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June 7, 2014 Steinway Piano Gallery

The 8 Myths of Buying A Used Steinway Piano

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Steinway & Sons pianos are the most coveted pianos in the world. Having a Steinway & Sons piano represents a commitment to quality, pride of ownership and musical enjoyment for many years. While Steinway & Sons are not the most expensive pianos on the market, the purchase price of a new Steinway & Sons piano does create a temptation for many consumers to consider purchasing an older Steinway piano at a lower price. While Steinway & Sons pianos can produce wonderful music for many years, buying a used Steinway & Sons piano is not always the best investment. This brochure will answer many questions about purchasing a quality piano and provide a check list to be used before making a purchase. As the Latin term “Caveat Emptor” proclaims, “Let the buyer beware”

 

MYTH #1:
Older pianos are better than new ones. 
In the piano world, older is not better. In fact, pianos are at their peak performance during their first 10 years. The only people who make this “older is better” claim are those who sell or rebuild older pianos and those who simply aren’t well informed. Older pianos do not measure up to new pianos in two important areas:  their tone does not have as great of a dynamic range and the action does not feel as responsive.  While it is possible for older pianos to be acceptable to some players, the piano never plays or sounds as good as it did when it was new.  The evidence is irrefutable.  Whenever a performing arts center or music institution needs a new piano, they always look for a new one first.  If older pianos were better, why would they not save money and buy a used piano instead?  Over 95% of the major piano concerts in North America are performed on Steinway & Sons pianos that are typically 10 years of age  – or NEWER.

 

MYTH #2:
What about the so-called “Golden Age” of Steinway?
Be wary of anyone who uses this term. There is no such thing as the “Golden-Age of Steinway”. It is a term made up by re-builders who want to glorify the piano they rebuilt. Google the term. You will find that the dates vary from 1876 to 1955 depending on whose website you visit and their respective agenda. Beware, it is salesperson’s hyperbole. The greatest players and the best performance halls in the world today would proclaim that the Steinway pianos being built today are the finest pianos Steinway has ever produced. Henry Z. Steinway, at a luncheon he attended at the age of 91 in 2007, commented that the one constant in the piano business since he started in his family’s business in the 1920’s was that he was told that the best Steinway pianos were the ones built 10 years previously… and he was told this year after year for over 70 years. In other words, there has always been a segment in the piano world, primarily non-Steinway piano dealers and rebuilders who want to discredit new Steinway pianos. This is nothing new. It is an easy statement for a salesperson/rebuilder to make in order to give credence to their product. Thirty years from now the same salesperson/rebuilder will be telling their clients that new Steinways aren’t as good as the ones built today.

 

MYTH #3:
Steinway is going to start making their pianos in Asia, so a used Steinway is best.
Steinway & Sons pianos have been made in the current New York factory since 1873 and Hamburg since 1880. Steinway has no intention to move their factory. Anyone who says otherwise is fabricating a negative story. Ironically, the salespeople who recklessly make this claim typically represent companies who are infamous for shifting production from country to country, chasing the lowest manufacturing costs while also lowering quality but keeping the brand name the same. Steinway is different. The family of Steinway does include pianos built in other countries to other quality standards but they have the integrity to brand it accordingly, i.e. Boston and Essex. Other companies aren’t nearly as ethical—choosing to put the same brand name on all their pianos regardless of quality level or country where it is produced.

 

MYTH #4:
Steinway ownership has changed so their pianos aren’t as good as they used to be.
Steinway was a publicly traded company for over 25 years—as are most piano manufacturing companies. In 2013 Steinway returned to private ownership with New York native John Paulson acquiring the company.  Mr. Paulson has no plans to change the company either in the quality of the products, the workforce or the location of its factories.  Henry Z. Steinway, the great grandson of the founder, was active in the company until his death in 2009.  Most of the senior management of Steinway have been with the company for over 20-30 years.  Many of their factory employees are 3rd and 4th generation workers.  The commitment to excellence at Steinway has never been stronger.  In recent years many competitive piano companies have filed for bankruptcy or experienced severe financial difficulties. Steinway, on the other hand, is in better financial shape today than it has been in decades.

 

 

MYTH #5:
The Internet is the best source for information about purchasing a piano.
While the internet can be a source of information, it can also be a source of mis-information. On internet chat rooms, people who give advice typically have their own agendas. Their goal is to discredit other brands and to create doubt in the mind of the consumer. It is an amazing fact that often a consumer will visit a piano showroom in person, play or hear a piano, talk face-to-face with someone who knows a great deal about pianos, then go home and put more credence in the opinion of a self-proclaimed expert on the internet whom they have never met. These so-called experts talk about the benefits of purchasing a piano which they have never heard or played!

 

MYTH #6:
Internet piano forums are the best source for information about purchasing a piano.
Inevitably the search for piano information will lead to the piano forums on the internet. Although there are individuals not connected to the piano industry on the forums, these forums has a lot of technicians/salespeople who express their opinions. Because there are very few authorized Steinway dealers, these individuals rarely work for a Steinway dealership and favor other brands. Many of them have little experience with NEW Steinway & Sons pianos. Many have never played a NEW Boston or Essex piano and know very little about them. Advice is often given on pianos they haven’t personally heard or played. The best source of information is your local piano dealer where you can physically hear and play a variety of pianos and talk face-to-face with an expert who values their reputation in the community they serve.

 

MYTH #7:
The Internet has made the purchase of used Steinways a better option for consumers.
The internet doesn’t take into account the face-to-face integrity of the seller or the musicality of the piano. The internet allows for a wide range of subjectivity without any accountability. Photos & lighting never show the real story. Without personal interaction the internet has made it easier for older pianos to be misrepresented. The meaning of “good condition” is a very subjective statement even among piano technicians.

 

MYTH #8:
A used Steinway can be purchased at a great price on an internet auction site.
Be very leery of auction sites. Many consumers have experienced “buyer’s remorse” from purchases made over the internet and auction sites. In most instances there isn’t anything that can be done to resolve the problem after the purchase. What is surprising is that otherwise sophisticated individuals make a large purchase without personally inspecting the instrument. Pictures—-and even technician’s reports—-can be very deceiving. Auction sites particularly can be pretty loose with the facts—we purchased a used Steinway & Sons on an auction site, that upon its arrival we discovered three different serial numbers on various parts of its cabinet.

WHEN IS A STEINWAY NOT A STEINWAY?

Purchasing a rebuilt Steinway is not for the inexperienced. What makes a Steinway piano is the design, the quality of the material used in its construction and the workers who build it. A Steinway piano that deviates from this recipe compromises its musical and lasting integrity. The term “rebuilt” can mean many things to different people and thus not all “rebuilt” Steinway pianos are the same.

 

A PIANO CAN BE BROKEN DOWN INTO THREE MAIN AREAS:
  • The belly of the piano consists of the soundboard, the bridges, the pinblock, the plate, the ribs and the strings.
  • The action of the piano consists of the hammers, the hammer shanks and flanges, the dampers, the repetition levers (whippens), the keys, the key tops and the keyframe.
  • The case of the piano consists of the outer rim, the lid, the music rack, the key cover, the pedals and hinges.
A complete rebuild would require all of the above to be replaced. They rarely are. Most “rebuilt” pianos only have a few of the above items replaced. A complete rebuilding process costs upwards of $25-35,000. Surprisingly most rebuilders do not use genuine Steinway parts. These rebuilders will purchase their non-Steinway parts from less expensive (and lesser quality) sources. Steinway is selective on the quality of technicians to whom they will sell their parts. The result is that most rebuilt Steinway pianos are not really Steinway pianos. They are comprised of non-Steinway parts made or modified to fit in a Steinway piano. One major university in the northwest paid a reputable rebuilder over $35,000 to rebuild their Steinway model D. When it was finished the soundboard, the strings, the pinblock, the hammers, the whippens were all non-Steinway. The only real Steinway parts on the piano are the iron plate and the name on the fallboard. The university has been so disappointed in the results they are now fundraising for a new Steinway.

Is the rebuilder willing to sign one of these?

BEFORE YOU BUY A USED STEINWAY READ THIS

 

FEATURES A USED STEINWAY MAY BE MISSING:

Below are the dates of a few of Steinway’s exclusive innovations that are key ingredients to creating the finest piano in the world. If you are considering a used Steinway grand piano, provide us with the serial number and we can determine the year it was built and which improved features the piano may be missing.
  • Overstrung Scale (1859)
  • Tubular Metallic Action Rails (1869)
  • Cupola Plate (1872)
  • Duplex Scaling (1872)
  • Capstan Screws (1875)
  • Capo d’Astro Bar (1875)
  • Sostenuto Pedal (1875)
  • Continuous Bent Rim (1878)
  • Accelerated Action (1931)
  • Diaphragmatic Soundboard (1936)
  • Removable Underlevers (flanges attached with screws) (1959)
  • Hexagrip Pinblock (1963)
  • Permafree-II (patented Emralon-treated cloth b u s h i n g )
  • Action Centers (1983)
  • New York Improved Action Geometry (1992)
  • Renewed Collaboration with Hamburg (2007)
  • New Leg and Pedal Mounting System (2010)
  • Clear Finished Bracing (2010)
  • Vastly Improved Fit and Finish (2010)
  • Polished Key Cover (2010)
  • Polyester Factory Finish Option (2011)

 

CHECKLIST BEFORE BUYING A USED STEINWAY

Before purchasing a used or rebuilt Steinway piano you should answer affirmatively to all of the following questions:
  • Does the piano consist of 100% genuine Steinway parts?
  • If the piano was rebuilt, has the rebuilder been to the Steinway factory for training within the last 5 years?
  • If the piano is older than 20 years, has the action been completely regulated by a Steinway factory trained technician and have the worn parts been replaced with genuine Steinway parts?
  • Will the rebuilder provide a signed statement that all parts are genuine Steinway parts?
  • If the piano was built between 1962-1982, have the teflon bushings been replaced by genuine Steinway action parts?
  • Is the dynamic range of tone as wide as a new Steinway?
First time buyer? Start HERE