Taiwan Made Yamaha Upright Pianos (Part 1)

Currently, Yamaha pianos are known to be made in Japan, Indonesia and China. In the west, piano technicians also know well that Yamaha have had factories in the USA and UK. The information is available at the Pierce Piano Atlas (mine is the 12th edition) and the German Atlas der Pianonummern (mine is the 12th edition). 

However, sometimes I find these western publications mainly focused on the import origins related to the western markets. The information of pianos intended for markets elsewhere hence have been neglected and sometimes incorrect. Such a case was discovered when I was researching the brand Eterna, the information on Pierce and the German atlas are incorrect.

When searching “Taiwan Yamaha” on Google, one will find some discussion on Piano Forum. Much doubt was raised even when one Taiwanese member pointed out several sources about the Taiwanese factory.

Ignorance is acceptable when pianos not intended for the west would never appear in western countries. But they do sometimes, appearing as grey market pianos or privately brought by their owners through immigration. When a piano technician came and saw an unfamiliar serial number on a “Yamaha” labelled piano, he or she might mistaken it as a fake. The truth is, it might be legit. There are Yamaha pianos made in Taiwan with a separate serial number system, but the information is not easy to find and most of them are in Chinese.

Sadly, the Taiwanese plant has shut down in 2009. Fortunately, we have old news archive to reference its former existence. TVBS, a Taiwan TV channel, made a news report where we can find an archival snapshot of the plant.

形樂鋼琴調音維修 Kata Music Piano Tuning In Hong Kong &Bull; Arieslu 20090701131746 Jpeg
“Defeated By The Economy! Taiwan Yamaha’s Piano Factory Will Shut Down This Month.
形樂鋼琴調音維修 Kata Music Piano Tuning In Hong Kong &Bull; Sunkiss 20090701161959 Jpeg
Photo Of The Musical Instrument Plant.

Below text is directly copied from the Taipei Times, the only official English source I could find telling a fuller story of the Yamaha factory in Taiwan. 

Yamaha to shutter Taoyuan plant

Japan’s Yamaha Corp, the world largest piano manufacturer, will shut its Taiwanese plant later this month because of high production costs, Yamaha’s agent said yesterday.

“The Taiwan Yamaha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co (台灣山葉樂器) will close on July 25. Its 100-or-so workers will be laid off with severance pay,” a staff member from Yamaha KSH Music Co (功學社), Yamaha’s agent, said by phone.

“It is a pity because the Taiwan Yamaha plant sells the world’s best-quality Yamaha pianos at the lowest prices. It has made a great contribution to music education in Taiwan,” the staff member said.

The Yamaha Taiwan company confirmed its upcoming closure, saying it is part of Yamaha Corp’s global restructuring.

“In future, production in Taiwan will be assigned to Yamaha’s plant in Japan or other countries,” it said in a statement.

In its heyday, the Taiwan Yamaha plant produced 10,000 pianos per month for domestic sale and export, but now its makes only 1,000 per month.

“Yamaha Corp believes production costs [in Taiwan] are too high,” Tsai Chen-cheng (蔡振成), the plant’s sales manager, told the Chinese-language United Daily News.

However, Yamaha KSH Music Co will continue to sell Yamaha pianos, offer after-sales service to clients and run more than 100 Yamaha music classes, which teach piano and other musical instruments.

The Yamaha plant, located in Taoyuan County, was opened in 1969 as a joint venture between a local partner and Yamaha Corp, which has links with Yamaha Motor Corp, producer of Yamaha motorbikes.

Yamaha Corp was founded by Torakusu Yamaha in 1887 in Hamamatsu, Japan. It produced its first Yamaha piano in 1900 and by 1991 had manufactured 5 million Yamaha pianos.

There are two Yamaha plants in China and one each in Indonesia, Taiwan and the UK.

Yamaha Corp shut its piano production line in the US two years ago and plans to close its plant in the UK in October.

Here’s also an event announcement at the Yamaha Taiwan’s official website, only available in Chinese. Below is a rough translation. (Longtan is south Taoyuan County.)

Sounding the Last Musical Note at The Taiwan Yamaha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co at Longtan District

The Taiwan Yamaha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co began operation in 1969 with a concept of “Taiwanese made pianos for the Taiwanese market”. In the past 40 years, the factory has produced over 285,000 upright pianos for schools, music professionals and the general publics. It has nutured the growth of local musical culture and has provided local employment opportunities. Most importantly, the operation strictly followed the law, conducted business with integrity and has successfully withheld the fine reputation of this international brand.

When the economy was great in 1989, piano sales was over 13,700 per year. It was extremely beneficial to the local economy and Yamaha’s operation.

The declining birthrate has been drastic, from over 400,000 new born in the 1970s to less than 200,000 nowadays. Moreover, since the restriction on importing used piano was lifted in 1996, huge number of used Japanese pianos have been imported and resulted a shrinking market for new pianos. Facing a declining sales, the Yamaha headquarter decided to shut down the Taiwan Yamaha factory and allocate its resource to other global plants.

On July 31, 2009, the Taiwan Yamaha team held a “Production Conclusion Ceremony”. Professor Kan (簡汝謹) of National Taiwan University of Arts performed on the 40th Anniversary Piano (YM40)  and marked an end to the 40-year old factory. But this is not the end, we believe in the greatness of the Yamaha brand. The Taiwanese market with be served by the Japanese and global production lines. The sales and after-sales service will be supported by Yamaha KSH Music Co.

According to above article and this Taiwanese webpage “Taiwanese Piano Market Explained” (only in Chinese), the early Taiwan government only allowed the import of brand new piano with the intend to protect the local piano production industry prior to 1996. This also means that used pianos were not allowed to import, so there were limited number of them. We should also consider that Taiwan’s living standard has not been very high, therefore many families could not afford imported pianos. I believe this is why Yamaha and Kawai decided to build factories there, so they can provide locally produced piano for the Taiwanese market. The webpage explained the lift of used piano import was a result of Taiwan joining the WTO, this is incorrect. Taiwan only joined WTO in 2002, right after China did. However, an archival US Country Report (1996) stated that “the United States is seeking to improve market access for these and other products as part of Taiwan’s WTO accession process.”

The lift of used pianos import meant a sudden flood of used pianos from nearby Japan in the Taiwanese market. Aside from being quality built and affordable, these pianos were very competitive as Taiwan’s climate is also similar to Japan’s, so no one can discredit them from Taiwanese ones. Gradually, the Taiwanese factories’ business suffer bad enough to eventually shut down.

All that said, the Taiwan Yamaha factory was real! And it started in 1969, which is way earlier than many other plants. As of now, the factory no longer exists. According to this blog post, the old site has now become a luxurious apartment. The comments below stated that it’s also a private club managed by Sheraton.

By the way, Kawai had a factory in Taiwan as well (Youtube).

Please read Part 2 to learn about their pianos.

形樂 Kata Music