In the age of automation and mass production, it's gratifying to know that Steinway pianos are still created by hand at the Steinway Piano Factory in New York. Built in 1872 by the Steinway family, the Steinway Piano Factory in Astoria, Queens creates more than 2,000 pianos annually, still using the 19th-century machines used to bend frames and hand-crafting many components.
These are some of the many facts shared with audiences at an Artisan lecture at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen library in New York City this week. Third generation Steinway Craftsman Bill Youse led the audience through the stages of the craftsmanship involved in creating a Steinway piano - each one a unique instrument that takes almost a year to build.
The instruments begin as a 25-foot long strip of laminated rock maple - a concert grand has 18 layers of laminate - which 5 workers bend into shape using the same rim press used in 1876. No heat or steam is applied, just clamps and pure muscle power! After the rim has been built, it becomes the case for 12,000 parts that go to make up a Steinway grand piano - all assembled using wooden dowels instead of screws or nails - strong enough to sustain perfect tuning and beautifully finished in lacquer or polyester.
At the end of the lecture, after questions from the audience, we were introduced to the latest addition to the Steinway piano family the Steinway Spirio. The Spirio is described as the world's finest player piano system, available on select Steinway grand pianos. Bill Youse assured the audience that the Spririo the same hand-built piano but it incorporates 21st century technology in a player system controlled by an i-pad. The Spirio piano on display, brought to the library from the Steinway showroom on the next block, looked and sounded like a Steinway, except the virtuosic player was invisible.
If you'd like to find out more, the Steinway Factory in New York is open to the public for tours on Tuesdays - you can also find a detailed chronology of Steinway Pianos here.