Steinway and Sons Know the Keys to Success

By Sarah Yang

An employee at Steinway and Sons attaches the strings to the piano

The sounds of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” echo throughout the room while an audience listens intently to the soothing music. The man at the piano plays with ease and a smile on his face. As the song ends, the audience claps and looks on with amazement.

This classical number, written hundreds of years ago, is not being played at a large concert hall at the Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, but rather Steinway and Sons piano factory in Astoria, Queens. The musician is Wally Boot, the tone inspector at the factory who has worked there for 48 years.

Boot’s job is to make sure every piano that leaves the factory is in top shape with the right tuning. He inspects about five pianos daily, poking and prodding each instrument until every note is correct.

“I get to practice all day and get paid for it,” said Boot of his work.

Steinway and Sons has been a leading manufacturer of pianos since 1853 when Henry Steinway, a German immigrant, started making the instruments in a factory in downtown Manhattan. Later, the company moved its headquarters to Queens where it is still based today.

The company makes grand pianos based on size, the categories vary from models S, M, O, A, B, D,  ranging from the baby grand S-model to the concert grand D-model. The S-model retails around $50,000 while the D-model can cost close to $100,000. Customers can choose wood types from mahogany and walnut to the more expensive Macassar ebony from India. The factory produces 10 pianos a day with a very thorough and detailed manufacturing process.

“That’s really what makes a Steinway, it’s a very personal instrument and we have special instructions to make it a certain way,” said Sami Shaker, an engineer who has worked at Steinway for 13 years.

It takes an average of nine months to a year to create a piano. Three months of that time period are used to condition the wood in a special room that controls the equilibrium moisture content, which ensures that the percentage of moisture to weight of a piece of wood will make it stable enough for the lifetime of the piano.

The process starts with creating the rim of the piano. Workers glue together long strips of wood in 10 to 11 layers depending on the model. Four men are needed to create the rim using a metal mold of the particular model, they bend and twist the wood to adjust the shape. Afterwards, the piano makes it rounds throughout the factory where employees create the rest of the body of the piano, attach a soundboard, strings and keys and paints it a shiny lacquered colored.

Steinway and Sons not only has a commitment to producing a great quality instrument, its employees are treated with the same respect. All the employees are like a family, one that is proud of its legacy and its products.

“Once you get here it’s a second home. When you’re here you feel that you’re part of history, over 150 years of history, there’s something very fascinating about that,” said Shaker.

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