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Fazioli vs. Steinway

by Stephen N. Reed


Rosewood grand piano, from Steinway & Sons' Heirloom Collection
Rosewood grand piano, from Steinway & Sons’ Heirloom Collection

Buying a luxury piano is not easy, as each brand promotes something that differentiates it. This is particularly true when comparing the piano models of Steinway & Sons, which have been continually improved since the company’s beginnings in 1853, with the piano models of relative newcomer Fazioli, which began making pianos in 1981.

A luxury piano is a significant investment.  You’ll want to study information about the different piano models and then play them for yourself.  After all, what could be worse than paying serious money for a piano, only to find that it’s not satisfying nor as durable as expected.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have kept current about the latest Steinway & Sons models as well as those from other luxury piano companies like Fazioli.  After 160 years in the piano business, we can help you understand your luxury piano options.

Similarities and Differences: Steinway and Fazioli

Steinway & Sons has manufactured pianos longer than most piano brands existing in the world today. Steinway features a robust artists program with some of the world’s top pianists.

Fazioli F-308 model grand piano
As of today, Fazioli has 6 concert grand models. Shown here, the F-308 is their biggest grand at 10’2″.

Steinway & Sons is known for its commitment to handcrafted pianos, as well as its presence in most symphony orchestras, top music schools, and now state-of-the-art Spirio player pianos.

Fazioli is a lesser-known brand, as it’s only been in existence for just over four decades.  Paolo Fazioli founded his piano factory in Sacile, Italy in 1981.

Like Steinway & Sons, all Fazioli pianos are handcrafted, going through months of refinement, testing, regulation, and woodworking.

Fazioli is a much smaller operation than Steinway and each piano takes around 2 to 3  years to complete, compared with Steinways, which take just under a year. Fazioli makes about 140 pianos every year, whereas Steinway makes about 2,500 each year in its two factories in Astoria, New York and Hamburg, Germany.

The company began with just a few models, the F-183 and F-228. By 1982 there were four grand models offered.  This includes the F-156 and F-228 along with the other two. As of today, Fazioli has 6 concert grand models with the F-278 and F-308 being their biggest.

As a first-generation manufacturer, Paolo Fazioli, like Henry Steinway in 1853, has approached the piano from a quality perspective.  Whether the Fazioli brand will continue to evolve into the future is a reasonable question to consider.

Steinway & Sons have 6 grand models, starting with the smallest, the Model S, the Model M, the Model O, the Model A, and their concert grand, the Model D. Steinway has evolved its quality and design over generations of transitions.

Steinway’s top-shelf reputation for quality, craftsmanship, and design have held to the original vision of its founder for over 160 years – a unique accomplishment in American manufacturing.

Differences in construction

There are some subtleties in the types of woods used in Fazioli and Steinway.

Fazioli’s soundboard is made with Red Spruce wood, sourced in Italy. Steinway & Sons uses solid Sitka Spruce from the Pacific Northwest, which is known for its tight grain and resonance.

Steinway & Sons pianos are also built with 17 laminations of Hard Rock Maple. They also use the same wood on their piano bridges. Fazioli pianos use several maple laminations on the inner and outer rim, too, and their bridges use a combination of maple and other wood.

A contrast in touch and tone

Model D Steinway
Steinway & Sons concert grand, the Model D, with a length of 8’11 3/4″. Steinway’s wide and subtle range of color allows a pianist to better express a breadth of emotions.

Fazioli pianos are seen as consistent, brighter and balanced in tone. In particular, the bass range has a lot of power.  Overall the tone of a Fazioli can be best described as clear.

In contrast, Steinway pianos produce more warmth, notably in the bass section.  Frequently, Steinways produce a more well-rounded and malleable sound.  The wide and subtle range of color allows a pianist to better express a breadth of emotions.

Revealingly, Fazioli uses the Renner actions and Kluge keys for their pianos–both of these companies are owned by Steinway.  Steinway & Sons actions parts go through additional quality control processes and are measured to an exactness of 1/32,000th of an inch.

A proprietary measurement tool takes multi-dimensional photographs to ensure that each part meets Steinway & Sons specifications. Steinway’s 2019 purchase of Renner is the latest in a number of strategic acquisitions that have taken place to ensure continuity in vendor business as well as to ensure that the Steinway–caliber quality of key components is preserved and continuously improved upon.

A contrast in cost

Fazioli pianos, like the F-156 and F-183 baby grands, is $128,000 to $233,000. Steinway’s baby grand, their Model S, costs $80,100.

Fazioli’s largest, the 10’ F-308 prices about $234,000, whereas Steinway & Sons’ largest grand, the nearly 9’ Model D, starts at $198,400.

Fazioli vs. Steinway: A matter of perspective

While Fazioli pianos are attempting to establish themselves in the luxury piano market,  Steinway has been around for much longer, and enjoys the luxury of a long-term reputation for excellence.  Steinway which has a 169-year-old reputation that continues to be the choice of 95% of pianists playing with symphonies today.

But the best way for you to decide which you prefer is to try some models of both luxury brands for yourself.  Go to a Fazioli store, try some of their models, then come visit us at M. Steinert & Sons to play some Steinway models.

We want you to make an informed choice and to go home knowing that you have selected the best piano for you.

As you await your showroom visits, you can learn more about buying the right piano for you.  Read the column below for some of our tips for buying a piano:

How do I choose the best piano for me?

 


Top 5 piano stores in Vermont

by Stephen N. Reed


Times have changed in the piano industry.  Formerly, every modest-sized city and town had a retail music store. With population and product trends, the industry has consolidated to a much more regional orientation.

To be as transparent as possible and to help you find the right piano for you, this article will introduce you to what we consider Top 5 piano stores in Vermont.  (Graphic by Allexxandar on Freepik.com.)

For example, we at M. Steinert & Sons are the only Authorized Steinway Dealer in northern New England. We also carry Boston, Essex, and Roland brands. We’ve been helping our customers find the best piano for over 160 years.  Still, occasionally shoppers will ask us, “If we weren’t going to buy from you, what other stores should we consider?”

It bears mentioning that there is a huge difference between a full-service piano store and an individual or company that rebuilds used pianos.  As one example, you are more likely to obtain a Certified Pre-owned piano with a warranty from a full-service store, as opposed to a rebuilding shop. Plus, rebuilt used pianos can vary widely in quality.

While there any many fine rebuilders out there, there are also those who take hidden shortcuts in order to get a piano quickly to market – with the knowledge that as long as it looks good, most will never look deeper.

To be as transparent as possible and to help you find the best piano for you, this article will introduce you to what we consider the Top piano stores in Vermont. They are listed below in alphabetical order.

Top 5 piano stores in Vermont

Hilbert Pianos

Bristol, VT

Hilbert Pianos is an authorized Kawai and Shigeru Kawai dealer which also offers used pianos that are rebuilt, restored, and reconditioned. They specialize in rebuilding high-end pianos and actions.

They also offer a range of piano accessories, including metronomes and humidity control products.

The store is run by Ed and Emily Hilbert.

Roby’s Piano Shop

Swanton, VT

Roby’s is a piano store that used to be a Samick dealer that now sells only used pianos.  Showings are by appointment only.

They also offer piano repairs and tunings. The store owner is semi-retired and now works only from the shop.

The Piano Gallery

North Ferrisburgh, VT

The Piano Gallery is a combination piano repair and services business that also sells used pianos in addition to Boston and Essex lines.

Their services include:

  • Repair work
  • Complete Action rebuilding
  • Voicing
  • Assessments and appraisals
  • Humidity control systems

They also sell piano accessories, ranging from humidity control products to piano lamps.  The Piano Gallery is owned by Justin and Emily Rose, who opened the store in 2017.

Vermont Piano

Manchester, VT

Vermont Piano is a Hallet Davis piano dealer and also sells new Baldwins and Yamaha.

Currently, the store is offering online appointments.

Additionally, the store offers local and long-distance piano moving.

Vermont Piano Service

St. Albans, VT

Vermont Piano Service is primarily a piano tuning and repair business.  However, they also offer used, rebuilt pianos.

Their piano services include:

  • Tuning
  • Repair
  • Cleaning
  • Regulation
  • Voicing
  • Rebuilding
  • Piano moving

Vermont Piano Service was started by Ben Giroux in 2013.

Piano shopping tips and insights

Every piano buyer should know that it costs money to deliver a piano to your home, even if the delivery company is owned or partly owned by the dealer, although some dealers will tell you it’s “free.” In short, piano buyers always pay for the dealer delivery cost whether the dealer builds it into the price of the piano or not.  Nothing is truly “free.”

Dealers who routinely offer free delivery include the cost of the delivery in the pricing of their piano, rather than presenting it as a separate line item on your sales agreement. Delivering a piano isn’t easy and definitely requires a paid professional.

Choosing the right piano store for you

Some buyers may be able to find their piano in a small boutique shop, while others will need to visit a larger, full-service piano store with a more sizable inventory with a broader variety of models.

With this basic information in hand regarding these top piano stores in Vermont,  you should now be in a better position to explore your piano-buying options within that area.  We hope we have saved you some time that you would have spent researching online.

Regardless of the brand or dealer, these three steps should be kept in mind:

  1. Determine the right balance of price and quality for you;
  2. Choose a manufacturer and seller you trust;
  3. Play the actual piano before you buy.

Visit a piano store’s showroom before you buy

Steinert & Sons understands that finding the right piano can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve created a free Buyer’s Guide to help navigate piano choices, with options on brands, costs, types, and add-on options.

Our philosophy has never really changed in all these years: To earn the trust of a customer and to provide good service and the best quality pianos.

If you would like to learn more about our company and pianos, you can easily schedule an appointment using our Calendly link to either our Newton or Boston locations.

Again, playing a piano before buying it is not only common sense–it gives you a chance to test a variety of pianos to determine which is the one for you.

For more information, click on the links provided below:

How do I choose the best piano for me?

How do I prepare for my piano appointment?


Boston vs. Steinway: A comparison of two sister brands

by Stephen N. Reed


Henry E. Steinway famously said that his company’s vision was to build the best piano possible.  As a result, Steinway pianos have been handcrafted for 169 years.

Steinway Model A grand piano
Steinway & Sons’ Model A grand piano. Only the handcrafted process can create the kind of high-quality instrument, “the best piano possible,” that Henry Steinway first envisioned.

Only the handcrafted process, with its combination of high craftsmanship and special materials, can create the kind of high-quality instrument that Henry Steinway first envisioned.  Steinway & Sons pianos have earned their stellar reputation thanks to continued dedication to excellence.

The Steinway-designed Boston line of pianos, created by Steinway in 1992,  is the culmination of Steinway & Sons’ decision to develop a new line of instruments that was imbued with much of Steinway’s design into a manufactured piano.

Through its adherence to Steinway design principles, Boston has distinguished itself within its price range.  After all, only Boston and the other Steinway brand, Essex, can lay claim to having Steinway’s design and 169 years of piano building experience behind it.

However, significant differences remain between the handcrafted Steinway & Sons and its younger sister brand, the manufactured Boston.  Understanding these differences, weighing the importance to you, is important, as you wouldn’t want to go home with a piano that doesn’t meet your expectations.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we’ve been helping piano customers make an informed decision regarding the best piano for their needs since 1860.  We have kept current with every new model of Steinway & Sons and Boston pianos and explain the similarities and differences between them on a daily basis.

By the end of this article, you will understand the differences and similarities between these two popular American piano companies.  This will enable you to decide which aspects of both piano lines mean the most to you.

Boston: Steinway’s little sister, now coming into her own

Boston upright
The Boston Piano Company was created in 1991 by Steinway in response to the growing mid-level piano market.

The Boston Piano Company was created in 1991 by Steinway in response to the growing mid-level piano market.  Steinway had a clear understanding that many buyers would love to own a handcrafted Steinway but simply couldn’t afford it yet.

Steinway leadership made a bold move.  They decided to enter the world of manufactured pianos, allowing for Boston pianos to be sold at a more affordable price than a handcrafted Steinway & Sons.

They contracted with a well-regarded piano manufacturer with the understanding that as many Steinway-designed features as possible would be included in their production process.

Over the past three decades, we at M. Steinert & Sons have studied the new Boston models as they have been released.  Obviously, we believe in all of our Steinway-designed pianos, including Bostons.  However, we still strive for objectivity when describing them to you.

Having said that, it is simply a fact that Bostons have grown so popular with their Steinway-design elements and lower price that today many customers prefer a new Boston to a used Steinway. But the discerning buyer still wants to know about the particular differences between these two sister pianos, as well as their similarities.

In the end, people want to know: Can a manufactured piano, built with Steinway design, rival the venerable handcrafted Steinway & Sons?  Just how far has modern piano engineering come?

Boston vs. Steinway pianos: The similarities

Boston's GP178-A grand piano
Boston’s GP178-A grand piano. Boston’s Steinway design gives it many of the same features as Steinway & Sons’ models.

Obviously, the challenge for Steinway engineers Susan Kenagy and John Patton when designing the Boston was to discern which elements of the Steinway design could be transferred to a manufacturing process.

Here are some of the key Steinway design elements placed into Bostons:

  • Low-tension scaling resulted in a longer sustaining tone than other leading manufactured pianos.
  • A patented, large, Sitka Spruce soundboard that provides a fuller tone;
  • Solid copper-wound bass strings, ensuring pure tone for the life of the instrument;
  • More sustain, dynamic range, and warmer tones;
  • Wide-tail design for a bigger sound;
  • Hard Rock Maple inner rim, producing less vibration and less absorption of sound.

In addition, one of the most important Steinway-design aspects infused into every Boston is the famed “Steinway sound.” This has often been described as an even, well-rounded tone.

The presence of the Steinway sound in Boston pianos is a pleasant surprise to many. While concert pianists likely can hear a broader range of color offered by a Steinway & Sons grand piano, for Boston buyers the Steinway sound is still there. No other manufactured piano comes so close to the Steinway touch and tone.

In short, Boston’s warm, even tone confirms it as a fully-credentialed member of the Steinway family of pianos.

Boston vs. Steinway pianos: The differences

Steinway & Sons' Maccasar Ebony grand piano from the Crown Jewel Collection
Steinway & Sons’ Maccasar Ebony grand piano from the Crown Jewel Collection. Having many skilled craftspeople working on every design nuance distinguishes handcrafted Steinway models from manufactured Boston models.

The most obvious difference between a Boston piano and a Steinway & Sons piano is the way they are made.  Having many skilled Steinway craftspeople working on every design nuance naturally creates the following differences between Steinways and Boston:

  • Steinway & Sons pianos are handcrafted in a year-long process in Astoria, New York and Hamburg, Germany.  Bostons are manufactured in a Kawai factory in Japan;
  • Materials selection in Steinway & Sons pianos is so rigorous that more than 50% of the excellent woods purchased by Steinway still don’t qualify for inclusion in a Steinway & Sons piano.  Both Steinway and Boston have Hard Rock Maple inner rims, but Steinway is more particular about some other woods;
  • Boston uprights have a muffler pedal, not a Sostenudo pedal as Steinway & Sons pianos do;
  • Different hammers in the action between the two brands.  Hammers pressed in a manufacturing process like Boston’s may make them consistent. However, this kind of hammer cannot provide the range of tone colors possible only in the slower hand-pressed approach found only in the longer, handcrafted process used by Steinway;
  • Boston generally has a tapered, Sitka Spruce soundboard. Steinway & Sons features the patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard, which is unique to Steinway & Sons.

The best way to choose between these two brands is to play them

Ultimately, when it comes to a choice between two or more piano brands, the choice comes down to each individual’s needs and priorities.  People who can afford a Steinway & Sons piano typically select one of their models.

However, the Boston is a very popular model for those who want many of the same features as a Steinway at a lower price, and want the option to trade up to a Steinway & Sons piano at some point in the future.

Boston piano plate and logo
Sharing much of Steinway’s design recipe, in order to make a less expensive yet high-quality piano, was a bet that has paid off for Steinway & Sons.

Steinway & Sons moved in a bold and unprecedented way when they decided to create a mid-level, production piano that still had as much of the Steinway design as the manufacturing process permitted.

Sharing much of Steinway’s design recipe, 16 decades in the making, in order to make a less expensive yet high-quality piano, was a bet that has paid off for Steinway & Sons.  Each year, thousands of satisfied Boston customers come away from Steinway dealers, choosing a new Boston over their other options.

Come into one of M. Steinert’s two showrooms in Boston and Nexton to sample some Steinways and Bostons for yourself.  Trying out such models will certainly inform your thinking as you determine your own priorities.

If you have an interest in a Boston piano, click on this article for more information:

Boston Pianos Review: How good are Boston pianos?

And if you are interested in learning more about the Steinway sound, read this article:

What is special about the Steinway sound?

 


QRS vs. PianoDisc vs. Spirio, a comparison of player piano systems

By Stephen N. Reed


For over a century, player pianos have had the remarkable ability to play without a pianist sitting at the bench. The earliest mechanical systems used a combination of industrial era techniques, ranging from pumps to levers to pumps to cue each note from holes in paper rolls.

Fast forward several decades.  A new player piano renaissance was coming into being. In the 1980s and 1990s, several companies began digitizing the player piano experience.

Steinway & Sons' Spirio keyboard moving by itself
For over a century, player pianos have had the remarkable ability to play without a pianist sitting at the bench.

The Yamaha Disklavier, the PianoDisc and QRS systems were the main players. In these systems, a series of solenoids are activated under the keys, a real revolution in player piano technology. In 2016, the Steinway Spirio entered the player market as well.

The first player pianos lacked dynamic range.  Today’s player pianos have surprising nuance and exceptional dynamic range due to the new technology available.

If you are potentially interested in a player piano experience, then understanding the different modern player piano systems is key to making the best possible piano selection.  After all, the addition of a player piano system is a significant investment, and the last thing you want is to choose a system that doesn’t meet your needs.

Long before acoustic piano companies began to embrace digital technologies, we at M. Steinert built our reputation on helping customers select the best piano for them.

For an increasing number of our customers, that means including a player piano system.  As a result, we are constantly learning about the various playing piano options as they roll out.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand how player pianos work, what they cost, and will also be introduced to Steinway’s Spirio player piano, which now accounts for over half of Steinway’s sales today.

Modern player system add-ons: PianoDisc and QRS

QRS and PianoDisc are the main competitors in the custom installation world. While in macro similar, they each have their unique attributes, installation procedures, and technologies. The most obvious differences are in their user interface and the music library.

Solenoids
QRS uses fully encased solenoids with Teflon impregnated solenoid plungers to deliver control over the range of motion.

Either system can be added to almost any acoustic piano not over 20 years old (this is a recommendation due to increased wear and tear, not an imposed restriction).  Adding one to a piano costs between $7,000 and $11,000, depending on the models and options selected.

Adding a player system involves shipping the piano to a qualified installer to make the modifications needed to install and test the system. Player system installations should not be attempted by an inexperienced piano tech.

Here is a look at other similarities and differences between PianoDisc and QRS:

Player System technology

Prodigy system by Pianodisc
Both QRS and PianoDisc allow upgrades to both their hardware and software components. The latest PianoDisc system is called the Prodigy.

QRS uses fully encased solenoids with Teflon impregnated solenoid plungers to deliver control over the range of motion. A longer plunger and solenoid deliver greater accuracy and the necessary dynamism to support this feature.

PianoDisc solenoids are shorter than those on QRS, which some feel reduces performance due to the physics of solenoid engagement.

Both QRS and PianoDisc allow upgrades to both their hardware and software components. The latest PianoDisc system is called the Prodigy and the most recent update to QRS is the PNO3 (Pianomation 3).

Capacity and Controls

QRS uses an embedded web app system, where you effectively ‘login’ to the piano, and once connected have full control of the piano from any connected device.

In the first year of QRS ownership you access to all l 15,000 songs from the QRS library  – which are pre-loaded into the system.  After one year you get to keep 1500 without additional payment–and you can order more through the app.

Over 4,000 songs in all music categories have been recorded for PianoDisc. You can download music from PianoDisc’s music store via iQ.

Other similarities and differences

Pnomation OT
The most recent update to QRS is the PNO3 (Pianomation 3).

Both the QRS PNO3 and PianoDisc iQ systems are retrofit and can be easily installed in any piano.

Both systems allow songs/tracks to have additional audio accompaniment.  The balance between the piano and this additional audio can be mixed from the app controls.

With PianoDisc, music is mostly purchased as an entire album, while QRS allows users to purchase singles.

Demand for the modern player piano experience continued to grow.  Yamaha rolled out their Disklavier player piano in 1987.  See the article at the end of this article for details on the Disklavier and how it compares to the Steinway Spirio.

Spirio:  Steinway & Sons’ Next Generation Player Piano System

Steinway & Sons' Spirio with user-friendly detached iPad interace
In 2016, Spirio set out to redefine the player piano experience in terms of both quality and ease of use.

After several years of research and engineering, Steinway introduced the Spirio High-Definition Player Piano in 2016.  Spirio set out to redefine the player piano experience in terms of both quality and ease of use.

In addition to having the player piano technology installed in the factory before the sale, three additional factors help to set them apart:

  • Built-in at the factory: Spirio’s player piano technology is built-in at the factory, not after the fact. A Spirio system cannot be added to an existing piano or even another Steinway.
  • New Technology: Spirio incorporates a new player system capable of over 1000 degrees of sensitivity per key and 256 degrees of pedal control along with legendary Steinway quality throughout.
  • Highest-definition recordings: The Spirio content library has the highest-definition content available, performed by Steinway Artists, and the entire 4,000+ song library is included with the Spirio purchase (no subscription, songs, or albums to purchase separately).

The cost to add Spirio’s Playback system technology to a Steinway & Sons’ Model M or Model B grand is about $27,500. To further add the Record technology is an additional $15,000.

Spirio | r

In 2019, Steinway introduced the Spirio | r, allowing the capture, archival, and editing of live performances in high-definition. Spirio | r offers exclusive high-resolution recording, preserving all the music: every nuanced dynamic level from infinitesimal gradations of hammer velocity and every shade of resonance from proportional pedaling.

The Spirio | r adds a total of $45,000 to the new Steinway Grand Model M, B, or D (the Model D Spirio is only available in the Spirio | r version).

Modern player pianos are here to stay

Continued interest in add-on player piano systems like QRS and PianoDisc, as well as brisk sales of Yamaha Disklavier and Steinway’s Spirio, are proof positive that modern player pianos are here to stay.

Spirio player piano technology installed at the factory before sale
Spirio’s player piano technology is installed before the sale at the Steinway & Sons factory.

The fact that well over half of new Steinway sales are for Spirios confirms the increasing popularity of this intriguing combination of classic acoustic design and modern-day digital technology.

At M. Steinert, we encourage you to try all four major player piano systems before purchasing.  Investigate PianoDisc, QRS, Yamaha’s Disklavier, and Steinway’s Spirio.  Only then will you be able to make the most informed choice for your modern player piano.

Make an appointment to discuss these options with one of our seasoned piano consultants at M. Steinert.  In the meantime, read more about the differences between Disklavier and Spirio in this article:

Spirio vs. Disklavier: Which is the better 21st century self-playing piano for you


What are the main differences between a grand piano and an upright?

by Stephen N. Reed

Both grand pianos and uprights can be exceptional instruments, but some significant differences exist, both in terms of design and style. 

Victorian grand from Steinway's Heirloom Collection
When we think of the term “piano,” we usually think of the grand piano, like this model from the Steinway Victorian model from their Heirloom Collection.

By the end of this article, you will know the main differences between these two types of pianos, helping you to determine which kind of piano is best for you. Knowing these differences is important so that you don’t make the mistake of a poorly-informed piano purchase, one that disappoints you soon after you bring it home.

MAJOR DIFFERENCES SUMMARY: Grands Uprights
How measured Horizontal – Keys to tail length Vertical – Floor to top of cabinet
Action Gravity Reset Spring Assist
Pedals 3 – Including Full Sostenuto 2 or 3, typically not Full Sostenuto
Sound Projection Controlled and targeted through lid Smaller reach

Grand pianos: Measured by length

Steinway grand keyboard
All grand pianos, regardless of length,  are about 5 feet in width.

Grand pianos are measured by the length from the front edge of the keys to the tail end.  Their measurements are:

  • Baby grand:  Up to 5’7” in length
  • Medium grand:  5’7” to 5’10” in length
  • Full grand: 5’10” to 7’ in length
  • Performance grand:  7’ to 9’ in length
  • Concert grand: 9’ and above in length

All grand pianos, regardless of length,  are about 5 feet in width.

General features of all grand pianos as compared to uprights

Grand pianos have a fuller resonance, more nuanced tonality, and a broader dynamic range than uprights.  The combination of these features allows pianists to express themselves fully. Additional advantages of the grand piano over uprights include:

  • Wider dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo
  • Sound is more uniform and well-balanced
  • Smoother sustain
  • More nuanced note expression

These features combine to allow a pianist to infuse more emotional expression than is possible with an upright piano.

The grand piano’s responsive action: Gravity reset

Steinway grand's action being put into place
Once a grand piano’s key releases, gravity naturally resets the hammer and the damper. This natural reaction makes for a more responsive action than that in the upright piano.

One key aspect to grand pianos is their exceptional action.  All grand pianos utilize gravity to return the hammer to rest. The action and strings are placed horizontally into the piano case.. When a key is pressed, the hammer strikes the piano string vertically.

Once a key releases, gravity naturally resets the hammer and the damper. This natural reaction makes for a more responsive action than that in the upright piano.  The action on the grand piano responds faster, as it is reacting naturally to gravity.

This rectifies the inherent problem with upright pianos, to be discussed later in this article.   Gravity reset offers more control of dynamics, repetition speed, and overall piano tone.

Upright pianos: Measured by height

Essex upright
The Essex Upright Model EUP-111E. No matter the height, upright pianos take up the same floor space of roughly five feet by two feet.

Uprights are compact pianos that remain popular due to their smaller footprint. Uprights have brought high-level music to millions of middle-class homes over the years, to families who could not afford a grand piano.

Sometimes called vertical pianos, they are named this because the strings and soundboard are positioned vertically, perpendicular to the floor.

Uprights come in several height variations, all of which have a unique sound. No matter the height, upright pianos take up the same floor space of roughly five feet by two feet.  Upright height sizes are:

  • Spinet: approx. 36” high
  • Console: approx 40-44” high
  • Studio: approx 44-48” high
  • Professional: approx. 48” high and above

Spinets used to be a popular option for home use, but these days, manufacturers produce more studio or console uprights as the smallest option.

The upright’s spring action

Uprights do not have the advantage of gravity and utilize a spring action to allow the hammer to rest. When a key is pressed, a mechanism causes the hammer to strike the string horizontally.

Once the key is released the hammer is enabled to reset thanks to a built-in spring. Here’s the issue in terms of action responsiveness in the upright: before one can restrike the key, it has to raise a particular distance to reset the spring.

Uprights generally do not have the rich tonality of grands, as a sensitive action is more difficult to produce when hammers move sideways instead of upwards against gravity.  Nevertheless, newer uprights are doing better on this score.

Differences in the piano pedals

In addition to the actions, another significant difference between uprights and grands is in the piano pedals.

For example, the left pedal on the grand, called the “soft pedal” or “una corda pedal,” shifts the entire action to the right.  This softens the volume but also makes nuanced changes to the piano’s tone.  The left pedal on the upright simply moves the hammers closer to the strings, making the volume softer but not affecting the instrument’s tone.

The middle pedal, known as the sostenuto pedal on the grand, raises the dampers, keeping them away from the strings, allowing for select notes to be sustained.  But in the upright, the middle pedal is known as the muffler pedal.  When pressed, a think piece of felt is placed between the hammers and strings, muting the sound.

The right pedal is known as the sustain or damper pedal in both the grand and the upright.  In both pianos, the right or sustain pedal, also known as the damper pedal keeps dampers lifted even after the key is released, sustaining all notes that have been played.

When is an upright preferable to a grand piano?

Boston Upright UP-126-E Performance Edition
Boston Upright UP-126-E Performance Edition. Depending on the buyer’s needs, particularly in terms of available space in their home, a quality upright can be the obvious choice for smaller rooms.

With differences ranging from greater resonance, a more responsive action, and greater sustain in the pedals, one may well wonder if an upright can ever be preferable to a grand piano.

While grand pianos have traditionally been seen as the superior instrument versus the upright, exceptions can be found.  A quality, new upright will certainly outperform an old, spent grand.  One can always find quality uprights that are more expensive than lower-quality brands.  Materials and craftsmanship can always make a difference between pianos.

In short, a high-quality upright piano will outperform and outlast a poorly made, inexpensive grand piano.

Moreover, depending on the buyer’s needs, particularly in terms of available space in their home, a quality upright can be the obvious choice for smaller rooms.

Sampling a range of uprights and grands is key to your decision

Especially if your budget is in the area of high quality uprights and smaller grands, a visit to different piano stores, featuring various brands and models of uprights and grands.

Only by testing a range of uprights and grands can you find the piano that is best for you.  You may find that a quality upright meets all your needs, from tone to smaller size.  Or you might find that a stretch up to a baby or medium grand piano is worth the further investment.

Spending time with a seasoned piano consultant like those at M. Steinert & Sons can help you narrow down your best options, based on your budget.   Making an appointment to visit one of our showrooms will give you time to sample enough uprights and grands to be a much more-informed piano buyer.

In the meantime, learn more about uprights and the smaller grands by reading the following articles:


Are Steinways really the best pianos?

Stephen N. Reed


Asking what piano is the best is like asking someone who the best writer or painter is; the answer depends on the person asked. If you ask 100 automobile enthusiasts what the best automobile is, you will receive a variety of answers and for many different reasons.

Certain facts and statistics can work to establish a credible claim of being the best.  This article will provide such facts and statistics to determine which brand is the best piano.

2018 Steinway Model B
Steinway’s Model B grand.  So what does “best” mean?  To some, best could mean most durable, best looking, or best value.  But for an instrument like the piano, ultimately its musical quality is the main consideration.

Judging the best of any category or product is often associated with being the most expensive. But many brands competing for top recognition are not the most expensive piano.

So what does “best” mean?  To some, best could mean most durable, best looking, or best value.  But for an instrument like the piano, ultimately its musical quality is the main consideration.

M. Steinert & Sons has studied the musical quality of each generation of top-of-the-line pianos, including each new Steinway model, since 1869, before Steinway had earned its current reputation. We know new and used Steinways.

In addition, we are also intimately familiar with other top brands, which we have sold as used models for many years.  Indeed, some of our piano consultants have worked for other brands before coming to work for us.  So we appreciate the value in other brands.

We’re an Authorized Steinway Dealer and, as such, you would be within your rights to wonder if we’re bringing some bias into an article like this.  Our goal is not to bring a biased view but to help you understand how the general public evaluates Steinway pianos so you can make that decision for yourself.

What do the world’s concert pianists say?

Not only do pianos create art, but they are also a work of art themselves.

Steinway's Black Diamond grand piano
A handcrafted Black Diamond Steinway Special Edition grand. A few piano companies continue to use a handcrafted approach to piano building, generally viewed as superior to a manufactured process.

The question of which piano is the best cannot be answered exclusively by objective technical or scientific criteria.  Many piano companies use excellent materials, and a few continue to use a handcrafted approach to piano building, generally viewed as superior to a manufactured process.

Three brands that still employ the handcrafted method of piano building include Steinway, Bosendorfer, and Yamaha but just for the Japanese company’s CF concert piano series.

Another way to answer the “best piano” question is to weigh the subjective opinions of people qualified enough to offer opinions that carry additional weight.  In the piano industry, this would mean examining the opinions held by the best pianists about their piano preferences.

The best pianists are professional concert pianists who have managed to build successful performing careers. They are the rare few who have risen to the top and whose playing amazes, awes, and inspires, resulting in recording contracts with the world’s leading labels.

Obviously, if you know of one or more particular musical artists whose work you admire, their endorsement of a given piano brand will weigh more heavily.

Major piano brands each have their supporters.  Here is a sampling of those endorsements for three piano brands that are used by top concert pianists.  You can also click on the brand name to take you to each brand’s Artists’ page online to peruse different artists’ endorsements.

Yamaha:

“Yamaha has always been my piano of choice and it is a status I am very proud of. Performing on a CFX is always a memorable experience, only with the CFX do I find a complete affinity between myself and the instrument.”

–Nicholas McCarthy, Concert Pianist and Yamaha Artist

Bosendorfer:

“For me, Bösendorfer best represents the Central European music tradition: history, tradition and a connection to the past.”

–Sir Andras Schiff, Concert Pianist and Bosendorfer Artist

Steinway:

“This instrument has not only the beauty, but also the sound, the emotions, the whole feeling. No matter how you play, you always have these wonderful qualities.”

–Lang Lang, Concert Pianist and Steinway Artist

Again, every competitive piano brand like these will have their supporters.  Some will have more endorsements than others, but each brand hopes that if they have one of your favorite performers endorsing their pianos, you’ll give them special notice.

A recent study of symphony orchestras

So how else might one grade one of these top piano brands as the best?

Steinway fallboard
A recent study shows that over 97 percent of piano soloists performing with orchestras played on Steinway pianos.

Concert pianists perform all around the world with symphony orchestras. Steinway & Sons released a symphony survey that shows over 97 percent of piano soloists performing with orchestras during the 2018-2019 season played on Steinway pianos.

According to Steinway & Sons, this survey includes data from 794 performances with 100 orchestras around the world.

Which piano do most conservatories prefer?

Another way to evaluate which of these piano brands ranks first is to inquire into the piano inventory of leading music conservatories worldwide.

These music schools train professional pianists all around the world and mostly use Steinway pianos.

Conservatories training with Steinway pianos includes the Top 3 in the U.S.–Julliard School, Curtis, and Oberlin–as well as Yale and New England Conservatory.  A complete list of All-Steinway Schools can be found here.

Is a Steinway-family piano for you?

Professional musicians would not risk their performing careers on pianos that did not do the best possible justice to their art. They count on the reliability and musicality that Steinway pianos provide during their most intense moments of performance.

Boston 178-A grand piano
A Boston 178-A grand piano. For much of the Steinway design but for less cost, many turn to the Boston and Essex lines, made by Steinway.

As noted in a prior article, Yamaha’s brighter sound scores points with some jazz and contemporary pianists, sharing that market with Steinway and others.

But among classical concert pianists, symphony orchestras, and music conservatories, Steinway is the overwhelming choice.

That being said, plenty of people choose other pianos, for all sorts of reasons.

For example, some jazz and contemporary pianists prefer the brighter tone of a Yamaha over the well-rounded tone of Steinway.  While some jazz and contemporary artists prefer Steinway, taking different pianists’ opinions into account can be informative when evaluating which piano is best for you.

Additionally, you may discover that you prefer Steinway but simply don’t have the budget for it right now.   If you want to get as much of the Steinway tone and touch as possible in a more affordable piano, Steinway’s manufactured production lines, Boston and Essex, may be for you.

 Try out a variety of piano brands for yourself

You wouldn’t buy a luxury car like a Maserati or Porsche without taking it out for a test ride.  Reading about any expensive item helps prepare you for your encounter with it.  But spending real time with it is essential to a satisfactory purchase.

The next step for anyone trying to ascertain whether Steinway is the best piano for you is to play a variety of models, including Steinway and other top brands like Bosendorfer and Yamaha.  Only by comparing and contrasting such brands can you discern which piano make and model is best for you.

Naturally, we hope you’ll look into our Steinway lines of pianos at M. Steinert & Sons.  Come into one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton to explore the Steinway family of pianos–Steinway, Boston, and Essex–for yourself.

In the meantime, learn more about why a handcrafted piano is more expensive in the following article:

Why are Steinway pianos so expensive?


What is the Golden Age of Steinway pianos? Could it be now?

by Stephen N. Reed


There is a common tendency to romanticize certain old pianos, particularly old Steinways.  This has led many piano buyers down a path of subsequent disappointment, regret, and buyer’s remorse.

There was no past Golden Age of Steinway. However, a good argument can be made that today’s Steinway, like this Ice Birch model from Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection, is part of a current Golden Age of Steinway.

Perhaps the best example of this is the so-called “Golden Age of Steinway,” which purports that the best Steinways were built decades in the past.

This has become a serious education problem as some used piano dealers, old piano rebuilders, and private technicians compete with Authorized Steinway Dealers and the new Steinways only they can sell.

Throughout Steinway’s history, such used Steinway sellers have spread the myth of a previous, mythical “Golden Age” of old Steinway years that cover the period of time when Steinways typically become worn out–any age exceeding 75 years. In other words, when a used Steinway needs restoration.

After all, these are the kind of Steinway pianos they can sell. And it can be big business at times.  During the first third of the 20th century, Steinway produced a large number of pianos per year, and thus, a large number remains on the used market.

So as you hear about this distant “Golden Age of Steinway,” you need to know if there is any truth to it.

M. Steinert & Sons has been an Authorized Steinway Dealer for over 150 years and has helped tens of thousands of customers determine the right piano for them.

The Golden Age logo
Part of M. Steinert’s role is to disabuse some customers of notions like a past “Golden Age of Steinway” so that they can know the true value of a used Steinway.

This sometimes includes disabusing some customers of notions like a past “Golden Age of Steinway” so that they can know the truth of a used Steinway’s value.

By the time you have read this article, you will understand some facts about the evolutionary development of the Steinway piano.  You will understand that, while some good used Steinways are out there, the most recently produced, new Steinway will always be the best one.

The Steinway piano’s background and evolution

The piano is now 322 years old (c.1700), and over 12,000 brand names have come and gone.  Many piano historians and musicians agree that Steinway & Sons pianos have long been the pianos by which all others are judged.

Throughout its 169-year history, Steinway & Sons has consistently included piano engineering and improvement as a key part of its ethos.  They have experimented with countless piano ideas, theories, designs, styles, types, and sizes of pianos–some of them abject failures–others quite successful, even to the point of shaping the modern piano across various brands.

Some piano innovations rejected, others accepted by Steinway

Steinway & Sons Founder Henry Steinway
Company founder Henry Steinway consistently emphasized piano engineering and improvement.

Many of these evolving models, through years of experimentation and testing, were rejected as the company’s steadily accumulating knowledge of acoustical, mathematical, chemical, engineering, physical, and musical science consistently increased.

Other designs were retained due to their proven excellence over time, methodically being improved and refined into today’s ultimate Steinway–the historical apex of Steinway technology and musicality.

A new piano patent is granted to Steinway every 14 months

On average a new engineering patent has been granted to Steinway & Sons every 14 months throughout its history. Today’s 2022 newest designs incorporate a remarkable 139 improvements–13 in the last 10 years alone.

The Steinway ethos is demonstrably one of pursuit–ever-changing, ever-evolving, never content with yesteryear.  This constant improvement may be one of the reasons why upwards of 95% of piano performers worldwide prefer Steinway.

A Case Study Of The Evolution of Steinway

Steinway's Model B
Steinway’s popular Model B has evolved over a period of 149 years with a redesign occurring on average every 15 years.

To illustrate this Steinway evolutionary process in greater detail, there has been one particular size and design of Steinway home grand–apart from the large Model D concert grand (9′).

This is a Steinway model that has become the favorite of professionals and accomplished amateurs alike in every generation of its continuous development: the Model B.

The “B” has evolved over a period of 149 years with a redesign occurring on average every 15 years–a total of 10 Model B “evolutionary eras.”

The changes to the Model B listed in the following chart are only a few in each generation of Model B, but this chart should prove the steady evolution of this as a representative Steinway model throughout Steinway’s design innovation history:

 

Years Keys Size Model B Design Changes
1872 – 1878 85 6’ 8” Agraffes throughout entire scale. Sectional case, curved tail square rear corner. The case had round arms, wide double mouldings around the bottom.
1878 – 1884 85 6’ 8” Substituting capo d’astro bar in place of agraffes for notes 52-85. Duplex agraffe. Keyframe leveling screw. Action w/Support Spring.
1884 – 1892 85 6’10.5″ Substituting double cupola plate for single cupola; adjustable front duplexes for notes 52-85 in place of front-duplex clipped agraffes. Treble Bell.
1891 – 1914 88 6’10.5″ Expansion of 85 notes to 88 notes. Capo d’astro bar (notes 52-88)
1914 – 1917 88 6’11.5″ 1” increase change in overall scale design. Grand underlever Top Flange w/Flexible Tab.
1917 – 1967 88 6’11” ½” reduction change in overall scale design. 1936 Diaphragmatic Soundboard and Accelerated Action patents. 1923 all-maple rims.
1967 – 2005 88 6’10.5″ ½’ reduction change in overall scale design. 1963 Hexagrip Pinblock patent. Permafree II bushing cloth w/emrilon.
2005 – 2015 88 6’11” ½” increase change in overall scale design. Damper adjustment device.
2015 – 2019 88 6’11” Spirio ultra high-resolution re-performance system.

1020 dynamic levels and 256 levels of proportional pedaling of live recordings.

2019 + 88 6’11” Spirio/r ultra high-resolution re-performance system.

1020 dynamic levels and 256 levels of proportional pedaling of live recordings. Plus capture and playback and editing.

Why the Golden Age of Steinway is Now

Only 60 Steinway piano dealerships are in the United States. These are the only piano retail locations officially authorized to sell new Steinways which incorporate all of Steinway’s 139 patents and most recent technological breakthroughs such as the Spirio capturing and re-performance systems.

These new Steinways are also the only pianos that are honored with a new five-year Steinway factory warranty covering major structural components that can only be replaced at the factory with proprietary factory equipment and labor.

A new Steinway with all of the latest innovations, paired with a five-year Steinway factory warranty, has the best claim on any “Golden Age” Steinway.

One reason for this is that, as in the past, Steinway continues to use the best materials and latest technologies in each year’s run of new pianos.

Old Steinway pianos may come with good restoration–but some restorers overstep the truth

Piano retailers whose survival relies on the restoration of outdated Steinway engineering designs may do an acceptable job restoring old Steinway designs.

However, they overstep and mislead when they falsely claim that the older Steinway designs, materials, and workmanship are superior to today’s models or that their restoration workmanship is “unparalleled.” Such statements are simply a case of exaggeration.

Steinway Artist Yuja Wang playing a new Steinway grand
The accuracy, precision, material excellence, manufacturing methodologies, equipment, and advanced designs of the newest Steinways far exceed those of previous generations.

The truth is that the used piano designs these firms are restoring are now in many respects technologically and musically obsolete.  In some cases, the technologies, equipment, materials, and expertise necessary to the construction of current Steinway designs are not available to them.

The accuracy, precision, material excellence, manufacturing methodologies, equipment, and advanced designs of the newest Steinways far exceed those of previous generations.

Today’s leading music conservatories and symphonies categorically invest only in new Steinways for their performance halls and faculty studios.  Few would disagree that such institutions want only the best Steinways for their uses.

Some good, used Steinways certainly are out there.  However, the best Steinways have always been and still are new. The only genuine Steinway Golden Age is today.

To learn more about New and Used Steinways, read the following articles:

Choosing between a new and used Steinway

New vs. Used Steinway:  Which is the better value for me?

Pros and Cons of new and rebuilt Steinway


What is special about the Steinway sound?

by Stephen N. Reed


Concert pianist's hands
Why do upwards of 95% of performing concert pianists worldwide prefer the Steinway sound to that of other quality brands like Yamaha and Kawai?

The “Steinway sound” draws many individuals and institutions to purchase a piano from one of the Steinway Family of pianos: Steinway, Boston, and Essex. But what is so unique about this sound, this tone? Why do upwards of 95% of performing concert pianists worldwide prefer it to that of other brands like Yamaha and Kawai?

Learning more about the Steinway sound is important, as reading about it and experiencing it in an Authorized Steinway Dealer piano store will help you decide if one of the Steinway Family pianos is for you.

Whether you buy a Steinway-designed piano or not, playing pianos and hearing the sound for yourself are critical parts of the buying process. Steinway pianos have a unique sound and you don’t want to find out after the purchase what that is.  At that point, it would be too late to factor into your decision then.

Here at M. Steinert & Sons we’re an Authorized Steinway Dealer and have been introducing people to the Steinway sound for years.  Granted, we believe in our product, as any piano store does.

However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge the better points of other quality piano brands, like Yamaha and Kawai.

By the end of this article, you will be more familiar with the Steinway sound and how it compares with the sounds of Kawai and Yamaha pianos.  You’ll learn about its wide-ranging palette of color and its well-rounded tone which speaks to those piano performers who prefer it to all others.

How do people describe the Steinway sound?

Lang Lang heard the Steinway sound early

Among the over 95% of performing pianists who prefer Steinways, the handcrafted Steinway sound comes up repeatedly.  Steinway Artist Lang Lang is representative of this kind of testimony.

Concert pianist Lang Land playing a Steinway
“I got goosebumps because this piano was so connected to my heart and soul.  Suddenly I thought, “Wow, this is the energy of a Steinway.” –Renowned concert pianist Lang Lang

“As a child, I had the chance to play an old Steinway for the first time at an awards ceremony at the conservatory near my birthplace Shenyang,” explains Lang Lang.  “I got goosebumps because this piano was so connected to my heart and soul.  Suddenly the same piece sounded so much more beautiful, and I thought, “Wow, this is the energy of a Steinway.”

From that point on, he tried unsuccessfully to replicate the Steinway “golden, delicate and sweet” sound on his own piano.  When he later attended a Peking conservatory, he went out of his way to practice on a Steinway every chance he got.

Today, Lang Lang is an international piano superstar, one that was sought out by Steinway to help design the limited edition Black Diamond Model D.  For Lang Lang, it all comes back to that same Steinway sound he fell in love with as a child.

“This instrument not only has the beauty but the sound, the emotions, the whole feeling,” says Lang Lang.  “No matter how you play, you always have these wonderful qualities.”

The Steinway sound has shaped what listeners expect from a piano

Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein says that the Steinway sound has had a hand in shaping what many concert-goers believe a piano should sound like.

“I think generations of pianists’ muscular-nervous systems have been shaped by how the action feels and how the action and the sound merge into this playing experience,” says Gerstein.  “And for the listeners, it’s this experience of listening to the Steinway sound that has really cultivated what we think the piano sound is.”

Gerstein believes that the Steinway sound is found in the way Steinways have been made for generations.

“I think it’s this combination of technical ingenuity and handcraftsmanship because a large percentage of work is still done by hand and by people that have been selecting wood for the soundboards their entire lives,” Gerstein says. “And this results in this unique half-machine, half-living musical instrument.”

The Soundboard: The heart of the Steinway sound

When talk turns to Steinway-designed pianos, you’re going to hear a good bit about their soundboards.  Steinway & Sons engineers saw early on how the right kind of soundboard could make all the difference in a piano’s tone.  In fact, they prioritized their “Diaphragmatic Soundboard” so much that they patented it.

Steinway craftsperson working on a piano soundboard.
The patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard helps to create the Steinway sound with its pristine resonance.

This unique soundboard is based on an innovative patent to achieve optimum performance in dynamic range and maximum sustain.

The Steinway-designed soundboard is gradually tapered from the center to the edge, permitting freedom of movement and creating a sound of unparalleled richness, sonority, and sustain.

The fact that the tapered soundboard goes right to the edge of the piano case keeps the sound from escaping easily, giving Steinway-designed pianos a certain fullness.

Today, this soundboard’s wood, Sitka Spruce, is sourced entirely from an island in Alaska, the only location that meets Steinway’s stringent specifications. This unique micro-climate provides this spruce with the highest quality grain density, direction, and color, thereby improving the transmission of tonal string vibrations.

Steinway’s piano-rim machining center achieves an unparalleled fit between the soundboard and the rim, ensuring pristine resonance, tonal color and purity of sound.

Pinblock and Bridges

Steinway introduced the Hexagrip Pinblock in 1963, a breakthrough that enabled pianos to hold their tuning longer and with great precision.  The exclusive design provides the tuning pin with smoother movement under torque, a more uniform retaining action, and a piano that holds its tuning longer.

Steinway craftsperson working on piano strings
Steinway’s exclusive design allows for the instantaneous transfer of the vibrations of 233 strings throughout the bridge and the soundboard, creating more colors to the Steinway palette.

Steinway constructs its soundboard bridges from vertically laminated hardwood with a horizontal grain, capped with solid maple.  Each Steinway bridge is notched by hand for precise, individual string-bearing, another advantage to a handcrafted piano.

Steinway’s popular Model D and Model B have a single-piece bridge.  It is one long continuous bridge from the highest treble to the deepest bass.

This design ensures optimal sound transmission from the strings to the soundboard.  It also allows for the instantaneous transfer of the vibrations of some 233 strings throughout the bridge and the soundboard, creating more colors to the Steinway palette.

This wide range of colors to the piano’s tone is one of the main reasons professional pianists prefer playing a Steinway:  they simply have more ways to express their experience of the music.  The piano becomes an extension of their inner passion.  They channel their emotions into a more complex and subtle expression of music via the Steinway keyboard.

Other aspects of Steinway’s scale-design vs. Yamaha and Kawai

The use of Hard Rock Maple in Steinway-designed pianos produces a key difference in their sound. Boston pianos use the same kind of Hard Rock Maple used in Steinways for their inner rim.  The result is more sound projection and less rim sound diffusion compared to the Kawai.

A wide-tail rim shape, cast-iron plate, an all-wood action, low tension scale, and string length all contribute to the purity of the Steinway sound. Brands like Yamaha and Kawai, with their higher tension scale, have a “brighter sound” than Steinway-designed models.

In contrast, Steinway-designed pianos have a tone that is known for its warmth, longer sustaining tone, and greater dynamic range.  This tone is distinctive, quite different from Yamaha and Kawai models.

Experience the Steinway sound yourself

The best way to wrap your musical soul around this famous Steinway sound is to experience it for yourself at an Authorized Steinway Dealer’s showroom, like one of M. Steinert’s two showrooms in Boston and Newton.

Model A Steinway grand
Our seasoned piano consultants can answer any questions after you sample several Steinway models, listening for that famous, warm, bell-like Steinway sound.  It is a sound that inspires pianists to play at their best.

Our seasoned piano consultants can answer any questions after you sample several Steinway models, listening for that famous, warm, bell-like Steinway sound.  It is a sound that inspires pianists to play at their best.

“Owning a Steinway, and performing on Steinways, constantly inspires me to be a better pianist,” says Sonya Ovrutsky Fensome, concert pianist, Director of the Piano Academy at M. Steinert & Sons, and Founder of the Main Line Music Academy.

“The rich variety of sound and the amount of subtleties that Steinway permits is unmatched by any other instrument I’ve ever played,” notes Sonya. “The level of refinement its sound allows a pianist to achieve makes us strive to perfect and refine our technique.”

Set up an appointment at your next convenience.  In the meantime, learn more about the yearlong process that goes into every handcrafted Steinway. This article will help illustrate the highest grade of materials and handcrafted efforts that go into making the Steinway sound.

What is a Steinway factory tour like?

 


Which upright piano is best? Yamaha, Kawai, or a Steinway-designed model?

by Stephen N. Reed


Upright piano
Upright pianos have long had a welcome place in many American homes. For those who don’t have the space or the budget for a grand piano, uprights can be a perfect fit.

Upright pianos have long had a welcome place in many American homes. For those who don’t have the space or the budget for a grand piano, uprights can be a perfect fit. But which among the modern top quality uprights is the best model and why?

Let’s explore the main contenders for “best quality upright” among the models produced today.  After all, who would want to select a new upright, only to find out later that a better upright would have only cost a bit more?

Here at M. Steinert & Sons, we’ve sold thousands of upright pianos over the past 160 years, including the period at the turn of the 20th century when they were intensely popular in America.  As an Authorized Steinway Dealer, we naturally believe Steinway pianos have a lot to offer.  However, so do other high-quality piano brands, some of which we’ll examine in this article.

Then and now, we have helped our customers find the best pianos for them, many of which were upright pianos, whether serving as a beginner’s first piano or a starter piano that could lead eventually to a further investment in a grand piano.

By the end of this article, you will understand the upright piano’s background and will be familiar with the top upright piano models across several top-quality brands.  From these top models, we’ll explain which one is the best upright.

Background to the Upright

Sir John Issac Hawkins' portable grand piano, circa 1800.
Sir John Issac Hawkins’ portable grand piano, circa 1800.

The immediately noticed difference in an upright piano is that the strings and soundboard run vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard.  Early uprights had strings that started upward from the same level as the keys.

As a result, these earlier instruments were considerably taller, providing ample space on the case for a variety of decorative designs.

The strings in today’s upright pianos run upward from the bottom of the case, that is, near the floor.  This design dates back to 1800, created by Sir John Isaac Hawkins,  a leading English piano maker living in Philadelphia.

Taller uprights now the standard

Uprights have come in a variety of heights.  The shortest ones are cons0les or spinets.  Due to their shorter strings and smaller soundboards, they have less power and quality to their tone.  The larger upright pianos (more than 50” tall) took off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and remain the preferred size for uprights today.

Who is a good candidate for an upright piano?

One important difference between the grand and the upright is in the action of both. Grands have a quicker, more responsive action due to the horizontal strings, which allows the hammers to fall naturally back into place thanks to gravity after they strike strings.

The upright’s action returns to a resting position with the help of springs rather than gravity alone.  As a result, the upright has a different touch.

Uprights, therefore, are not made for the concert stage.  A practice room, yes.  Definitely the home, especially one with a premium of square feet.

What are some of the top modern upright piano brands and models?

Yamaha’s U series

Yamaha’s U-series uprights, like this 48″ U1, have refined scale designs, as well as wider music desks for the player’s sheet music or music books.

Yamaha has put considerable effort into a comprehensive redesign of their U series of upright pianos. These uprights have refined scale designs, as well as wider music desks for the player’s sheet music or music books.

Steve Hauk, Sales Manager for M. Steinert & Sons, says that Yamaha’s U Series of upright pianos are well-regarded.  He notes that the U-1 (48” tall) and the U-3 (52” tall) are popular first pianos for many piano students.

“Beginning piano students are often enamored with the brightness of the Yamaha sound,” said Steve.  “In a way, it compliments a lot of the early repertoire, like Bach and Handel.  But as students progress musically, more tonal complexity is desirable.”

Kawai’s K series

Steve Hauk says that Kawai K-series uprights compete with the Yamaha U-series and have a similar tone.

Kawai's K-800 upright piano
The 53″ tall K-800 is part of Kawai’s K series. Kawai calls this series its “Professional Upright Pianos.”

Kawai calls this series its “Professional Upright Pianos.”  Popular with some parents and teachers, these pianos are produced with the Kawai Upright Action with plastic/composite parts rather than wood.

Kawai swears by this composite action, citing its stability.  Others maintain that a quality wood action, despite its occasional swelling and shrinking, is still the standard.

Merriam Music has an unbiased take on the wood vs. composite action debate.  They state that a composite action might last longer than a low to mid-grade wooden action.  However, a top-quality wooden action can last just as long.  Additionally, composite actions appear to have no impact on tone.  Also, they have no discernible benefit or risk to resale value.

Steve Hauk says that, like the Yamaha U series, Kawai’s K series uprights remain a popular choice for first-time piano students.  They come in three sizes:  the K-400 (48”), the K-500 (51”), and the K-800 (53”).

The Essex upright pianos: The beginning of the Steinway sound

Steinway-designed Essex pianos, the least expensive of the three brands in the Steinway Family (Steinway, Boston, and Essex), are considered the gateway to the full Steinway sound.

Essex's EUP-123 upright piano
Essex uprights, like this 48″ EUP-123, share many features with the more expensive Boston and Steinway uprights, including a tapered solid spruce soundboard.

Steve Hauk cites four popular Essex uprights:  the smaller EUP-108 (42”), the EUP-111 (44”), the EUP-116 (45”), and the EUP-123 (48”).

“The Essex uprights are excellent for everyday use in the home,” says Hauk.  “And they are quite affordable.  They share many features with the more expensive Boston and Steinway uprights, including a tapered solid spruce soundboard for long sustain, lower-tension scale design for a richer tone, and a responsive all-wood action made from high-quality maple.

One benefit to buying an Essex upright is that any payments on a new Essex (or Boston) can be applied to a later Steinway purchase, per Steinway’s Lifetime Trade-Up Policy.  This is due to their being a part of the Steinway Family of pianos.

Boston upright pianos: High-grade production pianos

Boston is a step up from its Essex cousin, both in materials and design.  Aside from being a production piano in contrast to a handcrafted Steinway, the distinctions between Bostons and Steinways can be hard to discern.  Both have the Steinway touch and tone.  Both have enormous power in their grands, as well as their uprights.

Boston upright models, like this 49.5″ UP-126E, have an exceptional sustain and clarity, due to Steinway’s renowned lower-tension scale designs.

“When Steinway engineers started to consider their designs for Boston pianos, they decided to get feedback from many music professors,” says Steve Hauk.  “To a large extent, what you see in today’s Boston pianos is what the music professors wanted in a piano.  They are built with music conservatories in mind, as well as for residential use.”

Steve notes three popular Boston uprights:  the UP-118 (46”), the UP-126 (50”), and the UP-132 (52”).

“All of these models have an exceptional sustain and clarity, due to Steinway’s renowned lower-tension scale designs,” notes Steve.  “The soundboards are of the highest quality.  They each have the Hard Rock Maple you see in classic Steinways,  including the patented Hexagrip pin block.  All Boston uprights feature the staggered backposts for added structural integrity.  In short, Bostons play better and last longer.”

Boston’s launch in the early 1990’s was the most successful in modern piano-making history.

Steinway’s handcrafted K-52 upright piano

Steinway & Sons is best known for their iconic grand pianos, whether for the stage, practice room or home.  However, they are quick to point out on the upright piano page on their website that their famous Model K-52 is handcrafted in the same Astoria, New York factory as their grands.

Steinway’s uprights continue to have the same materials, techniques, conditioning processes and craftspeople.  They are simply built in the “vertical department” at the Astoria factory, where the processes are vertically oriented.

Steinway's K-52 upright piano
Introduced in 1903, the 52” K-52 uses the highest grade of materials and features a larger soundboard than many grands, giving it an unusually resonant voice for an upright.

Steinway’s 1098 upright is no longer in production, though one can still find several of these models on the used piano market.  It was a small upright, 46.5” in height.

Currently, Steinway is putting all of its upright focus on the K-52, a large, powerful instrument. Introduced in 1903, the 52” K-52 uses the highest grade of materials and features a larger soundboard than many grands, giving it an unusually resonant voice for an upright.

Many professional piano players seeking an upright piano buy the K-52, because of that resonance and power.  Additionally, they like the structural integrity that the solid wood, staggered backposts provide the K-52.

“Steinway doesn’t want to cede any part of the piano market,” says Steve Hauk.  “That’s why they have intentionally chosen to retain and refine the K-52 upright over the last hundred years. What gives it that rich, deep sound is its design.

Hauk believes that the K-52 simply has one of the best-engineered scale designs of any piano, grand or upright.

“Obviously, many people need an upright for its smaller size.,” notes Steve. “But you know what?  When a potential buyer sees that they can get this kind of Steinway sound in a much less expensive package, that speaks to them, too.”

What’s the best upright piano?

For the aforementioned reasons–a well-engineered scale design, the highest grade of materials, a larger soundboard, and a deep, rich Steinway sound–Hauk believes that the K-52 is simply the best upright piano built today.

“The others we’ve mentioned are all respected piano brands and models,” says Steve.  “Yamaha and Kawai each have something to offer.  For example, some pianists may prefer the quicker composite-based action in the Kawai piano.  Similarly, some jazz pianists may prefer the brighter sound in Yamahas.”

But Steve maintains that Steinway’s K-52 is unique, particularly its bell-like Steinway sound.

“It’s handcrafted, and that adds so much to every dimension of a piano, especially an upright, with its super responsive action,” says Steve.  “There’s a reason Steinway has been making the K-52 since the turn of the 20th century.  Professionals and regular players just like them.  They like the power, the resonance, and that warm Steinway sound.”

Any payments made on a new K-52 can be applied to a later Steinway grand, per M. Steinert & Sons lifetime Trade-Up policy.

Learn more about the cost of modern upright pianos by reading the following article:

How much does an upright piano cost?

 


Concert grand pianos: cost, size, weight, and what makes them special

by Stephen N. Reed


Concert pianist hands on Steinway keyboard
As an Authorized Steinway Dealer, M. Steinert & Sons keeps Model D Steinway concert grands constantly available for any Steinway Artist who comes into the Boston area.

The concert grand piano is considered the pinnacle of piano making and performance.  But few know the different elements that come together to create this imposing musical presence, whether on a concert stage or in a home with a room large enough to accommodate it.

The last thing you want, and that we’d want you to do, is to buy a piano of this size and power without understanding all that you’re getting in such an instrument.

Steinert & Sons has been helping individual and institutional buyers with their concert grand purchases for over 160 years.

In fact, we’re an Authorized Steinway Dealer. We keep Model D Steinway concert grands constantly available for any Steinway Artist who comes into the Boston area.

Everything has to be perfect with these reserved concert grand pianos– to ensure they are performance-ready at all times for the visiting concert artist.  As a result, we are intimately familiar with the upkeep and maintenance requirements of concert grands.

By the end of this article, you will understand some of the key aspects that make the concert grand special, from its size and cost to its power.

How big is a concert grand piano, compared to other grands?  What do they weigh?

Concert grand pianos represent the pinnacle of piano making.  Their sheer size and weight make them unique instruments, and the only ones professional concert pianists want to play. They are capable of enormous dynamic range.

Kawai EX concert grand piano
A Kawai EX concert grand is 9′ long and costs about $197,595.

Let’s take a look at how concert grands compare to other grand pianos in terms of their length and weight:

  • Baby grand pianos are from 4′ 6″ in length up to 5’3″ in length.  Approximate weight:  550 lbs.
  • Medium grand pianos are usually from 5’5″ in length up to 6’3″ in length.  Approximately weight: 600 lbs.
  • Large grand pianos are usually from 6’5″ in length up to 7’4″.  Approximate weight: 650 to 850 lbs.
  • Concert grand pianos are usually from 7’4″ up to 9’6″ in length, though some go even longer.  Approximate weight: 900 to 1200 lbs, though some are as heavy as 1,400 lbs.

What sizes are some popular concert grand pianos?

How much does a Concert Grand Piano cost?

Typically, a new concert grand’s price ranges from $130,000 to $200,000, depending on the brand and finish, though some models can go higher.  The most accurate prices are found by visiting an authorized dealer for a given brand.

How much do popular concert grand pianos cost?

The Yamaha CFX costs $185,799.

The Steinway Model D costs $198,400.

The Kawai SK-EX costs $197,595.

The Bosendorfer Imperial costs $250,000+.

Is a concert grand piano a sound investment for you?

Yulu Wang performing on Steinway concert grand piano
You needn’t be a professional pianist to appreciate the power, resonance, and sustain of a quality concert grand.  It will truly bring your playing to a new level.

Sound is the main difference in a concert piano. A concert grand has an abundance of power thanks to its size and hefty construction.  It can fill a large concert hall with sound, usually without amplification.  Such an instrument can easily be heard over a large orchestra.

Investing in a concert grand for the home makes sense if you are seeking the ultimate piano experience.  The touch on a concert grand is unlike any other piano you will play due to its extra-long key design.

This additional key length affords the pianist an extraordinary amount of dynamic control when playing, from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortes.

And as far as the tone goes, a concert grand is beyond compare, due to the extraordinarily large soundboard and long bass strings.

While it is true that 97% of concert pianists prefer Steinway, you needn’t be a professional pianist to appreciate the power, resonance, and sustain of a quality concert grand.  It will truly bring your playing to a new level.

The best way to find the best concert grand piano for you

Individuals and institutions interested in buying a concert grand piano know that such an investment will require a step-by-step process to assure the right selection for them.  Premium piano companies who make concert grands are ready to assist such buyers with a tried and true approach to finding the right piano.

Steinway Black Diamond Concert Grand
A special edition Steinway Black Diamond Model D Concert Grand

For example, the Steinway Selection Process gives peace of mind to the institutions and individuals interested in participating in this structured, deliberative approach to piano buying.

The fact that Steinway instituted this process years ago illustrates how extraordinarily special concert grands are.

Once you are serious about buying a concert grand, you can try some Steinway Model Ds and other brands’ concert grands at their authorized dealers to make comparisons.  This is a huge purchase and one to be taken with great care.

Then you can determine if the Steinway Selection Process is for you.

Take an inside look at one institution’s purchase of a concert grand for their university and how the Steinway Selection Process worked for them:

Fitchburg State pinpoints the right Steinway for their needs

 


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