STEINWAY & SONS

See also Boston and Essex. See also Steinway Spirio in player-piano section.

Steinway & Sons
1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10036
646-356-3960
www.steinway.com

Heinrich Engelhardt Steinweg, a cabinetmaker and piano maker from Seesen, Germany, emigrated with his family to the United States in 1850, and established Steinway & Sons in 1853. Within a relatively short time, the Steinways were granted patents that revolutionized the piano, and which were eventually adopted or imitated by other makers. Many of these patents concerned the quest for a stronger frame, a richer, more powerful sound, and a more sensitive action. By the 1880s, the Steinway piano was in most ways the modern piano we have today, and in the next generation the standards set by the founder were strictly adhered to. (The early history of Steinway & Sons is fascinating, and is intimately connected to the history of New York City and the piano industry in general. You can read a summary of it in The Piano Book; there are also several excellent books devoted to the subject.)

In the 1960s the fourth generation of Steinways found themselves without any heirs willing or able to take over the business, and without enough capital to finance much-needed equipment modernization; eventually, in 1972, they sold their company to CBS. CBS left the musical instrument business in 1985, selling Steinway to an investment group. In 1995 the company was sold again, this time to Conn-Selmer, Inc., a major manufacturer of brass and woodwind instruments, and the combined company (called Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc.) was taken public on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2013, Paulson & Company, a private-equity firm led by Queens native John Paulson, purchased the public company and took it private once again. Paulson has said that he is committed to continuing the quality-first approach on which Steinway has built its reputation. Steinway also owns a branch factory in Hamburg, Germany, which serves the world market outside of the Americas, and two major suppliers: the Herman Kluge company, Europe’s largest maker of piano keys; and the O.S. Kelly company, the only remaining piano plate foundry in the U.S.

Steinway makes two types of vertical piano in three sizes: a 45″ model 4510 studio, a 46½” model 1098 studio, and a 52″ model K-52 upright. Models 4510 and 1098 are technically identical, with differences only in the cabinets: the former is in a period style for home use, the latter in an institutional cabinet for school use or less furniture-conscious home use. In all three models, the middle pedal operates a sostenuto mechanism. All Steinway verticals use a solid spruce soundboard, have no particleboard, and in many other ways are similar in design, materials, and quality of workmanship to Steinway grands. Actions are made by Renner. Model K-52 in ebony, and model 1098 in ebony, mahogany, and walnut, come with an adjustable artist bench, the others with a regular bench.

Technicians have always liked the performance of Steinway verticals, but used to complain that the studio models in particular were among the most difficult pianos to tune and would unexpectedly jump out of tune. In recent years, Steinway has made small design changes to alleviate this problem. The pianos are now mechanically more normal to tune and are stable, but an excess of false beats (tonal irregularities) still make the pianos at times difficult to tune.

Steinway makes six sizes of grand piano. All ebony, mahogany, and walnut grand models come with an adjustable artist bench, the others with a regular bench.

The 5′ 1″ model S is very good for a small grand, but has the usual limitations of any small piano and so is recommended only where space considerations are paramount. The 5′ 7″ model M is a full six inches longer, but costs little more than the S. Historically one of Steinway’s more popular models, it is found in living rooms across the country. Its medium size makes the tone in certain areas slightly less than perfect, but it’s an excellent home instrument.

The 5′ 10½” model L has been replaced with the model O of the same size. Model O was first produced in 1902, but discontinued in 1924 in favor of the model L. Changes over time in both engineering and musical taste, as well as a desire to better synchronize the offerings of the New York factory with Hamburg (where the model O was never abandoned), seemed to dictate a return to the O. The main difference between the two models is in the shape of the tail — the L has a squared-off tail, the O a round tail — but this can also affect the soundboard and bridges and therefore the tone.

Reintroduction of the model O followed by one year the reintroduction of the legendary 6′ 2″ model A. First offered in 1878 and discontinued in New York in 1945, the model A revolutionized piano making by featuring, for the first time, the radial rim bracing and one-piece bent rim construction now used in all Steinway grands. Over the years the model A has gone through several makeovers, each of slightly different size and scaling. The version being reintroduced was made in New York from 1896 to 1914 and is the same size as the model A that has been made at the Hamburg factory for more than a century. Models O and A are suitable for larger living rooms, and for many school and teaching situations.

The 6′ 10½” model B is the favorite of many piano technicians. It is the best choice for the serious pianist, recording or teaching studio, or small recital hall. Small design changes and other refinements to this model in recent years have brought a steady stream of accolades. The 8′ 11¾” model D, the concert grand, is the flagship of the Steinway line and the piano of choice for the overwhelming majority of concert pianists. It’s too large for most places other than the concert stage.

Steinway uses excellent materials and construction techniques in the manufacture of its grands. The rims, both inner and outer, are made in one continuous bend from layers of maple, and the beams are of solid spruce. The keybed is of quartersawn spruce planks freely mortised together, and the keys are of Bavarian spruce. The pinblock consists of seven laminations of maple with successive grain orientations of 45 and 90 degrees. The soundboard is of solid Sitka spruce, the bridges are vertically laminated of maple with a solid maple cap, and all models have duplex scaling.

It is well known that Steinway’s principal competition comes from used and rebuilt Steinways, many of which come in exotic veneers or have elaborately carved or customized “art cases.” The company has responded by expanding its product line to include modern-day versions of these collector’s items. The Crown Jewel Collection consists of the regular models in natural (non-ebonized) wood veneers, many of them exotic. They are finished in a semigloss that Steinway calls Satin Lustre. In addition to satin and semigloss finishes, all regular Steinway grands are also now available in polyester high-polish ebony, lacquer high-polish ebony, and polyester high-polish white.

Limited Edition models, issued at irregular intervals, are reproductions of turn-of-the-century designs, or pianos with artistic elements that make them unique. A currently-available Limited Edition model, honoring the 70th anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, is the Imagine Series, a white piano that incorporates artwork by Lennon, along with other design elements.

During the early 1900s, ownership of art-case Steinways became a symbol of wealth and culture. Steinway has resumed this tradition by regularly commissioning noted furniture designers to create new art-case designs, usually around a theme. For example, in 1999 Frank Pollaro designed an art case called Rhapsody to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Gershwin. The piano featured a blue-dyed maple veneer adorned with more than 400 hand-cut mother-of-pearl stars and a gilded silver plate. In 2016, another Pollaro-designed art-case model, the Fibonacci, was sold, for a record-setting $2.4 million, as Steinway’s 600,000th piano. Each year sees new art-case pianos from Steinway, and they are truly stunning.

As another way of capitalizing on the popularity of older Steinways, the company also operates at its factory the world’s largest piano rebuilding facility for the restoration of older Steinways. The Piano Book contains a great deal of additional information on the purchase of older or restored Steinways. See also “Buying a Used or Restored Piano” in this publication.

The underlying excellence of the Steinway musical designs and the integrity of the construction process are the hallmarks of the Steinway piano. Steinway pianos at their best have the quintessential American piano sound: a powerful bass, a resonant midrange, and a singing treble with plenty of tonal color. Although other brands have some of these characteristics, it is perhaps the particular combination of harmonics that comprise the Steinway’s tonal coloration that, more than anything else, distinguishes it from other brands and gives it its richness, depth, and power. The construction process creates a very durable and rigid framework that also contributes to the power of its sound.

Musical and cabinet detailing, such as factory voicing and regulation, and plate and cabinet cosmetics, are reasonable, but have traditionally lagged somewhat behind the company’s European competitors in finesse. Over the last couple of years, however, the company has been making a determined effort to remedy this by paying close attention to many small details, and by applying lessons learned from its European operations. Examples include: rounding the edges and corners of satin ebony models so they will better hold the finish and not prematurely wear through; more careful woodworking on the bottom of the piano, and applying a clear coat of lacquer to the bottom instead of painting it to cover imperfections; protecting the case and plate during stringing and other manufacturing operations so they don’t have to be touched up, often imperfectly, later on; additional time spent playing-in pianos during manufacture in order to naturally harden the hammers so they don’t need quite so much chemical hardening and voicing in the field; and other improvements too numerous to mention here. (See discussion and photo essay on this subject in the Spring 2011 issue of Piano Buyer.)

Steinway pianos require more preparation by the dealer than most pianos in their class, but, as mentioned above, the factory preparation has greatly improved, so the work required by the dealer is no longer excessive. Still, some dealers are more conscientious than others, and I occasionally hear of piano buyers who “can’t find a good Steinway.” How much of this is due to inherent weaknesses in some pianos, how much to lack of dealer preparation, and how much to customer bias or groundless complaining is hard to tell. I suspect it is a little of each. Piano technicians who work on these pianos do sometimes remark that some seem to have more potential than others. Many dealers do just enough regulating and voicing to make the instruments acceptable to the average customer, but reserve the highest level of work for those situations where a fussy customer for one of the larger models is trying to decide between a few particular instruments. Most customers for a Steinway will probably find one they like on the sales floor. However, if you are a discriminating buyer who has had trouble finding a Steinway that suits your preferences, I recommend letting the salesperson know, as precisely as you can, what you’re looking for. Give the salesperson some time to have a few instruments prepared for you before making a decision. It may also help to tactfully let the salesperson know that you are aware that other options are available to you in the market for high-end pianos. By the way, customers seeking to purchase a model B or D Steinway who have not found the piano they are looking for at their local dealer can make arrangements with that dealer to visit the Steinway factory in New York, where a selection of the larger models is kept on hand for this purpose.

As mentioned earlier, Steinway owns a branch factory in Hamburg, Germany, established in 1880. The “fit and finish” (detailing) of the pianos at this factory is reputed to be better than at the one in New York, although pianists sometimes prefer the sound of the New York Steinway. Traditionally, the Hamburg factory has operated somewhat autonomously, but more recently the company has been synchronizing the two plants through technical exchanges, model changes, jointly built models, and materials that are shipped from New York to Hamburg. It’s possible to special-order a Hamburg Steinway through an American Steinway dealer; or an enterprising American customer could travel to Europe, buy one there, and have it shipped back home.

In 2008 Steinway underwent a change in management, the first in 23 years. For the first time, the company’s top executives were recruited from its European operations rather than from America. It is speculated that this may have signaled a subtle change of direction with regard to quality issues, and may be one of the reasons that European quality standards are appearing to be more strictly applied to the American-made instruments.

In 2016, in a major development for the company, Steinway unveiled its own electronic player-piano system, Spirio. For details, see Steinway Spirio in the chapter on electronic player-piano systems.

Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor, to original purchaser.

Acoustic Piano: Model & Pricing Guide

* See the Introduction for an explanation of pricing.

[Add comments later -- too lengthy to include here]

Model Feet Inches Description MSRP* SMP*
Steinway & Sons Verticals
4510 45 Sheraton Satin Ebony 36,400 36,400
4510 45 Sheraton Mahogany 40,300 40,300
4510 45 Sheraton Walnut 40,800 40,800
1098 46.5 Satin Ebony 34,300 34,300
1098 46.5 Mahogany 38,100 38,100
1098 46.5 Walnut 38,600 38,600
K-52 52 Satin Ebony 40,000 40,000
K-52 52 Mahogany 45,000 45,000
K-52 52 Walnut 46,700 46,700
Steinway & Sons Grands
S 5 1 Satin and Polished Ebony 71,800 71,800
S 5 1 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 73,800 73,800
S 5 1 Polished White 81,800 81,800
S 5 1 Mahogany 87,800 87,800
S 5 1 Walnut 88,800 88,800
S 5 1 Kewazinga Bubinga 93,800 93,800
S 5 1 East Indian Rosewood 108,800 108,800
S 5 1 Macassar Ebony 119,800 119,800
S 5 1 Figured Sapele 93,800 93,800
S 5 1 Dark Cherry 93,800 93,800
S 5 1 Santos Rosewood 104,800 104,800
S 5 1 African Pommele 109,800 109,800
M 5 7 Satin and Polished Ebony 76,600 76,600
M 5 7 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 78,600 78,600
M 5 7 Polished White 86,600 86,600
M 5 7 Mahogany 92,600 92,600
M 5 7 Walnut 93,600 93,600
M 5 7 Kewazinga Bubinga 98,600 98,600
M 5 7 East Indian Rosewood 113,600 113,600
M 5 7 Macassar Ebony 124,600 124,600
M 5 7 Figured Sapele 98,600 98,600
M 5 7 Dark Cherry 98,600 98,600
M 5 7 Santos Rosewood 109,600 109,600
M 5 7 African Pommele 114,600 114,600
M 1014A 5 7 Chippendale Mahogany 107,600 107,600
M 1014A 5 7 Chippendale Walnut 108,600 108,600
M 501A 5 7 Louis XV Walnut 138,600 138,600
M 501A 5 7 Louis XV East Indian Rosewood 158,600 158,600
M Sketch 1111 5 7 The Teague Satin and Polished Ebony (Spirio only, included) 121,600 121,600
M Sketch 1111 5 7 The Teague Walnut (Spirio only, included) 131,600 131,600
M 5 7 Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories 91,600 91,600
M 5 7 John Lennon Imagine Polished White 119,600 119,600
M 5 7 Onyx Duet Polished Ebony 113,600 113,600
O 5 10.5 Satin and Polished Ebony 85,800 85,800
O 5 10.5 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 87,800 87,800
O 5 10.5 Polished White 95,800 95,800
O 5 10.5 Mahogany 101,800 101,800
O 5 10.5 Walnut 102,800 102,800
O 5 10.5 Kewazinga Bubinga 107,800 107,800
O 5 10.5 East Indian Rosewood 122,800 122,800
O 5 10.5 Macassar Ebony 133,800 133,800
O 5 10.5 Figured Sapele 107,800 107,800
O 5 10.5 Dark Cherry 107,800 107,800
O 5 10.5 Santos Rosewood 118,800 118,800
O 5 10.5 African Pommele 123,800 123,800
O 5 10.5 Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories 100,800 100,800
O 5 10.5 John Lennon Imagine Polished White 128,800 128,800
O 5 10.5 Onyx Duet Polished Ebony 122,800 122,800
A 6 2 Satin and Polished Ebony 99,100 99,100
A 6 2 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 101,100 101,100
A 6 2 Polished White 112,100 112,100
A 6 2 Mahogany 118,100 118,100
A 6 2 Walnut 119,100 119,100
A 6 2 Kewazinga Bubinga 125,100 125,100
A 6 2 East Indian Rosewood 142,100 142,100
A 6 2 Macassar Ebony 155,100 155,100
A 6 2 Figured Sapele 123,100 123,100
A 6 2 Dark Cherry 124,100 124,100
A 6 2 Santos Rosewood 138,100 138,100
A 6 2 African Pommele 146,100 146,100
A 6 2 Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories 116,100 116,100
A 6 2 John Lennon Imagine Polished White 151,100 151,100
A 6 2 Onyx Duet Polished Ebony 136,100 136,100
B 6 10.5 Satin and Polished Ebony 112,000 112,000
B 6 10.5 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 116,000 116,000
B 6 10.5 Polished White 125,000 125,000
B 6 10.5 Mahogany 131,000 131,000
B 6 10.5 Walnut 132,000 132,000
B 6 10.5 Kewazinga Bubinga 138,000 138,000
B 6 10.5 East Indian Rosewood 155,000 155,000
B 6 10.5 Macassar Ebony 168,000 168,000
B 6 10.5 Figured Sapele 136,000 136,000
B 6 10.5 Dark Cherry 137,000 137,000
B 6 10.5 Santos Rosewood 151,000 151,000
B 6 10.5 African Pommele 159,000 159,000
B 6 10.5 Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories 129,000 129,000
B 6 10.5 John Lennon Imagine Polished White 164,000 164,000
B 6 10.5 Onyx Duet Polished Ebony 149,000 149,000
D 8 11.8 Satin and Polished Ebony 176,300 176,300
D 8 11.8 Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware 180,300 180,300
D 8 11.8 Polished White 194,300 194,300
D 8 11.8 Mahogany 206,300 206,300
D 8 11.8 Walnut 207,300 207,300
D 8 11.8 Kewazinga Bubinga 217,300 217,300
D 8 11.8 East Indian Rosewood 247,300 247,300
D 8 11.8 Macassar Ebony 267,300 267,300
D 8 11.8 Figured Sapele 211,300 211,300
D 8 11.8 Dark Cherry 214,300 214,300
D 8 11.8 Santos Rosewood 233,300 233,300
D 8 11.8 African Pommele 258,300 258,300
D 8 11.8 Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories 196,300 196,300
D 8 11.8 John Lennon Imagine Polished White 228,300 228,300
Steinway & Sons (Hamburg) Grands
S-155 5 1 Polished Ebony 85,100 85,100
M-170 5 7 Polished Ebony 87,800 87,800
O-180 5 10.5 Polished Ebony 96,600 96,600
A-188 6 2 Polished Ebony 99,200 99,200
B-211 6 11 Polished Ebony 114,300 114,300
C-227 7 5.5 Polished Ebony 128,600 128,600
D-274 8 11.8 Polished Ebony 172,300 172,300

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