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Boston vs. Steinway: A comparison of two sister brands

by Stephen N. Reed


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston vs. Steinway pianos: The similarities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston vs. Steinway pianos: The differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Pianos Review: How good are Boston pianos?

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

What is special about the Steinway sound?

 


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:

 


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?


Are Steinways really the best pianos?

Stephen N. Reed


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do the world’s concert pianists say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yamaha:

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

–Nicholas McCarthy, Concert Pianist and Yamaha Artist

Bosendorfer:

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

–Sir Andras Schiff, Concert Pianist and Bosendorfer Artist

Steinway:

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

–Lang Lang, Concert Pianist and Steinway Artist

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

A recent study of symphony orchestras

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

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

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

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

Which piano do most conservatories prefer?

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

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

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

Is a Steinway-family piano for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Try out a variety of piano brands for yourself

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

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

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

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

Why are Steinway pianos so expensive?


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

by Stephen N. Reed


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Steinway piano’s background and evolution

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

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

Some piano innovations rejected, others accepted by Steinway

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

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

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

A new piano patent is granted to Steinway every 14 months

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

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

A Case Study Of The Evolution of Steinway

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Why the Golden Age of Steinway is Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing between a new and used Steinway

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

Pros and Cons of new and rebuilt Steinway


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?


How do I prepare for a piano appointment?

by Stephen N. Reed


Buying a piano is a significant investment.  Seeking solid information and asking questions of a seasoned, trustworthy piano consultant is simply prudent anytime one buys an instrument costing several thousand dollars.

But how do you prepare for a piano appointment?  If the “piano world” is completely new to you, going into the process essentially blind can be a recipe for confusion.

Jungle scene
It’s a jungle out there,  filled with a variety of brands, price points, and varying degrees of musical quality in each piano you sample.  Without a guide, you could easily get lost.

It’s a jungle out there,  filled with a variety of brands, price points, and varying degrees of musical quality in each piano you sample.  Without a guide, you could easily get lost and quite possibly make a poor choice for your piano, which would be a lasting regret.

In contrast, discovering a guide in the form of a knowledgeable, honest piano store consultant can be a relief.  Now you have a professional who can start answering your questions and who will begin to learn your priorities for your upcoming piano.

M. Steinert & Sons has always taken this relational approach to its customers and prospective customers.  Our piano sales consultants take the time to understand your piano needs and then work to find the kind of models that may hit the target for you.

By the end of this article, you will understand how to reflect and prepare yourself to make this kind of process work best for you.   Additionally, you will learn about the piano buying fundamentals of understanding pianos’ sizes, colors, touches, tones, and budgets.

You’ll come away from this article with the information you need to make the first meeting with your piano consultant a productive one.

What is your goal? Examining your desire to own a piano

Spirio piano with father and daughter dancing in background
Why do you want a piano?  Is it simply for you or a family member to learn how to play?  Is it something you’ve always wanted that you are now in a position to afford?  A little bit of both?

Before launching into your piano search, take some time to reflect on what has brought you to this point.  Why do you want a piano?  Is it simply for you or a family member to learn how to play?  Is it something you’ve always wanted that you are now in a position to afford?  A little bit of both?

Jonathan Yourtee is a piano consultant with M. Steinert & Sons, with a background in playing the piano.  Jonathan encourages each customer to do some thinking on their own before they come to the showroom.

“I ask my customers to sit down for 5-10 minutes or more and just refresh their memory as to their goal in purchasing a piano,” says Jonathan.

Every customer is different.  Some people may have wanted to learn to play since childhood and never had the time or money before to pursue it.  Others played before but life got in the way. So now they want to get back into it.

“The individual customer’s reasons for purchasing a piano informs the five areas I ask them to think about next before buying a piano,” says Jonathan.  “Size, color, touch, tone, and their budget.”

Size:  How big should your piano be?

People who can afford a Steinway Model D concert grand may be swept away by its epic size and volume.  But unless they have a space that can accommodate a nearly 9’ concert grand, it may well be more piano than they can use.

piano template
Piano templates help piano consultants determine what kinds of pianos can fit a given space at a customer’s home.

“A piano shouldn’t take up more than half of a room,” says Jonathan.  “That’s a good rule to keep in mind not only in terms of whether a given piano will fit well in the room but also in terms of the size of the sound.”

The piano industry has accommodated all manner of sizes and sounds for individual buyers over the years.  Not only are there a wide range of grand piano sizes, from concert grands to baby grands, but upright pianos have long had a favored place in smaller spaces.

Jonathan uses piano templates to determine what kinds of pianos can fit a given space at a customer’s home.  Such templates can be extraordinarily helpful early on to narrow down the field of piano models for a given space.

Many are surprised to see how a grand piano can often fit in the space allotted to an upright.

Color:  Classic black, different finishes, and wrapping

Crown Jewel Collection Steinway grand piano
Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection of grand pianos features a wide variety of cases with exotic woods from around the world.

Whether it’s an ebony polished look or a black satin matte, black has emerged over the years as the color that goes with anything and has top re-sale value.   A walnut or mahogany finish might be popular one year but not another; meanwhile black is always “in.”

Having said that, many buyers like having the option of individualizing their purchase.  They enjoy reading information about different colors and designs for a piano’s case online before their visit with their piano consultant.

For example, Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection of pianos features a wide variety of cases with exotic woods from around the world.  These are the same exact Steinway model otherwise–just a jazzy exterior to add something special to a room.

One new trend that offers the buyer even more solid colors to choose from involves wrapping.  Wrapping is becoming more popular and is offered at M. Steinert & Sons.

Touch:  Lighter or heavier?

Steinway piano action
A piano’s touch is one of the most practical of considerations, because if you take home a piano whose touch is one the player doesn’t like or is not able to express their musical intentions, there goes the ballgame!

How do you want the keys to feel?  Unless you’re a professional pianist, you may not have thought about this before.   But brands differ in feel and weighting of touch, which involves the piano’s action, the hammers hitting the strings. Is the feel stiff, easy, or something in between?

A piano’s touch is one of the most practical of considerations because if you take home a piano whose touch is one the player doesn’t like or is not able to express their musical intentions, there goes the ballgame!  This is especially true with young piano students.

“I always tell customers to bring their children with them, too, if they will be playing the piano,” says Jonathan.  “Bring them to the first visit with the piano consultant.  Have the kids involved from the beginning.”

Tone:  Bright or rich?  A piano’s tone is part of its personality for a lifetime of playing

The various colors stemming from a Steinway’s soundboard and rim can be used to express emotions in a wide range of music.

While some jazz pianists like the way a brighter sounding piano punches through the sound of the other instruments in the band, more classically-associated brands like Steinway have their jazz pianist fans, as well.

After all, the same various colors stemming from a Steinway’s soundboard and rim can be used to express emotions in a wide range of music.

Steinway’s tone is characterized by its warm, well-rounded, bell-like tone. Elements of that Steinway sound is found in the designs of its sister brands, Boston and Essex.

Reading about how others describe the tone of various piano brands will give you a better understanding of what you hear when you sample different pianos later with your piano consultant.

Budget:  The most musical value for what you can afford

As with any significant purchase, calculating your budget is naturally a key factor for the piano you purchase.   Would a better model be worth stretching one’s budget?

Like anything else, the more expensive piano models have advantages, like a more nuanced touch and tone, resulting in greater musical expression.

Moreover, if they are made of better woods, they will usually last longer and will definitely have greater resale value if you want to buy another piano later.

The higher-priced pianos like Steinway, which are handcrafted rather than manufactured, have prices that reflect U.S. and German labor costs at their factories.

However, the piano industry has met the need for more affordable pianos, so if your budget is something lower than a new Steinway price, look into Steinway-designed Boston and Essex lines, as well as Yamaha and Kawai.

Readying for your first piano appointment

Jonathan says that as you begin to get familiarized with these five subject areas for pianos, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with your first piano consultant visit.  You’ll have a lot to talk about, so try to carve out adequate time for your visit to the showroom.

“I ask customers to try for a 60 or 90 minutes initial meeting, just so we can get acquainted better and so that I can begin to get a feel for their particular piano needs,” noted Jonathan.

Choosing a piano deserves a bit of time to do it right.  If you were in the market for a luxury automobile like a Lamborghini or a Porsche, wouldn’t you want to know about their features?  What makes them special.  How are they made?

An experienced piano consultant can save you time and money by spending a little more time upfront to really understand why you’re buying a piano and what your expectations are.

We hope to see you in one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton, where one of our highly-experienced piano consultants will show you hospitality and start understanding your piano needs.

In the meantime, keep reading in preparation for your first meeting with the piano consultant of your choice. If you want to learn how a piano maker like Steinway makes their piano, you’ll enjoy the following piece.  Steinway craftspeople create the company’s pianos touch and tone daily:

What is a Steinway factory tour like?

Click here for Jungle image attribution.


Boston Pianos Review: How good are Boston pianos?

By Stephen N. Reed


Boston piano interior label
Designed by Steinway, the Boston uses a recipe with many Steinway-designed features developed from Steinway’s more than 160 years of premier piano-building and a commitment to continuous improvement.

The Boston Piano Company, a subsidiary of Steinway & Sons, was established in 1991 as a response to the growing market of piano buyers who were ready for the Steinway experience but couldn’t afford the Steinway cost.

Steinway wanted to capture the mid-level piano market that was growing internationally without having to compromise the Steinway & Sons approach to materials and craftsmanship.

So Steinway designed the Boston and created a manufacturing OEM relationship (like Apple does with iPhones)  to develop a top-quality manufactured piano at a price lower than handcrafted Steinways.

Designed by Steinway, the Boston uses a recipe with many Steinway-designed features developed from Steinway’s more than 160 years of premier piano-building and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Boston grand piano front
Through its adherence to Steinway design principles, Boston markets its models as the best piano available in the mid-level priced market.

Through its adherence to Steinway-design principles, Boston markets its models as the best piano available in the mid-level priced market.

So at about half the price of the least expensive Steinway model, Boston’s price is certainly more affordable. But how good are they?  And if a Steinway-designed piano isn’t handcrafted like Steinway models are, can it really provide the Steinway sound?

For over 150 years, we at M. Steinert & Sons have had a front-row seat at the many piano innovations Steinway & Sons has introduced to the public.  As an Authorized Steinway Dealer, we watched with curiosity ourselves when Steinway decided to challenge other leading piano companies for the piano industry’s large mid-market.

Over the past three decades, we have studied the new Boston models as they have been released and have seen how versatile an instrument they are.

By the end of this review, you’ll become better acquainted with the Boston line and how their pianos appropriate much of the Steinway design to create one of the most popular new lines of pianos in the last 30 years.  Obviously, we believe in our Steinway-designed pianos, including Bostons, but we still strive for objectivity when describing them to readers.

Boston Pianos integrate elements of the Steinway-design

Boston grand
Low-tension scaling in the Boston results in a longer sustaining tone than other leading manufactured pianos.

Steinway engineers Susan Kenagy and John Patton designed the Boston from the ground up at Steinway & Sons’ Astoria, New York factory. Low-tension scaling resulted in a longer sustaining tone than other leading manufactured pianos. Other Steinway-design features in the Boston include:

  • More sustain, dynamic range, and warmer tones;
  • Wide-tail design for bigger sound;
  • A large, Sitka Spruce soundboard providing a fuller tone;
  • Hard Rock Maple inner rim, producing less vibration and less absorption of sound;
  • Solid copper-wound bass strings, ensuring pure tone for the life of the instrument.

The Boston Performance Editions

Everything that Steinway knows about pianos from their long experience is considered in the design of the Boston—musicality, longevity, durability, and future residual value.

Performance Edition II Boston
Boston’s Performance Edition II rolled out includes increased sustain, better tone clarity generally, and a deeper, clearer bass.

By 2009, Boston rolled out its first Performance Edition, which included the aforementioned maple inner rim. This provided less vibration.  The first edition also featured the patented Octagrip pin block, which gives the Boston a smoother pin turn and more consistent pin torque.  This allows for more precise tuning,

Boston’s Performance Edition II rolled out in 2016 and had several upgrades. For example, a rescaled bass and treble wire lower string tension provides increased sustain, better tone clarity generally, and a deeper, clearer bass.

The Performance Edition II also includes a Pomelle Sapele veneer on the inside rim of Ebony finish grands and a rose-gold colored plate.  Black felts have been added for the plate, under the fallboard, and around the pedals. All of these improvements are consistent with Steinway’s effort to constantly improve their piano models.

Steinway DNA in Boston pianos produces an even, well-rounded tone

Statistically, it is well-documented that over 95% of concert pianists worldwide performing with major symphony orchestras prefer Steinway pianos.  They are not remunerated by Steinway for their preference.  The Steinway touch and tone have largely defined what many concertgoers come to expect from a piano performance.

If the Boston’s design did not closely approximate the Steinway touch found in handcrafted Steinways, it would still be a high-quality piano.

Lang Lang playing a Boston grand piano
Boston’s warm and even tone has a direct design link to the Steinway sound and is played by modern-day Steinway Artists like Lang Lang.

However, the subtlety present in the wide range of colors in the Boston is what clinches the deal for many buyers. Steinway-designed pianos like Boston have a subtlety to their touch and tone that allows the pianist to achieve color changes and new dynamics in exactly the way the artist wants to express.

The piano literally becomes an extension of the performer’s musical expression.  Overarching this subtle, dynamic range of color in the Boston is an even and well-rounded tone, akin to the Steinway sound.

Classical Steinway Immortals like Sergei Rachmaninoff to jazz great George Gershwin preferred the Steinway sound.  Boston’s warm and even tone has a direct design link to the Steinway sound and is played by modern-day Steinway Artists like Lang Lang. To the degree possible in the manufacturing process, Boston yields piano models that have inherited the Steinway-design and sound.

Try a Boston for yourself and see how it compares to Steinway and other top lines

Thanks to this Steinway pedigree, the Boston sounds better, plays better, and lasts longer than any other piano in its price range.  So how good are Boston pianos?

For both high quality and affordability, they can make the argument that they are the best-manufactured piano on the market.

The best way to experience a Boston is to try a few yourself.  Compare it to the Steinways in one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton.  You’ll find that the Boston is up to the challenge.

For more information about the Boston line of pianos, click here.


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? 


Is a brand new Steinway always better than a used one?

by Stephen N. Reed


Row of Steinway & Sons Model D concert grands
A row of newly-minted, Steinway & Sons Model D concert grand in the Selection Room at the company’s Astoria, NY factory.

Is there ever an occasion where buying a used Steinway is preferable to a new one, other than for a lower price?  While many used Steinways are in good condition, the simple truth is that every piano has a slow but steady process of deterioration.

So if two Steinways have the same model style, but one is younger than the other, the younger one will most often be the smart purchase–and brand new is the best.  The only exceptions to this would be if a younger piano had considerably greater usage and/or a less conducive environment.

These issues could make a younger piano have poor quality than a well-maintained, somewhat older piano

A piano company like Steinway is constantly innovating and improving its models.  In fact, Steinway applies for a new piano patent once every 14 months on average.  The truth is that only the latest Steinway is outfitted with the latest innovations and improvements, along with the security of Steinway’s five-year manufacturer warranty.

By the end of this article, you will understand more about why a brand new Steinway is consistently better than a used one.

Why do concert pianists perform on new Steinways?

Steinway Artist Yuja Wang playing a Model D Steinway concert grand
Steinway Artist Yuja Wang performing on a Steinway Model D concert grand. Upwards of 95% of today’s piano performers prefer to play Steinways.

Concert pianists know something many don’t, namely that even a well-made, handcrafted piano starts the gradual process of deterioration as soon as they leave the factory. That’s why they prefer to play as close to a new Steinway piano as possible.

Indeed, upwards of 95% of today’s piano performers prefer to play Steinways.  Performance halls usually rotate new Steinways in after a few years.  Why is this?  Because older Steinways–even restored ones–cannot compete with the new Steinway.

Since 1853, consistent with their mission to build the best piano possible, Steinway has been making constant advancements to their instruments — as mentioned previously, every 14 months, on average.

Only the newest Steinways contain all 139 patents as well as the multitude of factory improvements brought about by modern engineering, process control, and computer technology.

Black Diamond Steinway grand piano
When Lang Lang wanted to partner with a piano company to design his own “Black Diamond” piano model, he turned to Steinway.

As superstar classical pianist and Steinway Artist Lang Lang puts it, “If I am to play my best, there is no way but Steinway.”  When Lang Lang wanted to partner with a piano company to design his own “Black Diamond” piano model, he turned to Steinway.

Among other reasons, classical and contemporary piano greats choose Steinway for its famed “Steinway sound,” a warm, rich, bell-like tone with a wide range of colors not found elsewhere.  This wider palette of color allows the pianist to express their emotions more subtly and powerfully.

World-renowned institutions choose new Steinways

Classical musicians everywhere are familiar with America’s most elite music schools: Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Juilliard School of Music in New York, Oberlin College Conservatory in Ohio, Yale School of Music in Connecticut, to name a few.

All-Steinway School logo
Worldwide, the list of “All-Steinway” Schools now exceeds two hundred. The vast majority of leading conservatories and schools of music and symphony orchestras invest only in new Steinways, rotating them out every few years.

These top schools are renowned for producing the best pianists, the best string players, the best woodwind and brass players, the best percussionists, the best vocalists, and the best conductors.

Significantly, each of these schools has chosen Steinway pianos, almost exclusively, for their students’ use.  Curtis owns 95.  Juilliard owns 260.  Oberlin owns 240.  And Yale owns 150.

Worldwide, the list of “All-Steinway” Schools now exceeds two hundred. Why do the vast majority of leading conservatories and schools of music and symphony orchestras invest only in new Steinways, rotating them out every few years?

Their answer is simple: because of the unparalleled educational experience these pianos provide to their students and the enduring long-term value they provide to institutions. Such top institutions want to be known as having state-of-the-art pianos, i.e. the latest Steinways.

A properly restored Steinway can cost as much as a brand new Steinway

Used Steinway pianos are described in a multitude of ways by technicians and piano dealers: repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, restored.

The best restorations can be done at the new Steinway Restoration Factory in Walker, Iowa factory. The cost of rebuilding an old Steinway can easily approach that of a brand new Steinway.

Sometimes, the theory is floated that a past “Golden Age of Steinway” produced superior instruments which, in good condition, are somehow better than a new Steinway. We debunked this myth in a previous article.

No used Steinway, even one in great condition, has the musical quality and longevity of a brand new Steinway.

The consensus is clear: A new Steinway is always best if financially possible

Major music schools and over 95% of piano performers worldwide point to the new Steinway as the best choice possible–if an individual or institution can make the investment in one of these well-crafted pianos.

Steinway craftsperson working with a piano's action
A new Steinway has all of its life ahead of it and has the benefit of including any new innovations developed by Steinway engineers.

From Steinway & Sons’ latest innovations to the fact that their long life is entirely ahead of them, a new Steinway offers the best musical quality over any used Steinway, no matter how well-restored it may be.  A new Steinway has all of its life ahead of it and has the benefit of including any new innovations developed by Steinway engineers.

Plus, only a new Steinway affords the buyer a five-year manufacturer warranty. Steinway factory warranty.

Finally, only a new Steinway and used Steinways back to 2016 offer the Spirio option, making one’s Steinway grand into a high-resolution, 21st century player piano.

Learn more about the difference between new and used Steinways by reading the following articles:

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

Pros and cons of new Steinway vs. rebuilt Steinway


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