGrand pianos, monitor movies and comments by music conservatory students are provided at Yamaha website:

Comprehensive Selection of Tuba
Twenty four years ago, Masatoshi Miyaoka, president of Grand Gakki, Kobe, traveled throughout Japan looking for successful business models as he planned to launch his own music store. He found that only a few retailers had low brass Instruments such as euphonium and tuba. He recalls, "It took me 3 years before I recognized the reason. That was simply they knew a fact that those instruments were hardly easy lines for music store. I took low brass instruments because I didn't know that. I confess it now."

He started his career in music business at Ihara Gakki (full line distributor in Kobe) as a piano salesman and technician. However, despite substantial experience in large keyboard instruments, he chose to be a wind instrument retailer having interest in school market as well. While leaving school business to the staff, he traveled abroad to pick fine low brass instruments himself. First business partners were U.K. Sterling, and Swiss Hirsbrunner. Grand Gakki became sole distributor for their euphonium and tuba in the Japanese market in l991.

As he came acquainted with name professional orchestra members overseas, his business cooperation with world leading manufacturers increased. They now include bm Symphonic (tuba), Spada (trumpet) and Brass Evolution (mouthpiece). Grand Gakki distributes 10 top quality York model tubas out of 15 built a year by Walter Nirschl of bm Symphonic.(photo right: Masatoshi Miyagawa, third from right, and staff)

Business of high ticket hand-made instruments priced over several million yen cannot be achieved without support of prominent orchestra members. Miyaoka says that Shuzo Karakawa, famed principal tuba player from Osaka Philharmonic, was instrumental having kept Grand Gakki go through hard times.

Professional players seldom switch their long used instruments to a new one of unfamiliar brand. According to Miyaoka, it takes them substantial time to experiment new instruments and make a final decision. He believes that a key role of music dealers is to support professional players providing them with reliable information on instruments so that they can make a right decision.

Grand Gakki has gradually become known among orchestra society throughout Japan for good selection of instruments and comprehensive support for players and music society in the years to come.

School market is a core business
About running school and retail businesses, Miyaoka explains, "Import lines and other inventories share equal percentage in value at Grand Gakki. The same goes for school and store sales. School market takes much of our cost and labor, but if we quit from school market, I'm sure it will vanish in 10 or 20 years. Music business grows as we promote music making. It can often happen that we see our young customers 20 years ago have grown up and coming back to us. They are influential customers now. That is how our decades-old friendly relationship is maintained. This is a reward we receive from school business. Not a few of our old customers are active professional musicians now."

First staged 3 years ago, Grand Gakki organizes one-day clarinet and tuba workshop inviting over 300 students from junior high school to music conservatory, and amateur musicians involved in local band activities in Amagasaki, Kobe and Osaka. It's designed to entertain amateur musicians with concerts by professionals, seminars and grand ensemble by all participants who bring in their instruments. The event is very well accepted and anticipated in Western Japan music circle.

As a tuba specialist store with 10 employees, the company has 50 tubas regularly in the inventory. For the customers coming in for selection, sales staff presents 5 models. Showing more than 5 instruments makes customers lose concentration.

Yasuoka expects middle-aged and senior music makers to be a prospective customer group as he sees an increasing number of those old timers coming back to the store these days. They are thrilled with music making again. He is also encouraged by growing music activities in the community. While providing local hall and venue information with them, he is very enthusiastic in meeting their demands and supporting music activities. Grand Gakki serves as a music center in the local community.(http://www.grandgakki.com/)

Yamaha Portable Electronic Keyboards

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Portatone PSR-S550 ¥75,000

Developed to meet diversified demands from home practice to music production, it incorporates 796 advanced quality instrumental voices, 16-track recording capability, 64-note polyphony, rich reverb, chorus and other effects, and 176 backing patterns satisfying broader genre of music.

Other features include a USB TO DEVICE port for data storage and playback of song data downloaded from the Internet, Music Data Base which provides matched selection of instrumental voices, backing patterns, tempo, etc., simply by designating desired genre of music, a large LCD display screen, and touch response function.


Portatones PSR-E323 & PSR-E223


They are entry models incorporating as many as 482 or 375 instrumental voices including AWM stereo sampled piano voices and sounds produced by XGlite sound engine, 9-step lesson function, 9 reverb and 4 chorus effects, single and two-hand practice function, and the control panel instructed in Japanese language.

The upper model E323 incorporates touch response capability, 26 types of harmony, a 373KB flash memory for 2-track recording and data transmission from PC with help of Yamaha's free software, Music Soft Downloader, and advanced practice support functions including Song Master which provides concentrated practice on key parts, and Phrase Practice for repeated phrase by phrase lesson.


Portatone EZ-J210

The latest model of the line features light-guided function for the 100 music titles, AWM stereo sampled piano voices and advanced sounds produced by XGlite sound engine, and 9 etudes.

It incorporates 392 instrumental voices, song lesson function for single and two-hand practice, and touch response capability.

The body comes in pure white accentuated with vivid orange presumably appealing to elementary school and pre-school children, the largest targeted group.


Further information is available from:

Roland Classic Organs

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The compact size C-330 comes with 61-note, two-manual keyboards, a 30-note horizontal concave style foot pedal board producing authentic pipe organ sound. It measures 1,270 mm wide, 1319mm tall and 537mm deep (91cm with the pedal board), and comes complete with a matched bench.

Roland's exclusive RSS reverb system elaborately delivers impressive reverberated sound of large cathedral and concert hall with presence. The newly designed sound engine is capable of producing natural pipe organ sound even with subtle tonal nuance of delicate key touch at home.

In addition to two individual 20cm woofer and 5cm tweeter speakers, it has two 12cm satellite speakers which create overflowing sound field of pipes by setting up high above on the wall or at ceiling.

Roland has developed the keyboard extensively studied tracker action key touch of traditional classical organs. It even expresses resistance caused by wind pressure right before the palette opens, and characteristic escapement feeling when the palette opens.

Voices for the Individual stops have 4 variations for versatile organ music from baroque to romantic style.

Other features include instant selection of classical pitches and temperaments, an LCD display screen on which players can withdraw control settings with shortcut keys, a sound recording capability and a USB memory.

Designed after positive organ, C-230 incorporates 36 organ voices, and additional 24 voices including cembalo, modern forte piano and celesta which serve best in ensemble performance with flexible setting capabilities of tonal volume and pitches.

The reverb knob gives sound with beautiful resonance as if playing in middle size hall, church or music saloon.

Since it has two individual 12cm full range and 5cm tweeter speakers as well as two 12cm satellite speakers, it effectively meets musical requirements of middle size concert halls.

Individual voices have 4 variations to be played in various combinations. Selection of classical instrument pitches and temperaments, sound recording function and a USB memory are other features of the C-230.

The composite style structure allows easy transit.

Further information is available from:

Tombo Premium 21 Diatonic Harmonica ¥7,500

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Tombo has developed a new 21-hole diatonic harmonica in response to demands and requests from customers based on established technology acquired through decades of manufacturing as a harmonica specialist. 

While retaining high quality sound and comfortable playing feeling, it employs resin material for the body. Modeled after Tombo No. 1521 in shape and dimensions, it's designed to be played in the same feeling as the wooden body model for all level players.

The Premium 21 has a body screwed with plates so that it's easy to clean and regulate. Tombo has redesigned the cover material, reed setting, thickness of reed plates and regulation of tremolo effect for much improved tonal color and sound volume. The cover material is made of chrome-plated brass instead of stainless steel for richer overtones.

Six major keys of G, G#, A, A#, C and C#, and 3 minor keys of Gm, Am and Cm are available.

Further information is available from:

Guyatone Stomp Boxes

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Four new stomp boxes joined the Guyatone 'mighty micro' line. They feature aluminum chassis, true by-pass switching, instant battery replacement capability when they are accommodated in effect board, control protection function to avoid unexpected failure in live performance, highly luminescent LED, Luminous Foot Switch, input signal level control of 0dB/-14dB for versatile applications, battery consumption warning function and cleverly designed inputs and outputs.


STm5 Comp/Sustainer ¥12,800

It produces natural compression and long sustain. The new response control function allows user to designate desired attack level. Three tonal characters of Bright (high boost), Standard and Fat (high cut) are provided.


SVm5 Slow Volume ¥13,800

The refined model of the SV-2 features controls for level, threshold, rising and release, one individual input, output and DC input, and a sliding switch for attenuator (1/2/3).


TZm5 Torrid Fuzz ¥15,800

It has controls for level, tone, depth and input attenuator, one individual input, output and DC input, and a phase +/- switch.



MCm5 Micro Chorus ¥15,800

Having controls for level, depth, rate and FX level, one individual input, output and DC input, it can produce three types of wave (Sin/Tri/Sq). An input level selector switch (-14dB/0dB) is incorporated.


Further information is available from:

Cakewalk by Roland SONAR V-STUDIO 100

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An integrated music production system consisting Windows-based SONAR VS software designed by Cakewalk, and Roland-developed hardware will be introduced at the end of June.  

It's a compact all-in-one system containing a controller and an 8-channel digital mixer built into a 1.9kg chassis designed easy to set up plugging with a PC, and carry around from home to recording studio and live venue.   

The heart of the system is SONAR VS software which provides every work of music production from audio recording, mixing to mastering.

The hardware serves as a USB audio/MIDI interface having 8 inputs, 6 outputs, and 2 independent mic preamps allowing direct plug-in with mic, electric guitar, digital musical instruments and audio equipment. Exclusively designed for the SONAR VS, it provides users with quite simple and stress-free operation. Rich controllers include 100mm motorized faders with touch sensors, a rotary encoder, and control-assignable knobs and buttons, all efficiently work with no help of mouse control.

The digital mixer incorporates an equqlizer, a compresser and a reverb system to be operated as a stand alone compact type digital mixer. It also has a 24bit/96kHz linear PCM-compatible WAVE recorder for sound recording at CD exceeding quality. A metronome function is provided. On live stage, it's capable of playing back backing tracks while operating as a mixer. An SD (HC) card is provided for data storage.

Further information is available from:






Vestax handy trax USB

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The advanced handy trax portable turntable comes with a USB port. Just plugged with a PC, it converts analog LP sound into digital data to be saved into CD-R and enjoy playing them back with portable type music player.

It has 1 each RCA stereo and headphone outputs, 24bit/48kHz recording sampling rate and a built-in high quality monaural speaker. Driven by batteries, it allows user to play LP records through a headphone. It's compatible with SP records as it has 33-1/3, 45 and 78 rpm modes.

It comes complete with a user-friendly recording software.

Further information is available from:

Ohashi ALO-6W Audio Modular Rack ¥21,800

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Ohashi Industry has introduced an open type rack made of steel which can accommodate 8 units of audio equipment at desired angle from 0 to 90 degrees. It measures 546mm wide, 404mm high and 297mm deep, and weighs 4.4kgs. The rack is height-adjustable moving the leg shafts provided at both sides in case it's mounted on PA mixer, DJ mixer, recording system, etc. .

Further information is available from: