Free Customized Piano Recommendations for You >>> Piano Finder
(by Charles Johnson, Updated November 2021)
Are you looking to purchase a Steinway piano? Or just curious, and aren’t sure whether to buy new or rebuilt? In this article, we explore the pros and cons of new vs. rebuilt Steinway.
When the possibility of Steinway ownership first occurred to me – I focused on the brand – and forgot that I was purchasing an individual instrument. The idea of owning a Steinway, any Steinway, was powerful – it’s what almost every pianist aspires to.
However, I didn’t ultimately inquire about the details of the piano and a pending rebuild which didn’t include certain Steinway parts.
Now, with the sweetness of a lower price forgotten and daily exposure to the touch and tone of new Steinway pianos, I’ve come to realize what I didn’t get. My next piano will be a new Steinway.
Suppose you are considering a rebuilt Steinway. In that case, you will need to consider every rebuild on its own specific merits and history to avoid the investment into a potential’ knock-off.’
First, let’s examine the term “rebuilt.”
Typically an older fine brand piano, acquired by a rebuilder to profitably resell by replacing critical parts to make the piano seem new.
Rebuilding is not to be confused with restoring a piano, meaning repairing existing parts. Rebuilding often includes replacing major structures and significant-finish work to retain aspects of the original instrument.
The piano rebuilding industry is dominated by the Steinway brand purely because Steinway is arguably the most prestigious and widely recognized brand of a fine piano.
Simply put, it is worth it for rebuilders to attempt to rebuild a Steinway piano since the brand name itself confers so much value. Rebuilders can charge a hefty premium for any piano that says Steinway on the fallboard or plate and “looks” like a Steinway.
Other pianos that will get rebuilt include Bechstein, Bosendorfer, Mason and Hamlin.
Typically, Yamaha and the other production pianos are not rebuilt. Their foundation structures are not conducive to this process and don’t have value on the rebuilt market.
There is always at least one rebuilder who will rebuild ANY piano, even if the rebuilding costs more than the piano is worth before or after the rebuild.
Dealers of non-Steinway brands often advertise that they carry used and restored Steinways to attract the Steinway shopper. See our new vs. used article for a deeper look at aged vs. new Steinway.
It still “says” Steinway on it, even if it’s only a label at that point.
As described in the “Cons of Rebuilt” Steinway – the shortcuts and cost-saving techniques employed by rebuilders will tend to reduce the end price. Note: a Steinway Factory Rebuild costs about 80% of new.
Steinway does offer a rebuilding service at their NY Factory – and a properly rebuilt Steinway can approximate all the features and characteristics of their new instruments.
The factory rebuild is a good choice if one has a family heirloom Steinway with sentimental or historic attachment value but wants it rebuilt to the quality of a genuine Steinway.
The expertise and resources needed to properly deconstruct, repair, and reassemble a fine instrument without falling prey to inevitable shortcuts is the province of Steinway alone.
Virtually all rebuilt Steinways are no longer authentic Steinways (except those rebuilt BY Steinway).
The heart of the Steinway sound, the patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard, cannot be made or installed outside of the Steinway factory.
The legendary wood selected for a Steinway soundboard is only available thanks to long-standing relationships with the best Sitka spruce suppliers. Steinway requires Sitka Spruce from trees on a north-facing slope – focusing on the straightness of grain, and 10 to 12 growth rings per inch.
Then, artisans select and match the planks for assembly and utilize a $500,000, custom piece of laser-guided machinery to complete the proprietary soundboard manufacturing process.
Essentially, no matter how hard they try, rebuilders and dealers can not recreate the sound of a Steinway soundboard. They can not manufacture their rebuilt pianos in the same manner or with the same materials. Steinway does not sell its proprietary soundboards or pinblocks to any rebuilding shop, dealer, or distributor.
In addition, the patented Steinway Hexagrip Pinblock is essential to Steinway tuning stability and overall piano tonality. The Steinway pinblock would be nearly impossible to manufacture outside of the Steinway factory – and if someone tried – it would cost as much as Steinway’s.
Rebuilders are forced to use generic substitutes of these critical components from various suppliers or create their own parts, resulting in an inauthentic Steinway piano.
Think of rebuilding a Ferrari, without using a Ferrari engine, and you get the idea.
Rebuilders leverage the likelihood that few buyers of rebuilt Steinways understand or will inquire about the role of these critical components. Buyers are often told they’re ‘no big deal.’ Yet, the unaware buyer is now getting a “Stein-was.”
To attract buyers to generically rebuilt Steinways, used Steinway dealers and rebuilders have perpetuated elaborate myths about a Steinway “Golden Age.”
Rebuilders created and now attempt to perpetuate this myth to suggest that Steinway pianos were somehow better in the past. They infer something mythical or magical about this period to propose that a Golden Age piano is better than a new Steinway. The reality is that there isn’t a “Golden Age” period. The rebuilt Steinway you purchased will not sound or play as well as a new Steinway.
The new Steinway retains old-world building methods where appropriate. Yet, Steinway also embraces new tools and technology where applicable as well. Continual investment in new machinery and ever-refined processes yields a new instrument with a broader range of tonal color and a more consistent touch.
Uninformed and unsuspecting consumers often fall for these romanticized lies. The well-documented fact is that the vast majority of leading concert pianists and professional music institutions worldwide have always performed on and invested in new Steinways for over one and a half centuries.
Only select dealerships can sell a new Steinway piano. Any business can sell a used or rebuilt one – and the golden age myth plays perfectly into our historic sympathies and sense of nostalgia.
The range of expertise among piano dealers and technicians in rebuilding old Steinways is vast, so buyer beware.
Some workmanship is low-grade at best, while others sincerely do the best they can within the limits of parts and materials available to them. Since they cannot obtain all the genuine Steinway parts and equipment they would prefer, there truly is no way a rebuilt Steinway can sound exactly like a new one.
There is no standard for accountability or consistency in the rebuilding industry, and the results and risks to the consumer vary widely.
New Steinway pianos (manufactured at the New York and Hamburg Factories) reflect all the experience, design refinements, and evolved selection of materials to maintain the reputation of the world’s finest piano and their place on the world’s concert stages.
In a heavily used institutional setting, a properly maintained Steinway & Sons piano has a lifespan of approximately 50 years. In a home with standard usage, that lifespan can often be much longer. The famous rim construction process creates the shell/foundation for a very durable instrument. Contrast this to other brands where a 10 to 30-year life is ordinary.
Only new Steinways have enjoyed the accumulated knowledge, expertise, and legacy of the Steinway factories since 1853. Steinway has produced 139 engineering patents to date, 13 in the last ten years alone.
Since 2016, Spirio technology has revolutionized the way many experience the sound of Steinway.
To maintain the quality standards set by Steinway and demanded by its customers and artists, the company must absorb the price of materials and the costs of skilled labor to produce these remarkable instruments. For this reason, the cost of a new Steinway has generally increased often at a rate greater than the annual inflation rate.
Since its founding in 1853, Steinway & Sons’ mission statement has been simple; “Build the Best Piano Possible.” This mantra is plastered all over their factory. Steinway will not compromise their mission statement to achieve a price point. So, as labor and material costs increase, the Steinway piano price must also increase.
There are only about 2600 Steinway pianos produced worldwide each year. Many of these go to China, where there is a burgeoning demand for them. Only a select group of dealers in the US are authorized to carry new Steinway pianos.
You will need to decide if it is worth the worry and stress to go the rebuild route. Determining whether a given piano is authentic and a technician is experienced and disciplined enough is a daunting task at best. Sometimes techs that at one time were highly disciplined don’t hold to the same standards over time when they realize they can cut corners and costs and still sell their wares.
We remind our new Steinway shoppers that 97 percent of concert pianists worldwide choose new Steinway pianos over rebuilt ones, so why shouldn’t you? As Lang Lang said, “I’ve been playing Steinway pianos exclusively for many years. In my experience, they keep getting better every year, and I have no doubt that the best Steinways ever produced are the ones being built today.”
To learn more, please view our Piano Bits Video about the role of design and time in piano manufacturing featured in our New vs. Used Steinway article.
Are you in the Boston region? Feel free to make an appointment to experience a new Steinway at one of our Boston area locations.
Anyone inside the piano business whether in sales, education, or technical work gets asked this question frequently. What do we think? The quick answer is – ready for this – it depends!
Many differing opinions are floating around as to what is the best way to provide humidity control for a piano. The popular opinions passionately expressed in favor of or against Dampp-Chaser units tend to be rooted in sincerely held beliefs. It is important to understand the facts as well as the motivations behind differing opinions.
This warrants a deep dive into all the factors that contribute to this important decision of whether or not to get a Dampp-Chaser installed in your piano. They are useful humidity control units in most situations. They are not the best practice for humidity control in some situations. Sometimes they should not be used under any circumstances. And they pose a unique challenge for new pianos.
Steinway & Sons does not cover warranty repairs on issues that were caused (or potentially caused) by Dampp Chasers. M. Steinert & Sons does not advocate for Dampp-Chaser products for new pianos under warranty, except where extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations necessitate their use, such as in many schools and churches.
The essential reason for this is that these units do not do enough to address the problem of humidity control.
Dampp-Chasers create a small localized ideal environment for the piano in the immediate surrounding areas of the piano, specifically maintaining humidity levels at the soundboard, bridges, and strings.
In regards to the grand piano, because of the location of the installed unit under the soundboard, Dampp-Chasers do not bring humidity control to the pin block or the action. The pin block, or wrest plank, the laminated wood part that holds all the tuning pins at the proper tension, is one of the most important parts of the piano and is severely impacted by changes in temperature and humidity.
After a piano has gone through many dry weather cycles, the pin block wood will dry out, the tuning pins will loosen up, and tuning stability cannot be achieved. A Dampp-Chaser system in a grand piano does nothing to prevent damage to the pin block. It does however benefit the upright piano pin block to a certain extent because of its closed design.
The priority for a new piano owner is to be thinking about controlling the humidity/temperature environment of the room that the piano is in. It can be difficult to control the climate of a larger space, but that is exactly what the new piano owner is responsible to think about and implement.
When investing in a new piano, setting up a properly humidified room for the instrument is always the priority. A properly humidified room ensures that the whole piano is getting the benefits of stable humidity levels, whether the piano is under warranty or older.
Another reason manufacturers of pianos and dealers of new pianos do not endorse Dampp-Chaser systems for new pianos under warranty is because of potential problems with installations. If these systems are not installed correctly by certified installers who are professional piano technicians, there can be damage to the piano.
This is also a problem for the Dampp-Chaser company. For these reasons, manufacturers and dealers of new pianos tend to recommend Dampp-Chaser installations only after warranty periods have expired and still should be considered only as an addition to total room control.
A piano is at its happiest when it is kept in a museum-like environment: 42-43% relative humidity year round without fluctuation is the target. This keeps the soundboard from swelling with moisture in the humid summer season and shrinking as it dries out in the winter in response to central heating systems which dry out the air.
When the soundboard swells, it quite literally tightens the strings making them go up in pitch. And when the soundboard shrinks, the strings loosen and the pitch falls flat. The soundboard is a delicate membrane and amplifies the vibration of the strings. On a very small scale, the soundboard moves and vibrates to act as a transducer and project the soundwaves into the room. These are desirable movements of the soundboard.
However, humidity-related movements to the soundboard are unwanted and can be detrimental. These movements are not visible, but they happen reliably in reaction to the changing seasons. If you can get the soundboard completely immobile in response to the environment, then you have achieved ideal humidity control. Ideal humidity control also prolongs the life of the soundboard, and when controlling the entire room, the action parts, pin block, and case (furniture) also benefit.
In New England climates especially, the dry season usually has a greater effect, so that over time pianos tend to go flatter and flatter each year, if they are not in a controlled environment or getting tuned regularly.
When the tuning changes because of moisture levels in the wood, you can guarantee that the scientific principle of entropy – gradual decline into disorder – is at play. The piano will detune in a chaotic way that will sound unpleasant to the ear. Creating this stable 42% target is usually accomplished through air conditioning and dehumidifiers in the summer and humidifiers in the winter.
Piano owners often get overwhelmed when trying to choose a humidifier. Humidifier options are basically standalone units, HVAC units, or in-piano units like the Dampp-Chaser. It is true that a Dampp-Chaser is both a humidifier and dehumidifier, which is one of the advantages of using this machine.
The Piano Life Saver System is completely silent and installed on the underside of your piano.
Dampp-Chasers must be installed by certified installers who are also professional piano technicians. They can only be purchased through certified technicians or dealers like M. Steinert & Sons.
Dampp-Chasers can make a good tuning last much longer, by immobilizing the soundboard, and keeping the same micro-environment for the string/soundboard system year round. However, they are not a replacement for getting the piano tuned.
And they are not a replacement for controlling the humidity level of the piano’s room. Dampp-Chasers are only recommended for pianos where room control is impossible or unaffordable. It is worth doing the research on humidifiers and taking measures to protect your investment, boosting the longevity of the instrument and the joy of music-making far into the future!
By Jonathan Kotulski, April 2020
In the search for universal truths regarding acoustic pianos – the list usually comes up short. We’ve developed a simple concept called the “two triangles” that attempts to explain differences between ALL pianos. Lofty goal? Yes. Impossible? You be the judge…
Not all pianos are created equal, and furthermore, time plays a huge role in the musical life of a given piano. There are so many myths spun about old pianos, it’s hard to know where to begin! Hopefully this video is a start and sheds some light on how and why pianos sound and feel different (over time!).
A piano’s action is an orchestra of parts working in concert to give the pianist control of the music. Many things must take place between playing a key and hearing a sound from the piano.
M. Steinert & Sons Patrick Elisha explains the “key” differences in the following video.
Let’s explore what happens inside the piano when you play. The journey begins as you depress a key. This motion transfers the energy of your finger through a series of levers and rotating parts which culminate in the hammer striking the string, producing a symphony of color and sound.
The action of a grand and upright piano differ in several ways, resulting in a profound impact on a pianist’s perception of control. The so-called ‘double escapement’ grand piano action offers more versatility and control over dynamics while playing. The upright piano offers a compact layout that takes up minimal space in the home but with less control over the music due to its simpler action design.
Let us start with the upright piano action. The strings in this type of piano are perpendicular to the floor. Upon depressing a key, a part of the action called the jack is rotated forward which then sends the hammer towards the string, in a motion similar to someone knocking at a door. This design requires the use of springs to help the hammer and key return back to their resting position. This means that repetition, specifically rapidly repeating notes on the same key, feel differently on an upright piano.
Due to the nature of its simple design, the upright piano requires the pianist to lift the key almost entirely back up to its resting position before playing the note again, thereby limiting its ability to repeat quickly compared to a grand piano.
Today’s modern upright action is the direct descendant of this early single-escapement style action, patented by English piano maker Robert Wornum in the 1810’s.
In the 1820’s, French piano maker Sébastien Érard patented the “double-escapement grand action,” representing a drastic leap forward in keyboard performance. This allowed greater possibilities at the piano and ushered in the romantic era of piano music by the likes of Chopin and Liszt.
Érard’s double-escapement action allows the hammer to re-strike the string without the pianist having to bring the key back up to its full resting position. This means a significant gain in repetition speed and control compared to the upright piano’s single-escapement action. Due to the fact that grand piano strings are parallel to the floor, the grand action relies primarily on gravity to return to rest (as opposed to the upright’s reliance on springs). In a nutshell the grand piano is easier to play and offers more control, the better the touch, the more satisfying the playing experience. This is why the grand piano action is universally preferred over the upright by professional pianists throughout the world.
During this pandemic crisis, to protect our health and prevent the spread of the COVID19 virus, it is important to routinely disinfect high-touch areas of our home, in addition to surfaces we encounter outside our home. There has been plenty of research that shows how long the virus can live on a variety of materials and surfaces. In these times, it is our shared responsibility to stay informed and take proper action when it comes to hygiene. The piano is – or at least should be, if you are keeping up with practicing – one of the higher touch areas of your home! This combined with the fact that many people may be touching the piano in a given home requires us all to give special attention to disinfecting and cleaning the piano keys.
In order to protect the keys and furniture finish from damage, it is important to choose an appropriate cleaning solution for the keys. Do not use bleach or harsh solvent. Steinway officially recommends hydrogen peroxide, the widely available 3% solution that is available at any drugstore. It is unlikely that there will be shortages of this product, and a single bottle will last quite a while. Wear gloves and apply with a cotton ball. If you do not have hydrogen peroxide, a disinfecting wipe product will also work.
To get maximum disinfection, it is good to moisten the keys and let the hydrogen peroxide solution sit on the keys for a minute or so and let the solution do its disinfecting work. Then come back over the keys with a paper towel or clean cloth to absorb the excess moisture. Be careful to use a reasonable amount of solution – too little and it will not be effective, too much and you risk getting moisture down in between the keys which can greatly damage the mechanics of the piano. Be sure to launder any cloth used and properly dispose of cotton balls or paper towels.
As for cleaning the furniture of the piano, the best solution is water with a bit of dish soap in a spray bottle. Use a very soft and very clean cotton or cheese cloth and spray the solution on the cloth rather than directly on the piano. Then take extra care when polishing to make sure you do not press too hard and pay attention to removing all streaks of moisture. The high polish mirror-finish pianos are more forgiving and resilient to damage. But be extremely careful with satin nitrocellulose lacquer finished pianos. This is the low-level sheen, traditional brushed lacquer finish. It is a very delicate finish and can be lightly scratched with even a paper towel! The satin finish can also be damaged by using a cloth that has dust on it, or if you press too hard while polishing. Go lightly and observe as you go. Always use a clean soft cloth when dealing with the satin brushed lacquer finish and follow the orientation of the brushed lines in your polishing strokes.
In conclusion, be proactive to keep keys clean before and after they are touched, selective in the cleaning solutions you use, and attentive to how it looks as you work. Protect the beauty of your piano, and your health!
Jonathan Kotulski, RPT
M. Steinert & Sons