What Happened to Steinway?

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today, I’m going to talk about Steinway. What happened to Steinway? I’m going to give you 20 true or false statements, so get your pencil and paper ready! But first, I’m going to give a brief history of this venerable piano company. Of course, you all know Steinway, but I’m going to tell you some things you maybe don’t know about the company.

In 1850, Henry Steinweg, a German immigrant, witnessed a show put on by P.T. Barnum, and it featured a Chickering piano.

Chickering was a piano company going back to the 1820s in the United States. The show inspired him so much that they could barely drag him off the stage. A few years later, in 1853, he founded Steinway & Sons in New York, and the company remained under family ownership for generations. In 1880, Steinway opened a second factory in Hamburg, Germany. In 1931, the accelerated action was introduced, a new technology that caught the attention of many pianists. In 1936, Steinway introduced their patented diaphragmatic soundboard, which was a way of tapering the soundboard to produce the distinctive Steinway sound. Finally, in 1972, corporate ownership happened with CBS purchasing Steinway & Sons.

In 1992, Steinway introduced the Boston Piano brand. This is an OEM piano, designed by Steinway and produced in Japan by Kawai, with many Steinway elements—not the Steinway piano design, but many elements that Steinway specified in the pianos produced by Kawai in Japan. In 1995, Steinway merged with Selmer Industries, the makers of woodwind and brass instruments. Then, in 2001, Steinway introduced their Essex piano, made by Young Chang. But a few years later, in 2004, Young Chang suffered a bankruptcy. So in 2006, they started having the Essex produced in China by the world’s largest piano manufacturer, Pearl River, which is where they’re still made today.

In 2015, Steinway introduced Spirio, a player system that is only available in pianos that are built by Steinway and only in new Steinway pianos. This system introduced many innovative technologies. They took old recordings and digitized them so you can have your piano play Rubinstein when he was young, or things of that nature. And then, in 2019, they added a record function to Spirio.

Now get ready for the true or false statements!

A lot of these may be difficult, particularly this first one. And this is a very provocative statement:

1. Steinway makes a Mickey Mouse piano.

That sounds like blasphemy, doesn’t it? And some of you may wonder what I’m talking about here. Is it possibly true that Steinway makes a Mickey Mouse piano? This is TRUE This is a specially designed Steinway, and it is hand painted.

Mickey Mouse Piano

If you’ve got $375,000, you can get one of these ultra-limited edition Steinways for yourself. This isn’t the only limited edition Steinway they have, but it’s one of the more amusing ones. They have all sorts of different designer pianos that have extraordinarily high price tags. When you consider that even an entry-level Steinway baby grand is over $80,000, you can see how these limited runs would be expensive.

2. Steinway has stopped producing their accelerated action.

This has been something many people look for in Steinways. Is it possible they stopped producing their accelerated action? This is TRUE! Why would they stop making the accelerated action, which so many people like? Well, a lot of it comes down to the fact that Steinway has made every effort to make the pianos that are made in Hamburg similar to the pianos that are made in New York. For example, for many decades, they had the 5′ 10 1/2″ grand piano Model L made in New York and the exact same size Model O made in Hamburg. Well, they discontinued the L, so the O is now made in both factories. Also, a few years ago, they reintroduced the Model A in New York. For decades, the A was only made in Hamburg. So they have made improvements in their action and felt the accelerated action is no longer necessary. Pianists and technicians, I’d love to hear from all of you in the comments. How do you feel about the discontinuation of the accelerated action?

3. Steinway stopped making the 1098 studio piano.

This is TRUE. You can no longer buy a Steinway studio piano. They do not make any studio pianos.

4. Steinway is discontinuing all uprights made in New York.

This is TRUE. The K-52, the full-size upright, will no longer be made in New York. The only upright piano available from Steinway will be the K-132, manufactured in Hamburg, Germany.

5. Steinway has stopped making the Model S baby grand.

At 5′ 1″, the Model S is almost as expensive as the 5′ 7″ Model M, which is one of their most popular models. People have been saying that Steinway is no longer making the Model S. Is this true? This one is FALSE. The S is still in production, just as before. My personal piano is a Model S that my grandfather got for my father in the 1930s. We rebuilt it a number of years ago, and it’s still going strong! It’s a wonderful little baby grand.

6. Steinway moved their rebuilding off-site to Iowa.

Is this possible? They’ve always done their rebuilding in their New York factory. Did they really move their rebuilding to Iowa? This is TRUE. They are doing all of their rebuilds in Iowa. They ship their pin blocks and sound boards. In fact, that’s the only place where sound boards and pin blocks made by Steinway are available other than on new Steinway pianos made in New York and Hamburg.

7. Steinway refinishes their pianos in New Jersey.

This is actually partially true, but I have to say this is FALSE. There is a facility in New Jersey where they ship very few pianos for refinishing if they have extremely intricate woodwork. Think about the nightmare of logistics involved if they had all their pianos refinished in New Jersey! At first, I thought maybe this was true because I had heard this rumor. I thought maybe environmental laws in New York prohibited the new polyester high-gloss finishes that Steinway is offering. But no, this is false. Only a select few pianos are actually refinished in New Jersey.

8. Steinway is going public.

This is actually FALSE. There were murmurs about this, but they withdrew their SEC filing recently. They may still go public in the future. It could happen. But as of right now, there are no immediate plans for going public. I know a lot of people would like to invest in Steinway. It’s one of the strongest brand names out there.

9. Half of Steinways made in New York have Spirio systems.

This is actually TRUE. Half of the New York pianos have Spirio systems in them, and they’re selling them like hotcakes! It’s actually helped them tremendously to increase their sales.

10. Spirio is available on all Steinway models.

When you hear that half of their pianos have these systems, this sounds very plausible. But this is FALSE. The spirio is only available on the Model M, Model B, and the Model D concert grands. And yet half the total number of pianos they sell have Spirio systems. So a lot of B’s, M’s, and D’s have Spirio systems in them.

11. Spirio adds $20,000 to the cost of a piano.

This is FALSE. It actually adds $29,000 to the cost of new Steinways! Can you imagine? So if you want it, the only way you can get it is on a new Steinway.

12. For $29,000, you get a piano that records and plays back.

This is FALSE. If you want to be able to record as well as playback, it adds $48,000 to the price of a Steinway! So the least expensive recording Spirio Steinway, the 5′ 7″ Model M, will set you back $124,800 now in 2024.

13. Spirio-Cast plays live on other Spirio pianos.

This is TRUE! Somebody can play a Spirio in one place, and other Spirios can play that performance at the same time. You can have Lang Lang or Yuja Wang play your piano! That’s what Spirio is all about. That’s why people pay the big bucks to get it. Since there are so many Steinway artists out there, being able to have a library of Steinway artists is a big selling point for the Spirio system.

14. Steinway owns Renner.

Renner is the company that makes the action that’s available on Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Petrof, and so many other pianos. This is actually TRUE. Steinway bought Renner a few years ago. They’ve been using Renner actions on their Hamburg Steinways for years.

15. Hamburg and New York Steinways have the same hammers.

This is actually FALSE. There are unique hammers that are only available on New York Steinways, giving them a different sound from the Hamburg Steinways.

16. Steinway no longer makes their keyframes the way they traditionally have made them.

This is TRUE. They’re using what they say is a sturdier construction. Some technicians might find it a little harder to work on because it’s a heavier build, but they say that these are going to be more robust. So indeed, the keyframes are not made the same way they have always made them.

17. Steinway has sped up its manufacturing to meet demand.

According to Steinway, this is FALSE. They have added more workers to try to keep up with demand, but it still takes just as long to produce their pianos. It can take up to a year to produce a Steinway piano! There’s a lot involved in building pianos.

18. It is illegal to buy a Steinway decal.

This is actually TRUE. Steinway has made it illegal to buy their decals. So if you have a Steinway piano that you’ve had rebuilt and refinished, you might not be able to get a decal if your piano has been refinished unless you use all Steinway parts. But the catch is, you can’t buy Steinway pin blocks or soundboards. So if you rebuild your Steinway, you can’t buy the decals like you can for virtually every other piano brand in the world. Why does Steinway do this? Well, Steinway says it’s because they want to assure that anything that says Steinway on the front has the high quality associated with their name, so it doesn’t tarnish their reputation. Some people say it’s because used Steinways are actually the biggest competition Steinway has, because if somebody wants a Steinway, they’re probably not going to buy a Yamaha, Kawai, or any other piano. They want a Steinway. So they’re probably going to seek out a used Steinway if they can’t afford a new one. Who knows what the truth is. It could be elements of both.

19. 90% of concert artists play Steinway pianos.

This is actually FALSE. Over 97% of concert artists play Steinways! Why is this? Is Steinway that much better than every other piano brand? There are so many great piano companies. But the fact of the matter is, one by one, all the piano companies supporting the concert market have dropped out. The last holdout up until near the end of the 20th century was Baldwin. Baldwin had a good share of the concert market. But think of the daunting task of having concert grands ready in virtually every major city in the world. Even Yamaha tried to do that in the late 90s but couldn’t swing it. It was just too much of a burden to have these pianos prepped and ready for the concert stage in every major city. So any touring concert pianist really has no choice. They have to go with Steinway if they want to have pianos to play on in concerts all around the world.

20. The most expensive Steinway costs a million dollars.

A Steinway concert grand costs over $200,000. Are there any models that cost $1 million? Well, this is a misleading question because the answer is FALSE. The most expensive Steinway costs $2.5 million! What piano could possibly command $2.5 million? Well, this is the rare hand-painted Pictures at an Exhibition piano, named after the famous piece by Mussorgsky.

expensive steinway

All of the movements of this magnificent work are painted on this one-of-a-kind piano that is just unbelievably intricate in its painting.

How well did you do with these 20 true or false questions?

Let us know in the comments here at LivingPianos.com how well you did with these 20 true or false questions! How many did you get right? How many of them surprised you? Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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10 thoughts on “What Happened to Steinway?”


 
 

  1. this was fun, i got 80% correct. have followed u now for six years. I finally after 10 years found my own Steinway at Lindeblad Piano Company. it is a 1908 A2 rebuild in 1999 at the factory. I was able to afford it because the case was alligatored. Didn’t matter to me. I flew Dover NJ to play and hear the A. brought tears because of its wonderful voice that only my ears appreciated. this retired music teacher has now fulfilled one of her bucket lists.

    1. Glad you found a piano you like! If anyone else is looking for a Steinway, we have A2’s and A3’s, C’s. B’s just about the whole alphabet (but no alligators!)

  2. What do you think of the tone and quality of Boston grands and baby grands. While not a Steinway, these pianos seem very comparable in every way, except for the much better price. I suppose the quality of wood and components might be not quite as good and durable, but that would seem kind of quibbling.

    1. Boston is a stencil piano. It is not an actual piano company, or even a piano made by Steinway. It is an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) product made by Kawai and sold through the Steinway dealer network. No company ever sells a superior product for a competitor to sell. So, if you are considering getting an Asian production piano, buying one from the company that makes it also avoids the middleman offering better value. Here is more on the subject: https://livingpianos.com/what-are-stencil-pianos/

  3. That is very interesting information regarding Steinway & Sons. I play a Petrof II which has a lasting sustain and clear tone. What most will discover is pianos within a brand are all over the board in sound quality primarily in the care of action and hammers. Unfortunately a lot of pianists never get their hands into a Petrof, Schimmel, Bechstein, Bosendorfer and so forth to experience the incredible range of tone, expression, and dynamics they can produce. I appreciate your videos on various instruments that showcase their finest qualities. Thanks!

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