LOTHAR SCHELL - Master Piano Builder and Consultant

LOTHAR SCHELL - Master Piano Builder and Consultant

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Lothar Schell counts amongst the world’s foremost Master Piano Builders. He also has a very close relationship with South Africa as the man who played a key role in the success of the first and only piano manufacturer in South Africa, the former Dietmann Piano company, also known as Piano Manufacturers of South Africa (PMSA).

Schell was born in a town called Schwelm close to Cologne, Germany in 1938. As a young man he had a great interest in architecture and started studying to be an architect after leaving school. During this time he was approached by Ibach and Son, then the oldest German piano makers, to be trained as a piano builder.

In 1963 (at the age of 21), Ibach offered him a three-year contract to go to South Africa as Ibach went in to partnership with the Dietmann piano concern in Wellington at the time. He accepted and arrived in South Africa to help build up what was to become the biggest piano building company in the Southern hemisphere. 

Schell completed the contract, but decided to stay in South Africa, became a South African citizen and eventually became a director of the company too. However, in 1980, he decided to return to Germany and by 1983 he opened his own consulting company to assist piano manufacturers to establish and maintain their factories.

He eventually built up an impressive clientele counting Kemble (England), General Music (Italy), Borisov Minsk (Russia), Kawai (Japan), Young Chang (Korea), Daewoo (Korea), Morrison (Hong Kong), Sunwave (Malaysia) and Xing Hai (China) amongst them.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in Schell’s illustrious career came in 1988 when he was approached by the ailing state-owned Being Piano Factory in China. The biggest piano manufacturer in China at the time, the company was founded in 1950 and was known for making the famous Xinghai piano, named after one of China’s most famous composers.  However, by 1984 the factory was only able to produce 4000 pianos annually due to negligence, outdated building methods and old machinery. China decided to modernize the factory en embarked on an international search for someone to assist them with this process.

Upon advise from a Japanese consultant,  Lothar Schell was offered the position and he became the second foreigner ever to have been offered a job in a state-owned factory in Beijing. Again the contract was for three years. Upon closer inspection, Schell found that the quality of the pianos made would not compete on the international market and embarked on a major re-shuffle of the entire company’s structure, top to bottom.

The struggling firm was entirely overhauled and with Lothar Schell’s piano design, the production of pianos was pushed up to 10,000 per year. In less than three years, a company that was showing a loss of nearly 6 million USD each year was now showing a profit of over 3 million USD. Of the 10,000 pianos that were produced by 1991, 40% were of Schell’s new models. In 1992, the production was increased to 12,000 and by 1994 to 13,000.

The success Schell had with this venture and many others resulted in him receiving numerous awards . However, the biggest honour probably to be bestowed upon him was when he received the Honorary Citizenship of Beijing in 2000.

Schell’s connection with South Africa was re-established during his time in China when, in 1990, the Schell family decided to move back to Wellington again.

Today, although retired, Lothar Schell is as active as always. He holds a honorary advisory contract with Beijing Xinghai and still shares his enormous wealth of experience with local and international piano builders, technicians, repairers and tuners.

Published 8 July 2012

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