Pearl River Piano Group
The Pearl River Piano Group (广州珠江钢琴集团有限公司) is China's largest piano manufacturer and claims to have the largest piano factory in the world. The company was established in 1956 in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. Pearl River is capable of producing over 100,000 pianos a year, and exports them to more than 80 countries. Most Pearl River pianos are considered entry level instruments. however, they make some (Ritmuller) to higher specifications with better materials. Pearl River also releases special edition pianos, including the Butterfly Grand, which is 198 centimeters long and available in silver, blue, or pink. Pearl River pianos are mostly sold under the Ritmüller brand name for the US and European markets.
In 1998, Pearl River became the first piano company in China to receive International Standards Association ISO 9001 Certification (ISO 9001) for its complete line of grand and vertical pianos, including all parts and components. ISO 9001 Certification is awarded by an independent auditing organization, following a lengthy audit of quality systems, ranging from the procurement of raw materials to manufacturing systems, assembly procedures, and customer service. Pearl River also recently was awarded ISO 14001, which is similar, but relates to environmental standards. Pearl River is the first manufacturer in China to receive this award.
The Pearl River name
Pearl River ran a company-owned US distribution until 2000, when they turned the distribution over to North American Music. Pearl River was the first Chinese piano company to market pianos in the United States under its own company name, although few Pearl River dealers exist any more in the US. International concert pianist Oksana Kolesnikova is a spokesperson for the Pearl River Company Butterfly Piano.
Pearl River is also one of the world's largest guitar and violin manufacturers, and is a primary supplier for the popular "First Act" brand of guitars commonly found at Target stores among others. The company also sells drums, brass, and woodwind instruments internationally. In the People's Republic of China, they produce guitars with the own brand name, "Kapok Guitar (红棉)".
Pearl River hired piano designer Lothar Thoma to create the new Ritmuller line. Thoma had designed or helped design four pianos. The company says that the Lothar Thoma-designed Ritmuller pianos feature European scale designs and use high end European components, and smaller, slower production to allow more hand-finishing work. Today, Pearl River and Ritmuller branded pianos use the same scales and components, with the primary difference between models being cabinet or case embellishments.
Three large retail piano companies in the US use Pearl River as their OEM entry level house brand supplier: Jordan Kitts Music, Sherman Clay, and Schmitt Music. These three retail chains use their own brand name (Henry F Miller, Christifori) on the front of the pianos and in a couple of isolated cases feature slightly different specifications than the Pearl River brand models distributed by Pearl River Piano Group America, based in Ontario, California.
Connections with Yamaha & Steinway
Yamaha formed a joint venture with Pearl River in 1995 to establish a factory to build pianos for the Chinese market. This factory is east of Guangzhou in an 'economic development zone,' approximately 35 miles from the Pearl River factory. This factory produced two models for the Pearl River Piano Group: the UP125M1 and the Ritmüller UP126R. Ritmüller brand pianos sport upgraded cabinetry, a different plate, upgraded felt and several different scale designs. Both product lines are marketed in the United States by retail piano stores.
Pearl River also manufactures three models for Steinway & Sons' "Essex" brand piano line, including two grand pianos and an upright, in their factory in Guangzhou. On May 1, 2005, Steinway & Sons and Pearl River Piano Group jointly announced an agreement. The companies began developing several new Essex models, which Steinway & Sons designed for affiliate company Boston Piano Co., Inc. The piano line reached the marketplace early in 2006. It was Steinway's first venture in China, and Pearl River's first OEM relationship with a Western piano maker.
Today, Pearl River builds two grand and sixteen upright models for Essex, all of which use materials and designs specific to Steinway & Sons. These include high quality wood action parts, aluminum action rails, and tapered spruce soundboards. Steinway & Sons also has quality control employees in the factory to insure their standards are met.