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#1205013 - 05/24/09 09:09 AM Grand Piano - Otto Bach???
KarooPiano Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/23/09
Posts: 1
Loc: South Africa
Good day

Can anyone assist me on my Otto Bach grand piano? I always longed for a large grand piano. This is a scares item and difficult to come by in our country, South africa. Due to the fact that most people owning one, has sentimental value and not considering selling it for quality value.
After a long search I found this baby grand piano at owners that did not know anything of pianos at all and wanted to get rid of it – space was there problem. They almost literally gave me the piano.
The specifications of the piano are as follow. Name: Otto Bach, Serial number 138290, 155cm.
All I could gather on info on Otto Bach pianos is the following: OTTO BACH South Africa; Pianos made by Dietmann Klavier, Hamburg, Germany. (and the history of the company that closed down in South Africa.)
But nowhere in the piano is anything printed or indicated of a manufacturer, except on the key lid: Otto Bach.
My actual question: What do you say is the origin of this piano? It is not a South African brand. I qualify: I have seen and played many other Otto Bach uprights and one grand piano : and NO, it is by far not the same thing (product). The typical Otto Bach (and other name brands that was manufactured) is a type of mass production, white plastic covered keys, soft dull sound, pathetic action!
This piano is totally different. Real Ivory covered keys. Brilliant action – similar to our town hall’s concert grand Steinway’s action. And the sound is there, a brilliance that really astounds one and all when they hear the piano!
I would never of bought myself a baby grand due to the rather poor sound quality you get from so many. But when I heard and felt the sound and action of this specific piano, the love was instantaneous.
In your opinion – where does this piano come from? Otto Bach was only like constributors of some pianos – this can’t be a decent name (hahaha).
Please, I would appreciate all information and opinions.

Edited by KarooPiano (05/24/09 01:46 PM)

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#1227450 - 07/05/09 05:41 PM Re: Grand Piano - Otto Bach??? [Re: KarooPiano]
brucec Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/12/07
Posts: 15
Loc: South Africa
Hi KarooPiano,
I can't help on the Grand Piano per se, but have found an interesting article on the sale of Dietmann's property in SA, that adds some interesting insights... (SA is riddled with Otto Bach's - due to the affordability and general availability when other piano's had to be imported. BTW - Great pianos!)

As this is a property sales article, I've posted a copy here for prosperity's sake. Here's the full article:

Taken from: http://www.paarlpost.com/cgib/article?newsid=12043

Notable property for sale in Wellington

MENTION the words “Piano Factory” when discussing the sprawling Bain Street complex with Wellington’s more senior citizens, and they will inform you with some indignation, that what you are referring to is the old Hugo Jam Factory.

The original Dietmann Piano Factory was in fact situated at number 13 Berg Street.

The story of what was – in its heyday - the largest piano manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere (and seventh largest in the world) began when a young German named P Dietmann arrived in South Africa, in 1903.

A skilled artisan, Dietmann was initially hired as head of the Piano Department of R Müller, a Cape Town store specialising in musical instruments.

Many years later, Dietmann settled in the village of Porterville, where he earned his living as a piano tuner, until, lured by its schools and colleges, he moved to Wellington.

Official sources claim that this was in 1945 (after World War Two), but early documents prove that Dietmann was already operating in Wellington in 1926.

Having purchased the property in Berg Street, he opened a small backyard workshop to service and restore pianos, soon establishing an excellent reputation for quality workmanship.

Dietmann however, privately nurtured a much bigger dream. Coming from a country unrivalled in the art of piano-making, Dietmann’s greatest wish was to be able to build his own.

The business flourished, and, by the time his son PH Dietmann joined the company, it had become the largest of its kind in the country.

In 1951, Dietmann senior died, and PH decided to make his father’s dream a reality, attempting to source components and trained craftsmen from abroad, so as to manufacture pianos locally.

After an extensive search, he located an East German family, who had once been reputable piano builders. Equipped with machinery, tools and generations of expertise, the Schindhelms relocated to Wellington, where Schindhelm senior was appointed workshop head.

Within a short time - much to the delight of PH - he was able to assemble, from imported parts, the very first piano built on South African soil!

Once Dietmann had secured reliable South African contractors to supply parts, the piano manufacturing business began, with the workshop expanding “like a swallow adding on to his nest”, a local builder recalls.

When import restrictions were introduced to South Africa, R Müller and Morkel’s (then the country’s biggest musical instrument retailers) became major purchasers of Dietmann pianos, and production was stepped up to 300 instruments per year.

Dietmann and Schindhelm pianos became sought after commodities countrywide, and the company rapidly expanded.

Such was the quality of their product that Ibach of Germany (the world’s oldest piano factory, established 1794) approached them with a view to a merger.

Boosted by extra capital, and the imported know-how of Rolf Ibach junior and senior technician/factory manager Lothar Schell, PH Dietmann Pianos relocated to 25 Bain Street, occupying part – and later most - of the Hugo Jam Factory (subsequently owned by Langeberg Foods).

The Dietmanns, however, retained their Berg Street home, with the workshop being converted into flats.

In the late 1960’s, Otto Bach Pianos of Johannesburg (a subsidiary of the Morkel Group), became part of Dietmann’s and a giant new company, Piano Manufacturers of South Africa (PMSA), was born.

Production increased to 3800 pianos annually (14 per day) and in 1971, PMSA became the first South African piano maker to capture the European market.

In the same year, with the lifting of local hire purchase restrictions, export orders flooded in.

Demand began to exceed the factory’s output, and PMSA installed more sophisticated assembly-line technology to cope with batch production, which rose to 4 500 annually.

The company became a subsidiary of R Müller Ltd, with PH Dietmann as MD (Johannesburg) of the same company his late father had joined 67 years before.

By 1976, PMSA was producing over 5000 pianos a year, (at a rate of 23 daily), and exporting to 20 countries, worldwide.

Over the next few years, however, demand declined (perhaps due to the arrival of a new status symbol - television).

The long-established Müller’s closed their stores, and PH returned to Wellington, retiring in 1979.

New management attempted to revive the business, but to no avail.

By 1983, production was reduced to eight instruments per day, and finally, in 1989 (despite Lothar Schell’s attempts to purchase the business), the last piano rolled off the production line.

Now, the lovely Dietmann home (and former workshop) in Berg Street is on the market.

Owners Mike and Joan Laver, who purchased it from the Pietersen family in 1992, are moving to George.

“We’re not getting any younger, and it’s simply become too big for us,” says Joan regretfully.

The rambling five-bedroomed Victorian house (with wooden floors and pressed ceilings) boasts an enormous lounge with a handsome bar, a dining room, small sitting room, huge country-style kitchen (with Aga stove), a kitchenette, three bathrooms, three storerooms and a double garage.

The lounge opens onto a beautiful, established garden (with a large braai and entertainment area), which was, for many years, a favoured venue for wedding photographs.

Outside are four spacious, separate, twobedroomed flats, with garages.

Lesley Swart of Sinclair Properties is upbeat about the property.

“It’s a delightful, character-filled place, with tremendous potential. The number of rooms, layout and central location are ideal for an upmarket, boutique hotel – and there’s a definite gap in the market here.

“What’s more, being the original ‘home’ of Dietmann Pianos, it’s a wonderful part of Wellington’s history!”

Lesley can be contacted on 073-182-8556
"You think the piano is one instrument? It is a hundred instruments!" Anton Rubenstein

#1227599 - 07/06/09 01:34 AM Re: Grand Piano - Otto Bach??? [Re: brucec]
Deon van aswegen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/09/08
Posts: 142
Loc: South Africa
Hi there

I may be mistaken - but I think that the Otto Bach's, like the Fahr Zeit's were stencil pianos. They were certainly made by Dietmann Klavier, Germany. So I would assume that the scale design, and general characteristics, would be the same as for a Dietmann, but maybe higher end quality and finish. The action would have been renner. I owned a 5'5 Fahr Zeits and it was a great little piano, for the size. Unfortunately it did not survive my playing.

I have never played an Otto Bach grand, but have fond memories of the upright Otto Bach's, which seems to have been the workhorse instruments in both homes and teaching classes, in South Africa at least. If I am not mistaken, they were assembled in Wellington.

Nice to see that there are more forum menbers in South Africa.

Regards Deon

#1478343 - 07/21/10 07:38 AM Re: Grand Piano - Otto Bach??? [Re: Deon van aswegen]
Mark R. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/09
Posts: 2265
Loc: Pretoria, South Africa
I know that this thread is more than a year old, but having done some research, I can probably answer KarooKind's question further. The grand that he/she has, is probably an original Otto Bach, made by Zimmermann in Leipzig.

I say "original", because according to a German piano builder I've spoken to, Dietmann purchased the Otto Bach brand-name from Zimmermann in the 1950's and used it for stencil pianos. This is the Otto Bach that Deon referred to as the ubiquitous "work-horse" in every other South African household.

But originally, in the 1920s and 30s, Otto Bach was the name that Zimmermann gave to their export models designated for the South African market. Apparently Zimmermann and other German manufacturers had many such market-specific names for export models.

He actually showed me some of these pianos in his workshop. The one that I bought was labelled only "Otto Bach", but another "Otto Bach ... Gebr. Zimmermann, Leipzig". He also showed me some characteristic elements of the Zimmermann design, e.g. the shape of their harps, and we also saw in his piano atlas that the serial numbers of these early, original Otto Bachs actually match with the Zimmermann serial numbers, i.e. these pianos were definitely made in Leipzig and exported. My Otto Bach has a date on the lowest key, and this matches exactly with the Zimmermann serial number range in the piano atlas.

Last but not least, these Zimmermann-made Otto Bachs can be recognised by the fact that the serial number is also printed not only on the pinblock/soundboard, but also on the last six hammer heads in the treble. This was Zimmermann's practice!

According to this piano builder, it is the good reputation of this original Zimmermann-made Otto Bach that Dietmann exploited in the 1950s to 1980s, by using it as a stencil brand on cheaper pianos (Knight, if I remember his words correctly).

So, it would appear, KarooKind, that you have an imported Otto Bach, and you should be able to determine its age by comparing the serial number with those of Zimmermann in Leipzig (which was nationalised in the communist era of East Germany, and later taken over by Bechstein).
Autodidact interested in piano technology.
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1922 49" Zimmermann, project piano.
1970 44" Ibach, daily music maker.

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