🎹Steinway K-52 Traditional Upright Piano Review - Handcrafted Upright🎹

When it comes to the piano industry as a whole, likely no other brand is as well known as Steinway & Sons, with their Hamburg and New York grands being the most commonly selected instruments for concert-level pianists.

Their upright pianos for whatever reason have generally not garnered the same level of recognition and sales volume as their grand pianos have despite the fact that Steinway has offered many different upright piano models throughout their years in business.

Steinway & Sons pianos sold under the Boston (made by Kawai) and Essex brands (made by Pearl River) alternatively sell a very high volume of upright pianos

With that in mind, we managed to track a fine example of a Steinway K-52 upright, a beastly 52” upright which happens to be New York Steinway’s top upright piano. It’s not the most common instrument out there, so when we had an opportunity to get a review in and experience this piano, we definitely jumped at it.

We’ve spent a lot of time on our YouTube channel and with our blog exploring fine vertical pianos from piano makers like C. Bechstein and Schimmel, so we’re excited to see how the Steinway Model K stacks up to some of the world’s other great professional uprights.

We’ll start off by jumping right into the tone.

Steinway K-52 – Piano Sound

Steinway & Sons K-52 Upright Piano
Steinway & Sons K-52 Upright Piano

We can say right from the outset that there are aspects of the K52 upright pianos sound that we really like, but at the same time, there are aspects to the sound that fall a little short compared to some of the other high-end uprights available in the K52’s price range.

Let’s look at the aspects that we think are great first.

What do we Really Like?

Everything below about G3, so everything in the mid and low end, sounds excellent on this piano. Even when you dig in volume-wise, there’s a very distinct separation between every single note.

When you get to play on a piano that speaks well in this range, you’re instantly elevated to a different creative space because most uprights are muddy and mucky in this range, and as a result, you’re forced into playing single notes, octaves, and maybe fifths.

On most uprights, even 52” models, so many overtones are present in this range that it makes it very difficult to get the clarity and harmonic separation required. On the K-52, that’s just not the case, and the sound is just deliciously rich down there with excellent sustain.

And this isn’t just a fluke, but rather the result of some very deliberate choices Steinway has made from a design, material and execution standpoint.

One of these contributing factors is they’ve chosen to form a hard connection between the plate and the gigantic back posts on the rear of the instrument. This drives a huge amount of energy into the cabinet, allowing the lower register to speak clearly.

They’re also using a super thick termination bar that goes on the diaphragmatic soundboard, and this prevents anything from getting into the unusable corner of the soundboard. This also helps to activate more of the soundboard area than would otherwise be the case with just having the bridge there.

What’s Underwhelming?

When we get up to the top end of the piano, the experience starts to underwhelm because that great sustain from the lower half greatly diminishes up here.

If the lower register is a 10 out of 10 for sustain and warmth, you’re getting about a 7 out of 10 in the alto range, and probably only about a 4 out of 10 in the treble range.

It’s almost as if there are two different pianos mashed together as you still have a beautifully simple tone that speaks well in the upper registers, dynamically it just isn’t on the same page as the lower end, to the point that your playing has to be tailored to avoid drowning out the upper register.

There are obviously certain reasons for this too. For one, they’re using a solid bridge in the treble, and this colors the tone in a certain way but also deprives harmonic information and energy from reaching the solid spruce soundboard.

To try to mitigate this they’ve added a pressure bar which creates a really hard point in the fulcrum and in turn allows you to generate enough energy on the attack. The sustain however still falls off quickly, and certain partials are simply missing from the high end.

Now, for certain repertoire and for certain ears, none of this is a problem. The fact is however that other high-end new pianos are now pretty consistently delivering an abundance of upper partials in the treble, to the point where you’re getting almost like Fazioli-esque color out of these pianos.

C. Bechstein’s Concert 8 – one of the most revered best known upright piano models on the planet – has such as powerful and colorful treble that it almost belies belief, and other models you\’ll typically find on ‘best upright piano’ lists like the Steingraeber 138K tend to be similar.

Piano Action

Steinway & Sons Keys
Steinway & Sons Keys

Steinway Accelerated Action

The K-52’s Steinway Accelerated Action is a bit of an enigma. We say this because it doesn’t really feel most other 52” upright piano actions, but it also doesn’t feel like a grand piano keyboard either.

On the one hand, it wouldn’t be mistaken for being the fastest or most responsive upright acoustic piano action out there. It’s definitely on the heavier side and a little bit sluggish, but when you measure the repetition speed on it, it’s actually great.

So, with that in mind, this action is doing what it’s supposed to, and we assume that the engineers at Steinway were trying to find a way to simulate the sense of weighting on a grand to narrow the gap between their upright and grand actions. At the same time, the return speed on the action just doesn’t quite feel like what you’d get on a grand.

On the one hand, that might actually help to build a bit of muscle tone if you were going to be using the K-52 as a practice instrument to get ready for performance or exams on a grand. On the other hand, when it comes to extremely intricate playing, this is going to feel more on the clumsy side than an action in a C. Bechstein or Schimmel upright.

The Keys

Steinway & Sons uprights feature a laminated key, and lots of companies use laminated keys because it increases the stability of the key and reduces the amount of warping that may occur in a solid key.

There’s a plastic cap on top of the keys with absorptive qualities.

Hammers

Steinway makes their own hammers, and they use hard rock maple hammer mouldings. This makes the hammers themselves very strong and rigid.

If you’re looking for used pianos, you’ll find that dealers and sellers will make a big deal out of whether or the instrument features genuine Steinway parts. The hammers would be one of these critical parts.

Aesthetics & Other Notable Features

The K-52 is one of the few upright pianos that comes standard with a Sostenuto pedal. For most other high-end uprights, you can get that Sostenuto pedal, but typically only by special order. This is a nice addition if you are tackling advanced repertoire that calls for the use of the sostenuto pedal.

The K-52 is also known for integrating the unique Steinway Hexagrip pinblock, which essentially consists of many layers of laminations for long-term tuning stability and durability.

New K-52s are generally sold in a satin black finish, however other special veneers like the Crown Jewel finish are available by special order. The K-52 ships with an artist-matching bench.

Closing Thoughts

The Steinway K-52 is an interesting and enjoyable piano to play, particularly due to its unique lower register that comes across as very warm and clear.

Does it stack up to some of the more modern instruments with cutting-edge design? We would say the K-52 falls a little short of some of the competition, particularly with regard to its sustain and color palette in the upper registers.

This doesn’t mean you should automatically pass on a K-52 if you’re looking for a premium upright piano and have a chance to play one in a showroom, but it does seem apparent to us why Steinway’s uprights have never been in the conversation for being among the absolute top upright pianos available.