As soon as he touched the keys of the Fazioli, Gerald Berthiaume knew he was playing a magnificent piano. He found its construction and luxurious sound far superior to the better known Steinway.

Berthiaume discovered the instrument while shopping for Washington State University at Baldassin Performance Pianos in Salt Lake City, the only licensed dealer in the West where a Fazioli can be purchased.

“This was an incredible piano,” said the program coordinator for WSU’s School of Music and Theatre Arts.

Paolo Fazioli, the piano’s craftsman and an accomplished pianist in his own right, was among the guests when the 10-foot, 2-inch Concert Grand Fazioli made its debut at a gala faculty recital in WSU’s Kimbrough Concert Hall January 23.

Fazioli pianos are handcrafted from red spruce cut from Italy’s Val di Fiemme, the same forest where Stradivarius gathered wood for his violins. Fazioli chooses the wood himself, selecting the one perfect tree out of 200 that has a natural resonant quality.

Over a period of two years the timber is transformed in a laborious process, including a natural drying period that takes six to 12 months. The soundboard is electronically tested for perfect pitch as well as a tiny portion of strings normally untested by other manufacturers. The bridge is built with wood of varying hardness.

“All of these things together combine for an incredible sound and ringing quality,” Berthiaume says. “It is unlike any other piano I’ve ever played.”

Since the Fazioli Grand Piano made its debut on the European market in 1981, it has won praise from world-class musicians. Now Fazioli has his own shop in Italy, where fewer than 70 pianos are completed annually. Some competitors create more than 3,500 a year. About 65 percent of the buyers are individuals, while the rest are sold to institutions such as concert halls and recording studios.

WSU’s Fazioli grand piano with plain black finish is housed on the Kimbrough Concert Hall stage. It will be used by music students and faculty for rehearsals and recitals.