SteinwaySteinway & Sons

New York–made Steinways are fun, gratifying, and challenging for technicians to work on: fun and gratifying because their tone, action, and character can be altered, molded, and shaped to a desired tonal palette and specific action preferences, to such an extent that even the owner won't recognize the piano as his or her own; and challenging because there are usually lots of quirks and details that require attention before these beautiful instruments can be transformed into pianos that are outstanding and sublime. Recent changes at the factory, from management down to line workers, as well as changes in the economy, mean that pianos are now worked on by a more experienced crew dealing with a smaller volume of instruments, resulting in more attention to detail. Many manufacturing concepts from the Hamburg factory are also being implemented. Because Steinways are handmade, each instrument is different while being, at the same time, essentially the same as other Steinways. Individual gems can be found, but it's always wise to contract a qualified piano technician for analysis, advice, and a final pre-purchase inspection.

Technicians and pianists have always admired the workmanship and quality control of the Steinways made in Hamburg, Germany. These instruments are considered "cousins" of the New York Steinways, and to be enjoyed as an alternate experience with different characteristics. Although recently there has been much more collaboration between the New York and Hamburg factories, there are still differences in specifications between the two series of instruments. The finish of the German instrument, being polyester, is more durable than the American finish, which is usually of hand-rubbed satin lacquer. (I advise a polyester finish for institutional settings, as it's more durable, though repair and touchup of the lacquer is less expensive.) The German hammers are hard-pressed, and the tone is brought up by softening the felt with needles. This produces a different quality of tone than do the American hammers, in which the felt is pressed more softly, and which depend in large part on chemical hardening for their tonal quality. Noted for their clear, complex, powerful tone, the German hammers tend to require delicate voicing in the treble to adjust them to the American taste for a lusher, more velvety sound. Otherwise, the Hamburg pianos tend to sound rather thin in this area. The action parts, made by Renner to Steinway's specifications, are very consistent and reliable. Final preparation is performed well; however, custom voicing and some technical work are usually requested to help adapt these pianos to American tastes.

Arlan Harris, RPT