Is longterm piano maintenance worth it?

by Stephen N. Reed


Longterm piano maintenance may seem like one of those topics that get everyone nodding in agreement–but with many forgetting its importance beyond regular tunings.  However, with an investment as significant as a quality grand or upright, understanding the different forms of maintenance is essential.

After all, what could be worse than spending many thousands of dollars on a quality musical instrument, only to have serious problems later because inexpensive longterm maintenance practices weren’t followed?

In this article, we will review the main forms of longterm piano maintenance and their importance to the overall condition of the piano.  You’ll learn that such maintenance goes well beyond regular tunings.

Piano tunings: The most basic form of longterm maintenance

Tuning a piano
Generally, two piano tunings per year are sufficient. But in its first year, a new piano should be tuned up to four times to help it settle and to stretch the strings.

The one piano maintenance question everyone knows is:  So how long should I have my piano tuned?  Generally, a piano should have a tuning twice per year.

However, you may well need to tune your piano more frequently due to greater humidity in your area, especially as it gets older. But for the vast majority of pianos, a tuning about every 180 days will take into account changes in weather.

The one other exception to this two tunings-per-year rule is a new piano.  In its first year, a new piano should be tuned up to four times to help it settle and to stretch the strings.  Pianos tuned four times in the first year generally hold tune better going forward.

Risks of not tuning your piano

Jonathan Kotulski, a piano technician for M. Steinert & Sons notes that there are serious risks of not getting your piano tuned.

“If you go many years without tuning the piano, besides being musically useless, the piano may go flat a little bit each year making the tuning worse and worse,” says Jonathan.  “When it comes time to get the piano tuned, a pitch raise will have to be performed, to get the piano roughly back to standard pitch, then followed by a fine tuning.”

Humidity control

When it comes to pianos, humidity is important to consider year-round. Pianos don’t like extremes. Pianos do better when temperatures are moderate, neither too hot nor too cold.  A piano’s wood responds to its environment and does well when humidity is stabilized.

Otherwise, moisture in the air can be absorbed by the piano’s action, causing the wood in the action to expand and contract.  Additionally, the felts in the action can harden, tuning pins can loosen, and even the steel strings can start to rust.

A lack of moisture in the wintertime has its own problems, like the possibility of a dry soundboard cracking.  Moisture can dry up when the piano owner turns on heaters in the home.  As a result, the smart piano owner will not place their piano near heating vents, fireplaces, radiators, drafty windows, and direct sunlight.

What is the result of all these changes due to unstable humidity?  Tuning can become unstable, and what a longterm problem that can be for a musical instrument for which you paid many thousands of dollars.

As a result, a further, smaller investment in your piano in the form of a humidity control system is well worth it. Such a system protects your investment by extending the life of the piano and helping it to hold tune.  Such a control system can help keep the piano’s environment to the ideal of 40-45% humidity year-round, with as little fluctuation as possible.

Using a humidity monitor to monitor the levels in the piano room can be helpful.  Our piano technicians at M. Steinert & Sons can give you more information about selecting the right kind of humidifier for your piano. They can offer custom recommendations for the customer’s specific piano room and climate situation.

Regulation: The piano’s action

Regulating a piano's action
Regulating your action helps the piano to play again as it did when it was new. This can take the place of individual regulation adjustments or a total action regulation.

In order for a piano’s action to play well, 37 adjustments per key within the piano’s action are needed.  Over time, all of this activity for the entire 88 keyboard can make the piano’s touch feel differently after a lot of playing, expansion, and contraction of action parts due to humidity, and loosening of strings.

Regulating your action helps the piano to play again as it did when it was new. This can take the place of individual regulation adjustments or a total action regulation.  Such regulation of your piano’s action can extend the length of your piano’s life and keep it enjoyable to play.

Other specific benefits of regulation include evenness/consistency/uniformity of the experience of touch at the keyboard, increased power and tactile control of the tone, increased dynamic range (quieter quiet dynamics and louder loud dynamics), and increased speed of repetition at all dynamic (volume) levels. Finally, regulation can also be customized to the touch preferences of high-level pianists.

Voicing

Some piano action’s felt hammers can harden over time. The repeated contact with the strings causes the felt to become compressed, with grooves created from contact with the string.  The result can be a bright, even harsh tone.  The piano can even lose its ability to play softly.

However, the leading issue that voicing addresses is when there are notes that do not fit in with the overall tonal character of the instrument. Bringing out the character of the piano and getting this evenness and consistency across the scale is part of the aim of voicing.

Enter the procedure called “voicing.”  Voicing corrects the tension of the hammers’ felt, which should be of good quality.  The piano technician uses needles to reduce the bright tone by making the felt less hard.

A greater range of musical expression occurs with this kind of longterm maintenance.

Protecting your piano’s finish

Grand piano's exterior finish
Protecting your piano’s finish is important–and not just for keeping it looking good as the centerpiece in your home’s parlor or living room.

While most longterm piano maintenance deals with the inner workings of the piano, protecting your piano’s finish is important–and not just for keeping it looking good as the centerpiece in your home’s parlor or living room.

Like the piano’s action, its wooden case can expand and contract with changes in humidity.  This, in turn, can lead to cracks in the finish as well as its overall stability.

Obviously, to avoid scratches or other damage to your piano’s finish, avoid putting objects on your piano, especially drinks.  Additionally, common furniture polish should not be used on a piano’s finish.  The action of a piano can be damaged if any aerosol cleaning spray gets into it.

Thankfully, a polyester finish is being increasingly used on new pianos.  It protects pianos better than the finish on older models.

Choose a thorough piano technician

A good piano technician will be on the lookout for other issues when they are giving a regular tuning.  This is not to rack up problems that create more business for them.  This is part of their role as a professional wanting your piano to have a long and healthy life.

When a piano owner comes to understand more about their piano, they will typically take better longterm care for their instrument.  A good piano technician will have customers who want to keep their piano in excellent condition–first for the joy of playing a quality instrument and second to protect their investment.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have two full-time piano technicians in Jonathan Kotulski and Zack Brines, both of whom are experienced in examining a wide range of grand and upright pianos.  If you have need of any of the longterm maintenance issues addressed in this article or have other questions of your own, please contact Jonathan or Zack at our Boston location.

To see what kind of costs are involved when the lack of longterm maintenance contributes to major repairs in pianos, click here.


What do piano lessons cost?

by Stephen N. Reed


Young piano student with teacher
For generations, submitting to the expertise of one’s piano teacher has been a cultural rite of passage for millions of young people.

Piano lessons hold a storied image in American life. For generations, submitting to the expertise of one’s piano teacher, has been a cultural rite of passage for millions of young people.

Like everything else, piano lessons have increased, in some places dramatically.  In this article, we will explore the range of piano lesson costs nationally and in the Greater Boston area.  We will also address the value of such lessons for students, whether or not they make a career in music.

A wide range of costs for piano lessons

Nationally, the cost of piano lessons typically ranges between  $15 and $50 for a 30-minute lesson. Lesson rates can vary depending on things like where you live and your teacher’s expertise.

According to M. Steinert & Sons piano consultant Patrick Elisha, piano lessons in the Greater Boston area typically range from $30-to $75 per 30-minute lesson.  These piano teachers often have exceptional educational and performance credentials.  Other factors also affect lesson costs including:

  • The teacher coming to student’s home
  • The student traveling to teacher’s studio (cost of renting/buying studio, equipment)
  • The student taking lessons at a prestigious community music/prep school

Regardless of cost, one-on-one piano lessons have great benefits

The benefits of working with a private music teacher are obvious: you get one-on-one professional guidance, a customized lesson plan, and a teacher to hold you accountable to your musical lessons and goals.

A qualified piano teacher will help their student in the process of learning how to open the door into and traverse the vast world of music. It is important to find a balance in what this mentor can provide, both in their pedagogical capacity and in their capabilities to accentuate the mostly solitary practice of learning how to play the piano.

The piano offers a student a wide variety of performance opportunities

Piano teacher and student
The more cerebral part of piano learning is both fun and a core tenet of a complete piano education.

Unlike other instruments which have the clear opportunity to engage in orchestral repertoire through local youth symphony orchestras, piano playing is like a “Swiss Army Knife” in terms of the varied mediums carried by the instrument.

Collaborative piano in its many forms should include but not limited to accompanying and chamber music should be an integral part of early learning. Quite often, the latter is only available at summer music festivals.

Consequentially, if the pedagogical method or venue can’t provide these opportunities, the teacher needs to inspire the artist and their family to engage in summer music festival programs,  “extracurricular” ensemble learning, and performing.

Performing is as integral to the art of piano as practicing. Imagine a world where we prepare for an athletic event such as a basketball game, practicing each day with our team, only to realize that there never really is a game to look forward to. The “game” is the opportunity to perform, on a consistent, semi-annual, or quarterly basis with performances set up by the teacher or school associated.

Piano playing as a mental challenge

A good piano teacher helps their students understand the mathematics around how music works.  This is key to a developing artist’s voice and analytical capability. This more cerebral part of piano learning is both fun and a core tenet of a complete piano education.

Like any language or dialect all of these elements, from learning solo repertoire to understanding the world of collaboration with others, performing and music theory are needed in order to offer the learner the best opportunity in learning the art of piano.

The more complete the education, the more likely one is to continue and maintain this art in one’s life, allowing this craft to endure with their own children and families as time goes on.

A course in discipline, self-confidence, and the mathematics of music

“Anyone who makes a distinction between entertainment and education doesn’t know the first thing about either.”  So said Canadian social philosopher Marshall McLuhan.

Piano teacher helping young student
A good piano teacher builds up a student’s sense of self-discipline, self-confidence, and intellectual curiosity as to how subject areas like mathematics and music intersect.

Like all good teachers, a gifted piano teacher knows how to challenge students while making learning fun. Without piano playing having an element of enjoyment to it, a student is not likely to stay with it for long.

Whatever the rate that a given piano teacher charges, if they are capable both technical mastery of playing the piano and finding fun and interesting ways to engage their students, then they are probably worth every dollar they charge.

For not only will they be opening up the world of music to their students but will be building up their sense of self-discipline, self-confidence, and intellectual curiosity as to how subject areas like mathematics and music intersect.

Piano playing is on the rise, as people turn to music making at home during different periods of the pandemic.   Read more about that in piano teacher Elizabeth Reed’s following essay:

How the Pandemic brought life back into our living rooms.”


Hard Rock Maple: Does it really make a difference in a Steinway’s sound?

by Stephen N. Reed


Steinway grand rim
The rigidity of the Hard Rock Maple rim contains the huge sound of Steinway grand’s Diaphragmatic Soundboard, made of Sitka Spruce, the most resonant of woods.

To be sure, the rich, warm sound of a Steinway & Sons piano has several factors.  However, the use of the Hard Rock Maple in their grand pianos is one of the most important components used to create the legendary Steinway sound.

The rigidity of the Hard Rock Maple rim contains the huge sound of Steinway grand’s Diaphragmatic Soundboard, made of Sitka Spruce, the most resonant of woods.

In short, Steinway pianos combine the resonance of Sitka Spruce with the rigidity of Hard Rock Maple to intensify the richness of the sound.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have sold tens of thousands of pianos to satisfied customers with an eye towards helping them find the best piano for their needs.

In this article, we will examine Steinway’s use of Hard Rock Maple and its contribution to the unique Steinway sound.  We hope you’ll come away with an appreciation for the materials and level of craftsmanship that Steinway puts into its handcrafted grand pianos.

Hard Rock Maple vs. Soft Maple

So what’s the difference between Hard Rock Maple  (also called Sugar Maple) and soft maples?  As its name suggests, Hard Rock Maple is a considerably harder wood.  The Janka Hardness Index is about 700 for soft maple and about 1400 for hard maple. But Hard Rock Maples are not only harder than soft maples but are heavier and more straight-grained.

Because of its rigidity, Hard Rock Maple has traditionally been seen as more challenging to work with, though it has maintained popularity not only in piano making but also in furniture and flooring, including bowling alleys.  It is resistant to scratches and polishes well, plus it ages more slowly than other woods, like cherry.

Hard Rock Maple laminates used to create one strong Steinway rim

To make their wide-tail rims, Steinway uses between 12 to 18 Hard Rock Maple and Mahogany laminates, depending on the model.  These laminates are then glued together and bent into the rim shape, creating a single, powerful piece of wood.

Steinway workers
Rim-bending work on a Steinway grand involves heavy-duty wrenches and the collective strength of six strong men.

The process of gluing and bending is a favorite one to watch by visitors to the Steinway & Sons Astoria, New York factory.  Each Hard Rock Maple laminate is placed by hand.

Then the work involves heavy-duty wrenches and the collective strength of six strong men. Once the layers of laminates are bent, the rim is fixed in place by a large clamp. Hard Rock Maple can withstand pressure well and project sound

Why is Hard Rock Maple the wood of choice for Steinway rims?   First, the rim of a concert grand piano needs to withstand up to 45,000 pounds of pressure created by the grand’s strings tightened to the piano’s pin block.

Second, Hard Rock Maple is indeed a huge factor in the sound quality of the instrument.  A softer wood in the rim would absorb sound, but Hard Rock Maple laminates project sound much more effectively. Hard Rock Maple is simply the best wood to project sound out of a piano without affecting harmonic richness or absorbing the sound.

Steinway workers bending the rim on a grand
The process of gluing and bending is a favorite one to watch by visitors to the Steinway & Sons Astoria, New York factory.  Each Hard Rock Maple laminate is placed by hand.

All Steinway grand piano rims are laminated in this way. Each laminate piece is inspected by hand, insuring that only the very best of hardwoods are used. Steinway’s smaller grands use fewer layers of laminates since there is less pressure coming from the strings.

“Hard Rock Maple is resistant to fluctuations and temperature and humidity,” explains Patrick Elisha, a piano consultant for M. Steinert & Sons.

“It is put in places of the instrument that require that kind of stability including the rim and the bridges,” explains Elisha. “Those are key structural points that respectively reflect the sound back into and through the soundboard, and also transfer the sound for the bridges from the strings most effectively into the soundboard itself. Hard Rock Maple is strong enough not to succumb to the immense pressures that are put on it.”

Rims: Steinway vs. Yamaha vs. Kawai

So why is a 100% Hard Rock Maple inner and outer rim better than the mixed wood, Luan/Mahogany frames used by Yamaha or the frames the Matoa/Calophyllum wood used in Kawai grands?

Simply put, the hardness of the wood adds to the projection of the piano’s sound and adds greater sustain.  How?   A rim made of Hard Rock Maple throws most of that vibrational energy back onto the soundboard thereby producing longer-lasting sustaining tones.

Hard Rock Maple is almost 3 times the hardness of Luan and Matoa /Calophyllum. That means that the Hard Rock Maple rim can both contain the sound produced by the Steinway Diaphragmatic Soundboard while projecting it further into the audience than other pianos.

So why doesn’t every piano company draw upon Hard Rock Maple for their rims?  It’s a function of cost.   Hard Rock Maple is expensive and can’t be found in the rainforests where Luan and Matoa woods are found for use in Japanese pianos.

Hard Rock Maple: Worth the expense

Building the rim
One of the great innovations Steinway developed over the years for its grand pianos was its wide-tail rim, producing more sound than other pianos.

One of the great innovations Steinway developed over the years for its grand pianos was its wide-tail rim, producing more sound than other pianos.

The combination of the width of the rim and the Sitka Spruce soundboard creates such an enormous amount of energy that a hardwood was needed to balance it out: to first contain that powerful sound and then to project it well into the audience.

That is where Hard Rock Maple comes in, an American hardwood well-regarded for centuries as a favorite wood for flooring and furniture that not only could withstand pressure but also avoid abrasions and even polish well.   Hard Rock Maple must have seemed like a godsend to the Steinway engineers who were looking for just that kind of durable hardwood.

We welcome you to come into either our Boston or Newton showroom and examine some Steinway grand pianos with their Hard Rock Maple rims yourself.  Experience the tone, the Steinway sound that the Hard Rock Maple contributes to significantly.

Meantime, read more about the qualities that go into the Steinway sound.


How long does a grand piano last?

by Stephen N. Reed


With an investment as significant as a grand piano, customers understandably are curious as to how long they can expect their grand to last.  As with so much in life, the answer is “It depends.”  However, over the years some general conclusions can be drawn, based on the materials, assembly, and level of care given to a grand piano.

Steinway Heirloom grand piano
The average manufactured piano lasts about 30 years, whereas a handcrafted piano like a Steinway can go well beyond 50 years.

Knowing the ways to keep your piano healthy through placement in the home (e.g. away from windows), regular tuning, avoiding heat registers that can dry out the soundboard, dealing with seasonal changes, and carefully moving the grand piano when needed can all help to extend a grand piano’s life.

Even so, to avoid disappointments as your piano is passed down to your children, you need to know that the average manufactured piano lasts about 30 years, whereas a handcrafted piano like a Steinway can go well beyond 50 years.

But even just for the present generation, the buyer wants to know that their grand piano is going to be playable for years to come.  Purchasing a piano is a significant investment for any home.  Naturally, people want to know how long does a grand piano last?

At M. Steinert, we’ve been helping customers get answers to piano questions like this for over 160 years.  We want our customers to be informed buyers so that they know what they’re getting.  Understanding the different factors that play into the longevity of a grand piano will help a buyer appreciate their purchase more.

In terms of musical quality, what is a grand piano’s lifespan?

When we ask the question, “What is a grand piano’s lifespan?”, what does “lifespan” mean in a quality piano context?   Obviously, if you want a grand that still has a quality musical presence, that’s different than a piano that merely is capable of making any kind of sound or one that is barely standing on its legs.

For the purposes of this article, we will discuss how long a grand piano lasts to refer to its playability and basic musicality.

Factors that affect the longevity of a functioning piano

Steinway grand keyboard
Experience has shown that new grand pianos (without rebuilding) maintain their playability between 10 and 50 years.

Experience has shown that new grand pianos (without rebuilding) maintain their playability between 10 and 50 years, depending upon numerous factors expanded upon below. Note that “playable” is highly subjective between pianists.

One person’s playable is another’s musical disappointment. Over the years we’ve found that many have never experienced a high-quality piano sound and touch – and simply don’t know what’s possible!

Factors that can affect the musical quality of a grand piano over time include:

Initial quality/tone

  • Materials:  The lifespan of a grand piano is greatly affected by the quality of the woods and other materials used.  As any woodworker will tell you, attention to the selection of, and the proper drying of the woods before fabricating into any shape can have a significant impact on durability.  Each manufacturer maintains a recipe that meets their quality, cost and output needs. The keys used to be made from ivory and ebony in the past, but today’s piano keys are wood and plastic, which is much more durable.  The higher the quality of the woods used in a grand piano, the better it can survive the natural wear and tear that comes with age.
  • Craftsmanship:  Most grand pianos today are mass-manufactured, to yield a lower price as compared to handcrafted models.  Handcrafted grands generally can be expected to have a longer lifespan than manufactured models.  Handcrafted grands generally have a lifespan at least in the 20-40 year range, sometimes over 50.
  • Design:  How each piano brand designs its models can affect their lifespan. For example, most piano companies’ manufactured pianos have a design that employs low-to-medium quality wood. This allows the price point to come down but with the consequence of a typically shorter musical lifespan.

Some manufacturers, like the Steinway-designed Boston, specify certain woods in critical areas (maple in the rim, and spruce in the soundboard), that have been proven to increase overall durability and tone quality.

Environment

  • Temperature and humidity:  Temperature and humidity fluctuate, particularly in four seasons country and coastal areas.  The seasonal swings in a grand piano’s environment can damage a piano over time, limiting its lifespan.  A grand piano placed near a window can exacerbate these conditions. Humidity can cause a piano’s wooden action parts to shrink and swell, also affecting its tuning.
  • Air vents:  In addition to external causes for temperature changes, internal temperature issues can work against a grand piano’s lifespan over time, as well. Air vents and other areas affecting the internal environment like heaters and air conditioners are to be avoided.  One wants to avoid frequent changes in temperature and airflow. Direct sustained contact with devices that produce airflow can dry out a soundboard, even making it crack.  That can seriously shorten a grand piano’s lifespan.
  • Sunlight:  Sunlight near a window over time can cause a grand piano’s elegant finish to fade.  Worse, glue joints in the piano can weaken and sustained sunlight over time can cause a second way for the soundboard to dry out and crack. Direct sunlight, month by month, year by year, can contribute to a reduced lifespan for a grand piano.

General use

  • Use/wear-and-tear:  Obviously, the amount of play a grand piano gets can affect its ultimate lifespan.  Grand pianos used by more than one person, such as those used at a college by several students, can have a level of wear-and-tear that diminishes the instrument over time.  
  • Aggressive playing:  Aggressive playing by amateur or professional players can tax any grand piano over time.  While modern grand pianos are built to take strong playing, those who abuse their pianos through harsh playing are potentially limiting their piano’s lifespan.  Actions wear out, strings become compromised and weak spots in various parts/components become exposed.  

Maintenance and restoration

  • Loose strings: Strings can get too loose before tuning.  Regular tuning can help avoid this.
  • Repairs:  Maintenance of one’s grand piano can include repairs as small as replacing a key or a string to more significant ones like fixing a pedal.  Keeping one’s piano in shipshape is key to its long-term lifespan.
  • Restoration:   A full-scale restoration can add years to a piano’s life but can be very expensive.  Replacing a pin block or a soundboard takes a skilled piano technician.  Many who get their older grand piano restored come to realize they would have been better off with a different new piano.

Each grand piano has its own lifespan curve

Grand pianos are like people.  Some may have a single health care concern, while others may have multiple issues.  As a result, while each of the factors above can affect an individual grand piano’s lifespan, each one will have its own lifespan curve.

Take a look at this chart that shows piano musical quality over time for a variety of pianos:

Chart showing piano quality over time

Life cycle of a typical grand piano in the home

Again, while each grand piano has its own individual path toward establishing its ultimate lifespan, examining grand pianos over time has yielded some general conclusions about the different phases of a grand piano’s life.  The following is a summary of what can happen to a piano as it ages and is published with the permission of the Piano Technicians Guild:

FIRST-YEAR

The pitch of a new piano drops considerably, as the new strings stretch and the structure settles. If the piano receives the manufacturer’s recommended three to four tunings during this time, it will stay at the correct pitch, allowing strings and structure to reach a stable equilibrium. Without these important first tunings, any later tuning will involve a large pitch raise, leaving the piano unstable.

TWO TO TEN YEARS

Grand piano action parts
Within two to ten years, the mechanical parts of the action begin to wear and settle.

The pitch stabilizes, assuming regular tunings (and additional climate control devices if needed). The mechanical parts of the piano’s action wear and settle too. This causes two changes: first, the touch of the piano becomes less responsive as the parts go out of adjustment.

Secondly, the tone changes as the hammers flatten and grooves develop from repeated collisions with the strings. Periodic regulation and voicing, important parts of a complete maintenance program, correct these changes.

TEN TO THIRTY YEARS

Wear of action parts continues, the extent depending upon how hard and how often the piano is played. Normal regulation and voicing will maintain a good tone and touch if usage is moderate.

If the piano suffers wide temperature and humidity swings, it will being to show permanent deterioration during this time: loose tuning pins, rusty strings, soundboard cracks, and aging of the finish.

THIRTY TO FIFTY YEARS

After years of playing, the hammers and other action parts will be quite worn. Years of seasonal changes cause bass strings to sound dull and treble tone to lose clarity. Eventually, adjustment alone will not correct these problems, and some parts will need replacing to restore the original tone and touch.

OVER FIFTY YEARS

A few geographic areas with mild climates have older pianos still in good condition. Well-built, well-designed pianos can still be playable at this advanced age if they’ve had good care and moderate use.

However, at some point in a piano’s life, an important decision must be made:

  • Should the piano be replaced? Is its life over?
  • Should it be reconditioned or rebuilt (made functionally new again)?
  • Should it continue to limp along with an ever-worsening tone and touch?

Eventually, it simply becomes less practical to continue maintaining an old piano. The end of a piano’s life comes when the repair cost exceeds the value of the repaired instrument.

Happily, almost any piano that has received reasonable care will have served the art of music for decades by the time its days are over.

Come in for a visit

We encourage customers to try other brands, including those that make manufactured grand pianos. Then come to one of M. Steinert’s showrooms in Nexton or Boston to make an appointment to talk with one of our seasoned sales consultants and to play some Steinway models.

In preparation for your appointment, consider reading more about some of the popular models of Steinway grands in the following article. It will give you a closer look at 6 Steinway grand piano models so that you begin to see which ones may suit your needs best.

A review of 6 Steinway piano models: Which is the best grand for me?


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 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.

 


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