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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

CompassSizeDatesSerial 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 scale76'8"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
77'2"1869–1884
77'3½"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]
76'8"1872–1884(First) 25,006
76'10½"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
CompassSizeDatesSerial No.
UPRIGHT PIANOS — NINETEENTH CENTURY
Small scales:
Model E, EE (and ancestors)
   [26-note bass]
745"1865–1866
748"1866–1872
746"1872–1884
748"1884–1890
750"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)]
752½"1862–1866(First) 5,451
752"1866–1874
752¼"1878–1882
753¾"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.
CompassSizeDatesSerial 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.
CompassSizeDatesSerial 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
CompassSizeDatesSerial 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 XY6'1¾" or 6'2"1914–1931
The model XR used the model M scale.
Model OR and OY6'5"1910–1931
The model OR used the model O and, later, model L scales.
Model AR and AY6'8½"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 B6'11"
One piano on special order (1931). Likely normal-size case for Concertola.
Model D9'5¾"
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 K53"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.

4831853 6500018892000001920317000194541800019705335001995
10001856 7000018912050001921319000194642300019715372001996
20001858 7500018932100001922322000194742600019725407001997
30001860 8000018942200001923324000194843100019735456001998
50001861 8500018962250001924328000194943600019745496001999
70001863 9000018982350001925331000195043900019755540002000
90001864 9500019002400001926334000195144500019765580002001
11000186510000019012550001927337000195245000019775625002002
13000186610500019022600001928340000195345530019785670002003
15000186711000019042650001929343000195446300019795710002004
17000186811500019052700001930346500195546850019805745002005
19000186912000019062710001931350000195647350019815785002006
21000187012500019072740001932355000195747850019825825002007
23000187113000019082760001933358000195848300019835846002008
25000187213500019092780001934362000195948800019845875002009
27000187314000019102790001935366000196049300019855895002010
29000187415000019112840001936370000196149800019865925002011
31000187515500019122890001937375000196250300019875945002012
33000187616000019132900001938380000196350770019885975002013
35000187716500019142940001939385000196451260019896005002014
4000018781700001915300000194039000019655167001990
4500018811750001916305000194139500019665210001991
5000018831850001917310000194240000019675235001992
5500018861900001918314000194340500019685270001993
6000018871950001919316000194441200019695300001994

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