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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 make a Model M or Model B Steinway and Sons grand piano model is about $27,500.

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 is a silent piano?

by Stephen N. Reed


Practicing the piano requires regular effort.  However, if the player is a family member, a college student, or anyone else who shares their practicing area with other people, a natural conflict can arise between the player and others who can hear his or her playing.  Even a well-played piece can be a distraction for those who need a quieter place to live, work, and sleep.

Man asking for quiet
With silent piano technology, one can play anytime, night or day, as loudly as needed, without interfering with others in the same shared space.

Remedies for this shared space conundrum have evolved.  For example, in the 1980s, piano companies like Yamaha made their middle pedal a “soft pedal,” muffling the piano’s sound considerably.  However, the resulting sound wasn’t that helpful for the serious piano student.  What the “soft pedal” models gained in quietude they lost in clarity.

As a result, a solution was sought that allowed for a high-quality, acoustic piano that produced a rich sound yet only heard by the person playing.  This way, the player could play anytime, night or day, as loudly as needed, without interfering with others in the same shared space.

If you have a situation where shared space with a piano player could be an issue, understanding top-quality silent piano systems is critical as you determine the best piano and silent system for you.  The last thing you want is to invest in a silent system that doesn’t meet your needs.

Steinert & Sons has been in the business of helping people find the right piano for them since 1860.  We have carefully followed the rise of piano enhancements like silent piano systems and can help you compare the better ones.

Naturally, we stand by the silent system we sell, PianoDisc QuietTime, but we appreciate other high-quality silent systems, as well, and are conversant regarding their capacities.

By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how silent systems work for the piano, how some of the better systems compare with one another, and their cost.

What is a silent piano?

A silent piano, also known as a “silent system,” may sound like a whole new kind of instrument.  However, it’s simply a standard acoustic piano with the ability to stop the piano’s hammers from striking the strings.

So how do you hear the notes being played if the hammers do not strike the strings?

How a silent system works

Young woman playing a silent piano
A silent piano is simply a standard acoustic piano with the ability to stop the piano’s hammers from striking the strings.

Early silent system models detected key movement by using mechanical sensors that affected the touch and produced a clicking sound.  But in more advanced, modern models, optical sensors are used that do not affect the feel or sound of the piano.

When the silent system is activated, digital sensors pick up the piano key movement.  The key movement is then converted into a MIDI signal, which is then picked up by an electronic sound module. As a result, the piano player can hear their playing through headphones without distracting others.

Such modern silent systems can have full MIDI capability to send signals with the ability to link to a computer for use with notation software.  The pianos also have full MIDI capability for sending signals and can be linked to a computer for use with notation software.

Brands with high-quality silent pianos or silent systems

Kawai

Kawai’s silent acoustic pianos are known as their “AnyTime Pianos” line, with a built-in silent system. They market the “AnyTime” name to denote that these pianos have a digital capacity that allows them to be played at any time without affecting others. They are available in a range of models.

One popular model is the Kawai K200-ATX3, which the company pitches as being user-friendly compared to other brands.  It features a small, built-in screen on the left side of the keyboard that works similarly to a smartphone.  The ATX3 features 27 voices to create the effect you wish, plus a large number of pre-set songs.

Cost of the Kawai K200-ATX3:  $12,095

Yamaha

Yamaha’s SH2 and SC2 silent pianos offer a lesser number of voices and pre-set songs as Kawai’s ATX3.  Instead of a built-in screen, Yamaha uses a separate interface–an iPad/iPhone or Android tablet. As with the aforementioned Kawai AnyTime models, a Yamaha silent piano has its silent system built-in.

These models have a particular standout feature: they offer binaural sound sampling for a fuller piano experience.  Binaural audio mimics the natural human form to create a rich, stereo sound.

Cost of the Yamaha C2X SH2: $57,899.

Cost of the Yamaha B3SC2:  $13,099.

PianoDisc QuietTime

Man playing a silent piano
Piano buyers benefit from testing different kinds of silent pianos, whether they are pianos with built-in systems or ones that can be installed after the piano is manufactured.

Steinway went in another direction and does not make pianos with a built-in silent system. Instead, Steinway dealers like M. Steinert offer a silent system, the PianoDisc QuietTime is one such system, that can be installed in any piano of your choice–even one you already own.

As with the Yamaha and Kawai models, QuietTime connects the player to the digital world through USB or Bluetooth MIDI.

Beneath the keys, special optical sensors capture the motion of each key and translate this for playback by the digitized piano sound in the control box.

Once QuietTime is properly installed and adjusted by a trained piano technician, the keys will have the feel like a traditional, acoustic piano even when the mute feature is activated.

Cost of installing the QuietTime system on any pianos: $3,380.

Here at M. Steinert & Sons also experimenting with another silent system, the Kioshi Silent system – and will update in a future article about our experience with this new product.

Silent systems must be sampled to be appreciated

If ever there was a piano buyer who should try some different models before purchase, it would be the buyer seeking a silent piano.  After all, a silent piano has multiple constituencies to please.

On one hand, the piano player wants to make sure that they can still hear what they’re playing through the headphones. On the other hand, those in the same shared space with the piano player want to know that the silent feature is going to actually be quiet, so as not to distract their other activities.

Many buyers bring their whole family to test these key aspects of silent pianos, whether they are pianos with built-in systems or ones that can be installed after the piano is manufactured.

At M. Steinert, we encourage you to try other brands’ silent pianos and then come to us to learn more about the QuietTime system.  We want you to get the best piano for you. This is best achieved after a buyer has a thorough process of comparing silent piano models and silent systems.

For more information, view these two videos that give more details as to how the QuietTime system works:

Steinert & Sons and the Quiet Time ProRecord

Steinert & Sons and the Quiet Time ProRecord (cont’d)

 


Are there used Steinway piano years to avoid?

by Stephen N. Reed


Older used Steinway keyboard
In Steinway & Sons pianos, changes are made to improve the performance of the instrument, rather than for purely economic and cost-saving measures.

The used Steinway market is a maze of options and opinions.  With each passing decade, new myths evolve and fade.  After more than 160 years as the world’s leading piano brand – this was bound to happen!

In addition, Steinway, like other piano manufacturers,  make changes to their various models for various reasons. These are worth investigating, as well.  Some changes may impact the overall performance of the instrument, while others may not.

In Steinway & Sons pianos, changes are made to improve the performance of the instrument, rather than for purely economic and cost-saving measures.

One issue related to how Steinways were made in the period of 1961-82  involve the Teflon bushings the company used in their pianos.  At M. Steinert & Sons, we strive to be transparent regarding the bushings issue, having examined it carefully for customers for several years.

It bears noting that pianos of this vintage may have other significant issues due to their overall age. It is almost universally agreed that pianos over 30 years old will need significant work.

By the end of this article, you will understand what went on during the years that bushings were made and whether they are years to avoid in selecting a used Steinway.  Additionally, you’ll learn how to safeguard against older Steinway issues by using programs like the M. Steinert CPP program for certified used pianos.

What were the “Teflon bushing years” for Steinway?

It all began with a legitimate interest in lessening the servicing needed from one season (or climate) to another.  In 1962, the Permafree action was introduced by Steinway. This new action replaced the wool cloth that had lined (i.e. “bushed”) the tiny holes in the wooden flanges into which the center pins were inserted and upon which the action’s moving parts pivot.

Steinway action
In 1962, the Permafree action was introduced by Steinway. The Steinway engineers eventually went back to wool bushings in 1981.

Because the wool bushings can swell in damp weather and shrink in drier conditions, the action’s moving parts they are attached to can start to slow or loosen.  Steinway has always emphasized improving every aspect of their pianos, so the new Permafree action had new bushings, with Teflon replacing the traditional wool cloth.

This seemed like a good fix, as Dupont had made Teflon tough plastic that would not change during temperature and humidity variations.  In addition to changing out the bushing material, a new center pin was created, which required new tools and additional training for Steinway piano technicians.

The new Teflon bushings had a mixed review.  Sometimes the wood around the bushings still swelled and shrunk, even though the Teflon did not.  This caused some of the Teflon bushings to loosen in more humid seasons, causing a clicking noise when affected keys were played.

Action parts could also put additional pressure on the bushings during drier weather, causing those parts to move a little slower.

Fortunately, a Teflon bushing could be replaced without difficulty.  However, with over 900 bushings in a single piano’s action, the engineers eventually went back to wool bushings in 1981.

Is it wise to buy Steinways manufactured between 1962 and 1981?

Obviously, prospective used Steinway buyers want to know if it is wise to buy a used Steinway during the “Teflon bushing years” from 1962 to 1981.

1977 Steinway Model M 501-A.
1977 Steinway Model M 501-A. As long as the piano technician takes special note of the humidity conditions during the servicing, a used Steinway from 1962-81 should work fine for home use.

The good news is that, for average piano use in the home, the used Steinways from this era have shown themselves to work well.  Piano technicians with long experience in these instruments note that, after any Teflon bushings are replaced during the piano’s first few seasonal changes, generally few problems occur.

As long as the piano technician takes special note of the humidity conditions during the servicing, a used Steinway from this era should work fine for home use.

A piano that must endure heavy use, like those in schools or concert halls, should consider returning to cloth bushings.  This would require replacing not only the bushings but the entire action, as well.

M. Steinert’s experience with the Teflon bushing years

As the world’s oldest Steinway dealer, M. Steinert developed solid experience with the Teflon bushing years, starting in 1961.

“Our conclusion was that once the ‘clicks’ were discovered and remedied, the pianos worked very well,” says Paul Murphy, President emeritus of M. Steinert & Sons. “The main problem seems to have been a prior generation’s limited ability to service them, which is not an issue now.  Today those pianos probably have more age-related reasons to avoid them, like cracked soundboards, loose tuning pins, and worn actions.”

How can I guarantee that a used Steinway has good quality?

2017 Steinway Model O.
2017 Steinway Model O. A used piano that passes M. Steinert’s 88-point CPP inspection is going to be in solid musical condition.

One way to ensure that the piano you are buying has good quality is to buy through programs like M. Steinert’s Certified Pre-owned Piano (CPP) program.  A used piano that passes M. Steinert’s 88-point inspection is going to be in solid musical condition.  We delve deeper into the CPP program in a prior article.

Steinert gets trade-ins frequently and understands that not everyone is in a position to buy a new Steinway.  That is why the company created this CPP program.

“It comes down to this,” says company president Brendan Murphy. “You know what you’re getting with a Certified Pre-owned Piano from M. Steinert & Sons.”

Conclusion:  Years to Avoid

While almost any piano can be serviced, as a piano ages beyond 30 years it becomes harder to keep it musical without significant work.   For this reason, we suggest the following guidelines for Steinway piano selection:

  • Avoid Steinway and Sons pianos before 1992 that have not been adequately maintained and regulated or have been in heavy use situations (schools, practice rooms, etc.)
  • Avoid Steinway and Sons pianos before 1972 that have not had some element of restoration.  Restringing, new hammers and more are often required.   All pianos of this vintage require inspection by a competent technician before purchase.  It is wise to determine the resolution to the bushing issue above as well if considering this age.

Finding Certified Pre-owned pianos at M. Steinert

To learn more about M. Steinert’s Certified Pre-owned pianos view the current ones in stock in our Used Piano section.  Select the “Certified” option in the Status filter.

Also, learn more about used Steinways by reading the following articles:

 


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:


How long does it take to build a Steinway? An in-depth look at every stage of the building process.

by Stephen N. Reed


As you tour the Astoria, New York Steinway factory, the fact that a Steinway piano takes nearly an entire year to complete begins to make sense.

Steinway lyre
As the oldest Steinway dealer in the world, M. Steinert & Sons has been tracking the various Steinway models for over 150 years.

The painstaking attention given by the many factory craftspeople, the time involved in preparing and drying the woods involved point to this handcrafted process being one that simply cannot be rushed.

Without the knowledge of all that goes into a Steinway piano, buyers would not be able to appreciate fully what they have purchased. As the oldest Steinway dealer in the world, M. Steinert & Sons has been tracking the various Steinway models for over 150 years.

Knowing the Steinway handcrafted process and its improvements over the years is a key part of our business.

The entire process of creating a Steinway piano actually takes longer than the actual factory process. By the end of this article, you will understand how a piano made of specialty woods and by highly-skilled craftspeople is made, beginning with the materials involved. As we’ll see, some of those materials go back a very long way.

Here is a look at the different stages involved and the duration of each in this handcrafted process will explain why it takes 11 months to make a Steinway.

Step 1: Steinway only uses 200-year-old specialty wood (Duration: 1-2 years to dry)

Steinway carefully dries all the wood brought to the factory to build their pianos. Some wood is dried for up to two years before being used in the assembly process, first air-dried, then kiln-dried to prevent warping.

Only the best of the woods brought to the factory are used by Steinway. One wood is particularly special for conducting sound: the Sitka Spruce.

Steinway soundboard
In the quest to build “the best piano possible,” Steinway evolved to use the Sitka Spruce from the Pacific Northwest for their patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard.

In the quest to build “the best piano possible,” Steinway evolved to use the Sitka Spruce from the Pacific Northwest for their patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard, which we will discuss further later in this article. This tightly-grained wood is exceptional for conducting sound.

Sitka Spruce is known for its high strength-to-weight ratio. Its excellent flexibility is essential for a piano soundboard that is meant to amplify sound and resonate with the vibration of a steel wire.

Steinway became convinced that no tree was better than the Sitka Spruce for their soundboards. Each of these trees is at least 200 years old when cut for use by Steinway.

As a result, there is another answer to the question, “How long does it take to build a Steinway?” In truth, this complex process begins at least 200 years before work starts for a year at the Astoria, NY factory.

Once the wood is dried, the building of a new Steinway can begin.

Step 2: Crafting the Steinway Bent Rim (Duration: Approximately 2.5 months)

Carrying part of the rim at Steinway factory
Steinway’s bent rim provides the foundation for the stability of each Steinway grand piano and provides the structural integrity that enables a Steinway piano to endure for generations.

The Steinway Bent Rim is a key innovation that sets Steinway apart from other luxury pianos. Having a one-piece continuous Bent Rim, 2¾” thick, is one of the most significant technical innovations in piano building.

The rim provides the foundation for the stability of each Steinway grand piano and provides the structural integrity that enables a Steinway piano to endure for generations.

The rim of the Steinway Model B is comprised of 16 layers of Hard Rock Maple glued together, with both inner and outer rims being pressed together in a single operation. Five Steinway craftspeople bend the wood on a rim-bending press. They have to shape the rim within the time that the glue begins to dry, about twenty minutes.

After that, the rim is conditioned for two months.

An additional design feature involving the rim bears mentioning. To increase the surface square inch volume of the soundboard and thereby increase the overall resonance of the grand piano, Steinway widens the rear or “tail” of its larger grands.

Bending the rim at the Steinway factory
Once the labor-intensive rim building is completed, the rim, soundboard and cast-iron plate can be placed into the piano’s case. After this, the Steinway piano is beginning to take shape.

To increase the surface square inch volume of the soundboard and thereby increase the overall resonance of the grand piano, Steinway widens the rear or “tail” of its larger grand pianos to accommodate more of a vibrating surface area composed of the resonant spruce wood.

Once the labor-intensive rim building is completed, the rim, soundboard and cast-iron plate can be placed into the piano’s case. After this, the Steinway piano is beginning to take shape.

Step 3: Fitting the Braces/Plate/Case Structure (Duration: Approximately 1 month)

Now work turns to the Steinway craftspeople responsible for building the piano’s braces, which undergird the piano and all of its intricate parts. This takes about a week to complete.

The braces beneath the grand piano establish the structural foundation of the piano, much like the cement foundation of a house and will, in tandem with the cast iron plate above them, perform the primary function of withstanding the 40,000 pounds of string tension within a piano.

Spruce provides tensile strength with less weight. Maple dowels fasten braces to the rim producing a single homogenous foundation upon which is built the entire tonal component.

Step 4: Creating and placing the soundboard (Duration: Approximately 1 month)

A Steinway piano is built in the Astoria, NY factory from the inside out. Steinway’s assembly begins with skilled craftspeople creating and tapering Steinway’s patented “Diaphragmatic Soundboard” from the best planks of Sitka Spruce.

Steinway is particular about both the selection of the wood and the soundboard’s design. To meet the highest quality standards, Steinway uses only superior Sitka spruce with a close grain and a prescribed number of annual growth rings.

Steinway soundboard
An essential aspect of Steinway’s overall design is to precision cut the soundboard to fit the rim of the piano. Since small variations exist between rims, a precision laser-guided saw is employed to yield a perfect final fit on a per-piano basis.

The result is a quarter-sawn Sitka Spruce soundboard, which has exceptional stability and vibrance under stress and vibration.

Steinway’s Diaphragmatic Soundboard is based on a 1936 patent to achieve optimum performance in dynamic range and maximum sustain. Under this patent, the soundboard is gradually tapered from the center to the edge, permitting freedom of movement and creating a sound of unparalleled richness and sustain.

Created like the soundboard of violins to give a free and even response throughout the entire scale, the Steinway design permits complete freedom of movement while displacing a greater amount of air, creating a richer and more lasting tonal response.

An essential aspect of Steinway’s overall design is to precision cut the soundboard to fit the rim of the piano. Since small variations exist between rims, a precision laser-guided saw is employed to yield a perfect final fit on a per-piano basis.

Great care is taken during the process of creating the soundboard. If it is damaged, the experience for both the player and the listener is altered. A soundboard can be cracked or have a fallen crown. Such repairs can be quite costly.

All told, Steinway’s soundboard takes about a month to make, with the last week being in a specialized conditioning room before installation. This is performed by a skilled artisan called a “bellyman” over the course of a full day.

Step 5: Constructing and Placing the Bridge (Duration: Approximately 1-2 weeks)

The assembly process next moves to the bridge. Steinway’s popular B and D models feature a single-piece bridge. This is sometimes called the “shepherd’s crook” bridge, a continuous bridge from the highest treble to the deepest bass.

This continuous bridge enables the instantaneous transfer of the vibrations of some 233 strings throughout the bridge and the soundboard, creating more color, more resonance, and more sustain.

Steinway constructs its soundboard bridges exclusively from vertically laminated hardwood with a horizontal grain, capped with solid maple.

Each bridge is notched by hand for precise, individual string-bearing–just one advantage of a handcrafted piano. This design ensures optimal sound transmission from the strings to the soundboard, resulting in a sustained, resonant tone—creating the unique “Steinway sound.”

Bridge work takes a couple of weeks to complete.

Step 6: Crafting the Hexagrip Pin block (Duration: Approximately 1 month)

Next in the production sequence is stringing the instrument. A particular part, patented by Steinway, is a key reason that Steinways hold tune well.

In 1963, Steinway introduced the Hexagrip Pin block, which is engineered to enable pianos to hold their tuning longer and with great precision. This comes from 7 carefully selected and arranged layers of quarter-sawn rock maple.

The exclusive design provides end grain of the wood surrounding the tuning pin and allows smoother movement under torque, a more uniform retaining action, and a piano that holds its tuning longer. Between wood selection, laminating, curing, fitting and drilling the Hexagrip Pin block takes approximately one month or more to finish.

Step 7: Checking the action and tone regulation (Duration: Approximately 3 weeks)

Craftspeople making the hammers for the Steinway action.
Craftspeople making the hammers for the Steinway action.

Another part of the production process involves the piano’s action. Steinway’s hammers are made at the Steinway factory in Astoria, NY. Craftspeople ensure the action’s uniformity in terms of a piano’s keys striking the newly-placed strings.

The Tone Regulation Department at the Astoria NY factory is where a Steinway develops into a musical instrument. Here, each of the piano’s keys is adjusted by hand to ensure an even tone for the piano overall.

The action’s hammers are either made harder by applying lacquer to the hammer’s felt or softer by pricking the felt with a needle. The right tone for a Steinway is bell-like, even, and well-rounded. This process of installing the piano’s action and subsequent tone regulation takes 2 weeks.

The Steinway piano is now assembled. Steinway’s yearlong process is almost complete.

Step 8: Applying the finishing touches (Duration: Approximately 4 months)

The final step in this elaborate handcrafted process is the exterior finish. Six coats of paint are applied with a precise amount of time between each coat.

After Steinway craftspeople have completed the painting, the case stands for a week, allowing the paint to harden, thereby protecting the piano’s finish. This finishing process takes 3 months.

Depending upon the finish of the piano, including whether it’s ebony polished, ebony satin, or a crown-jewel wood veneer, this step can vary in duration and order in the production process

Step 9: Testing, making any needed adjustments (Duration: Approximately 1 week)

Testing of the Steinway piano can now commence through a series of double-checking, fine-tuning, adjustments, and breaking in the keyboard.

Steinway's Model D
Steinway’s concert grand, the Model D.After 11 months, the world has a new Steinway that’s ready to be played. The nearly yearlong Steinway building process is the work of craftspeople in each stage of the piano’s creation.

For example, the Astoria, NY factory has a Pounding Room where each of the piano’s 88 keys is played over 3,000 times. All of these tests and adjustments are aimed at perfecting each piano’s sound before heading to market and take about a week to complete.

After 11 months, the world has a new Steinway that’s ready to be played.

The nearly yearlong Steinway building process is the work of scores of the Astoria, NY factory’s craftspeople in each stage of the piano’s creation.

Once this process is completed, the new Steinway model is shipped to one of Steinway’s dealers in the Western Hemisphere. The company’s Hamburg, Germany factory ships their new Steinways across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

With the current, industry-wide piano shortage, this year’s Steinways may have less time than usual on the showroom floors.

However, Steinway is working to produce more of their renowned handcrafted pianos so that more people can enjoy the Steinway touch and tone, perfected by the team at the Astoria and Hamburg factories.

For more information about the Steinway factory process, click below for a helpful article:

What is a Steinway factory tour like?


How do I choose the best piano for me?

by Stephen N. Reed


Choosing a piano for one’s home or institution is an expensive proposition.  But there is a difference between “expensive” and “costly.”   An expensive piano may come at a price, but at least you are getting many years of great learning and playing on the keyboard.

Row of Steinway Model D pianos
Though many pianos look the same, they’re not. Understanding the differences between piano brand, models, and designs is key to a sound purchase of a piano that is well-suited for you.

But a piano purchase can become unfortunately costly and disappointing if you don’t have reliable sources for information.  You could end up with an outright lemon of a piano or just something that is different once you get it home than what you thought you were getting.   What could be more disappointing than that?

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have spent over 160 years helping tens of thousands of customers find the piano of their dreams. We do this by listening to each customer’s individual needs and aspirations and advising each and every customer to find the right piano to achieve their goals.

By the end of this article, you will begin to understand the key considerations towards finding the best piano for you. You will be a more informed buyer, ready to approach your nearest piano merchant confidently.

You’ll walk into a piano store knowing that, though many pianos look the same, they’re not. Understanding the differences between piano brands, models, and designs is key to a sound purchase of a piano that is well-suited for you.

Why carefully choosing your piano matters

The day of your piano delivery will be an exciting one. All the research and planning, all culminate in this one key moment when the piano becomes yours.

As a result, the last thing you want is to buy impulsively, not understanding of how wide a quality range of piano brands and models are out there.   What about the pros and cons of buying used vs new?

For many, buying a piano is a huge purchase. Done right, buying a piano can bring years of music to your home.

However, done carelessly, buying a piano can become a source of stress, annoying you every time you see your purchase, sitting there, taking up space.

How to choose the right piano

Any decent piano seller wants their customer to be truly satisfied with their purchase. However, this can only be achieved through careful consideration. Putting thought in ahead of time can greatly increase the odds that your piano purchase will be satisfying to you.  Three key steps are involved:

Step 1:  Decide upon your preferred size, color, touch, and tone

Piano template
If you’re unsure about whether you have enough room to have a grand, piano templates are available to determine if you can accommodate one.

In this previous article, we examined some of the essential aspects of buying a piano: one’s preferred size, color, touch, and tone.  If you’re unsure about whether you have enough room to have a grand, piano templates are available to determine if you can accommodate one.

Step 2: Consider your budget

Of course, one’s budget needs to be examined in light of one’s preferences. This helps to narrow down possible pianos for you to try.  If you find that the piano you resonate with the most goes beyond your budget, some dealers have financing options available.

Step 3: Talk with a seasoned piano consultant

Taking one’s time to sample a variety of makes and models of pianos with the help of a seasoned piano consultant is critically important. Such an expert helps you to further narrow down your choices to a few that meet your budget and other needs.  Then you can zero in on the piano that was meant for you.

Asian woman thinking
A seasoned piano consultant can help you to further narrow down your choices to a few that meet your budget and other needs.  Then you can zero in on the piano that was meant for you.

This is not just an individual buyer’s strategy but an institutional approach, as well.  For example, many colleges and universities that become All-Steinway Schools secure the help of an Authorized Steinway Dealer in their search for a new grand piano for their music program.

Such schools can avail themselves of the Steinway Selection Process, which is available to both institutions and individuals.

After narrowing down their search, they visit the Steinway factory in Astoria, New York, where they try four brand new models, usually the Model D.  After trying each one, the college’s committee decides upon the one Steinway grand piano that meets their needs.

Your guide to choosing the right piano–wherever you decide to buy

There are several more angles to consider when choosing your piano.  Frankly, this additional information is too detailed for a single article like this.  The discerning piano buyer will want to learn more about the other dimensions of finding the right piano by consulting a piano merchant’s buyer’s guide.

Essex grand piano
A buyer’s guide covers everything from the types of pianos, the popular brands of pianos, technology-enhanced options and more.

A comprehensive buyer’s guide like M. Steinert’s can help you make a better-informed decision that fulfills your current and future needs–whether for education or entertainment.  It covers everything from the types of pianos, the popular brands of pianos, technology-enhanced options and more.

Such a buyer’s guide can be very helpful in your selection, whether you buy a piano from the dealer who developed it or another.

Because we want you to succeed in your quest for the right piano for you, we offer M. Steinert’s buyer’s guide free of charge, regardless of whether you buy your piano from us.

Buying a piano should be an educational, interesting, and even fun experience. Learning from your own readings and having the guidance of a seasoned piano is the best way to have a positive experience.

Then the result will be a new addition to your home: a cherished musical instrument that can be in your family for generations.

Go to our main page to download the M. Steinert’s Buyer’s Guide.

 


Essex piano: Infused with Steinway’s design

by Stephen N. Reed


Essex logo
Essex is part of the Steinway family of pianos and features many Steinway design elements in each model in the Essex line.

The stated purpose of the Essex line of pianos is to show that high-quality piano styles and finishes are possible in every price range.

That is a lofty goal, one some find hard to believe.  As a manufactured piano, how can it even come close to the resonant tone of a handcrafted Steinway?

For starters, Essex is part of the Steinway family of pianos and, as such, features many Steinway design elements in each model in the Essex line.

You might say that the Essex is the grandchild of the venerable Steinway.  It is a younger line but one with the same DNA as its grandparent.  Thus they share many family traits.

Essex design was informed by 170 years of piano patents and innovations.  M. Steinert & Sons has tracked those Steinway innovations over the generations and has seen many satisfied customers leaving our store with an affordable, high-quality Essex model.

Boy playing Essex
Essex has captured a significant share of the entry-level market because of its lower price point and Steinway design.

Our goal hasn’t changed since we were established in 1860–to help our piano customers to find the best piano for them.  For entry-level piano buyers, that piano is often an Essex. In short, Essex satisfies the needs and budget requirements of the discerning homeowner.

Though Essex can suit a wide range of piano players, it has captured a significant share of the entry-level market because of its lower price point and Steinway design.  Understandably, a family may wish to see if their child is going to stick with their piano lessons before purchasing a luxury piano.

Essex’s success with beginner students of the piano is very much in keeping with the reason Steinway developed the Essex line: to become competitive with other piano companies for this entry-level of the piano market.

By the end of this article, you will have learned about the effects of adding the Steinway design to a manufactured piano.  You’ll also determine for yourself whether Steinway succeeded in designing an entry-level piano that is best-in-class.

The Essex provides Steinway DNA in a manufactured piano

The Essex line was launched in 2001.  The company intentionally kept a low profile for the first few years.  After all, it incorporated much of the Steinway DNA–using new Steinway design, engineering, and select materials–in a new combination that had never been tried before in a manufactured piano.

The Steinway engineers’ ultimate goal was to create a new piano that could deliver a level of musical quality and performance that had heretofore been impossible in the Essex line’s considerably lower price range.

Steinway began to make significant changes to the Essex line in 2006.  For starters, Steinway moved the entire Essex operation to the Pearl River facility in China, eventually moving Essex’s technical director to China to oversee production there.  When Steinway decided to include “Designed by Steinway” on the Essex piano plate, the Essex had arrived.

Essex grands and uprights provide Steinway design at a production piano cost

Essex’s grand piano models

Exxex Sheraton grand
Essex makes a line of grand pianos that, for their price, are well-regarded for being the gateway to the full Steinway sound.

Essex makes a line of grand pianos that, for their price, are well-regarded for being the gateway to the full Steinway sound.  A manufactured grand’s tone will not be expected to have every nuance in its range of color that a handcrafted Steinway possesses.

However, more than any other grand in its class, Essex engineers have advanced their concept of an affordable piano greatly by bringing much of the Steinway design to Essex’s production process.

Essex’s upright piano models

Essex brings that same Steinway DNA to their uprights, which are consistently popular, especially for beginning students.

The largest Essex upright is the EUP-123E.  It offers greater versatility of sound than its industry counterparts because of the Steinway engineers’ ability to transfer much of the Steinway design to this manufactured piano.

Essex EUP-123 upright
The Essex EUP-123 upright offers greater versatility of sound than its industry counterparts because of its Steinway design.

Buyers say that they like the EUP-123E’s timeless design, which makes it fit in well with a wide range of interior styles.

EUP-123E Key features include:

  • Matching Classic Style Legs with Grand-Style Leg Top
  • Fold-back Top lid
  • Brass hardware
  • Elegant Proportion
  • Ebony Polish and Sapele Mahogany Satin finishes

Essex pianos are backed by Steinway technicians and warranties

Every Essex instrument is inspected by a team of highly experienced Steinway & Sons trained technicians before it leaves the factory. After the sale, each Essex piano is backed by Steinway & Sons with a factory warranty and serviced by Steinway-trained technicians.

M. Steinert & Sons logo
A key advantage to buying an Essex is the M. Steinert & Sons Trade-up Policy

By utilizing specially engineered materials, large-scale production techniques, and carefully selected manufacturing environments, Essex is able to deliver a level of musical performance previously unattainable in its price range.

M. Steinert’s Trade-up policy

Any piano, new or used, acoustic or digital, purchased from M. Steinert & Sons receives 100% of the original purchase price for the life of the original purchaser towards any new larger Steinway & Sons piano of greater value.

Steinway design gives Essex a distinct advantage

The infusion of much of the Steinway design into Essex’s pianos makes it an excellent option for the customer who wants as much of the Steinway sound as they can get in a more affordable Essex model.

Steinway engineers have managed to bring much of the Steinway design to their sister brands, Essex and Boston.  To make your own determination on that score,  you’ll need to come into one of M. Steinert’s two showrooms in Boston and Newton.

Come test some Essex models for yourself. Compare the sound of an Essex grand or upright with their counterparts in the Steinway and Boston lines.

For the Steinway DNA quality and tone included in every Essex, along with a more affordable price point, the Essex is worth investigating, especially for beginner piano students.

Make an appointment to see one of M. Steinert’s seasoned piano consultants today.  In the meantime, learn more about the Essex line.


How much does major repair for a grand piano cost? Cost to repair soundboards, pinblocks and bridges

by Stephen N. Reed


A new piano, right out of the factory, has several advantages, one of which is the factory warranty that comes with the piano.  This secures your multi-thousand dollar investment should your piano need a major repair, like fixing or replacing a soundboard or pin block.

Used pianos can be another story.  Depending on their brand, age, or condition, a major repair is not as rare.  With the exception of a piano store’s limited warranty, such major repairs come out of your pocket.

Piano technician making repair
Hiring your own piano technician to examine a used piano you are considering is always a good idea.

As a result, hiring your own piano technician to examine a used piano you are considering is a good idea. What could be worse than paying for a used piano, taking it home, and soon after facing the reality that your piano needs a major repair, costing thousands of dollars?

At M. Steinert & Sons, our motto for 160 years has been to help our customers find the best piano for them.  Clearly, a piano that needs a major repair before you play it much is not the best piano for you. We have assisted many customers to learn about the cost of piano repairs and have helped them avoid major ones.

For example, M. Steinert & Sons has a Certified Piano Program to give used piano buyers peace of mind that their piano passes muster from an expert piano technician.

By the end of this article, you will better understand why soundboards and pinblocks are so important to a piano.  Next, you’ll learn what is involved with major repairs to these and other key areas, particularly in Steinways, and the skilled work involved to fix them.

Who does the repair?

Piano tech tightening piano strings
References, credentials, and samples of past work are the best guides as to whether a technician can perform adequate restoration or repairs.

The Number One question to ask before embarking on a major piano repair is to determine WHO will do the work.  There is no shortage of piano technicians who will eagerly take on a Steinway repair, charge considerably less than the numbers in the chart below, and potentially ruin or ‘delegitimize’ an otherwise fine piano.

References, credentials, and samples of past work are the best guides as to whether a technician can perform adequate restoration or repairs.

Please keep in mind that only Steinway & Sons can replace a Steinway soundboard or Hexagrip Pinblock.  These are not installed by rebuilders or dealers.  Dealers have the ability to send pianos to the factory for these installations but beware of rebuilders offering like-kind replacements.

Item Cost Range for Steinway
Steinway Soundboard Repair $1,000 – $8,000
Steinway Soundboard/Pinblock replacement $11,000 – $22,000
Steinway Replaced Pinblock, Soundboard, Bridge and Plate Refinish $18,000 – $28,000
New Steinway hammers $7,000 –  $8,800
New Steinway wippens/& hammers $12,000 – $14,000
Steinway Restring $1,500 – $3,000
Steinway Refinish – black $16,000 – $30,000
Steinway Refinishing– wood tone $19,000 – $32,000

 

Helping you understand the costs of major repairs is all part of our job at M. Steinert & Sons.  We want to be as transparent as possible as we openly address a subject that deserves attention.

Soundboards: The heart of a piano’s tone

Using Steinway’s patented “Diaphragmatic Soundboard” as an example, let’s understand how important a soundboard is to a grand piano.

Steinway craftsperson working on soundboard
Steinway uses Sitka Spruce for their soundboards, which is sourced entirely from an island in Alaska, the only location that meets Steinway’s stringent specifications.

Steinway & Sons engineers understood early on how the right kind of soundboard could make all the difference in a piano’s tone.  The Steinway grand soundboard achieves optimum performance in dynamic range and maximum sustain.

Steinway uses Sitka Spruce for their soundboards, which 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.

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.

Steinway’s piano-rim machining center achieves a perfect fit between the soundboard and the rim.  This provides the piano with a rich resonance, tonal color, and purity of sound.

How much does it cost to fix a cracked soundboard?

Steinway craftsperson working on soundboard
Soundboard repairs can be quite involved and costly.  According to M. Steinert & Sons piano technician Jonathan Kotulski, soundboard replacement is more common these days and a superior fix.

Soundboard repairs can be quite involved and costly.  According to M. Steinert & Sons piano technician Jonathan Kotulski, soundboard replacement is more common these days and a superior fix.

“Soundboards crack, so they are shimmed,” notes Jonathan.  “This involves removing the plate and strings, digging out a groove in the soundboard, gluing and clamping a shim, and then planing/chiseling the shim down precisely flush with the soundboard.”  (See above chart for cost estimate.)

The importance of pinblocks and bridges

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

Stringing a Steinway piano
Steinway’s single-piece bridge design on its Model B and D grands allows for the instantaneous transfer of the vibrations of the 233 strings throughout the bridge and the soundboard, adding more colors to the Steinway palette.

Steinway constructs its soundboard bridges from vertically laminated Hardrock Maple, and then caps it with a horizontal grain, 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, a long, continuous bridge from the highest treble to the deepest bass.  This design ensures optimal sound transmission from the strings to the soundboard.

Additionally, this design allows for the instantaneous transfer of the vibrations of the 233 strings throughout the bridge and the soundboard, adding 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.

How much does it cost when pinblocks need repair?

Pinblocks can loosen and need to be repaired or replaced. Minor repairs involve going up a pin size on problem pins, pin tapping, CA gluing or epoxying in the tuning pin to create higher torque.

Going up a tuning pin size on the entire piano and restringing the piano is becoming less common as a solution for pinblock problems.

“More often now, if you restring, it is recommended to replace the pinblock so you can start out with high torque on a 2/0 pin, the standard tuning pin size,” notes Jonathan.  (See above chart for cost estimate.)

Buying a piano from a dealer with a good warranty is the key to managing piano repair costs

Steinway logo in interior of piano
For pianos in the Steinway Family, replacement parts and piano technicians who undergo regular Steinway training can only be found at an Authorized Steinway Dealer.

Veteran Steinway sales consultant Phil Schoonmaker maintains that one of the first questions buyers on the used piano market should ask themselves is, “Am I willing to give up a factory warranty?”  Such warranties come with new pianos.

This is not to say that a partial warranty given by the seller for a used piano isn’t helpful for repairs.  But a factory warranty on a new piano is more comprehensive.  So if you can buy new, the factory warranty is a big advantage if a major repair comes.

For pianos in the Steinway Family, replacement parts and piano technicians who undergo regular Steinway training can only be found at an Authorized Steinway Dealer.

To learn more about Used vs. New pianos, read the following article:

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


Does a grand piano’s case really matter? 3 reasons why it’s important

by Stephen N. Reed


A piano’s wooden cabinet, or case, is one of the most important parts of a grand piano.  The case, which includes the rim in a grand piano, is key in protecting the other 12,000 parts of the piano, and it is responsible for critical parts of the piano’s sound, securing its musical quality.

Ziricote veneer Steinway grand
This Central American Ziricote veneer on this grand piano case is part of Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection.

Additionally, taking good care of the piano’s case is essential to maintain strong resale value–both for the protection of the interior of the grand piano as well as its external appearance.  After all, the case is what most people visualize when they imagine a grand piano–a large, impressive, wooden structure.

It’s probably what you see in your mind’s eye, too, when the words “grand piano” comes to mind.  What could be worse than buying what looks like an attractive grand piano, only to discover later that the case was made with shoddy materials?

M. Steinert & Sons has been helping our customers avoid such pitfalls for over 160 years.  We understand how pianos are made and which parts deserve your particular attention.

By the end of this article, you will understand better the three reasons that a grand piano’s case is important:  cabinet construction, the rim and its impact on the piano’s musical quality, and how the case allows you to express your personal style.  You’ll also learn of some different styles of modern grand piano cases.

1. Cabinet construction: A key element in piano design from the beginning

We tend to forget that some of the world’s great, early piano makers–Henry Steinway, Morris Steinert, and Ignaz Bosendorfer among them–had cabinet making in their backgrounds.  They are known today for the beautiful pianos they created.

However, one can definitely say that the piano’s cabinet, or case, was there from the beginning of some of the great grand piano designs we take for granted today.

Approximately 85% of every acoustic piano is wood. The style of cabinetry and wood finish is an important consideration for many piano buyers.

Three types of cabinet construction

Solid core construction: Solid lumber core with two outer layers of veneer on each side. This is the least economical approach to piano building. There are significant variations between manufacturers between types of wood selected and their strength, durability, and grain characteristics.

Plywood: approx. 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch plywood panels with face veneers on each side.

Fiberboard: panels made of compressed wood fiber, with face veneers applied to each side. (Most economical approach–often heavier due to presence of glue used to fabricate these materials)

Historically, piano cabinets have used solid core construction. However, plywood and fiberboard are now more prevalent in manufactured pianos. Legs, moulding, and various trim pieces are usually solid wood. On good quality pianos, they are of the same wood species as the rest of the piano’s cabinet.

Each part of a piano’s case has a specific function. A higher-quality build will result in less failure of case components and a longer lifespan overall.

2. Steinway adapts the first modern rim case

Because of Henry Steinway’s commitment to making the best possible piano, Steinway’s handcrafted process has always used solid core construction.

Other piano makers have fine case designs.  However, no piano maker has done more to develop an effective rim than Steinway. By 1880, Steinway started to produce their Model A, a smaller grand piano that nevertheless had significant ramifications for their larger grand piano models later.

Steinway factory workers making the bent-rim
Steinway’s bent-rim case is created by the use of long, thin planks of maple that are bent around a form and pressed together with glue. The result is a patented, single-piece, continuous bent-rim that makes for a stronger and more stable case.

Steinway’s Model A featured a laminated maple cabinet, resulting in their first modern rim case.  This case was created by the use of long, thin planks of maple that were bent around a form and pressed together with glue.

The result was a patented, single-piece, continuous bent-rim that made a stronger and more stable case for the Model A. Steinway had hit upon an approach to their smaller grand pianos’ rims that worked for larger models like the Model D, as well.

The two rims–inner and outer–are essentially the foundation of the piano, along with the back-posts that are attached to the inner rim. Placed on top and attached to the top of the inner rim is the soundboard, which vibrates freely within the perimeter of the outer rim.

The vibrations of the strings after being struck by the hammers are transferred through the maple bridges into the spruce of the soundboard and then instantaneously conducted toward the rims.

Steinway has proven that the rim’s job is to absorb as little of that energy as the particular design of a given piano permits, reflecting the acoustic vibrations back into the soundboard and then releasing them outward as sound waves to the ear.

The species and density of the rim wood will determine the degree of efficiency of reflection of sound vibrations toward the ear. Many manufacturers use relatively soft inexpensive hardwoods for rim construction, such as Philippine mahogany (lauan). Steinway uses only more costly North American hard rock maple, known for its unexcelled density, durability, flexibility, and reflective efficiency as well as tonality.

Steinway is the only manufacturer that bends the inner and outer rims together at the same time into one homogeneous unit, thereby eliminating the possibility of rim separation between the inner and outer rims as the piano ages. A separated rim will compromise the tuning stability of the piano as well as have a detrimental effect on tone.

Musical quality is tied to the case’s rim

When it comes to the matter of a grand piano’s musical quality, evaluating the role of the case gets a little complicated.  How one actually defines the “case” becomes all-important.

On one hand, many in the piano industry consider the rim, so integral to producing the piano’s sound, as a separate part altogether.  What’s left are the other exterior parts of the case–like the lyre, the legs, the music desk, or the fallboard–which do not significantly affect the musical quality of the piano.

On the other hand, others in the piano industry believe the rim should be considered part of the “case,” as the outer rim of the grand is part of the visible cabinetry.

Black Steinway grand
“The outer rim not only defines the primary curved furniture of a grand piano but is integral to its sound,” says Phil Schoonmaker, a veteran piano consultant at M. Steinert & Sons.

“The outer rim not only defines the primary curved furniture of a grand piano but is integral to its sound,” says Phil Schoonmaker, a veteran piano consultant at M. Steinert & Sons. “So the case, in my view, includes the outer, visible rim which provides architectural design and beauty as well as structural construction essential to tone production.”

According to this view, the case, with rim included, becomes an essential part of the musical quality of a grand piano.

Steinway’s patented one-piece continuous bent rim generates its strength by bending single laminations of premium, straight-grained rock maple in an unbroken curve to form the rim of the piano.

The process of bending our rims completely by hand has taken place in Steinway’s factories for over 140 years, and recent developments in that process have produced a vastly improved piano rim.

Today’s Steinway rim has improved stability, durability, and strength, which together create the distinctive Steinway sound.  Never before has Steinway’s rim emboldened the company’s patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard to vibrate so freely and generate a golden tone.

Thus, this patented rim not only helps to strengthen the case but contributes mightily to Steinway’s signature sound.

3. Your piano case is an expression of your personal style

The outer veneer of the piano’s case does not affect musical properties.  A designer Steinway Model B has no more or less musical quality than a standard ebony Model B.

Lenny Kravitz case
Steinway also produces limited edition grand pianos, partnering with famous performers like Lenny Kravitz to create this individualized case.

However, the outer veneer of a grand piano’s case can be an expression of the owner’s individuality or decorative style.  While the classic ebony Steinway grands are the ones that spring to mind automatically from their ubiquitous presence on concert hall stages around the globe, Steinway has always made available a range of case styles for its customers.

Perhaps best known is the Crown Jewel Collection, with fine veneers like high-quality mahogany, walnut, and East Indian Rosewood, among others.

Steinway also produces limited edition grand pianos, partnering with famous performers like Lang Lang and Lenny Kravitz.

Wrapping a piano’s case in the best color for one’s interior design is another option available at piano stores like M. Steinert & Sons.

As with standard ebony grands, the care and maintenance of more individualized, limited edition grands make a huge difference in any future re-sale.

Why a grand piano case matters

Crown Jewel Steinway grand
Padauk wood is found in Central America and West Africa.  This case’s veneer is another from Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection.

For musical quality, resale value, and aesthetics, the piano’s case matters a great deal.  It is the first part of the piano that the owner or audience sees.  Plus, it is what protects the other 12,000 parts within the piano.

Combined with the unique Steinway bent-rim, the case plays a major role in creating the Steinway sound.

The best way to appreciate these contributions of the case to a Steinway grand is to come into one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton to allow your senses to take in several different Steinway grands.

In the meantime, learn more about the way Steinway cases are made by reading this article:

What is a Steinway factory tour like? 


Where should I place my piano? Does piano placement in the home really matter?

by Stephen N. Reed


Buying a piano is an investment–an investment in the musical quality of the instrument, which, in turn, is protected by thoughtfully caring for the instrument and the high-quality materials used to make it. As strong as the woods are in a grand or upright, they are still susceptible to the elements, like high humidity in coastal regions like Boston.

Steinway grand in foreground with father, daughter dancing
Piano placement is an important decision, perhaps an even more critical decision than regular maintenance. Why? Because once a piano is placed, it often remains in that position for years.

As a result, determining the best place in your home for your new piano is an important consideration. After all, what could be worse than investing thousands of dollars on a beautiful instrument with exceptional musical value, only to see that value diminished more quickly than necessary over time?

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have been helping our customers not only buy the best piano for them but also always consider how they’re going to be happy after any purchase. That includes thinking about things like the best placement for their new piano in the home or institution.

Piano placement is an important decision, perhaps an even more critical decision than regular maintenance. Why? Because once a piano is placed, it often remains in that position for years.

All the more reason to make that placement a good one.

By the end of this article, you will know where the best potential places are for piano placement, understanding why some places are best while others are not. You’ll also understand how piano placement affects the mechanical, structural, and aesthetic dimensions of your piano, even its longevity.

Where you should NOT place a piano in your home

Understandably, your piano placement may be constrained by the space and structures in your home or institution. Having said that, there are some areas to avoid placing your piano.

Near a poorly insulated window

While having a piano by a window may seem a pleasant placement, this may be one of the worst possible places for the overall well-being of a piano, whether a grand or an upright. The air around windows change with the conditions outside, both on a daily and seasonal basis.

Temperature and humidity rise and fall, and a piano placed near a window experiences all of those atmospheric changes. This causes your piano’s wooden action parts to shrink and swell. Additionally, your piano’s tuning will be affected, causing your piano to need tuning more often.

Not close to air vents

Another place to avoid for atmospheric temperature issues is an air vent. Obviously, in this case, the atmosphere affecting your instrument is from inside your home, not outside.

Whether with air vents or other areas affecting the interior environment (e.g. fireplaces, heaters, air conditioners), your piano will not respond well to a frequently changing environment. The fewer changes in temperature and less airflow, the better.

Think “climate-controlled” for your piano’s space.

Not around direct, extended sunlight

Whether near a window or skylight, you risk more harm than you may suspect from allowing direct sunlight to hit it even a little while each day. Even that much sunlight, day after day, month after month can cause your piano’s beautiful finish to fade. Worse, glue joints can weaken and the all-important soundboard can dry out, even crack.

Where should you place your piano in your home?

Upright piano against inner wall of room
Grand pianos, when placed in a room are better secured and sound better when their straight edge is against an inner wall, distanced from sunlight, air vents, or windows. Uprights should be similarly placed.

Good piano placement safeguards your piano’s structural, mechanical, and aesthetic condition. One major advantage is to put the piano in the best place in an insulated room. Having good piano placement results in your piano having its best possible performance, sound, and longevity.

According to Total Piano Care, a home or building’s inner walls and climate-controlled conditions are paramount when considering piano placement. Grand pianos, when placed in a room are better secured and sound better when their straight edge is against an inner wall, distanced from sunlight, air vents, or windows. Uprights should be similarly placed.

Ideally, grand pianos should be placed in such a way as to allow the pianist to look into the room and not into a wall. The bass side of the piano should run parallel to the wall. This allows the bass to bounce against the wall to the wider room and the treble to project into the middle of the room.

If necessary, a grand piano can also be placed at a 45-degree angle towards a diagonal corner.

Are there exceptions to the inner wall piano placement recommendation?

A few exceptions to the inner wall placement are possible for adequate piano placement. For example, the middle of the room can be used if exceptional acoustics are possible with high ceilings and hardwood floors, or materials that aid in sound amplification and continuation are in place.

Again, wherever the specific piano placement is, the main concern is airflow and atmospheric changes near the piano. This safeguards your investment and its musical quality from unnecessary deterioration and tuning instability.

A bit of good news: Mature piano brands like the Steinway Family brands, Yamaha, and Kawai are more resilient to environmental changes due to their careful materials selection, expertise, and experience via warranty claims over the years.

Request a floor pattern to help with your piano placement

piano form template
M. Steinert & Sons piano consultants can bring a piano floor pattern template to your home to determine which pianos will fit in your space.

Homes are not always built with pianos in mind. As a result, a few inches may make the difference between placing your piano in your favorite room or another.

At M. Steinert & Company we know that it’s difficult to fully think about placing a piano until you have it in your home. That’s why we created piano templates that our piano consultants can bring to your home, if you’re in the greater Boston area, to ascertain the best piano placement and size.

Learn more in the articles below. Read how about floor patterns and how to determine what size piano will fit in your space. You’ll soon see why floor patterns can be so helpful.

Request a floor pattern

Will a grand piano fit?

Make an appointment to talk with one of our piano consultants at our Boston or Newton location. They can assist you as you decide on the right piano–and right piano placement–for you.


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