The New York Steinway can be a wonderful piano: the models D, B, and A in particular are classic examples of great piano design. It can also be a source of frustration: In past decades I have seen many problems, and in some cases Steinway has refused to accept responsibility under its warranty for conditions that, in my opinion, should have been covered. At their best, New York Steinways are very satisfying pianos to play and work on, but as a new instrument, the "fit and finish" (the final musical and aesthetic preparation) is not there. At their worst, some of the technical problems can require several days of work to overcome; other issues may require factory intervention. In selecting a new New York Steinway, buyers both average and sophisticated truly need the assistance of a qualified, independent piano technician.
If you're sensitive to tuning, there are other pianos that are more stable during times of climatic change, though this is not so much an issue of quality as it is a tradeoff with other aspects of the piano's design. Steinways do hold up extremely well over the years, with the exception, in my experience, of the finish. In particular, the satin ebony finish does not wear well. Because of the lack of rounded edges, there is insufficient surface area on the edges and corners for finish to adhere to. The result is that finished edges all over the piano wear prematurely, especially near the keyboard, where they're likely to be touched most often. [Steinway very recently began rounding the edges and corners of its satin ebony pianos to eliminate this problem.
Steinway pianos in general are excellent candidates for rebuilding, not only because of their solid design, but also for their resale value. For those who believe that "only a Steinway will do," it might be worth seeking a quality rebuilt Steinway from an experienced, reputable rebuilder.
In large measure, the Hamburg Steinway is everything the New York Steinway would like to be. Principally, the quality of the finished product is such that less scrutiny is required to select a fine instrument. The touch and tone are more consistent, and the pianos are more easily tuned and voiced, and more likely to stay in good voice for a longer period of time. As their "fit and finish" tolerances are closer, there is less to do when a technical or artistic issue presents itself. The words rich, warm, subtle, and powerful are often used to describe the sound of a Hamburg Steinway.
— Ed Whitting, RPT
As a pianist, I admit to a bias for the sound of Steinway pianos. I find the tone of a properly prepared Steinway not only powerful, but flexible and warm, and capable of the widest variety of tone color and dynamics of all pianos. While recent improvements at Steinway's New York factory have resulted in their pianos leaving the plant in more finished condition than at any time in my 37 years as a piano technician, I still feel that, right out of the crate, they lack the finesse of the finest European pianos, including those from Steinway's Hamburg factory. An investment of perhaps a day or so of a good technician's time is required to bring a typical factory-fresh New York Steinway to its potential — an improvement over the two to three days required a decade ago. The B (7') and D (9') models may require more time simply because there's more potential to tap, but with all models, the results are well worth the time and effort.
My experience as head piano technician for the Aspen Music Festival convinces me that pianists will choose between New York and Hamburg Steinways almost equally when the pianos have been well prepared. In some cases, for a solo recital or concerto, a pianist will choose a New York Steinway for its power and color; in others, for chamber music, an artist will favor a Hamburg instrument for its subtlety and brilliance. Sometimes it comes down to which instrument has a more comfortable action for a particular pianist, and I've seen that choice go both ways.
— Steve Brady, RPT