• Brian James Gage

Meet Ritmüller – My New Roommate

I recently wrote a post covering my adoration for my trusty Yamaha N2 Hybrid Digital piano. I still stand behind that post.

BUT!

That was pre-recital. And truthfully, the more I go over my recital video, the more terrible it becomes to me. Pacing is whack, too many mistakes, blabbity-blah. It's simply just a poor showing.

One of the major deficiencies I started noticing in my playing was the moment I sit at a real acoustic grand piano – I simply fall to pieces. It almost feels foreign to me.

This was a real problem when I was studying at The New Mexico School of Music as I'd bust myself all week on my N2 at home on certain sections, and really get them to shine - only to come in and try to demonstrate my progress and completely bomb out. At first I thought it was due to that particular Yahama grand in the studio having tougher action or being nervous about playing for someone.

Then came my recital, and the most challenging piece of the recital was trying to get the tone I wanted out of a strange and most importantly acoustic grand piano.

Finally came my move back to LA.

I had meet-and-greet “auditions” at both The Colburn School and The French Conservatory of Music and the night before each meeting I went over all my pieces ready to go in the next day to impress my prospective new teachers. At FCM they use I believe Yamaha G series for the studio and at Colburn the room had a G series Yamaha and a Steinway (chose the Steinway obviously).

Anyway, the moment I started playing on both of these – it was like I'd never touched a piano before. I again fell to bits trying to demonstrate my progress. Luckily these adult programs are pretty liberal and seem willing to accept you as a student so long as you demonstrate some proficiency and ability to learn so the stakes aren't all that high.

After leaving my trial lesson at FCM, I decided to swing by the Yamaha dealer on the way home to check out their acoustic grands. I settled on the C2X and figured it was likely coming home with me. Another telling portion of this is when I was testing it out the salesman piped in, “You don't play on an acoustic at home do you?”

“Well, I do – I have a Yamaha N2.”

He then went on to praise the piano I have, but said something to the effect of, “Those hybrids are fantastic, but it's not the same. The action is superior to an upright but there is a difference in the action vs. a real acoustic grand. I can tell by the way you play that you're not used to playing on a real acoustic.” Then he slid in, “My mother is a piano teacher so I notice these things.”

Then it occurred to me.

I feel extremely comfortable on my home piano and the moment I play on a strange one specifically an acoustic grand – it's this very strange shock to my system where by I have to seriously readjust due to the different feel. Even further – this happens each time I play on an acoustic grand – from my first practice studio, to my recital, to the pianos at these new schools. So it's not like I can blame any one particular piano – all acoustic grands seem to have this effect on my playing. This doesn't bode well for future performances.

So naturally I deduced it was time for me to start my study on an actual acoustic grand. And now that I'm back in LA permanently I figured I'd plant some roots and grab one.

Seeing as I just purchased my N2 last May, dropping another 30K on a Yamaha C2X wasn't entirely palatable, but I'm also a tad impatient and don't like anything coming between me and what I want so I went home, did some financial figuring and was prepared to come back the next day to grab the C2X.

Then something occurred to me. If I were purchasing a guitar, I know down to the fretboard as to what kind of material I like (maple if you must know followed by ebony) and also the mechanics of a guitar as to what would make it quality or not. But I do not know this about pianos.

So I started doing some research as to what makes a quality piano. I understand that any gearheads out there will likely scoff at my conclusions, but after my research I decided I was after the following:

Sand Cast Plates

German Hammers

Roslau Music Wire (Also German, I believe)

I then found that the C2X had vacuum processed plates, so suddenly the price seemed a bit off. I then set out to see if I could find a piano under 20K that had all these elements, and I accidentally stumbled across Ritmüller pianos.

And when I say accidentally, I mean that literally.

I happened to be in Burbank on Sunday, and my GPS took me on a wrong turn – actually the GPS was right, I was the element of error on that one. As I was correcting my course, I happened to drive by Hollywood Piano. A sign said “piano sale” - well, might as well go see.

I went in to check out their inventory. I was mostly concerned about how the action felt as I've decided I really want the hardest action possible so that any other piano seems easy to play on. I tried a Baldwin, a Yamaha C2X, a Young-Chang & a Steinway. Then after deciding I still didn't find what I liked I walked by what I considered to be a no-name brand piano and just pressed on a few deep bass keys.

Hold up. That bass tone is awesome. (I like a really menacing bass on my pianos).

Hold up. This action is really smooth.

Hold up. Those high notes are piercingly awesome.

Hold up. This piano really shines.

Hold up. What the hell is a Ritmüller?

So I sat down at it and played on it and immediately jived with this piano.

I asked the salesman about it. He then went on to inform me that I likely just discovered the best kept secret in pianos. Normally I just cast that off as sales speak, so I told him. “I'm thinking of a Yamaha C2X – but this thing is really resonating with me.”

The Yamaha is 2x the price so I figured he'd just talk me out of it.

“That's because The Ritmüller is twice the piano for half the price. No B.S. one of the most quality instruments you can own.”

I'd never heard of the brand before so he then went over all the elements: Sand Cast Plates, German Hammers, Raslau Music Wire, European Action, etc.

“Why is it so cost effective?”

“Essentially, because it's manufactured in China and they don't do a lot of marketing. Honestly, I'd put this piano against that Baldwin you liked and it's definitely superior to the C2X in all elements.”

And well – the rest as they say is history.

So welcome to my new roommate – The Ritmüller GH170R.


I've only had it for a day, but holy-moly do I love this thing. I'll even go so far to say it sounds better than any Bosendorfer I've played on and is comparable to an American-made Steinway.

Now you can all laugh at me and say I don't know what I'm talking about (which I likely don't)... All I know is I have a brand new acoustic grand I'm in love with – and it's time to practice.

Sorry neighbors (deal with it),

-bg.

p.s. Still keeping the N2 for my late night practice sessions. I still dig it and it definitely gets the job done, but don't let it know – I'm way in love with my Ritmüller grand.

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