I bet if you were to ask anyone what is the best grand piano made the answer would be a Steinway. Whether that’s true or not is debatable, but there’s no denying that the company makes a fine piano that any professional pianist would be proud to play or own. But do you know how a Steinway piano is made?
The following video is a bit dated as it’s actually narrated by John Steinway himself, who passed away in 1989. That said, it shows the detail of how a precision instrument is created. One thing you’ll notice is that the soundboard used to be made from Sitka spruce (just like many acoustic guitar tops) which is now a protected species. The company still uses spruce but doesn’t indicate the type.
Although the type of spruce no doubt affects the sound, it seems that the actual design of the soundboard is more important. According to Wikipedia, “The soundboard in Steinway pianos are double-crowned with Steinway’s diaphragmatic design. The diaphragmatic soundboard, which was granted a patent in 1936, tapers in thickness from the center to the edges, which permits more freedom of movement resulting in a richer and more lasting tonal response.”
Steinway actually has quite an interesting history, with founder Heinrich starting the family tradition in a house in Seesen, Germany in 1820. In 1853 he moved to New York City, where the company has been based ever since. Believe it or not, in 1972 the company was sold to CBS, which later sold it to a Boston investment firm, eventually passing through two more private equity firms before landing with hedge fund Paulson and Co in 2013, who still own it today.
Being owned by a company that specializes in financial engineering often wreaks havoc on a company, but the brand still stands for great craftsmanship, and you’ll get a taste of it in the video below.