The first group of improvements concern measures that affect performance, or reduce the amount of musical preparation the pianos need after production — in the factory, by the dealer, or in the field:
Double-“pounding” to develop hammer tone without lacquer
Problem: New hammers are relatively soft and required saturating with lacquer to harden them before they could be voiced. The use of lacquer in large quantity makes voicing more difficult and the results less predictable.
Solution: Although actions always went through a “pounding” by machine to settle cloth and felt parts, they now go through a second, more forceful pounding to naturally harden the hammer felt before voicing so that little hardening with lacquer is needed. The pianos come out of the factory closer to their final voice, and need less voicing by the technician in the field; and, for the end user, the voicing is more stable over time.
Individual hammer gluing
Problem: Using a special fixture, hammers were glued to the shanks in groups. This was fast and efficient in the short term, but because hammers slightly shift position as the glue dries, they required a lot of adjusting later on. The twisting and bending of the shanks during this adjustment put potentially damaging pressure on the action parts.
Solution: Hammers are installed individually, just as they would be in a rebuilding shop. This is much more labor-intensive in the short term, but is more accurate and eliminates most of the need for later adjusting.
Institute measures to reduce incidence of sticking dampers
Problem: Stainless-steel damper wires sometimes wouldn’t slide freely in the damper guide-rail bushings; dampers would stick in the up position, causing notes to sustain.
Solution: Damper wires are now made of nickel silver, which takes a higher polish than stainless steel, and is more malleable for easier adjustment. They are polished in an ultrasonic cleaner (shown), and the damper guide-rail bushings are impregnated with Teflon powder, which reduces friction to near zero.
Scale-indexed action-part mounting system
Problem: Action parts were screwed to the action frame by hand, resulting in slight variations in the positions of parts on the frame from instrument to instrument. These variations then had to be eliminated by careful adjustment in the factory or the field.
Solution: Action parts and screws are inserted by a machine indexed to the scale of the piano. Installation is uniform and exact, so there is little or no need for adjustment later.
Improved hammer skiving
Problem: Strips of felt that are to become hammers must first be “skived,” or trimmed, into a pre-hammer shape so that when the strips are bent in the hammer-making molds, the resulting hammers will be of the correct size and shape. This used to be done using unstable wooden fixtures, and resulted in hammer sizes and shapes that varied from instrument to instrument, which required that more hammer filing be done before voicing in the factory or in the field.
Solution: A proprietary skiving machine (not shown) uses CNC technology to shape the felt strips to the exact specifications originally developed for each piano model so that the hammers turn out the same every time. Very little hammer filing is then needed prior to voicing.
Thin high-treble hammershanks
Problem: Steinway wanted to enhance the tonal sustain in the high treble.
Solution: Thinning the hammershanks of the highest 20 notes to reduce their mass and increase their flexibility allows those hammers to rebound from the strings faster, which increases the volume level of their tonal sustain.
Climate-control action department
Problem: Action specifications such as the tightness of action centers and the dimensions of action parts vary slightly with changes in humidity. This contributed to a lack of uniformity among instruments, as well as the need for greater adjustment in the field.
Solution: Humidity control was integrated into the action department’s closed-loop dust-collecting system.
Replace buckskin with Ecsaine
Problem: Buckskin, a natural suede-finished leather made from the hides of deer or sheep, was used in several places in the action where a tough, smooth material is needed, but it varied in thickness and quality from skin to skin. These variations affected critical action dimensions and made a consistent action regulation more difficult.
Solution: Buckskin has been replaced by Ecsaine, a synthetic material with the same tough, suede-like, low-friction properties as buckskin, but which is uniform from batch to batch. Shown here, covered in Ecsaine, are the hammershank knuckles. A side benefit of the change has been reduced action noise.
Problem: Although it appears flat to the naked eye, the keybed is actually very slightly curved to optimally fit the key frame, on which the keys move. Planing and sanding the keybed to produce this curvature was done by eye, with much variation from piano to piano. This resulted in additional adjustments in the factory and in the field to properly “bed,” or fit, the key frame to the keybed, and to adjust the key height.
Solution: The keybed is now machined with CNC equipment to ensure greater uniformity from one instrument to the next. Less work is required to bed the key frame, and key height is more uniform.
Adjustable music rack
Problem: The angle of the music rack was fixed and did not suit all players.
Solution: The angle of the music rack can now be adjusted to the player’s preference.
The next group of improvements concern the piano’s appearance:
Rounding of case edges and corners on satin ebony models
Problem: The sharp edges and corners of the case on satin ebony models didn’t hold the finishing material well, leading, with handling, to premature wearing away of the finish in these areas.
Solution: The corners and edges are now slightly rounded, which better holds the finish and resists wear longer.
Clearcoat case bottoms
Problem: Unfinished case woodworking on the bottom of the piano was hidden by black paint.
Solution: The woodworking on the bottom is nicely finished, and shown off under a clear coat of lacquer.
Improve appearance of trapwork blocks
Problem: Trapwork on the underside of the piano looked rough, and was painted black by brush, which did not create a neat appearance.
Solution: Trapwork blocks are now sanded, given rounded corners, and spray-painted satin black before mounting on the piano.
Satin lustre (semigloss) soundboard finish
Problem: The high-gloss soundboard varnish showed finish imperfections too easily, and took too much time to cure.
Solution: A satin lustre (semigloss) varnish shows finish imperfections less, looks better, and takes less time to cure, allowing fewer foreign particles to settle in the drying varnish.
High-gloss lacquer finish on fallboard, all models
Problem: Over time, the fallboard naturally develops scratches from players’ fingernails. Due to the “grain” of a satin finish, scratches showed up prominently on satin-finished fallboards and were difficult to buff out.
Solution: The fallboard on all models is now finished in high-gloss lacquer. Such a finish has no grain; while it still scratches, the scratches don’t show as much and can be buffed out more easily.
The last group of improvements concern measures taken to reduce the amount of touchup and repair needed after production:
Protective shields during installation of plate screws and bolts
Problem: Plates can get scratched during screw and bolt installation. Plates are difficult to touch up well.
Solution: Protective plate shields made of polystyrene were developed to fit each model. No touchup is required afterward.
Protective “armor” for cases during production
Problem: During stringing and other production work, the case arms, stretcher, and keybed would get scratched and dented, and would have to be touched up at the end of production. Often, the touchup was noticeable as such.
Solution: Plastic “armor,” developed to fit the front end of each instrument, is kept in place during the manufacturing process to minimize scratches and dents. The result is that little or no touchup is required.
Plate protection around tuning pins during stringing
Problem: The area around the tuning pins can get scratched easily during stringing, and is difficult or impossible to touch up.
Solution: Protective plate shields made of thin sheets of rubber were developed to fit each model. No touchup is required afterward.
Plastic covers to keep strings clean during production
Problem: Dirt and dust would get into the bass-string windings during production, sometimes resulting in discoloration and tonal impairment.
Solution: To keep dirt and dust out, the pianos are covered with plastic sheeting when not being worked on.
Positive-pressure clean room for soundboard finishing
Problem: Despite best efforts to keep out dust, invariably it would get into the soundboard varnish as it dried, making for a less-than-perfect finish.
Solution: Create a positive-pressure clean room in which to spray and cure the soundboard varnish, resulting in a near-perfect finish.
One day in 1932, Josef Hofmann, the American pianist, composer, and inventor who had already spoken of the STEINWAY’s “extraordinary perfection of action,” came to STEINWAY HALL and said, “It isn’t quick enough. Can’t you make it still more sensitive, still more responsive?”
Hofmann’s challenge was the impetus for STEINWAY to become the most responsive and sensitive of any piano made. Frederick Vietor, grandnephew to C. F. Theodore Steinway, fulfilled Hofmann’s request by creating the STEINWAY ACCELERATED ACTION, enhancing the STEINWAY action to respond to the touch instead of being forced into action. Today, the ACCELERATED ACTION is found on all American-made STEINWAYS.
Laboratory tests have proven that the keys on a STEINWAY can repeat 13% more quickly than any other piano. The same features that allow for this faster repeat also provide a much more sensitive, responsive keyboard, an aspect that can be appreciated even by beginning pianists.
The keys of a STEINWAY are constructed of Bavarian spruce. The quarter-sawn maple action parts are mounted on a STEINWAY METALLIC ACTION FRAME, which consists of seamless brass tubes with rosette-shaped contours, force fitted with maple dowels and brass hangers to assure the stability of the regulation.
1983 / “Permafree-II” action centres (Emralon-impregnated centre-pin bushings) are introduced. Emralon, the liquid version of teflon, reduces wear and eliminates friction.
1992 / “New York Improved” action geometry (imporved leverage as well as improved manufacturing precision)
2006 / Escaine is introduced on backchecks, knuckles and balanciers for quieter operation of action parts.
2008 / Climate control and daily computer measurement of tolerances are introduced in the action department for making the world’s finest piano action parts.
Master pianist and U of A music professor Jacques Després knows playing on a great piano is key to his talented students giving their best performances. U of A music students have access to renowned instructors and many opportunities to perform, but the concert pianos have aged.
Wear and tear on older pianos changes how they feel and sound, preventing students from playing to their potential. “It’s like listening to music on earbuds with a laptop,” Després says. “The music is there but not at the best possible quality.”
150: Concerts, recitals and master classes presented by the U of A music department this year
311: Students enrolled in music programs at the U of A. Many go on to perform nationally and internationally.
97%: Portion of concert pianists who choose to perform on Steinways
20,000+: Arts lovers who took in U of A music, theatre and design shows in 2017-18, illustrating the university’s impact on the arts community
Thanks to a dedicated group of donors, a Steinway Model D concert grand piano made its debut at Convocation Hall this spring. It will be an invaluable learning tool for students.
A Steinway takes more than a year to build and is made almost entirely by hand. “When you play on a piano of this quality, you realize things about the music you would not realize on another piano,” Després says. “You’re not held back by the instrument.”
The new Steinway will enrich Edmonton’s vibrant arts community by attracting more visiting musicians, whose master classes and performances will benefit students and music lovers alike. “It is truly a special instrument,” says Després.
Did you know? Laboratory tests have proven that the keys on a STEINWAY piano can repeat 13% more quickly than any other piano. The same features that allow for this faster repeat also provide a much more sensitive, responsive keyboard, an aspect that can be appreciated even by beginning pianists.
1) Balanced Rail Bearing
The balance rail bearing, as you can see in the illustration taken from the 1931 patent, is a rounded felt-covered piece of maple, which serves as the fulcrum on which the key pivots. Only STEINWAY incorporates a rounded surface; other brands have flat rail bearings.
Why is a Rounded Surface Important?
Scenario 1: Imagine a long plank balanced on a flat piano bench. It’s easy to place the plank so that it balances. The plank can be moved slightly one way or the other without either end touching the ground.
If you place your hand on one end and press very lightly, the plank might bend a little but the other end will not move. As you gradually press harder, the other end of the plank will eventually move, but only after you have applied considerable pressure.
Scenario 2: Now imagine the same situation but with a round surface on top of the flat bench. In this case the plank moves easily (friction free), and it is somewhat difficult to balance; once balanced, pressure on either end will cause the opposite end to move.
This principle underlies every STEINWAY action. The benefit is that the STEINWAY keys move friction free on the rounded balance rails making for the most responsive action possible.
2) Weighted Keys
The second distinguishing factor in the touch is the weighting of the keys: Larger weights are placed closer to the balance rail bearing, causing the keys to return faster.
So why doesn’t every piano manufacturer incorporate these features? In one word: Time. Every key found on STEINWAY pianos is individually weighed off — a remarkably time consuming process.
Because the STEINWAY action has a much more sensitive fulcrum than actions of other pianos, all other action-related regulation is also more sensitive. The sensitive fulcrum of a STEINWAYaction increases the complexity of all parts of the action.
STEINWAY, of course, is happy to put in the extra work, especially when the result is the most responsive piano action in the world. As the founding credo states “Build the best piano possible.”
Our very own Angela Cheng shares her personal relationship with music and the power of its universal language. Piano lessons can have a greater impact than you can imagine!
I was 11 years old and didn’t speak a word of English when we arrived in Edmonton from Hong Kong. I was placed in seventh grade – junior high – while my younger sister went to elementary school with our four cousins. It was lonely. And failing everything except mathematics was heartbreaking.
So I begged my mother for piano lessons. I would love to say that I had been a devoted musician from the time I was four years old – I wasn’t. But I think I knew that when I couldn’t communicate with words, I could with music. And that music would help me feel some kind of connection, some continuity.
But it was a hard time for my family. My mom was a school principal in Hong Kong, but she gave that up to come to Canada and work in a factory so my sister and I could have a better future. Even so, she found a way to get me those lessons.
Every Saturday, I took several buses to get to Alberta College on the south side for my piano lesson. I’d spend the whole day there practicing, and then my teacher would drive me home. On Sunday it was the same thing, but we were placed in chamber groups. I remember playing in a trio and with a violinist and a cellist, even though I couldn’t speak English. It didn’t matter because music really is a universal language. Those are very happy memories for me.
I’m so grateful to my mother for finding a way for me to take those lessons, and for bringing us to Canada. I’m also grateful to the people of Edmonton. After a determined music teacher convinced me that music – not medicine – should be my life’s work, a group of Edmonton women set up a scholarship for me. They created a foundation and held bake sales, raffles, bingos, book sales – you name it – to raise enough money to send me to Juilliard in New York.
I know that everything I do is possible because of the people who supported me along the way. I live and teach in Ohio now, but Edmonton is my home. Every time I get a chance to play here, I treasure it.
— Angela Cheng, former Alberta College Conservatory student
Angela is an orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. She has appeared with more than 100 orchestras around the world and is known for her remarkable technique, tonal beauty and insightful musicianship.
Angela is playing a concert at MacEwan on June 2 in celebration of the Muttart Foundation’s 65th Anniversary. Email email@example.com for more information or to order tickets.
Check us out on Facebook and Instagram @steinwayedmonton
Steinway recently introduced this high-tech self-playing concert grand piano called the Spirio. Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Steinway is striking a chord with a new segment of buyers. And some don’t even know how to play the piano.
The key to its newfound success? A technologically sophisticated self-playing grand piano that retains the 165-year-old brand’s rich musicality.
Made in concert with piano engineer Wayne Stahnke, the Spirio uses a mobile app and an iPad included with the purchase to activate the performances of masterful artists such as David Benoit and Bill Charlap.
“It’s a player piano, but we call it a re-performance piano,” CEO Ron Losby said in an interview. “It is a seamless melding of 21st-century technology and Old World craftsmanship.”
The path to a self-playing piano came about after hedge fund manager John Paulson’s Paulson & Co. acquired Steinway in 2013. Paulson was riding high at the time after famously reaping billions from his bet against the housing market.
Yet just a few years ago, the piano maker’s sales weren’t so melodic as young Americans turned away from music for other pursuits. Also crippling: The Great Recession ushered in tighter spending among concert halls and other institutional buyers. From 2007 to 2012, Steinway sales had slumped 13%.
Paulson’s personal love of the piano traces back to his formative years as a kid, when his piano-playing sisters begged his father for a Steinway. His family couldn’t afford it at the time, but Paulson’s father scraped together enough money to instead purchase a baby grand piano.
“But it wasn’t a Steinway, and I remember my sister crying at that time — and I realized how powerful the draw was for musicians to play on Steinway,” Paulson, who could not be reached for comment for this story, said in a video interview posted by the company. “My viewpoint is you can’t have too many Steinways.”
Steinway began spending heavily to develop the Spirio self-playing piano, which made its debut in 2016, and expand sales in foreign markets.
Steinway has hundreds of hours of performances available on the Spirio, which uses a complex system of optical sensors and proprietary software to translate hammer velocity and ensure proper pedaling. Owners get free access to the growing catalog.
It’s that time of year!
Piano Students! Are you either enrolling or going back to piano lessons as the school season begins? Make sure that you have the right equipment – the right piano serves as the appropriate tool for best possible learning experience. Get the satisfaction of a properly balanced key touch and dynamic, rich tone.
Enjoy Spectacular savings and Instant Rebates from $100 – $3,000. 0% Financing up to 36 months on select models*. Monthly Payments starting at only $43.72 for our best seller Roland F-140R Piano!!
Inquire below for more information on models, prices and rebates!
*Financing subject to approval. Offer ends September 8th, 2018.
With a piano template you can envision what size grand piano is best for your space. As a complimentary service, we can send out a piano specialist on a booked appointment to help you size out the proper length of grand piano for your home. Please fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you promptly!