At the turn of the century, there were hundreds of U.S. piano manufacturers building almost 450,000 pianos a year. People bought a home; in the home was a parlor; and in the parlor was the piano. It was often the second largest purchase families made. It was a symbol of culture, status and was a source of family unity and entertainment. We were defined by our purchase of a piano.
As technologies advanced, new products came on the market that were considered the “new necessities.” Recordings and radios created more passive listeners. During the Great Depression, sales dropped to 28,000 pianos, and the vast majority of U.S. manufacturers did not survive.
WWII also had a dramatic effect on piano manufacturing. Raw materials were unavailable to build pianos, and many of the remaining factories, including Steinway & Sons in New York, converted to making products for the war effort. After the war, sales of pianos rebounded once again.
The 60’s and 70’s saw a thriving U.S. market, and the remaining manufacturers were once again building thousands of pianos for the baby boomers. In the late 70’s, sales of pianos peaked at almost 280,000.
The 70’s and 80’s also saw the rise of imports from Asia. Lower labor costs and assembly line production of pianos from Japan and Korea virtually eliminated all American manufacturing. In the last two decades, imports from China and Indonesia have dominated the marketplace.
Henry Steinway built his first piano in New York in 1853, and the company stands alone today as the only significant U.S. manufacturer of pianos. The Steinway trademark is synonymous with the highest quality piano in the world.
Many new piano buyers are relying on the internet to obtain information on pianos. There is a lot of information, and much of it is either blatantly wrong or at best, misleading. There is no tone attached to the paper or computer screen you are reading. So, how do you find a good source for information?
Here’s a staggering fact. In 2013, there were 946 piano performances with major symphonies in the U.S. and Europe. Nine hundred twenty of them were played on a Steinway. That’s over 97% of the world’s most renowned artists. Consider this: there are twenty three other manufacturers of concert grands.
Steinway was the “Instrument of the Immortals,” played exclusively by Rubinstein, Gershwin, Wagner, Lizst, Horowitz and hundreds of other great pianists and composers of the day. Today’s great artists carry on this tradition and will play nothing but a Steinway… artists like Ashkenazy, Lang Lang, and Billy Joel just to name a few. The “Steinway Artist’s List” and the “Box Score” illustrate the overwhelming numbers. Not one artist on this list is paid for their endorsement.
Why is this? Because a musician’s reputation can be defined by the piano they choose and rarely will they compromise. It isn’t the name Steinway they choose. They will simply play the piano that possesses the broadest breadth of tone colors and the action that offers the greatest control.
I can assure you, if someone made a better piano, the musicians of the world would be playing it.
One need only look to the great music schools to find the answer. Ask why Oberlin, Curtis Institute, Yale, Carnegie-Mellon and over 160 other conservatories and music schools insist on purchasing only pianos from Steinway. These great educators do not ask “what piano should we buy,” but rather “which Steinway should we buy.” The “All-Steinway School” clearly illustrates this fact. Ask also why America’s most prestigious music venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Detroit’s Orchestra Hall and Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium use pianos from Steinway exclusively. Their loyalty is not to Steinway but rather the durability and quality of tone and touch that only a Steinway can produce.
Once again, I can assure you that if someone else could build a better piano, our great music schools would be buying them.
Each year, there is a limited number of Steinway pianos built in New York for worldwide distribution. The company is a bit of an enigma since it is one of the few manufacturing companies that cannot increase their production easily. As a hand crafted instrument with third and fourth generation employees, it is impossible to add “a second shift.” This explains why even in these extraordinary times, Steinway & Sons can rarely meet the worldwide demand for their pianos. This high demand and limited production is what drives the escalating resale value of used Steinways.
It is quite common for a Steinway piano to command over 200% of its original price within ten years of purchase. It is also quite common for that figure to reach 400-1000% for older instruments! Forbes Magazine, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have all agreed: “Few investments, of any kind, rival a Steinway.” Some rare, art case Steinways are already commanding prices in the millions of dollars. The most basic economic factors of supply and demand coupled with peerless quality drive the value of each and every piano from Steinway. The “Steinway Investment Guide” clearly illustrates the increasing value of a Steinway.
Steinways are often thought of as being expensive pianos. When all facts are considered, they are actually the most affordable. Consider this: the Steinway factory and the Steinway Piano Gallery showrooms sell the Steinway 9’ concert grand for $160,000. Many of the other twenty three manufacturers of concert instruments will “list” for considerably more than a Steinway. Some are almost double that amount. This includes almost all concert grands manufactured in Europe and Japan. What would make an import grand piano from Japan list for $199,500 or a European piano list for over $250,000? List price comparisons paint a clear picture of the marketing plan of these builders, and the analysis clearly illustrates the fact that pianos from Steinway are the most efficiently made pianos in the world.
When “boutique” companies attempt to build pianos that they hope might compete with a Steinway, the pianos they produce are inevitably more expensive. Their dealers must routinely—and drastically—discount these pianos. This may sound like a positive to the less informed at the time of purchase, but in reality it’s a negative for those who actually purchase one of these brands. The mass-produced concert grands need a significantly higher retail margin to motivate the buyer with the illusion of a larger discount. Mass-produced piano companies also use the very high price of their concert instruments, along with paid endorsements, to help sell their lower quality, higher margin imports that bear the same name.
In the end, heavy discounting from inflated prices and lower worldwide demand creates a glut of instruments that understandably drive the value of these used pianos down.
The New York Steinway is one of the last vertically integrated hand-made piano builders left in the world. They are built to a standard not to a price. They integrate over 160 years of design experience, the highest quality materials and exacting attention to detail to produce the most durable piano in the world.
Steinway pianos are time-tested to be 100-year plus pianos. There are pianos that have been used in University settings for well over 100 years that are still wonderful, functional musical instruments today. Additionally, they have always been designed with the instrument’s eventual restoration in mind. They are the antithesis of “planned obsolescence.”
Steinway & Sons pianos become treasured family heirlooms. A piano purchased today will not only benefit you and your children, but your grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
They are fabulous investments that routinely command several times their original price upon resale
They are used exclusively by virtually every major performing artist. They are found in esteemed schools of music and major concert venues. They are fabulous investments that routinely command several times their original price upon resale and, as a result, have been proven to be the most affordable piano built today. They speak volumes about the wisdom and good taste of their owners, who with great forethought have provided a living legacy for generations of families now and yet to come. And, they are crafted in America.
Given the above, (singularly or collectively), you might ask why anyone would purchase anything other than a Steinway. In the final analysis, there are really only three reasons:
There are thousands of piano dealers in North America. Only a handful of them are Steinway dealers. It’s neither an exaggeration nor an empty boast to say that everyone in the piano business wishes they could be a Steinway dealer, but that only the very best are chosen by Steinway to represent their family of pianos.
Self-expression is at the very core of our humanity, and a fine piano is a noble tool for that expression.
If a Steinway is not in your immediate future, you will want to be assured that the investment you make today is your first step to a Steinway. A Boston or Essex piano from Steinway is that perfect step. It is like putting money in a savings account as you will receive your full purchase price back when you trade up to your Steinway. It is the “Steinway Promise.”
Self-expression is at the very core of our humanity, and a fine piano is a noble tool for that expression. I hope this information is helpful to you. I believe when fact is separated from fiction and sales hype, you see why Steinway is the best value in the piano industry.