The Steinway & Sons factory in Astoria, N.Y., operates much like its finished product: a finely tuned instrument of complex moving parts, each dependent on the others for an exceptional result. The analogy ends there, however, for the beauty of the sound created by a Steinway piano is nothing like the din of the factory where it was born, where the clatter of wood planks, the grinding of iron plates and the hammering of steel pins prevail.
Founded in Manhattan in 1853, Steinway hit global fame at the Paris Exposition of 1867, where the brand scored a gold medal, proving to a skeptical Europe that American pianos had not only evolved beyond mere saloon instruments but were the best in the world.
This triumph was the result of technological innovation. Steinway has 139 US patents to its name and is now the only major piano maker left in America. It continues to innovate to compete: these days not against other piano manufacturers but against obsolescence in the digital age. To that end, in 2016 the company introduced Spirio: Operated via iPad (although still playable by hand), it uses a computer and electromagnetic valves inside the piano’s belly to replicate performances by artists from Lang Lang to Duke Ellington at an astonishingly high quality.
Yet the company still leans into its traditional craftsmanship. Each grand piano takes nearly a year to make and contains about 12,000 parts. Elaborate bespoke editions can go for up to $2.5 million.