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 do I buy a quality used Steinway?

by Stephen N. Reed


Steinway used grand
At M. Steinert & Sons, we want each customer to purchase the best piano for them.  It can’t be the best used Steinway piano for you unless you obtain a solid instrument with many years of musical quality left in it.

The used Steinway market is a huge one, with a quite broad array of instruments: some good, some bad.  Anyone going into the used Steinway market needs to come armed with solid information in order to ensure that their choice is a sound one.

After all, what could be worse than to pay a large sum of money for a used Steinway that looked good on the surface but disappoints once it is installed in your home?

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have sold tens of thousands of new and used Steinways for over 150 years.  Our credo is that we want each customer to purchase the best piano for them.  It can’t be the best used Steinway piano for you unless you obtain a solid instrument with many years of musical quality left in it.

In this article, we will examine the different types of used Steinways and the best ways to guarantee that you will be buying a genuinely good one, not just one that looks good.  You’ll learn how obtaining the services of a seasoned Steinway piano technician can be critical to know that you’re getting a solid used Steinway, rather than one with some parts that are not genuine Steinway.

Such a technician can be on the lookout for a quality used Steinway for you, working to inspect potential pianos for problems.

6 types of used Steinway Pianos

Shells:  At the low end are shells of used Steinways that have not been serviced nor restored. These pianos have significant signs of damage and are not usually in playing condition. They are called shells inside the piano industry because only the ‘shell’ (the rim/cabinet) has value as a candidate for rebuilding.

Model O Steinway grand
A repaired used Steinway is one that is in playable condition, with the major original components in place.

Repaired: Next is a repaired used Steinway, one that is in playable condition. Some parts have been repaired, with or without Steinway parts, and the major, original components are still in place. More repairs may be needed.

Rebuilt: This kind of Steinway is rebuilt to its original condition. The bridges, action, and soundboard may have all been replaced.  The better rebuilt Steinways are those using genuine Steinway parts.

Original:  An original used Steinway has all of its original parts.  The piano has only been serviced and original parts repaired. Used Steinways of this quality typically are 20 years of age or less.

Factory-restored: A factory-restored Steinway was serviced by the Steinway Restoration Center in Iowa. Only genuine Steinway parts have been used for repairs and restoration.

Heirloom Collection: These pianos are completely refurbished with genuine Steinway parts and labor, usually at the Steinway facilities. These pianos have a certificate of authenticity and the same 5-year warranty as a new Steinway & Sons piano.

3 age brackets of used Steinways

The used Steinway market has pianos of a broad array of different ages.  For purposes of this article, it will help to think of them in three basic age ranges:

Old Steinway grand fall board
Fully restored Steinways, 50 to 130 years old, have an overall condition that is based largely on how they have been cared for by one or more owners.

“Like new” instruments, 1-25 years old,  are in great condition and need only regular tuning and action adjustments.  With good care, this kind of used Steinway may even remain “like new” for more than 25 years.

Reconditioned Steinways, 25-50 years old, typically required new strings, tuning pins, damper felts, hammer reshaping, and action regulation. The amount of work depends on how the instrument was maintained and stored over the years.

Fully restored Steinways, 50-130+ years old,  usually required extensive work to get them back to “like new” condition.  Many such pianos get entirely new parts. Their overall condition is based largely on how they have been cared for by one or more owners.

Watch out for “Steinwas” used pianos

Having the guidance of a seasoned Steinway piano technician is key to navigating one’s way through the used Steinway world.  Such a technician is  your guide to buying a quality used Steinway. For example, a seasoned Steinway piano consultant knows can determine if a used Steinway has been repaired with only authentic Steinway parts.

Steinway pianos are designed to use only genuine Steinway parts.  As a result, Steinways that have been repaired or restored with non-Steinway parts has thus been called “Steinwas,” meaning that the different kind of parts in the instrument makes it less of a Steinway.

Non-Steinway parts alter the piano’s sound, performance, and most assuredly its investment value.  If you want maximum quality and pieces that are designed specifically for Steinway pianos, you’ll want to make sure that the piano repairer or rebuilder has used authentic Steinway parts.

Buying a certified pre-owned Steinway reduces your risk

2014 Model O grand piano
Buying a Certified Pre-owned Steinway, like this 2014 Model O grand, gives the buyer peace of mind that a certain quality benchmark has been reached.

Buying a Certified Pre-owned Steinway from an Authorized Steinway Dealer like M. Steinert & Sons is the only way to guarantee this, as only such authorized dealers have access to Steinway parts.

M. Steinert piano consultant Patrick Elisha notes that buying a Certified Pre-owned Steinway gives the buyer peace of mind that a certain quality benchmark has been reached.  “Certified Pre-owned used Steinways have made the grade, the quality one expects from Steinway & Sons,” says Elisha.

Non-Steinway replacement parts are less expensive and can be made differently.  This can negatively impact the used Steinway’s sound and, sometimes, its overall performance.

Many resellers will not say whether a used Steinway they’re selling has all genuine parts or not. To be safe, you should request to see available repair logs.

Visit with a Steinway piano technician

We often tell people in these articles to “come in and try some of our pianos.”  But when it comes to the used Steinway market, it’s just as important for you to get acquainted with a true expert on used Steinways:  an Authorized Steinway Dealer piano technician.

Steinway piano technician
When it comes to the used Steinway market, it’s just as important for you to get acquainted with a true expert on used Steinways:  an Authorized Steinway Dealer piano technician.

Such technicians have typically helped many different piano buyers find the right piano for them. In the case of a used Steinway buyer, a whole other layer of expertise comes into play, depending on whether one wants a true Steinway, with all Steinway parts, or whether a model with some non-Steinway parts is sufficient for your needs.

If you see your used Steinway purchase from the angles of musical quality and making a sound investment, we think you’ll want to purchase a used Steinway with all-Steinway parts.

Of course, if you have the financial ability to purchase a new Steinway model, that is your best bet for musical quality and making a lasting investment in what could easily be a family heirloom, passed down generation to generation.  A new Steinway is always the best alternative, as compared to a used Steinway. 

But for those who want a Steinway but are unable to buy a new one, carefully navigating your way through the underbrush of the used Steinway market, can yield positive results.  Just have your Authorized Steinway Dealer’s piano technician handy to help you understand the subtle nuances between an excellent used Steinway and one whose musical quality is evaporating.

So as you prepare for your meeting with a Steinway piano consultant and technician, learn more about the kind of easy self-assessment you can do before your time together.  Understanding your desire to own a piano on the front end of your used Steinway piano journey can only help you as you move towards your ultimate purchase.

While you await your visit with a Steinway consultant and technician, read more about whether certain years of used Steinway need to be avoided.  You may have heard this from others, and this article will help give clarity to this issue.

 


Fazioli vs. Steinway

by Stephen N. Reed


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

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

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

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

Similarities and Differences: Steinway and Fazioli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences in construction

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

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

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

A contrast in touch and tone

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

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

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

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

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

A contrast in cost

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

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

Fazioli vs. Steinway: A matter of perspective

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

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

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

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

How do I choose the best piano for me?

 


M. Steinert & Sons’ Trade-Up Policy: When is the best time to use it?

by Stephen N. Reed


When choosing a piano, you’re also choosing the piano store that sells it to you.  For many years, M. Steinert & Sons has offered a Trade-Up policy that adds significant value to your purchase, allowing payments to be applied to a new piano later.

Steinway Lyre
Having sold pianos from the Steinway Family of pianos for over 150 years, M. Steinert knows that sometimes the ideal piano model is out of reach financially but could be obtainable in a few years.

Most piano companies offer some kind of Trade-Up policy. But unless a company is sound and will be around later to honor their Trade-Up policy, your policy won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

M. Steinert’s track record over 160 years makes our Trade-Up policy meaningful, as we are a piano company that will be around to help you convert your first piano payments to a second, better piano of greater value.

Having sold pianos from the Steinway Family of pianos for over 150 years, we know that piano needs can change for an individual customer or a family.   Perhaps the ideal piano model is out of reach financially but could be obtainable in a few years?

We want you to secure–whether now or ultimately–the right piano for you.  That’s what our Trade-Up policy is all about.  This article will explain the two Trade-Up policies M. Steinert offers and when to use them.

The Trade-Up Policies

The M. Steinert & Sons’ Lifetime Steinway & Sons Trade-Up Policy

Steinway Model A
M. Steinert’s Lifetime Steinway & Sons policy provides that any Steinway piano purchased from us receives 100% of the original purchase price for the life of the original purchaser towards any new, larger Steinway piano of greater value.

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

The piano must be in reasonable, age-appropriate condition. Original purchase price honored excludes taxes and delivery.

Example 1:  You purchased a Steinway Model S in 2017 for $67,600 – get that amount towards a new Steinway & Sons Model B.

Example 2:  You purchased a Boston upright, Model UP-118E EP 46″  for $13,900–you’ll get that amount if you later decide to buy a Steinway Model S baby grand at any point in your life.

M. Steinert & Sons Full Value Trade-Up Promise (for other piano brands)

Receive 100% of your purchase price as trade towards any piano bought from M. Steinert & Sons (including Boston, Essex, and Roland lines) of double value for up to 5 years.

Example:  You purchased a Roland Digital piano for $4,000 on 12/1/2020, you will get that full amount towards any piano costing $8,000 or more until 12/1/25.

The right time to use the M. Steinert Trade-Up Policy/Promise

The reasons for Trading Up to a better piano are numerous.  M. Steinert & Sons piano consultants give these examples:

  • The piano student’s teacher notices that they need the upgrade because further growth is impeded with their current instrument. Some teachers refer to this by saying “the student is better than their instrument”.
  • A new or expanded home allows for a larger (or grand) piano.
  • The parents realize a child is becoming serious and excited about their piano study and are less apprehensive they might quit.  They are more willing to invest in their child’s future with an acoustic piano, whether an upright or grand.

When the time is right financially

Of course, a major factor as to the right time to use the Trade-Up Policy/Promise is when the time is right financially for you.  However, part of that financial equation, especially for the other brands included in the M. Steinert & Sons’ Full Value Trade-Up Promise, is to not lose your initial piano investment by waiting after the five-year limit.

Steinway heirloom grand
A new Steinway, purchased after your first piano, will be far more obtainable with the help of that initial piano investment and without having to deal with the hassles of a private sale.

Trading up within 5 years is akin to trading up to a larger home when the housing market is at its highest.  The larger home is made much more affordable by recovering the full value of the first home.

A new piano, purchased after the first one,  will be far more obtainable with the help of that initial piano investment and without having to deal with the hassles of a private sale.

That is the real value of the M. Steinert Trade-Up Policy/Promise:  a customer can be in a much more advantageous position towards obtaining the piano of their dreams, even as they purchase the right first piano for their needs right now.

Come talk with one of our piano consultants

As with all matters pertaining to a final decision towards purchasing a piano, a trip to the showroom to discuss any questions you have with one of our seasoned piano consultants can give you peace of mind.  M. Steinert &  Sons has based its reputation through customers who not only like their piano selection on the day of purchase but longterm in their home.

One of our piano consultants can answer any further questions you may have regarding the Trade-Up Policy/Promise or financing the piano that is right for you.  Make an appointment today to begin that important, ongoing discussion.

Meantime, learn more about the financing options available by reading this article from our Expert Advice section of our website:


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?


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