Step Inside The Factory Where Steinway & Sons Makes Its Gorgeous Grand Pianos

piano steinway

Steinway Musical Instruments is about to be taken private in a $438 million deal with an affiliate of Kohlberg & Company, a private equity investment firm.

Last year we toured the Steinway & Sons factory in Astoria. The company is a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments with two factories: one in New York, the other in Hamburg.

Steinway prides itself on having retained manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since all its Grand pianos are made here.

It does however manufacture and market its two lower end Boston and Essex pianos in Asia.

Sales for the company were hit in the New York area and across the world during the recession, with ‘hobbyist’ buyers cutting back on spending.

At the time, Steinway cut a third of its New York staff, reducing the Astoria factory head count to 215, from about 300.

But the New York market recovered quickly. In fact, in 2011 the company sold 2,013 Grand pianos, not including upright pianos. In the last decade the company averaged about 3,300 grand pianos a year.

We start off at a storage room where wood goes through a 'seasoning' or 'ageing' process.

The wood sits in the storage space for months as Steinway begins the long process of lowering the moisture content in the wood.

The wood is then placed in one of four kilns to reduce moisture content. The amount of time the wood spends in these kilns varies depending on the type of wood and purpose of that wood in the piano.

In an effort to be greener, Steinway uses an $875,000 solar thermal system to dehumidify the factory.

Once inside, the wood is cut and separated depending on the part of the piano it is intended for. This part of the factory has a distinct smell of sawdust.

85% of each piano consists of wood, and the wood is passed through this machine that cuts out scrap wood and maximizes yield.

Different lengths of Alaskan Sitka Spruce, which are hand-selected and make their way into the soundboard.

Piles of scrap-wood are collected and sometimes sold.

The construction process begins with the rim bending process. First a team of workers glues together straight grained maple laminates in flat-grained sets.

The roughly 20-foot long sets are then carried over to the press.

Steinway says that flat grained sets gives a 47% improvement of vibrational characteristics over cross-grained plywood style sets.

Once the clamps are in place, the workers begin tightening the clamps from the centre to the outside. This process is extremely loud.

Once this process is completed you have a unified inner and outer rim. This is the rim bending of a Model D concert grand piano.

Rims are removed from the press after about 24 hours and left upright in a warm conditioning room.

The rims stay in this room for months depending on their size.

Each rim has a date written on it which denotes when it was created.

As we move to the next room, my guide and the director of marketing and communications, Anthony Gilroy shows me the oldest operating machine at Steinway.

Prenta Ljucovic started working at Steinway 40-years ago after moving to the U.S. from Yugoslavia. She was one of the few women carrying out inspections.

Sante Auriti, originally from Italy, started working at Steinway about 35-years ago. He came to America from Germany where he worked in textiles.

Auriti started off as a janitor at Steinway but worked his way up. He now builds the company's gorgeous Louis XV pianos.

The soundboard and cast-iron plate are all fitted in the Belly department.

The bridge transmits vibrations from the strings to the soundboard.

Steinway also restores old pianos.

The 'action' department was the one part of the factory that was staffed by women.

The 'action' involves small wooden parts, felt, hammers and so on which are essential to the operation of piano keys.

The process of stringing Steinway pianos involves both manual labour and the use of machinery.

Here we see the 'waterfall' used to capture paint particles.

Before the piano's are ready to go they pass through Wally's World for a final tone regulation and inspection.

Some of the finished pianos end up in the factory selection room.

Lynx, Steinway's new artist in residence, personalizes pianos. This one is called 'Tempest Noir'.

Lynx's paintings are inspired by musical compositions.

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