Rolls-Royce automobiles, 25-year-old Macallan single-malt whisky, and Richard Mille complicated timepieces. Although vastly different, each of these luxury products is defined—and revered—for the length of time that its artisans take to create it. The term “luxury” is often used loosely today, but true luxury goods like these distinguish themselves for the amount of time and effort that goes into their production. That commitment to quality extends to musical instruments as well, and no brand is more committed to time-honored practices and labor-intensive methods than Steinway & Sons.
The company was founded in 1853 by Henry Engelhard Steinway, who with the help of his sons began building pianos one at a time—by hand—from the confines of a loft workshop on Varick Street in New York City. Steinway & Sons acquired the first of its more than 125 patents four years later. In fact, the company was granted almost half of those patents during the first 30 years that it was in business. “Make no compromise in quality,” Steinway told his team during the early years. “Build the best piano possible.”
That mantra continues to define the Steinway business philosophy. Today, it takes a team of dozens of craftspeople (with decades of experience) an entire year to build one Steinway & Sons grand piano. And just as when the brand was founded, each piano is handcrafted today. Such an instrument is made up of 12,000 parts, including a rim constructed of maple sourced from the Pacific Northwest and a soundboard carved from Alaskan Sitka spruce. All 88 keys are adjusted by hand, ensuring an evenness of tone, and yet each instrument is different. “The way a piano sounds and feels is very subjective,” says Anthony Gilroy, Steinway’s director of marketing and communications, “and every player’s tastes and needs are different.”
At the end of the day, Steinway only incorporates new technologies and new materials when they are deemed to enhance the finished product, not because they might make the construction process faster and easier. What’s more, the care and precision that go into a Steinway piano’s construction assure that the instrument will last for generations. And as Jürgen Abelbeck—a Steinway craftsman with more than three decades of experience—reveals, that quality is something that inspires the artisans who breathe life into each piece. “I love knowing that something I created will still be making music long after I am gone,” he says.