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Buying a Used Steinway

Excerpted from The Piano Book, Fourth Edition, by Larry Fine

List of Steinway Models

As an aid to those buying a used Steinway, I have listed below all models of Steinway pianos made in New York City since the firm's inception in 1853.* Since this list has never before been published, I have, for the record, given a much more complete list than most piano buyers will ever need. Hopefully, piano technicians and historians will also find the list useful. (Square pianos and other pianos made before about 1880 are listed for academic purposes only; see pages 173–174 for information on buying square and antique pianos.)

Note that entries in the list refer to models in regular stock manufacture only, as they appeared in catalogs and price lists. There are no listings here of the different furniture styles available in each model, or of custom cases or experimental variations that were made from time to time. During the formative years of Steinway & Sons, an immense amount of experimentation and development was in progress. Hence, some details are elusive, especially concerning pianos built during the first twenty-five years of manufacture. This list is based on the best available information to date, but should not be considered infallible.

The keyboard compass (range) began at seven octaves (eighty-five notes, AAA to a"", unless otherwise indicated) and was gradually expanded to seven and a quarter octaves (eighty-eight notes, AAA to c""'). Because most of the dates listed here are from catalogs, whereas the serial numbers are from production records, dates and serial numbers may not match each other exactly, and dates may differ by a year or more from other versions of this list in circulation. Also, a given model may have been manufactured or sold in limited quantities after the time it was officially discontinued.

Steinway & Sons piano manufacture officially began on March 5, 1853, but the first illustrated catalog did not appear until 1865. Until 1859 piano styles were identified by name (plain, fancy, double round, middle round, prime, and so on). In that year Steinway began to assign style numbers to some of their pianos and by 1866 each piano was designated in this way. These early style numbers, however, referred to both differences in scale design and differences in furniture styling. Furthermore, the style to which each number referred changed from year to year, and so the numbers cannot be relied upon for identification. An 1878 catalog lists pianos by style letter as well as style number for the first time, and letters and numbers appeared together in the catalogs through 1896, after which letters were used exclusively. During the nineteenth century some letters, like the numbers, were used to designate more than one scale design or style, but in the twentieth century a given letter has been applied to only one scale design regardless of the case styling. In 1932 the term style was replaced by model in price lists and catalogs. In the list below, to avoid confusion, only the word model is used and, as I said, furniture style variations are omitted.

*I gratefully acknowledge Mr. Roy Kehl, piano technician, of Evanston, Illinois for generously sharing with me the results of his research into the history of Steinway scale designs, from which this list was largely developed.


Steinway (New York) Models — 1853 to Present

  Compass Size Dates Serial No.
SQUARE PIANOS
Early scales
   [20-note bass] 7 (CC to c""') 6'6¾" 1853–1856 (First) 483
   [19-note bass] 6¾ (CC to g"") 6'5" 1854–1856 (First) 499
   [15-note bass] 6⅓ (FF to a"") 6'1⅛" 1854–1860 (First) 587
   [19-note bass] 6¾ (CC to a"") 6'6" 1855–1865 (First) 687
Bichord treble scale 7 6'8" 1856–1881  
   [21-note bass] 6'8½" c. 1856–1874  
  6'8" 1881–1886  
Trichord treble scale: Square Grand 
   [23-note bass]
6'11½" 1857–1889 (Last) 62,872
GRAND PIANOS
Model D Concert Grand (and ancestors) 7 (straight-strung) c. 8'3" 1856–1864 (First) 791
  7 (overstrung) 8'4" 1858–1865 (First) 2,522
  8'5" 1863–1878 (First) 7,894
  7¼ (Centennial D) 8'9" 1875–1883 (First) 33,449
  The model D pianos above have a 17-note bass section; those below have a 20-note bass section.
  8'10" 1884–1914  
  8'11¼" 1914–1965  
  8'11¾" 1965–  
Model C Parlor Concert Grand (and ancestors) 7 (straight-strung) 7'2" 1859–1862 (First) 2,485
  7 (overstrung) 7'1" 1862–1869 (First) 5,127
  7 7'2" 1869–1884  
  7 7'3½" 1884–1886  
  The model C pianos above have a 21-note bass section; that below has a 20-note bass section.
  7'5" 1886–1936 (First) 58,952
(Last) 285,748
  Model C was listed in the catalog and price list through 1905 and said to be discontinued in 1913, but was made and sold on special order as late as 1936 in New York. This model is still made in Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany.
Model B Music-Room Grand (and ancestors) 
   [20-note bass]
7 6'8" 1872–1884 (First) 25,006
  7 6'10½" 1884–1892 (Last) 75,473
  6'10½" 1891–1914 (First) 73,212
  6'11½" 1914–1917  
  6'11" 1917–1967  
  6'10½" 1967–  
Model A Drawing-Room Grand 
   [20-note bass]
7 (Model A I) 6' 1878–1893 (First) 38,726
  7¼ (Model A I) 6' 1892–1897 (First) 74,766
  The model A pianos listed above have 57 wound strings, including two two-string unisons and seven three-string unisons strung over a return bridge in the low tenor. The pianos listed below have 42 wound strings, including five two-string unisons in the tenor on the long bridge. The pianos above have round tails, those below have square tails. The squared-off tail allows for more soundboard vibrating area near the bass bridge. The piano listed below as 6'1", officially given in catalogs as 6', usually measures between 6'1" and 6'2". This is the model A currently made at Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany as 6'2". The versions of model A below are considered to be of a superior scale design to those listed above.
  7¼ (Model A II) 6'1" 1896–1914 (First) 85,985
  7¼ (Model A II) 6'2" 2005–  
  7¼ (Model A III) 6'4½" 1913–1945 (First) 161,865
(Last) 321,289
Model O and Model L Living-Room Grand 
   [26-note bass]
5'10" (O) 1900–1924 (First) 96,766
(Last) 227,471
  Some early pianos have two-string wound unisons on the two lowest tenor notes; later ones have all steel wire three-string unisons in the tenor. Early pianos have a straight bass bridge; later ones, above number 110,000, have a curved bass bridge.
  The model O, above, has a round tail. The model L, below, has a square tail. The squared-off tail allows for more soundboard vibrating area near the bass bridge. This is the only difference between the model O and model L. The model O is still made in Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany.
  5'10½" (L) 1923–2005 (First) 217,995
  5'103/4" (O) 2005–  
Model M Medium Grand 
   [26-note bass]
5'6" 1911–1914 (First) 149,500
  5'6¾" 1914–1917  
  5'7" 1917–  
Model S Baby Grand 
   [26-note bass]
5'1" 1935– (First) 280,900
  Compass Size Dates Serial No.
UPRIGHT PIANOS — NINETEENTH CENTURY
Small scales: 
Model E, EE (and ancestors) 
   [26-note bass]
7 45" 1865–1866  
  7 48" 1866–1872  
  7 46" 1872–1884  
  7 48" 1884–1890  
  7 50" 1890–1892  
  7¼ (Model E) 50" 1891–1899 (First) 73,333
  7¼ (Model EE) 50" 1897–1900 (First) 87,401
Medium scales: 
Model F (and ancestors and successors) 
   [26-note bass except for 7-octave F (24 notes, 1878–1881)]
7 52½" 1862–1866 (First) 5,451
  7 52" 1866–1874  
  7 52¼" 1878–1882  
  7 53¾" 1880–1882  
  53¾" 1881–1884  
  53½" 1884–1908  
  Other letter-named case variations on medium scales include N, O, L, R, T, X, H, R (again), S, and FF.
Large scales:
Model G (and ancestors and successors
   [20-note bass 
(1872–1884)]
   [26-note bass 
(1884–1902)]
56" 1872–1884  
  56¾" 1884–1902  
  Other letter-named case variations on large scales include M, P, Q, S, K, T, and O.
  Compass Size Dates Serial No.
UPRIGHT PIANOS — TWENTIETH CENTURY
Model I
   [26-note bass]
54¼" 1898–1914 (First) 91,702
  54" 1914–1923 (Last) 216,280
Model N
   [26-note bass]
52" 1900–1907 (First) 95,105
  53" 1907–1917 (Last) 183,939
Models K and K-52
   [26-note bass]
52" 1903–1914 (First) 107,181
  51½" 1914–1930 (Last) 269,581
  52" (K-52) 1981– (First) 472,970
Model V
   [26-note bass]
49" 1913–1933 (First) 163,340
(Last) 279,249
  Earliest examples of model V have 52 wound strings, the highest ten strung over a return bridge in the low tenor. Later ones have 46 wound strings, the highest four on the long bridge. Model V is currently made in Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany.
  Compass Size Dates Serial No.
STUDIO AND CONSOLE PIANOS (1938 to the present)
Studio pianos:
Models P and 45
   [26-note bass]
45½" (P) 1938–1962 (First) 291,575
  46½" (45, Sk. 1098) 1950– (First) 338,018
  45" (45, Sk. 45-10) 1958– (First) 358,233
Console pianos:
Models 40, 100, and F
   [32-note bass (40)]
40" (40) 1939–1953 (First) 297,092
   [32-note bass (100)] 40" (100) 1953–1971  
   [28-note bass (F)] 40" (F) 1967–1989 (Last) 503,556
  Compass Size Dates Serial No.
REPRODUCING (PLAYER) PIANOS
Steinway made grands and uprights with extended cases for the Aeolian Co., who installed the Duo-Art reproducing mechanism. (In Hamburg, reproducing mechanisms were installed by both Aeolian and Welte.) The suffix "Y" was used instead of "R" on those pianos (1930–1931) made with normal-size cases for the Concertola (remote control with player mechanisms in separate cabinet). As a consequence of the Great Depression, some of these latter were sold without installation of player components and were identified as YM, YL, and YA.
Model XR and XY   6'1¾" or 6'2" 1914–1931  
  The model XR used the model M scale.
Model OR and OY   6'5" 1910–1931  
  The model OR used the model O and, later, model L scales.
Model AR and AY   6'8½" 1911–1917  
    6'11¼" or 6'11½" 1918–1931  
  The first model AR listed above used the model AII scale; the second used the model AIII scale.
Model B   6'11"    
  One piano on special order (1931). Likely normal-size case for Concertola.
Model D   9'5¾"    
  The model D used the model D scale.
  Ten of these were made on special order (1920–1923, 1925, 1930).
Model I   55¼" 1909–1914  
Model K   53" 1909–1916  
Model V (K scale)   53" 1914–1929  

 

Teflon Bushings and Verdigris

Two issues that frequently arise with respect to used and rebuilt Steinways are Teflon bushings and verdigris.

Teflon Bushings

All moving action parts pivot on small metal pins, called center pins, that rotate in tiny holes in the wooden parts. Traditionally, these holes have always been lined, or bushed, with wool cloth. These cloth flange bushings (flanges are the hinges to which action parts are attached) are amazingly durable and resilient, and it is not unusual for a hundred-year-old piano to have flange bushings that are almost as good as new. The only problem with them is that, like the wood around them, they respond to humidity changes, swelling up in damp weather and shrinking in dry weather, causing the attached moving parts to become alternately sluggish or loose.

To minimize the servicing that its pianos needed from one season or climate to another, Steinway in 1962 introduced its "Permafree" action, in which all the cloth bushings were replaced with Teflon bushings. Teflon, created by DuPont, is a very slippery inert plastic, immune to temperature and humidity changes. The bushings were tiny, hollow cylinders of Teflon; the center pins would rotate in these instead of in cloth (see illustration). Switching to Teflon bushings involved changing more than just the bushings themselves, though. To accommodate the new bushings required manufacturing the wooden parts differently, making a new kind of center pin, supplying new tools and supplies, and teaching new techniques to technicians who had to service these actions.

Several unforeseen problems with these bushings eventually caused their downfall. First, although they themselves did not respond to humidity changes, the wood around them continued to expand and contract with the seasons. This had the unexpected effect of causing some of the bushings to become loose in their wooden parts during the humid season (the opposite of what one might guess), resulting in a clicking sound whenever those particular notes were played. The remedy was to replace the offending bushings — not particularly difficult, but with approximately a thousand bushings in a piano action, there were plenty of potential trouble spots. The wood could also squeeze the bushings in the dry season, causing the action parts to become sluggish, which completely defeated the purpose of the Teflon bushing.

A second problem — annoying but not as serious — was that Teflon, unlike cloth, was an "unforgiving" material: when dented it did not bounce back, but remain dented. This meant that the slightest mishandling of an action part might cause the center pin to dent and ruin a bushing. The technical problems of Teflon bushings were magnified by bad press and the conservatism of piano technicians, and Steinway finally gave up and began a return to cloth bushings in 1981.

If you are buying a used Steinway made between 1962 and 1981, you may not need to be as concerned with the presence of Teflon bushings as the previous discussion might suggest, especially if your piano will be receiving only average use in the home. According to technicians with extensive experience servicing these pianos, there are usually few problems with these bushings after those that give trouble during the first few seasons are replaced. But the bushings (or, rather, the wooden action parts into which the bushings are inserted) are very sensitive to humidity changes, and the technician, when servicing these bushings, must be very careful to take into account the humidity conditions at the time of servicing. Because of the bushings' sensitivity, and the fussy service they require, pianos under heavy use or in adverse conditions, such as in some schools and concert halls, will probably benefit by changing to cloth-bushed action parts. Also, if a piano with Teflon bushings is in the shop for rebuilding, it would make sense to rebuild the action with cloth-bushed parts. Note that it is not possible to replace the Teflon bushings with cloth bushings without replacing all the action parts as well.

A cloth-bushed and a Teflon-bushed grand hammer shank with center pin inserted. A Teflon bushing is shown actual size on a finger. (The flanges that the center pins attach to the shanks are not shown.)

Verdigris

Verdigris (pronounced VER-di-gree) is a green-colored substance produced by a chemical reaction between the metal center pins and chemicals in the bushing cloth or in lubricants applied to the cloth. The effect of this green "gunk" is to make the action parts move sluggishly or, in the worst cases, to prevent their movement altogether. Although certainly not unique to Steinways, the verdigris problem is frequently found in Steinways from the 1920s and to a lesser extent in pianos made during the several decades before and after that period. If you encounter an older Steinway with an extremely heavy touch or one in which the keys and hammers appear not to return to their rest position quickly, there is a good chance the piano has a verdigris problem.

Technicians have attempted many solutions to this problem, using chemical, mechanical, heat, and electrical methods, and some of these methods appear to provide at least temporary relief when the problem is not severe. But because verdigris may penetrate the wood as well as the cloth, the only really permanent solution, especially in severe cases, seems to be replacement of all the action parts affected. This makes verdigris an expensive problem to correct, so be aware of it when inspecting a used Steinway prior to purchase. (Note: A chemical treatment called Protek appears to be effective in solving the verdigris problem in many, though not all, cases.)

Ages of Steinway Pianos

Researchers studying the historical Steinway serial number books have found them to be a nest of inconsistencies. First, with the exception of the years 1898–1903 and 1916–1931, pianos were not always shipped in the order in which they were manufactured. Second, the point in the manufacturing process at which the serial numbers are assigned has changed over the years. Research suggests that, at times, serial numbers may even have been assigned at the time of shipping, rather than at the time of manufacture. For these reasons, pianos with consecutive serial numbers may differ by as much as two years in the time they were made. When combined with the fact that it takes months to build a Steinway, it becomes almost impossible to say precisely when any particular Steinway was "manufactured."

Note: Serial numbers represent rounded-off count at year end. A few of the early years are spanned.

483 1853 65000 1889 200000 1920 317000 1945 418000 1970 533500 1995
1000 1856 70000 1891 205000 1921 319000 1946 423000 1971 537200 1996
2000 1858 75000 1893 210000 1922 322000 1947 426000 1972 540700 1997
3000 1860 80000 1894 220000 1923 324000 1948 431000 1973 545600 1998
5000 1861 85000 1896 225000 1924 328000 1949 436000 1974 549600 1999
7000 1863 90000 1898 235000 1925 331000 1950 439000 1975 554000 2000
9000 1864 95000 1900 240000 1926 334000 1951 445000 1976 558000 2001
11000 1865 100000 1901 255000 1927 337000 1952 450000 1977 562500 2002
13000 1866 105000 1902 260000 1928 340000 1953 455300 1978 567000 2003
15000 1867 110000 1904 265000 1929 343000 1954 463000 1979 571000 2004
17000 1868 115000 1905 270000 1930 346500 1955 468500 1980 574500 2005
19000 1869 120000 1906 271000 1931 350000 1956 473500 1981 578500 2006
21000 1870 125000 1907 274000 1932 355000 1957 478500 1982 582500 2007
23000 1871 130000 1908 276000 1933 358000 1958 483000 1983 584600 2008
25000 1872 135000 1909 278000 1934 362000 1959 488000 1984 587500 2009
27000 1873 140000 1910 279000 1935 366000 1960 493000 1985 589500 2010
29000 1874 150000 1911 284000 1936 370000 1961 498000 1986 592500 2011
31000 1875 155000 1912 289000 1937 375000 1962 503000 1987 594500 2012
33000 1876 160000 1913 290000 1938 380000 1963 507700 1988 597500 2013
35000 1877 165000 1914 294000 1939 385000 1964 512600 1989 600500 2014
40000 1878 170000 1915 300000 1940 390000 1965 516700 1990    
45000 1881 175000 1916 305000 1941 395000 1966 521000 1991    
50000 1883 185000 1917 310000 1942 400000 1967 523500 1992    
55000 1886 190000 1918 314000 1943 405000 1968 527000 1993    
60000 1887 195000 1919 316000 1944 412000 1969 530000 1994



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