The Essex grands are available in 5' 1" (EGP-155), 5' 3" (EGP-161), 5' 8" (EGP-173), and 6' (EGP-183) sizes in (depending on model) Classic, Neoclassic, Traditional, Renaissance, and French Provincial styles. They come in a variety of regular and exotic veneers in high polish and satin luster (semigloss) finishes.
Like Steinway's Boston pianos, the Essex line was designed with a lower tension scale and incorporates many Steinway-designed refinements. Included in these are a wide tail design that allows the bridges to be positioned closer to the more lively, central part of the soundboard, smoothing out the break between bass and treble. This and a thinner, tapered soundboard, and other scaling differences, produce a tone with a longer sustain. Other Steinway-designed features include an all-wood action with Steinway geometry, and with rosette-shaped hammer flanges to preserve hammer spacing, like those used in Steinway grands; pear-shaped hammers with reinforced shoulders and metal fasteners; vertically laminated bridges with solid maple cap; duplex scale; radial bracing (in grands); and staggered backposts (in verticals).
At present, Young Chang makes Essex vertical models 108, 111, and 116 in its factory in Tianjin, China, and grand models 161 and 183 in Korea. Guangzhou Pearl River makes vertical model 123 and grand models 155 and 173 in China.
Steinway has put an immense amount of time and effort into the relaunch of Essex. The pianos are entirely new designs by Steinway engineers, not warmed-over designs from other companies. Steinway has a permanent office in Shanghai, China, and full-time employees who inspect the pianos made in the Asian factories. I expect that the quality of the Essex pianos will be at the upper end of what these factories are capable of producing. So far, feedback from piano technicians confirms this expectation.
Steinway guarantees full trade-in value for an Essex piano toward the purchase of a Steinway grand within 10 years.
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.
Pianos made by: Estonia Klaverivabrik AS, Tallinn, Estonia
Estonia is a small republic in northern Europe on the Baltic Sea, near Scandinavia. For centuries it was under Danish, Swedish, German, or Russian domination, and finally gained its independence in 1918, only to lose it again to the Soviet Union in 1940. Estonia became free again in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Piano-making in Estonia goes back over 200 years under German influence, and from 1850 to 1940 there were nearly 20 piano manufacturers operating in the country. The most famous of these was Ernst Hiis-Ihse, who studied piano making in the Steinway Hamburg and Blüthner factories and established his own company in 1893. His piano designs gained international recognition. In 1950 the Communist-dominated Estonian government consolidated many smaller Estonian piano makers into a factory managed by Hiis, making pianos under the Estonia name for the first time. The instruments became prominent on concert stages throughout Eastern Europe and, amazingly, more than 7,400 concert grands were made. However, after Hiis's death, in 1964, the quality of the pianos gradually declined, partly due to the fact that high-quality parts and materials were hard to come by during the Communist occupation of the country. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the factory struggled to maintain production. In 1994 Estonia pianos were introduced to the U.S. market by Paul Vesterstein, an Estonian American.
In 1994 the company was privatized under the Estonia name, with the managers and employees as owners. During the following years, Indrek Laul, an Estonian recording artist with a doctorate in piano performance from the Juilliard School of Music, gradually bought shares of the company from the stockholders until, in 2001, he became sole owner. Dr. Laul lives in the U.S. and represents the company here. In 2005, at its 100th-anniversary celebration, the Juilliard School named him one of the school's top 100 graduates. Estonia makes about 350 pianos a year, all grands, mostly for sale in the U.S.
Estonia pianos have rims of laminated birch, sand-cast plates, Renner actions and hammers, laminated red beech pinblocks, and European solid spruce soundboards. They come in 5' 6", 6' 3", and 9' sizes. All have three pedals, including sostenuto, and come with a slow-close fallboard and an adjustable artist bench. A new 7' 4" model 225 was introduced to the European market in 2010, and will be introduced in the U.S. in early 2011.