Thursday, 30 October 2014 20:00

A Taste and a Tour

Yesterday I visited the Steinway Factory in Astoria, New York to help select a new Steinway B piano for a west coast client.

  • The Piano Audition Room

    This is one of the "audition rooms" for new Steinway pianos at the Steinway factory in Astoria, New York. The acoustics here are meant to simulate what a Steinway would sound like on a concert stage. Concert Technician Erik Diehl is putting the finishing prep touches on one of the pianos before I start my "piano tasting".

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    Robert Berger, Steinway's Director of Customer Satisfaction, and Tim Stephenson, Steinway's West Coast Institutional Sales Manager, were my gracious hosts duing this piano tasting.

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    Detail of Erik working his magic to make the pianos sound - and feel - their best.

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    Three beautiful Steinway B's waiting to see which of them will be crowned the winner!

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    The tasting begins. 

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    And we have a winner!  Steinway B #599331. Tuned out to be the very first piano I tried (the one I was playing on in the previous picture). Rich bass with vibrant treble tones. Erik worked his magic to fix some of the repetition action and get the treble range to punch through the powerful bass more clearly. What a wizard!

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    This is an older listening room. The ceiling is lower, and the acoustics sound like being in a studio or a living room.

After sampling the pianos (and selecting a gorgeous instrument with a rich bass and a clear treble), I was given a semi-private tour of the factory. Public tours are available on Tuesdays, and normally the factory is bustling with workers, but we happened to walk through the factory on a day when they were taking inventory, so it was nice and quiet - perfect opportunities to take lots of pictures of what Forbes called the top 3 factory tours in the USA.  Magical!

Steinway Factory Tour

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    The Steinway Factory in Astoria, New York. Can't believe it's taken me nearly half a century to get around to seeing this musical monument!

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    Where is the Steinway Factory located? Why, at Steinway Place, of course!

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    My tour of the Steinway factory began - and ended - with Wally Bolt's shrine. Wally has been the "piano finisher" for 50 years and is set to retire at the end of October, 2014.

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    Wally shows off a piano with a custom inlay finish with exotic woods and a new nickel-plated frame.

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    Steinway is introducing a new type of music rack that will allow for multiple viewing angles.

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    Steinway's massive boxing machine. This is where new Steinwway Pianos get packed, boxed, and shipped. It seems that everything at Steinway is massive!

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    A new Steinway Piano waiting to be shrink wrapped.

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    A shrink-wrapped Steinway piano. Sure beats the old hay stuffing and wooden boxes of yester-year!

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    A fully boxed Steinway piano, ready for shipping. I think I'd need a bigger Christmas tree...

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    Steinway's boxes have some nifty technology: an anti-tip indicator, showing if the box has ever been tipped or dropped, ensuring safe and pristine delivery.

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    Thin slabs of rock-hard maple, before they are formed into piano rims.

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    A massive planer for shaping and straightening long planks of wood. The Steinway factory is a woodworker's paradise.

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    One of seven massive molding machines for bending those planks of maple into the outer shape of a piano. It takes 20 minutes to bend, glue, and clamp each layer of wood into shape.

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    Detail of one of Steinway's massive molding machines. The rim bending process is all done by hand, the same way since the factory opened in the latter half of the 19th century.

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    Detail of the mold clamps.  You can see all the layers of maple used to form the piano rim.

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    When Steinway says it builds its pianos by hand, it's serious. They still use these original hand tools to bend and mold the wood around the molds.

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    Steinway can mold about seven pianos a day.  On average, approximately 4 are produced per week. That's an incredible level of old-world craftsmanship still thriving in today's tech-obsessed society.

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    Exotic wood veneers being seasoned in a climate controlled room.  Some of these veneer stacks cost as much as $10,000 each!

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    Molded piano rims being seasoned in a climate controlled room. 

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    This shows how large a piano rim can be. Or how small I am. Or both...

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    Continuing our tour of the Steinway factory...

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    Pin blocks and other supporting frame work being inserted into piano rims. No metal is used to secure the inner components to the outer rim - just good old fashioned dowels, glue, and master craftsmanship!

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    Bit by bit the pianos are being put together.

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    A model of Steinway's famous action mechanism. I wasn't allowed to take photos in this top-secret section of the factory, but I did get to play this really really big key...

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    Hand-carving a bridge for the string posts. 

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    This hand-chiseled bridge is a work of art.

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    Assembling the cast-iron frames into the piano bodies. The iron frames are the only component assembled at a separate facility - a foundy based in Ohio owned by the Steinway company.

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    An action-filled scene.

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    Custom music desks with exotic veneers.

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    A massive CNC machine for precision milling of piano parts.

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    Examples of the CNC's handiwork.

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    Another massive CNC machine.  I think this one makes piano lids...

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    One of Steinway's newer CNC machines with a nifty computer terminal. Modern tech meets old-world craftsmanship.

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    One of Steinway's older CNC machines. Can you tell I'm fascinated with CNC machines? They're soooo cool...

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    Planks of wood getting ready to be shaped into sounding boards.

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    An assembled sound board waiting to be planed.

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    A planing machine for sound boards.

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    Finished sound boards showing their final thickness.

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    Another massive green machine on the Steinway factory floor.

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    Finishing my tour with the man who finishes pianos, Wally Bolt. Happy Retirement, Walt!


Read 6435 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 November 2014 17:23

1 comment

  • Comment Link Elena McCalla Wednesday, 05 November 2014 15:36 posted by Elena McCalla

    Thank you so much for sharing!

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