Short History of Yamaha Pianos

Yamaha has always been my favourite Japanese company; the one with real soul. From the 1970s well into the 1990s, I knew someone who owned a succession of fantastic Yamaha motorcycles that always seemed faster and more nimble than their rivals. But I always wondered about that iconic triple tuning fork logo on the tank – what was the connection?

Soon I found out that Yamaha made musical instruments as well, and a little later, that it was Yamaha’s technological lead in piano-making that allowed the company to make the leap into automotive technology. More of that later…

Founder Torakusu Yamaha (1851-1916) was a gifted engineer with a keen musical ear. He first found inspiration for musical instruments in 1887 when he was asked to try to repair the local school reed organ. Torakusu not only succeeded in repairing the organ but then went on to tune it and then improve on it. The same year, he created his own reed organ before founding the Yamaha Organ Manufacturing Company in Hamamatsu - the first Japanese manufacturer of Western musical instruments.

In 1897, he established Nippon Gakki (it means ‘Japan musical instruments’) and this remained the actual company name all the way through to 1997, when became Yamaha Corporation to mark the centenary. Before that, Yamaha was simply the brand name for all Nippon Gakki products.

The first Yamaha piano was the 1900 upright, followed two years later by the first Yamaha grand piano. By 1904, Yamaha pianos were being honoured at the St Louis World Exposition. One of the secrets of Yamaha‘s world success was its unique cast metal sound frame that meant it had a special timbre and also kept its tune longer. It was this 'in house' expertise in metallurgy and casting techniques, that equipped the company to start making motorcycles from the late 1940s.

After Kaichi Kawakami became president in 1927, Nippon Gakki was given a more secure financial footing. Kaichi’s son, Gen'ichi Kawakami, succeeded him in 1950, Under his presidency, Yamaha production was overhauled around innovative technologies, such as the revolutionary kiln drying technique that drastically reduced piano build time and improved quality.
Yamaha piano production surged during the early 1960s. By 1966, the company was building 100,000 instruments a year, making it the world’s leading piano manufacturer.

Under Seisuke Ueshima's leadership from 1992, Yamaha Corporation has continued to thrive and innovate, with inventions such as the remarkable Silent Piano – a regular acoustic piano that can also be played through headphones.