FazioliA brief history of the Fazioli might be helpful to understand how Paulo Faziloi has created what I and most others believe is nothing short of an industry miracle over the past two and a half decades. A respected concert pianist and son of one of Europe's most esteemed cabinet making families, Paolo Faziloi assembled a team of acousticians, engineers and artists in 1979 to design an instrument that would be unlike any other piano previously built, unique in its tone and touch, with extremely limited production and crafted without any compromises whatsoever to ensure that it would be considered the very best money could buy; a very lofty vision indeed.
As I mentioned earlier, if great materials are the starting point of the best, Fazioli seems to hold first place in this department. Fazioli only uses spruce from Val Di Fiemme -- arguably the most famous grove of spruce trees in the world. Val de Femme is known for its very low density spruce and extremely consistent grain patterns that produce the most clear undistorted singing sound obtainable. Stradivarius crafted his masterpieces using spruce from this area. Each year a very limited number of trees are harvested from this grove to be made available to fine instrument makers around the world. Fazioli pays a very high premium to secure "first pick rights" of all spruce from Val di Fiemme ensuring that only the best of the very best goes into each Fazioli. The soundboards are hands down consistently the most beautifully crafted I have ever come across in my career. They are really quite beautiful.
As it is with high fidelity components, the overall integrity of the system is only as good as the weakest link. Fazioli bridges are totally unique in the industry and to me are mini works of art. They are vertically laminated and capped with three different types of wood (hard rock maple for the bass, hornbeam for the mid-range, and the hardest wood available on earth, boxwood for the treble.) No one else goes to these lengths and extremes to ensure each vibration is passed from the string to the soundboard with the least amount of distortion and inefficiency. Fazioli specifications demand that the non-speaking parts of their strings are tuned in unison with the speaking portion; a royal pain for piano technicians like me for it requires almost double the tuning but is just another indication of their fanatic preoccupation with creating synergy with each part of the instrument. Only Faziloi uses 18k gold in all the trim which some think excessive, but makes perfect sense. Gold is the best material to ensure that minimum oxidization occurs; the material is chosen to fit the purpose not for an ostentatious display. Only Fazioli offers a fourth pedal to ensure no timbre (tonal) change occurs for pianissimo. There are many other "onlys"; the list goes on.
The product of all this fanaticism though is truly breathtaking sound and touch. Angela Hewitt, considered by most to be the world's foremost Bach performer, states in a recent article in the Globe and Mail, "I want a piano on which I can get the best musical results and which makes me happy... When I play on Steinways, especially the American ones, I see what an unsubtle instrument it is. So it makes me a little sad that so many pianists work on these instruments and think that it is the best, because there is so much more you can do with a piano." However, you don't have to be Angela Hewitt to appreciate these instruments; even a novice can hear the difference. No other piano I have ever worked on produces a more dynamic, singing sustained, clear, undistorted sound. Quite remarkable.
This, I believe, is the reason that despite its very limited production (110-120 units a year vs. 3,000 Steinways per year), slightly higher price, and virtually no money spent on marketing initiatives, Fazioli has been able to create instruments that have garnered unparalleled praise from the world's most renowned and celebrated pianists; some of which demand to play only on a Fazioli whenever possible. This would not normally be worthy of mention because so many manufacturers entice pianists to perform on their instruments by paying them large sums of money and/or giving them free instruments. Hardly an objective choice based on real preference. Unlike violinists who can transport their instruments (sometimes worth millions of dollars) with them wherever they go, most pianists cannot afford to move their personal instrument around the world.
Some premium makers have concert and artist programs that "lock" pianists into very stringent contracts to create the perception, sometimes, I believe, the illusion, that this is the artist's preference. As for Fazioli, they take the opposite approach. Fazioli does not contract artists, does not pay them to play, and does not give them free pianos. In fact, in most cases, it costs the artists significant amounts of money and logistical hassle to perform on these very rare and beautiful instruments. Herbie Hancock for instance always requests to play on a Fazioli, and often has to pay significant costs to locate and ship these instruments around the world. He does it simply because he wants to play on only what he feels is absolutely the very best piano made. Over the past 100 years, Steinway has built large fleets of 9' pianos all around the world and makes them available for very low prices to pianists if they sign a contract with them to exclusively play on Steinway. This is a brilliant and powerful marketing tool to persuade potential buyers that this is by far and away the "choice" of the vast majority of the great pianists around the world. In my experience speaking with so many concert pianists, although they would never admit it in public for fear of risking their benefits, this is just simply not always the case. Violinists can carry their Stradavarius with them wherever they go, but in the piano world, pure and simple economics, sponsorships, politics and logistics can, and often do, play a huge part in this game of winning over the common man's mind as well as the artist.
Fazioli enjoys a virtually untainted, pristine reputation and commands the highest praise and respect from the very best of the truly great living artists. Although a bit more costly, the majority of pianists agree that it completely delivers -- and more -- on its bold claim to be the ultimate and the most exotic. At least it is refreshing to know that in this case, you do get what you pay for, and their bold claims to be the "ultimate" and the "finest" are, in my opinion, truly accurate. For those who want the real thing, and don't mind paying a bit more to acquire the ultimate, Fazioli definitely delivers. As for the investment potential of one of these instruments, although this is not my area of expertise, if investment is based on demand, with its incredibly limited production and cult-like following that grows substantially each year, I can't imagine what one of these instruments, properly looked after, will be worth in 25 years!