Piano Brands Of The World:
STEINWAY & SONS *
Company Website: Steinway.com
Owner: Paulson & Co.
Country of Origin: Manhattan, USA
Year Established: 1853
Related Brands: August Forster, Bluthner, Bosendorfer CS, Grotrian, Seiler, Sauter, Schimmel Konzert, Shigeru Kawai, Yamaha CF, Steingraeber, C. Bechstein, Bosendorfer, Fazioli
Steinway pianos are made by Steinway & Sons in Queen’s, New York and Hamburg Germany
Warranty: 5 years parts and labour, applicable to the original purchaser only.
STEINWAY: HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Undoubtedly one of – if not the most – recognizable name in piano manufacturing, Steinway has been producing high-quality pianos since 1853 when German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (eventually known as Henry E. Steinway) opened a small workshop in Manhattan after years of piano building in Germany. After obtaining over a hundred design patents, multiple location changes, and anglicizing the family name (Steinweg to Steinway), Steinway would emerge as the dominant force in American piano manufacturing. In the 1880s, wanting to expand to the European market, Steinway opened a facility in Hamburg Germany to supply Europe and the rest of the world.
Along the way, Steinway also became one of the most successful brands in the world, pioneering many of the marketing techniques that we would now call “product placement” and “product synergy”… Steinway Halls in London, New York, and Germany became the center of culture for affluent western industrialists and financiers, and Steinway’s Artist program created and has more or less maintained a monopoly on touring classical pianist’s choice of piano.
Today, Steinway still produces pianos in both New York and Germany, with the New York factory supplying North, Central, and South America, and the German factory supplying the rest of the world. While Steinway is no longer family-owned and has changed hands several times throughout the last few decades, the company has had stable ownership since 2013 after it was acquired by a New York based private equity firm. While pianos from both factories are renowned for their quality, pianos from German factories are often regarded as superior, though there has been a substantial effort in recent years to bring the American factory up to the standard established by it’s German counterpart.
Steinway also markets and distributes the Boston Piano and Essex Piano lines, a mid and entry-level offering made in Asia by Kawai and Pearl River respectively. (Steinway has recently added Samick’s Indonesian factory as a Boston supplier in addition to Kawai Japan, in an attempt to offer lower price points)
Steinway’s New York factory produces 6 sizes of grand pianos, ranging from the 5’1 Model S up to the 9’ Model D Concert Grand Piano, and 3 sizes of uprights. The Hamburg factory produces the same lineup of grand pianos plus the 7’5” model C, and 2 sizes of uprights. The Hamburg Model D is without question the world’s most popular concert grand, though in recent years Steinway has received significant competition on the concert stage from other European manufacturers, as well as Yamaha (CF series) and Kawai (Shigeru). New York made grand and upright pianos are available in a variety of finishes.
Both the New York and Hamburg produced pianos are made with high-quality materials, though certain crucial differences exist resulting in a different tonal profile. New York Steinway’s use layers of hard-rock maple for the rim, whereas the Hamburg pianos utilize layers of mahogany and a different species of maple. Soundboards in the New York pianos are made of tapered solid sitka spruce, versus tapered Austrian white spruce in the Hamburg pianos. Steinway builds it’s own action for the New York pianos, as opposed to Renner actions in the Hamburg models. Different hammers and different materials for the bass strings are certain other differentiators.
Some of the similarities between the New York and Hamburg models include hard-rock maple vertically laminated bridges with solid maple cap, Steinway’s patented “Octogrip” pinblock design, and duplex scale in all models.
Many aspects of the modern piano design can be attributed to the early innovations of Steinway. Some of the most notable patented inventions that are still widely utilized today include:
- Over-stringing of the bass strings above the treble strings in grand pianos to increase bass string length
- Laminated pin-blocks for better tuning stability, bridges that are vertically laminated (better energy transfer)
- The invention of the middle “sostenuto” pedal featured in virtually every grand piano constructed today
- The invention of duplex scale.
Needless to say, calling Steinway’s design innovations influential would be an understatement.
STEINWAY: A REVIEW & COMPARISONS
The opinions contained here are based on first-hand experiences with each of these instruments over extended periods of time, and are offered as perspective to those individuals around the world considering one or several of these brands as part of a purchase, or for general interest. We sincerely hope you enjoy our thoughts on these wonderful pianos.
A winding road through piano history
A telling of the story of the piano would be incomplete with a discussion of Steinway. They are to be credited with many things: modernizing piano retail, innovating many approaches now considered bedrock in the areas of advertising and endorsements, and last but not least, creating the quintessential grand piano of the 20th century.
Like many companies that have pioneered in their early days, and gained near monopoly-level success because of it, Steinway’s product quality over the years has strained to keep up with the mythology that the brand generated. Their ‘golden era’ pianos (the Post WWI to the Stockmarket Crash of 1929) were rightly cherished as the world’s finest instrument. Not only was the manufacturing quality superb, but the design innovations placed it decades ahead of many other leading brands of the day.
The company’s ability to sustain that quality level proved difficult during the wider industry’s maturing during the post-WWII period, where quality and innovation gave way to consolidation, less competition, and a robust middle class more interested in modern conveniences rather than large, mechanical 19th-century instruments. Steinway stayed as true to its roots as any firm during this time, but quality became notoriously unreliable (and in their defence, somewhat irrelevant). It’s a testament to their design that they continued to perform relatively well with few durability issues (the Teflon debacle – a multi-decade failed experiment with synthetic bushings – aside). It was also, no doubt, made more difficult by New York City’s post-war decline, organized labour’s increasing influence on wages, and the resulting shortages of affordable, skilled labourers.
Steinway was sold multiple times during this massive reorganization and consolidation of the piano business and would be owned by the likes of Selmer Conn and CBS over the decades.
Amongst several aspects that preserved the company through the 2nd half of the 20th century was their efficient and vigorously enforced concert and artist program. They maintained an emphasis on artist endorsement and piano competitions and pursued exclusivity contracts to ensure that the major music halls of the time remained with the brand. Halls that attempted to buy alternates were faced with the stark reality of not being able to book leading performers of the day who were locked into exclusivity contracts with Steinway. Likewise, artists were incentivized to those contracts with Steinway in return for perks, not the least of which was guaranteeing low-cost access to performance-grade instruments in every major city and town on the touring circuit.
Few would consider risking their “Steinway artist” status knowing they would then be forced to transport their concert grand of choice to every performance. Unlike almost every other instrument in the orchestra, concert grand pianos are massive in comparison, making them costly and very risky to move. Violinists, flutists, bassoonists…., can easily carry their own personal instrument to every performance, while pianists must either rely on what the hall has to offer, or move what they most desire to each performance.
Quite simply, artists are, in most cases, wise to go with the universal Steinway ‘baseline’ rather than to risk being locked out of some halls, or at worst, shouldering the cost and risk of transporting their own instrument or true instrument of choice. Neither scenario is without its risks: in 2020, the world-renowned virtuoso Angela Hewitt, who defiantly refuses to sign exclusivity contracts with any manufacturer, tragically lost her beloved Fazioli grand due to irreparable damage incurred while in transit from a recording studio in Berlin.
Asia Enters The Market
Like many North American piano companies in the 2nd half of the 20th century, Steinway was ill-prepared for Asia’s entry into the industry. The premise that consumers would continue to favour poorly-made American goods at premium prices over imports from Europe or Asia – in any industry – proved badly wrong. Even with equalizing tariffs, customers’ need for quality was antithetical to American industry’s paradigm throughout this period. In Steinway’s case, its manufacturing was inefficient by Japanese standards, and its hold on the industry relied on an absence of credible alternatives. Just as Cadillac or Lincoln weren’t ready for Volkswagen and Toyota, Steinway and Baldwin weren’t ready for Yamaha and Kawai, or Petrof and Schimmel.
To Steinway’s credit, they maintained their pricing and resisted discounting or further watering down the product – a fate that household names like Heintzman and Baldwin would both succumb to – through their tightly-managed network of Steinway Piano Galleries and Steinway Halls (more or less their national showroom network). They introduced the concept of a Steinway as an actual investment (at a time when NY stock trading was highly romanticized) and successfully linked their product to new money affluence. Though this has now been discontinued as official Steinway sales practice due in part to a number of litigations, the myth of appreciating Steinway persists.
Complicating this dynamic is the fact that Steinway & Sons regularly released limited-edition models called ‘Crown Jewel’ collections which actually did appreciate over time due to their uniqueness and scarcity. Though this didn’t apply to their standard black satin fare, the halo effect was effectively exploited by some of their sales staff.
In short, Steinway became a brand of the most extreme contradictions. Many of their concert grands continued to lead the business in musical quality, but smaller models became a source of major quality issues. To consumers, it was the only brand that top artists demanded; for artists, it was the only brand available if you wanted to tour profitably. And perhaps most oddly of all, the company’s two factories were simultaneously both the least consistent (NYC) and most consistent (Hamburg) in the entire high-end piano world. This was particularly inconvenient since the lesser-rated NYC factory had 20x the production capacity as that of the top-rated Hamburg factory.
Some of the finest instruments we’ve ever touched here at Merriam have been both restored and new Steinways, as have some of the least impressive. A finely crafted Steinway D, B, or M in our books can rank amongst the very best musical partners if you can find it; locate yourself an excellent tech to keep it there and you’d be a happy owner. On the other hand, for every Model B that impressed us, we come across another 5 that couldn’t sit next to a Shigeru Kawai SK-6 or Schimmel Konzert K213 for almost half the price.
There have definitely been efforts at Steinway, since their sale in the mid-2010s, to improve upon the aesthetic and musical consistency issues, though it still trails European standards by some margin. Other improvements include better finishing of the bottom of the musical instruments, as well as the introduction of Spirio, their branded player-piano system that incorporates fullscreen video and audio tracks that play along with a traditional playback solenoid system. The Steinway & Sons Spirio system is self-billed as “the world’s finest high-resolution player piano”, which features current and posthumous digitized recordings of artists like Art Tatum, Lang Lang, Diana Krall, and many others.
But as is the case with many great historical brands, in our experience a segment of likely Steinway buyers do so for the brand’s historical cache, rather than holding the instruments up to a high musical scrutiny.
Piano Brand Reviews:
STEINWAY VS C. BECHSTEIN
Musically, C. Bechstein stands at the crossroads between Steinway and Fazioli; while Bechstein’s construction methods and use of technology are far more aligned with Fazioli, their musical character hues closer to a Steinway.
Steinway pianos are known as highly forgiving instruments and better performers in large spaces than in close quarters. Their extensive use of Maple throughout the instrument gives the instrument a specific tonal emphasis, one which filters some of the high-end detail that the top European makers have strived to reveal in more recent years. It’s the lack of this detail that gives them the ‘forgiving’ aspect but can also sound ‘dulled’ in a smaller revealing acoustic. At the same time, their rigid structure and use of highly tapered soundboards generate optimal levels of projection.
C. Bechstein incorporates multiple hardwoods into their bridges and rims, and have championed an approach to building (now also copied by Kawai on their Shigeru and GX lines) of ‘full perimeter rim material’, that seeks to increase cabinet resonance proportional to soundboard tone. The controllability and dynamic response of the pianos is quite similar to a well-prepped Steinway, but the tonal profile is more transparent and clear, with better separation in the tenor range and far more detail on the high end.
To some buyers, however, one of the most relevant issues may be market trend and dominance. After years on top of the concert scene, producing as many as 5000 pianos annually, the Steinway Factory now outputs almost a 1/4 of that number between uprights and grands. Bechstein on the other hand has virtually reversed that trend, now producing the highest number of performance instruments of any company in the world, and a majority of the performance instruments sold in Germany.
Steinway and Bechstein pianos for the most part use the same naming conventions, yet another piece of evidence that they’re vying for the same customer worldwide.
Though Steinway has an S / M / L model (one has to wonder….Small, Medium, Large?) for their 5’1″, 5’7″, and 5’11” models, the size of Steinway models and Bechstein models are well aligned as are their naming conventions: A (~6′), B(~7′), C(~8′), and D(~9′) models.
Piano Brand Reviews:
STEINWAY VS FAZIOLI
A comparison of Fazioli and Steinway reveals as much a battle of branding as a battle of pianos. Steinway continues to pitch itself as the guardian of the old-guard traditional piano world, whereas Fazioli has taken the opposite approach of owning the mantle of new sophistication.
It’s an apt framing of the dynamic, and the pianos themselves reflect it. As stated earlier, Steinway grand pianos are forgiving pianos with plenty of mid-range colour and lots of dynamic range…and generally easy to control. Fazioli is a far tricker piano to manage, with more prominent high end and a highly exposed playing experience generally.
We suspect that these differences may exist due to the parts of the tone that each builder has chosen to emphasize.
Steinway’s use of hard-rock maple throughout the instrument has given a particular woodiness and mid-range character to the tone, while de-emphasizing the highest partials within the tone resulting in the masking of some detail.
The Fazioli uses multiple hardwoods, similar to Shigeru Kawai and C. Bechstein rim designs, as well as complex vertical-laminated bridges, and larger hammers. They also use an exaggerated duplex which – rather than emphasizing the inharmonicity, actually further extends the harmonic range, an interesting colour effect which can come off as overly bright in some contexts. And in all cases, creates the impression of much more detail.
Although the musical debate continues to rage between these two brands (and the increasingly crowded high end in general), the concert scene remains largely unchanged. Whether due genuine artist preference, or Steinway’s enticing logistics network, the vast majority of concert pianists still align themselves publicly with Steinway.
Piano Brand Reviews:
STEINWAY VS SHIGERU KAWAI
The piano industry doesn’t have many scandalous moments, but one of particular ‘note’ occurred in the mid 2000’s when, for the first time, industry observer Larry Fine listed Shigeru Kawai and NY Steinway in parallel quality categories as part of his annual listing. Try to imagine the piano business equivalent of Lady Wistledown’s Papers, suddenly revealing that the upstart young duke had upstaged the stogy King at his own ball.
Not only did this send shockwaves throughout the piano retail universe, but Fine only listed these two pianos in the category – making it impossible to ignore the newly-acknolwedged equivalence. It laid bare something most piano industry watchers had known for some time…that Japan had overtaken the US as the more advanced and progressive manufacturing community, and that Japan’s best – arguably the Shigeru Kawai pianos – were now deserving of equal musical consideration to that of NY Steinway…the former leader of the space.
It was a fascinating moment and comparison. The Shigeru Kawai’s at that time were 50% of the price of NY Steinways, and featured designs that were actually closer to that of Hamburg Steinways. They had carbon fibre actions, soundboards that were older and higher-quality, bridges that were more complex and better manufactured, and generally more tonal colour. And perhaps most damaging, they came with an origin story as compelling as Steinway’s….something that past competitors simply couldn’t match.
It was also one of the last rating guides Fine would release before switching to the current and somewhat tortured rating system that attempts to blend brand reputation (regardless of present-day quality in some of his categories) and price range (regardless of value for money) with actual musical performance.
STEINWAY & SONS MODELS & PRICE
|STEINWAY & SONS UPRIGHTS|
|Steinway 4510||45″||Sheraton Satin Ebony||$35,300|
|Steinway 1098||46.5″||Satin Ebony||$33,300|
|Steinway K-52||52″||Satin Ebony||$38,800|
|STEINWAY & SONS (NEW YORK) GRANDS|
|Steinway Model S||5’1″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$69,700|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$71,600|
|East Indian Rosewood||$98,300|
|Steinway Model M||5’7″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$74,300|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$76,200|
|East Indian Rosewood||$106,100|
|Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories||$89,100|
|John Lennon Imagine Polished White||$116,300|
|Onyx Duet Polished Ebony||$110,200|
|Steinway M 1014A||5’7″||Chippendale Mahogany||$103,300|
|M 501A||5’7″||Louis XV Walnut||$132,500|
|Louis XV East Indian Rosewood||$154,100|
|Steinway Model O||5’10.5″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$83,300|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$85,200|
|East Indian Rosewood||$114,900|
|Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories||$96,900|
|John Lennon Imagine Polished White||$124,800|
|Onyx Duet Polished Ebony||$115,500|
|Steinway Model A||6’2″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$96,200|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$98,100|
|East Indian Rosewood||$131,700|
|Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories||$109,700|
|John Lennon Imagine Polished White||$141,500|
|Onyx Duet Polished Ebony||$126,400|
|Steinway Model B||6’10.5″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$108,700|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$112,700|
|East Indian Rosewood||$150,500|
|Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories||$124,600|
|John Lennon Imagine Polished White||$159,400|
|Onyx Duet Polished Ebony||$140,200|
|Steinway Model D||8’11.8″||Satin and Polished Ebony||$171,100|
|Polished Ebony w/Sterling Hardware||$175,100|
|East Indian Rosewood||$240,300|
|Polished Ebony w/White/Color Pops Accessories||$179,300|
|John Lennon Imagine Polished White||$219,200|
|STEINWAY & SONS (HAMBURG) GRANDS|
|Steinway S-155||5’1″||Polished Ebony||$86,500|
|Steinway M-170||5’7″||Polished Ebony||$89,200|
|Steinway O-180||5’10.5″||Polished Ebony||$100,400|
|Steinway A-188||6’2″||Polished Ebony||$103,100|
|Steinway B-211||6’11”||Polished Ebony||$118,900|
|Steinway C-227||7’5.5″||Polished Ebony||$133,800|
|Steinway D-274||8’11.8″||Polished Ebony||$179,300|
STEINWAY & SONS PIANO SERIAL NUMBERS
|DATE OF MANUFACTURE||SERIAL NUMBER|
|1856 – 1880||1000 – 4500|
|1900 – 1910||95000 – 140000|
|1920 – 1930||200000 – 270000|
|1940 – 1950||300000 – 331000|
|1960 – 1970||366000 – 418000|
|1980 – 1990||468500 – 516700|
|2000 – 2009||554000 – 587500|
|2010 – Present||589500+|
*Disclaimer: Merriam Pianos offers the following information for the educational benefit of customers world-wide, and does not constitute an endorsement by – or imply representation of – the various manufacturers. For a full selection of the brands Merriam Pianos proudly represents, please click here.
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