UNIQUE PROBLEMS WITH STEINWAY PIANOS
This is LivingPianos.com and I am Robert Estrin with a great subject today, Unique Problems with Steinway Pianos.
Steinway pianos are the de facto standard in the concert world.
In fact, it’s the only company left that still supports the concert market with concert grands in virtually all major cities in the world. This is an arduous task when you consider the cost of each one is in the six figures! Steinway in different periods of time had problems and I’m going to bring up two of them today.
Fortunately, Steinway pianos being manufactured today do not suffer from either of these problems.
I want to let you know that right out of the gate. But early in the 20th century, Steinway had an idea of a way that they could make actions last longer and be less susceptible to corrosion. They used a solution containing paraffin on their actions. If you ever looked at old Steinway pianos or sat down at an old Steinway that’s been neglected, it may have played like a truck. You can look inside and the hammers go up and down very gradually. There’s no speed. Everything’s gummed up. You can actually see green in all the little felt bushings of all the hundreds of action parts on each key. That is an example of vertebrae.
Verdigris is a condition in which a piano action becomes corroded.
This paraffin solution had exactly the opposite effect of the intention that Steinway had in avoiding corrosion. Unfortunately, in certain environments, the actions would gum up like crazy! Sometimes it’s possible to get things moving by treating the action parts with different chemicals. However, with really severe verdigris, all you can do is rebuild the action with all new parts.
Sometimes you can replace center pins if it’s not a really bad problem. You can also try lubricating. But oftentimes problems will recur. With humidity, the air gets inside the piano. You might think you’ve got the problem solved and everything’s moving nicely. Then, a month later, it starts gumming up again. So that’s one problem of early 20th-century Steinways.
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about vertigris on newer Steinway pianos.
The second problem was in Steinway’s CBS era when they experimented with something else that sounded like a great idea. The thousands of felt parts in actions wear out and are susceptible to humidity. So, Steinway engineers thought about utilizing Teflon.
From around 1968 to 1982 Steinway used Teflon in their piano actions.
What’s wrong with this? I’m a believer that oftentimes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. However, the problems that plagued them is that some pianos that went to extreme environments the wood would swell and contract with the weather. Of course, Teflon is hard. This created space between the Teflon and the wood creating noise in the actions. Sometimes, rebuilding the actions are necessary for these circumstances. However, I will say this:
The vast majority of the time, the biggest problem with Teflon actions, is finding technicians who know how to service them properly.
Oftentimes Teflon itself isn’t the problem. Using slightly larger center pins can sometimes solve the problem if the Teflon is worn. However, Teflon is very robust and can last many, many years. Teflon is not necessarily a problem. In fact, if I was buying a Steinway piano from that era and it had Teflon and there were no problems, I wouldn’t be concerned. Now, it doesn’t mean there would never be problems. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what piano you have, things will require servicing eventually and parts will wear out if you play a good deal.
That’s the long and short of Teflon. It was something they tried and they eventually gave up the practice. The idea of piano actions that don’t wear out so quickly is a very appealing idea and I applaud them for trying something. If you have a piano with Teflon, if it isn’t giving you problems, you should be fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. As long as it’s functioning well, you’re in good shape.