The Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum(MIM) has a display about Steinway pianos. I attended a lecture the afternoon of our museum visit that taught me all kinds of interesting things about Steinway pianos, including the fact that 97% of piano performances with orchestras in North America are done on Steinway pianos and that Steinways appreciate rather than depreciate in value. A 40-year-old Steinway will probably sell for about four times what you paid for it.
A Steinway representative from Phoenix who introduced himself simply as Kevin, told us that Steinway pianos take almost a year to make. Yamaha produces 125,000 pianos a year, Kawai 100,000 but only 1200 Steinways are made each year. At one point the company tried to increase that figure to 2,500 but they found it compromised quality too much so they went back to building fewer but better pianos.
The MIM had a display of tools used by Steinway makers. Each Steinway piano is handmade. A Steinway piano has more than 12,000 individual parts all made and installed by people. Steinway employees are very skilled– most make working for Steinway their life time career. Kevin said many have been employed by Steinway for forty years or more. Most of the senior management of Steinway pianos have also worked for the company all their life. Steinway pianos are made at the company headquarters in New York located right near the La Guardia airport. Steinway also has a factory in Hamburg Germany.
Kevin told us that the Steinway logo is one of the ten most recognized logos in the world. The famous conductor Arthur Rubenstein once said, “A Steinway is a Steinway and there is nothing like it in the world.” There are 1000 features on the Steinway that set it apart from other pianos. The Steinway family came to America from Germany and built the first Steinway in their kitchen in 1853. A son went back to Germany in 1864 and began building pianos there. During World War II the two branches of the business were distinct but now they work together.
Billy Joel is just one of 1600 artists who endorse Steinway pianos. Other artists include Diana Krall, Roger Williams, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinsky, Van Kliburn and Vladimir Horowitz. To be an official endorser of Steinway pianos you must own one yourself and perform on it exclusively. Steinway artists are not paid by Steinway or given free pianos. They do not sign a contract of any kind with Steinway. Artists must request to be recognized as official Steinway endorsers. Kevin told us one of the reasons Steinway has been so successful is they have always taken the feedback of pianists seriously. They invite musicians to perform at Steinway Hall in New York and they listen to what they have to say about ways to improve their pianos. Performers say one of the great things about Steinway pianos is that their touch action responds to the mood of the pianist. Each Steinway piano has a unique sound.
Four generations of the Steinway family built pianos but in the 1970’s the company was sold to CBS and in the 1980’s to private shareholders. 90% of Steinway pianos are black.
You can read more about the history of the Steinway family on the Gist Piano website.
You can learn more about Steinway pianos at the company’s website.
You can watch a video about how Steinway pianos are made called The Making of a Steinway.
A movie made in 1929 gives a silent black and white interesting version of the process of piano building which eighty years later remains much the same.