Inside World’s Most Legendary Piano Factory
It’s very likely that the stark polished piano you’ve seen at the concert hall was made by Steinway & Sons — in fact, 80 percent of all pianos playing in halls today are made by Steinway. Since the company was founded in 1853 by a German immigrant Heinrich Steinweg, the brand has continuously scored the most innovative, with some 126 patents that shook the industry and gave the piano the shape, sound and touch we’ve come to enjoy today. I’ve long been stunned by the impeccable sound of Steinway pianos and was thrilled to discover that most of the instruments are still being made right here in New York City in the area of Queens once called Steinway Village.
Back in the day, Steinway Village had a foundry and sawmill, houses for all employees, kindergarten, lending library, post office, fire department, and many parks. Today, the same factory (along with its Hamburg location) produces more than 3,000 pianos a year but has hardly changed the core processes and, hence, production time — in the world of nanotechnology it still takes 12 months and many human hands to build one piano.
The rim (the side) is the most visible structural element of a grand piano and it’s made of 25 foot long layers upon layers of long-fiber hard rock maple sheets. It takes five men to move the layered rim and apply it around the metal form — the wood is hard to bend and it has to stay in the rim press overnight, followed by a stay of many weeks in the rim conditioning room to fully dry into shape.
If you live in a place with high humidity the pianos you would find at your local Steinway dealer would have been specially treated at the factory (note “HOT” written with chalk on the photo above). The difference is how dry the wood of your piano would be. A regularly dry wood may work well in a Northern climate. Moving to South America, however, with humidity reaching 80%, will soak the fibers of your dry piano and completely change the sound. Pianos made for hot and humid climates use wood with more moisture retained in its fibers.