Why are Steinway pianos so expensive?
Legendary craftsmanship and materials play a role
by Stephen N. Reed
Even those who have not investigated purchasing a Steinway piano before can sense that it is going to be an expensive proposition. Even so, those unfamiliar with new piano prices for premium brands can be surprised at the upper five-figure and six-figure price tag for a new Steinway grand piano.
So what makes them so expensive?
M. Steinert & Sons has been following the evolution of Steinway pianos while distributing them since 1869. The Boston-based company has become the leading authority in New England on the subject of Steinway pianos.
M. Steinert & Sons has helped thousands of customers decide upon this significant investment for their home or educational institution: a new or certified used Steinway piano.
Understandably, some customers come to a Steinway showroom unaware of the cost of a Steinway, with its combination of special materials and legendary craftsmanship. An analogy from automobile purchasing may be helpful.
Imagine a sports car enthusiast who has received a significant promotion or bonus at the end of the year. Steeped in the mystique of the British-made Aston Martin from James Bond films, he goes to the nearest dealer to make inquiries.
To his surprise, he discovers that even the least expensive new Aston Martin model is out of his price range. What now?
This same experience can happen with music aficionados who come into a Steinway showroom for the first time. The price of a new, handcrafted Steinway grand piano can be eye-opening.
The good news is that, like a new car purchase, a new Steinway piano can be financed. Indeed, since 2000, 14% of M. Steinert & Sons’ sales have been accomplished through financing, making an expensive purchase more affordable.
So for those who simply need to stretch out their payments over time, a new Steinway purchase can still be a real possibility. Still, others will wonder: Why are Steinway pianos so expensive?
Sitka spruce used to create the best soundboards for Steinway
The special wood procured by Steinway for their famous soundboards alone is of great cost. Steinway pianos combine the resonance of Sitka spruce with the rigidity of Hard Rock Maple to intensify the richness of the sound.
Plus, all Steinway soundboards are made with Sitka spruce, the most resonant wood available.
To better understand the painstaking process Steinway has traditionally used to ensure that their soundboards are at their very best, only the top 1% of the Sitka spruce wood is chosen from the Steinway lumberyard.
Out of that top 1%, 40% is still not deemed fit for use by Steinway. From the remaining 60% of the top 1%, custom fitting of the wood is used to create each Steinway soundboard.
Along with the procurement of this special wood, the selection and fashioning of it by Steinway craftspeople add to the overall cost of the piano.
Skilled labor costs a factor in the expense of a Steinway
Perhaps the most obvious reason contributing to a Steinway’s bottom line is that it is made in America, with the associated costs of both piano materials and highly-skilled labor.
The generations-old craftsmanship that goes into every handcrafted Steinway comes at a significant cost, i.e. the cost of the labor at the Astoria, New York production facility.
One major American piano maker discovered the hard way what happens when its main factory moves to a less-expensive part of the country to save on labor costs: the quality of their product can take a nosedive.
If the craftspeople who alone know how to create these intricate musical instruments decide not to follow the company elsewhere, the loss can be staggering, even to the point of ruining the company.
Steinway & Sons has wisely remained in Astoria, New York, despite the higher costs associated with doing business there as opposed to other areas of the country. That decision underscores how valuable the Steinway craftspeople are to their company.
Steinway only makes 1,250 pianos annually at their New York facility, with 200 hands involved in finishing each grand piano.
A handcrafted piano like that is naturally going to cost substantially more than a mass-produced piano at a foreign manufacturing facility.
The greater the size, the higher the cost
The various models of Steinway pianos vary in cost largely due to increases in overall size. A larger model requires more wood materials and action parts, along with the additional labor and craftsmanship needed to build a larger piano.
Larger models also have added value for their richer tone and dramatic appearance.
The piano finish affects the price
Another significant factor in the price of a new Steinway is the piano’s finish. As one example a Mahogany finish can add up to $30,000 extra on a new Steinway Model D.
The Steinway “Crown Jewel” collection has models with creative finishes that include Dark Cherry and Indian Rosewood. These kinds of custom finishes will increase the price over a standard ebony finish.
Not the most expensive piano–but the most popular with concert pianists
Steinway remains the choice of 97% of piano performers worldwide. These are professional musicians who make their living from playing the piano.
They consistently choose Steinway as the instrument that brings out their best as musicians and performers.
Such endorsements by Steinway Artists lead many to believe that Steinway is also the most expensive pianos in existence today. However, even a cursory glance at the most expensive pianos reveals a surprising fact: Steinway’s Model D concert grand appears at the very end of the list at Number 12.
The Model D’s price tag at $198,400.00 USD is actually quite a bit lower than the other pianos on that most expensive list. For example, Italian piano maker Fazioli leads the field with its F308 model offered at $347,000.00 USD.
Other top pianos like Australia’s Stuart and Sons and the Czech Republic’s Petrof are much higher than the Steinway Model D.
A final perspective on the cost of Steinways
A CEO of a large company visited Steinway’s Astoria, New York facility and marveled at the intricate details of putting together a grand piano over 12 months (9 months for a Steinway upright) with over 12,116 parts and with 200 craftspeople’s hands contributing to the effort.
“I can’t believe you can make these pianos for that price!” he exclaimed.
Thus, the final price of a Steinway & Sons piano needs to be seen in the context of what one receives when purchasing a new Steinway: a musical and cultural work of art.
Read next an analysis of four factors that help one decide whether to purchase an expensive piano.