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  • Narrator: It takes about 11 months to craft

  • just one Steinway & Sons grand piano,

  • and these instruments don't come cheap.

  • A Model D concert piano in ebony,

  • the most affordable finish of any Steinway piano,

  • will cost you about $187,000.

  • But that's nowhere near how high prices can reach.

  • Steinway has produced

  • two of the most expensive pianos in the world,

  • worth over $2 million each.

  • The next most expensive piano

  • is half the price, at $1.2 million.

  • [drills whirring]

  • But with several other premium pianos on the market,

  • is there something about Steinway's sound that stands out?

  • And is that what makes these pianos so expensive?

  • Named the "Rolls-Royce of pianos" by the BBC,

  • Steinway has produced some of the most

  • sought-after grand pianos for over 160 years.

  • It's the piano of choice for Billy Joel,

  • Lang Lang, and many other professional musicians.

  • But compared to other high-end-piano makers,

  • it's often Steinway's sound that sets it apart.

  • As a performer, I can wear many different masks,

  • depending on the piece that I'm playing.

  • For some pieces, you want to be very, very diabolical.

  • You know, enlist.

  • [playing piano]

  • And at the same time, lightness.

  • [playing piano]

  • Narrator: Creating that sound starts here in New York,

  • at one of only two Steinway factories in the world.

  • Each grand piano is 5 to 9 feet long

  • and weighs between 540 and 990 pounds.

  • Often, the bigger the piano,

  • the pricier it will be.

  • About 85% of a Steinway piano is made of wood,

  • and one of the most crucial woods

  • is used for the soundboard.

  • The soundboard is the life of the instrument,

  • the soul of the instrument.

  • This is Alaskan Sitka spruce.

  • This is the most expensive wood

  • that we have in the piano.

  • And we actually get it from the trees,

  • primarily, that are on the shady side,

  • the north-facing side of these islands.

  • So they grow very little each year,

  • and that means that we have growth rings

  • that are very close together, not spaced apart.

  • Narrator: Sitka spruce is used

  • in other stringed instruments, like guitars,

  • and it grows in a few areas in the Northwest US,

  • but more than 50% of

  • the Alaskan Sitka spruce they source

  • won't meet Steinway's standards.

  • The wood must have a very specific

  • grain density and direction,

  • both which can impact the quality of sound.

  • Steinway looks for closely packed, straight grains,

  • no more than plus or minus 15 degrees

  • off a 90-degree vertical grain.

  • There's a reason it's so strict about this.

  • It's partly why when you press a key on a Steinway piano,

  • you hear a distinctly long, sustained tone.

  • The soundboard's edge must attach perfectly

  • to the piano's rim,

  • the curved wooden frame of the instrument.

  • The full rim is made up

  • of an inner and outer rim.

  • Some piano makers attach

  • each of these pieces separately,

  • but at Steinway,

  • a team of artisans bends both together.

  • Steinway says this method

  • gives the piano a stronger foundation,

  • lowering the chances it will break.

  • Steinway uses hard rock maple

  • for both the inner and outer rims.

  • The key here is to use wood that will,

  • again, allow sound to flow freely.

  • Gilroy: Some companies, as an example,

  • will have hard rock maple for the outside rim,

  • but the inside rim, to save money,

  • they'll use something like lauan.

  • Lauan is not as dense and hard as hard rock maple.

  • And when you have your sound waves in that soundboard,

  • some of them are being absorbed

  • a little bit by that lauan,

  • more than they would be by hard rock maple.

  • [testing piano key]

  • Narrator: The consistent touch of the keys

  • is another valuable element

  • unique to each Steinway piano.

  • There are just two artisans in the entire factory

  • trusted with weighing off

  • all 88 keys of every keyboard.

  • This ensures each key is balanced,

  • so a pianist won't have to use more force

  • to press one key over another.

  • Gwendolyn Folk: I used to dream about the pianos chasing me.

  • Now, it's not a problem.

  • It's up to -- they the boss.

  • I listen. I pay attention to what it want.

  • The key to it is pay attention

  • and watch that hammer. That's the key to it.

  • Narrator: Each key is connected to a felt hammer.

  • When pressed, the hammer strikes the strings

  • to create sound.

  • A key shouldn't respond to the finger's touch

  • too quickly or too slowly.

  • Folk: So, when I go to check the return, it stays.

  • You see the hesitation? It's no good.

  • That means it'll stay up in the piano.

  • Do you see how fast that one is?

  • That's too fast, so I take this one away.

  • Then I put this one back,

  • and it wants the small one.

  • You see? So I put the small one,

  • you see how nice it is?

  • And that tells me what it wants.

  • [drills whirring]

  • So that shows you the difference.

  • Every one is different.

  • Narrator: One of the most difficult jobs

  • is the final tone inspection.

  • The goal is to create

  • a balanced tone throughout the piano

  • by slightly adjusting the hammers as needed.

  • From note to note,

  • we can soften or harden these mallets,

  • or hammers, as we call them,

  • and balance the sound

  • that they generate into the string.

  • Narrator: The quality of a piano's tone

  • is incredibly nuanced,

  • something only an experienced ear can decipher.

  • Jones: If I take this note

  • [plays note]

  • and then soften it, in this case

  • I will put a needle in the hammer to soften it,

  • then you'll hear that tone change.

  • [plays note]

  • [plays note]

  • Becomes a little bit smaller.

  • And in increments, small steps,

  • I can go through

  • and find the notes that are too big,

  • too bright, and step them down.

  • [plays piano]

  • Well, I'm 58 and I started when I was 28,

  • so that's 30 years and counting.

  • It's still, I'm still learning how to do this.

  • It never stops.

  • Narrator: Like the ways you can customize a Rolls-Royce car,

  • you can do similarly with a Steinway piano.

  • Depending on special additions,

  • veneers, and wood finishes,

  • prices for a single piece can reach $500,000,

  • like these pianos designed for Steinway

  • by Lenny Kravitz.

  • In the piano vault underneath the factory,

  • Steinway houses one of the most expensive pianos

  • it's ever produced,

  • worth $2.5 million.

  • On average, the price of a new Steinway piano

  • increases about 4% every year.

  • This is partly because

  • the cost of Alaskan Sitka spruce

  • increases at a higher rate than inflation,

  • according to Steinway.

  • And while the new pieces get more expensive,

  • old ones become more valuable too.

  • A Steinway piano can last several decades

  • with the required touch-ups and restorations.

  • [hammering]

  • A 1965 Steinway Model D piano

  • is worth over $98,000 today.

  • That's more than 13 times

  • what it likely sold for.

  • And although there are several elements

  • that greatly impact the price,

  • it's the musician who ultimately decides

  • what the piano is worth to them.

  • [playing piano]

Narrator: It takes about 11 months to craft

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Why Steinway Grand Pianos Are So Expensive | So Expensive

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    moge0072008 posted on 2021/08/14
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