Rebuilding Your Steinway – Separating Fact from Fiction

I’m currently rebuilding a Steinway A. Since my customer was unsure what kind of finish to choose, I suggested they visit the local Steinway dealer and have a look at different kinds of finishes. Since my customers spend part of the year out of state, they instead needed to visit a Steinway dealer out of state. I was shocked when I received a call from them describing their visit. Seems this particular dealer didn’t like people coming into his store who were not going to be sending any money his way, and proceeded to lay into them with quite a dishonest routine. I did my best to reassure my customer, but the seeds of doubt had been planted by an unscrupulous salesman.

Dismayed, I decided to do a little digging. Imagine my chagrin to find out that Mr. Steinway Salesman was simply parroting propaganda originating directly from the mother ship. Indeed, some of the claims made by Steinway are so absurd, so ridiculous, I felt a need to write a rebuttal via my blog.

There are 12,116 genuine Steinway parts that make up a Steinway piano, and unfortunately for those who have their Steinway pianos restored outside of the Steinway Restoration Center, there are nearly as many imitation parts that are used in the name of cutting corners and saving money.

Wow. This is so misleading. I use parts that are the best available. “Cutting corners” is simply an insult. My whole approach is to avoid cutting corners. Being more expensive does not make Steinway parts better! If I could be convinced that Steinway parts were the best, I would not hesitate to use them. 15 years restoring pianos has led me to believe otherwise. In the past, a lot of technicians have avoided Steinway parts because of their inferiority. No one in their right mind would purposely buy a more expensive part that then needed extra work to overcome its deficiencies when they could buy a part from a manufacturer with better quality control that didn’t require extra “dressing.” This was especially true with hammers. Out of the box,  Steinway hammers would take hours of lacquering and needling to get them to sound right, whereas hammers from Abel or Imadegawa could be installed and sound spectacular with little or no additional labor. So this is a double-edged sword: not only are Steinway parts more expensive to begin with, they then may require additional labor cost to be up to the standards of parts that are better right out of the box. “Cutting corners” is never something I would do, but being conscientious with my customers’ money is a priority, and using parts that end up costing way more money simply to have the Steinway name is insane.

restoration companies will opt for cheaper imitation parts — often claiming that they are somehow superior to the genuine Steinway parts.

“Imitation” parts, nice language. Other parts may be more consistent, need less work, and regulate more accurately, but no matter, since they don’t have the name they must be crap, “somehow”. Baloney.

If you restore your Steinway piano somewhere else because of a lower cost estimate, any savings realized initially through use of cheaper, non-Steinway parts will be lost due to the diminished long-term value of the instrument.

Again, this is baloney, pure and simple. Often older Steinways are advertised as specifically having parts from other manufacturers, why would they do this if it would decrease the value?

If it doesn’t have 12,116 genuine Steinway parts, it isn’t a Steinway

Really. As I understand it, at one point the quality of Steinway’s action parts was so bad, even THEY were forced to use Renner parts for a time. Does that mean that those new Steinways left the factory with a nameplate that read “68% Steinway”? Well, according to what they want you to swallow now, they should have! What about all those Hamburg Steinways with Renner actions? Guess those weren’t real Steinways either, but they sure weren’t sold as being inferior! This is dishonest rewriting of history.

we replace all of the hardware on the piano with genuine Steinway parts, whereas someone else might polish the existing hardware to look new

Here we are getting into the absurd. Old hinges and hardware can be polished to look like new, and often the originals fit better than new hardware. Chucking the old hardware into the trash is a complete waste of resources and the customer’s money. But with new hardware they can profit in two ways, by selling you something new you don’t need, and also by recycling the “scrap.” But according to them, if your lid hinges are not brand new, somehow your piano is inferior. Absolutely absurd!

The Steinway Restoration Center is the only authorized Steinway piano rebuilder in the world — and the only place where you are guaranteed that 100% genuine Steinway parts will be used to restore your Steinway Piano

Are we to believe that Steinway manufactures its own strings and tuning pins? Highly doubtful. And Steinway no longer manufactures their own plates, they get them from Kelley in Ohio the same as just about every other manufacturer, so what even constitutes a “genuine” Steinway part? Something they are selling apparently.

you’ll receive a dated certification record indicating that your piano has been restored by Steinway & Sons using 100% genuine Steinway parts.

Ooh. A certificate. I’m SO impressed!

Whether your cherished Steinway is in need of custom refinishing, or replacement of the action or soundboard, it couldn’t be in better hands — the hands that originally built it.

The hands that originally built it? Those must be some very old hands indeed. If the Steinway workers who originally built my customer’s piano are still working there, assuming they were at least 25 years old at the time, that would make them 105 at a minimum today. Amazing indeed! Everyone knows that Steinway has gone through ownership changes over the years, and while they may have the designs of the old pianos, much has changed. The Steinway of today is not the same as the Steinway of 100 years ago. While they have improved from what they were doing a few years ago, there have been plenty of stumbles and missteps. Remember the teflon action fiasco? And how about building uprights with a screwy design that can be nearly impossible to tune, and then blaming the tuner?!

Steinway NEVER sells its soundboards — so if you restore your piano somewhere else it may still have the Steinway & Sons trademark logo on it, but if it doesn’t have a genuine Steinway & Sons soundboard, it has lost the internal magic that makes it a Steinway.

Now this is absolutely true. While most tasks in piano rebuilding do not require a factory to be done properly, the soundboard seems to be an exception. The soundboard in a piano can almost always be rebuilt, and should be. In the extremely rare case that your Steinway would need a new soundboard, by all means, SEND IT TO THE FACTORY! In 15 years I have never once encountered a Steinway with a replaced soundboard that has not had its tone compromised severely. Not one single time. I can always spot them because they don’t have that signature sound. But again, soundboard replacement is almost never necessary, even though there is no shortage of technicians who will try to convince you otherwise. ($$$)

Steinway of course wants to sell their parts and rebuilding services, so keep this in mind when you encounter their hard sell. While you should definitely be concerned about the competence of your rebuilder, to claim that Steinway is perfect and everyone and everything else is “cheap” “imitation” “inferior” not “genuine” etc. is absolutely ridiculous.

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9 Responses to “Rebuilding Your Steinway – Separating Fact from Fiction”

  1. Mark Roth Says:

    Since writing this I have learned that when Steinway restores a piano, the only thing that is kept is the cabinet. Everything else is new. So they’re not so much restoring your Steinway as replacing it, and overcharging you in the process. Why on earth would you need a new keybed? Talk about unnecessary expense. A new plate?! They’re cast iron for goodness sake! Now that you’ve been scared into thinking you won’t have a “genuine Steinway” they gut yours and take you to the cleaners! The reported price tag for a model M? $33,000.

    • Jack Hines Says:

      I called Steinway last year and can confirm that reported price tag. But that’s just for the mechanical restoration… It’s much more if you want to have it refinished as well.

      Fortunately, I have a great local registered piano technician who is doing the work (not a complete restoration BTW). Your comments are completely in line with his opinions on the subject.

      Thanks for taking the time to write your rebuttal; very helpful! JH

  2. Our Life With Kids Says:

    So glad I came across this post! I haven’t been able to decide how/where to have my Steinway fixed up before bringing it to my home from my mother’s. There is so much info online with differing views. Thank you!

  3. Roberta Piket Says:

    I came across your post by accident, but I’m shocked that Steinway actually has a page dedicated to such lies. I’ve been a professional pianist for many years (and owner of an 6’4″ A III) and have discussed piano parts with many, many piano techs (including my cousin who is a professional tech). Steinway parts are certainly NOT the best and, as you point out, they have often purchased parts from Renner et al themselves as opposed to manufacturing the parts themselves! For them to claim that only they can rebuild a Steinway is shear nonsense. I hope for their sake that your customer figured out they were being scammed.

    • markaroth Says:

      Thank you so much. Yes everything did work out with the customer. The Wessell Nickel & Gross parts worked beautifully. Not sure if that page is still up but I didn’t want to hot link to it.

  4. To Practice the piano Says:

    Thanks for finally writing about >Rebuilding Your Steinway – Separating Fact from
    Fiction | Mark A. Roth’s Blog <Loved it!

  5. Vicci Says:

    I am also glad to have come across your blog. I was considering having my mother’s old Steinway rebuilt so she can enjoy playing it more and was ready to contact them for an estimate. Now if you have a post somewhere about how to select someone to rebuild/restore a piano, that would really be helpful since having Steinway do it is probably not my first choice any more.

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