Bayreuth is famous the world over for its annual summer Wagner festival. But tucked away in the old part of town is a second center of Bayreuth musical excellence and one of the world’s best-kept secrets: Steingraeber & Söhne. The company was founded in 1852 by Eduard Steingraeber, though its roots date back to the 1820s, when Eduard’s father and uncle opened a workshop for square pianos and organs in the city of Neustadt. Eduard was an innovative piano designer, exhibiting his first full-size cast-iron frame at the world exhibition in Paris in 1867. From 1872 on, Steingraeber was associated with, and built pianos for, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and in 1873 opened its first concert hall in Bayreuth.
Steingraeber has worked with furniture designers since 1904, when it collaborated with Bruno Paul on his Art Nouveau furniture for the St. Louis World’s Fair. More recently, the company built a piano designed by Jørn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House, with features reminiscent of that building. The Steingraeber engineering department offers consulting services on the technical development of pianos. This service was created in 1991, after reunification, to assist piano manufacturers of the former East Germany, and has designed and manufactured prototypes of new piano models for a number of European piano manufacturers. These designs are different from Steingraeber’s own current models. In 2012, Steingraeber entered into a cooperative agreement with Pearl River, in China, to help that company design and manufacture a new line of premium pianos.
Steingraeber is one of the smaller piano manufacturers in the world, producing fewer than 80 grands and 60 verticals per year for the top end of the market. It is owned and operated by sixth-generation family member Udo Schmidt-Steingraeber, who still makes pianos using the traditional methods of his forebears at the company’s present factory, which it has occupied since 1872.
Steingraeber makes three sizes of vertical piano: 48", 51", and 54". An interesting option on the vertical models is their “twist and change” panels: two-sided top and bottom panels, one side finished in polished ebony, the other in a two-toned combination of a wood veneer and ebony. The panels can be reversed as desired by the piano owner to match room décor, or just for a change of scenery.
The company also makes five sizes of grand piano: 5' 7", 6' 3", 7', 7' 7", and 8' 11". The 5' 7" model A-170 grand has an unusually wide tail, allowing for a larger soundboard area and longer bass strings than are customary for an instrument of its size. The 7’ model C-212, known as the Chamber Concert Grand, and recently redesigned from the model 205, was intended to embody the tone quality of the Steingraeber Liszt grand piano of circa 1873, but with more volume in the bass register. The 8' 11" model E-272 concert grand was introduced in 2002 for Steingraeber’s 150th anniversary. Unique features include a drilled capo bar for more sustain in the treble, unusually shaped rim bracing, and a smaller soundboard resonating area in the treble to better match string length. In 2007, Steingraeber introduced the 7' 7" D-232 concert grand to provide an additional smaller, concert-size instrument. Its design includes many of the innovations of the E-272. New in 2012 is the 6' 3" model B-192, which follows the design enhancements of the D-232 and C-212 in a size more comfortable for homes and smaller concert halls.
Steingraeber pianos have a unique sound, with an extensive tonal palette derived from a mixture of clarity and warmth.
Steingraeber is known for its many innovative technical improvements to the piano, one of which is a new action for uprights, available in all three vertical-piano models. This SFM action, as it is called, contains no jack spring, instead using magnets to return the jack more quickly under the hammer butt for faster repetition. Another innovation, introduced in 2013, is the optional sordino pedal, which inserts a thin strip of felt between hammers and strings. Popular in early 19th-century grand pianos, the purpose of this feature is not, as in most modern pianos, to damp the sound almost completely, but rather to create a distant, ethereal sound, and thus to expand the instrument’s expressive possibilities. On a Steingraeber piano, the sordino can either replace the sostenuto as the middle pedal or, be operated by a fourth pedal or a knee lever. A knee lever can also be employed to activate the so-called Mozart Rail, which reduces both the hammer-blow distance and the key-touch depth to simulate the sound and touch of the pianos of Mozart’s day. In 2014, Steingraeber introduced the world’s lightest grand piano lid, made of modern aircraft material with a honeycomb interior, which makes the lid nearly 50% lighter than conventional lids. The company says that the new material also projects sound better. Steingraeber also specializes in so-called ecological or biological finishes, available as an option on most models. This involves the use of only organic materials in the piano, such as natural paints and glues in the case, and white keytops made from cattle bone.
The Steingraeber model D-232 Transducer Grand is a semi-concert grand to whose soundboard is attached four or five transducers which, when an electronic signal is applied, turn the soundboard into a loudspeaker. The Transducer Grand can be played as a regular, acoustic piano; or the strings can be silenced and the piano can be used as a MIDI controller with Steingraeber virtual-piano software by Modartt, or with any other piano software—or the acoustic and virtual pianos can be played simultaneously.
Steingraeber pianos can also be special-ordered with a carbon-fiber soundboard, and with the Phoenix system of bridge agraffes (see www.hurstwoodfarmpianos.co.uk for more information on the Phoenix system).
In addition to its regular line of pianos, Steingraeber makes a piano that can be used by physically handicapped players who lack the use of their legs for pedaling. A wireless (Bluetooth) pedal actuator is operated by biting on a special denture.
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period.