SteingraeberSteingraeber & Söhne

Despite being one of the world's smallest makers, with an annual output of only 60 or so grands and a comparable number of uprights, Steingraeber is one of the most adventurous, banging at the walls of traditional piano manufacturing. In conjunction with Richard Dain of England, Steingraeber has introduced a radical new design called Phoenix. This includes a unique bridge agraffe that virtually eliminates downbearing, leaving the soundboard to vibrate freely, and transferring to it almost five times the energy as in a traditional design. The result is greater sustain and power, and a dramatically expanded dynamic range. Add to this a carbon-fiber soundboard barely 1.5mm thick, made by McLaren (of sports-car fame), and you have a truly innovative piano for the 21st century. Some technicians have reacted negatively to the Phoenix system because it can be daunting to tune by ear in the high treble. I've found that using a Verituner [electronic tuning device] for individual strings in the treble creates a clean, strong unison. Pianists occasionally find the Steingraeber Phoenix almost too much of a good thing due to the large volume of sound it produces. In general, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Steingraeber's conventional pianos still comprise the bulk of their output, however, and boast their signature fanatical attention to detail and tonal excellence. Even the smallest grand, the model 170, has a bridge design that allows for a long backscale [long string length between bridge and hitch pin, allowing the soundboard to vibrate more freely] and unequaled bass response. The company's unique sand testing, similar to techniques used for centuries in making violins, eliminates dead zones in the soundboard. The link between the pianist's intention and the resulting music is seamless and intuitive — pianists frequently remark that the piano seems to know what they want to do before they do. The Renner action is custom designed, and whether it's an illusion based on the tone and response or a quality built into the action, pianists often say they can play more softly on a Steingraeber than on any other piano, while the fortissimo is seemingly limitless. I am unaware of any other instrument with the dynamic range, tonal palette, and soaring sustain found in every Steingraeber. Tuning is almost effortless, the treble is clean and sweet, and the bass is powerful and well defined even in the smallest pianos. Steingraeber will make any piano in virtually any wood or finish you can imagine. Their finishes and veneers are spectacular.

Steve Pearson, RPT

The first time I heard Sarah Vaughan in concert, I knew that my expectations of vocalists would never again be the same. That musical voice was smooth, sassy, and with an indescribable tonal beauty that could penetrate the soul. It was one of those rare signature voices, easily identified and in a category by itself — not unlike what happened to me when I first prepared a Steingraeber E-272 concert grand for a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Simply put, this piano demonstrated a huge dynamic range without its tone distorting, had wonderful tonal colors at all dynamic levels, and cut through the orchestra with a clearly defined voice and long sustain. Wow, can this piano sing!

From a technical point of view, Steingraeber pianos tune easily, due to excellent stringing scales and perfectly drilled pinblocks. The small grands sound much bigger than their size would lead one to expect, with a clearly defined pitch even in the extreme registers, and with clarity in the bass down to the lowest A — no small feat! At the factory, Steingraeber sound-tests and carves each soundboard to eliminate stiff points in the wood. They say this produces much greater freedom of soundboard movement, and, as a result, the soundboard is capable of producing a wider range of tonal color. On top of this wonderful sound is a perfectly balanced, controllable action with just the right amount of inertia — a must for artists who need the utmost in repetition speed.

In keeping with the high European standard of fit and finish, the pianos look excellent and can be customized with a number of woods, finishes, and case styles. What makes the instrument so astounding, however, is its tone, which really is in a class by itself, and arguably makes it the best-performing piano in the world. You owe it to yourself to listen to a Steingraeber in a good venue.

Note that because a Steingraeber piano can easily overpower a room, it needs to be tone-regulated in the environment in which it is to be used. Also, some fine action regulation is often needed to suit it to the artist's needs.

Peter Clark, RPT