Buying a piano is a highly personal decision – besides the tonal character of the piano, and touch/feel preferences, there’s one selection criteria that should stand above all the rest, and that is how resonant the piano is.

So what does that mean, exactly?

Resonance refers to how long the piano’s soundboard will sustain notes across the entire 88 keys of the piano. In a resonant piano, those notes will sound and die off very slowly. In a less resonant piano, the sound will die off more quickly, which has a less than desirable affect on notes you want to sustain or sing for longer durations.  In the treble area (starting at middle c through F- C7 where most melodies are played) is where a less resonant soundboard becomes a liability, which compromises the piano’s ability to provide the necessary sustain needed in this section of the piano.

So how do you listen for resonance? Here’s what a trained technician will do, known as the “pluck test” which you can also do for yourself:

Locate any string within the 5th or 6th octave ranges. With sustain pedal engaged, pluck the string with enough force to generate a clear tone. Listen and time (in seconds) how long it takes for that tone to slowly decay and disappear entirely. A resonant piano will yield a decay length of 15 seconds or more in the mid-treble section. As the strings get shorter in length into the high treble, you can expect shorter sustain. 

You can also perform the pluck test on multiple pianos in a showroom – if the pianos all have acceptable tunings and well adjusted actions, it will be evident which piano(s), have the longest sustains.

Are older pianos less resonant, and should they be avoided?

This question is a hotly debated issue between piano manufacturers and seasoned piano technicians. Piano manufacturers, naturally, have a vested interest in consumers buying NEW pianos – their business model doesn’t support the sale of used instruments, which they are often competing against. We service and have evaluated many pianos that are 40-100 or more years old that sound heavenly, with ample resonance. Typically, these pianos are in environments with relatively consistent temperature and humidity, which provide a stable environment which minimizes soundboard expansion and contraction, that over time, can compromise the sound quality of the instrument.

While a piano’s action can be customized to increase or decrease the lightness or heaviness of touch, and hammers can be voiced to produce less or more brilliance, there’s really not much that can be done to improve a piano with limited resonance. There are a few reasons for this, mainly due to the individual characteristics of soundboards where no two are ever alike, the condition  of the bridges, and unique patterns of soundboard woodgrain that impact the sustain. In other words, even if the piano plays exactly as you like, and has the perfect tone, if the soundboard isn’t generating enough sustain, it would be wise to continue your search.

We’ve evaluated pianos for clients that had extraordinary sustain, but whose actions were too heavy or too light, or were either too bright or muted.  In these instances, we advised the piano was worth serious consideration, since we would be able to bring the tone and/or the action to the exact liking of the client. Pianos like this are like “diamonds in the rough” where the proper action regulation and/or hammer voicing bring the piano to its fullest potential. Sometimes a dealer will factor in an allowance for such work, as might a private party seller.

We perform two levels of piano evaluation:  1. Thorough documentation of every aspect of a piano, and 2. Basic inspection, but both cover an analysis of the piano’s resonance. If you have a piano you’re considering buying that you’d like us to evaluate, don’t hesitate to contact us. 

In early February, I was contacted by the Washington Post to contribute to an article chronicling the loss of Angela Hewitt’s longtime musical companion of 17 years, a handmade one-of-a-kind Fazioli Concert Grand Model F278, customized specifically for Ms. Hewitt. You can read the entire article HERE.


Angela Hewitt, London 2016 © Keith Saunders


Which leads us to…

Every professional musician in the world, especially those who play in orchestras or perform in a solo capacity, plays on their own, beloved, reliable, completely familiar instrument, usually custom-modified to fit the player.

Except pianists.

The vast majority of the best pianists, as they tour and record, are at the mercy of whatever instrument the venue or studio provides… Or perhaps it’s a rental or loaner piano that a manufacturer or a dealer makes available.

Playing music at a world-class level, requires complete immersion, and is almost a form of making love. And virtually every one of these pianists has to lose themselves, be intimate with…and make love to a complete stranger. There are many accounts written by great pianists over the last hundred or so years, describing the challenges and perils of playing on unfamiliar instruments, particularly those in less than optimal condition. To put this in perspective, it takes time to get to know a new or unfamiliar instrument. Each piano is different and has its own unique tonal and touch characteristics. This process can take weeks, perhaps months to cultivate. Most pianists don’t have this luxury.

Angela Hewitt is one of the very few pianists in the world who is able to record and play on her own piano, and for the past 17 years every recording and every concert, whenever possible, has been performed on her precious partner.

Imagine her shock, pain, and grief when her partner was killed. We don’t know all the details, but the movers accidentally dropped the piano on the way out of a recording studio and the damage was beyond repair.

Angela Hewitt lost a lover, her partner, her sanctuary. She will grieve that piano for some time, perhaps even years.

I’ve experienced this loss firsthand, both as a technician caring for a small handful of irreplaceable instruments that have been lost to fires, accidents, and other unfortunate events, as well as being a witness to their owners losing these irreplaceable pianos.  The loss of a beloved piano affects its owner much the same way as losing a spouse, close friend or confidant, and follows the stages of grief that we all experience when we lose a loved one.

Angela Hewitt will get another Fazioli, likely a custom instrument like she had, thanks to her longstanding relationship with the owner of Fazioli pianos. She will hand select it. It will be a beautiful instrument. And life will go on.

But it will never be the same as the piano… there will always be that little spot of grief and loss in her heart for the great love that was lost.







Everyone knows the brand name Steinway. It’s like Mercedes-Benz, or Google.
There’s a dozen other fabulous, expensive pianos made in the world—and only a single digit percentage—perhaps 5%—know any other piano brand at all, with the possible exception of that Asian brand that begins with a Y…

There’s another difference that piano people, but few others, know about. There are two Steinways: Hamburg Steinway and New York Steinway. The New York Steinway factory opened in 1854; the Hamburg Steinway factory opened in 1880. The United States, by and large, knows only New York Steinways. The REST of the world, all the other countries, know only Hamburg Steinways.

So, same company, right? Yes.

Same ownership? Yes.

The pianos in both factories are identical, right? No.

Let’s start with the glaring differences:

• Different wood used in the rim—hardwood, but a different species; in New York Steinways, hard-rock maple is used; in Hamburg Steinways, it’s beech and a different species of maple. So—a different basic, fundamental sound.
• Different finish—the Germans have used polyester for over 30 years, and the Americans have stuck with lacquer—so the Hamburg instruments tend to be shiny, and the New York instruments tend to be satin or semi-gloss
• Different action parts—Hamburg Steinways use Renner parts, the oldest and, most say, the best wooden piano parts maker on the planet, made in Germany for 130 years. New York Steinways use parts made by them, or made by someone (I don’t know who) for them.
• Different kinds and species of spruce in the soundboards—means the essential quality of the ring, bloom, and sustain of the piano are subtly different.
• Different kind of hammers—Hamburg uses the Renner high-compression Weikert felt hammers; New York uses their own proprietary low-compression hammer, probably made out of Bacon felt. The high compression hammers are “opened up” and softened with needles to bring their tone out; the low-compression hammers are treated with hardening solutions and protocols to bring their tone out; very different voicing and attack qualities and procedures are necessary.
• The “arms” look different—the arms, or cheeks, the ends of the piano’s rim that flank the cheekblocks and the keys—are squared off in New York Steinways, and are rounded on Hamburg Steinways.
• Different bass strings—different makers; the German one very small, the American one the biggest in North America. Some, if not most, say the German strings are superior.

Finally, there are tonal differences between the two. New York Steinways have a unique tone that can best be described as “rich” or complex, while their Hamburg counterparts have a “cleaner’ or “crisper” sound. These differences are largely due to the different kinds of hammers the New York and Hamburg Factory use: New York Steinways use a low compression hammer that requires hardening as part of the final factory prepwork. Hamburg Steinways utilize the opposite; a high compression hammer that requires softening to bring it to its full tonal potential. Additionally, the kind of wood each manufacturer uses for the rim or case also has an impact on sound. New York Steinway uses rock maple for their rims, which is an incredibly dense wood that conducts sound beautifully. Hamburg Steinways use a slightly softer wood made of beech. That said, both pianos possess a sound quality that is uniquely “Steinway”, one that is instantly recognized by experienced pianists and technicians all over the world.

The obvious question at this point would be “Which one is better?” Like any fine piano, it really comes down to individual taste. We’ve maintained a handful of New York and Hamburg Steinways over the years that were all exceptional instruments, ones we’d rate in the top 5 percentile.

Post 1970 Hamburg Steinways are very rare to find in the US, and their market value is around 30% more than New York Steinways. If you haven’t had an opportunity to play a Hamburg Steinway, we currently have an extraordinary Hamburg B that would be an ideal candidate to compare to a New York B. You can learn more about this piano HERE.


This is truly a fascinating question. To answer it properly would take pages and pages of dense, technical writing, and none of us want that, so I’ll try to make my views clear quickly and simply.

There are a whole group of parts of the piano that definitely do NOT improve with age—the strings, the damper felt, the delicate moving parts of the action:  hammers, shanks, whippens, key bushings, underfelt, the little rubber buttons on the outside of the piano—anything that wears and becomes brittle with use over the decades.

And USE is the operative term here. I maintain a Steinway model “A” that sat in a crate in a hotel basement in San Francisco from 1928 until 2000. The parts and keys look white and new; they function perfectly; the plain wire strings are still shiny and wonderful; we changed the bass strings only because they were oxidized—a purely cosmetic decision. Everything else on the piano is like being transported back in time—a serious piano geek’s dream.

What about the rim of the piano, the case, and the plate, the gold-colored, harp-shaped massive iron thing that holds most of the 40,000-pound tension of all the strings? These parts, unless they have been subjected to outrageous punishment, will last, and be functional well into the 22nd century. Everyone reading this will be dust, and a rim and a plate made and used in the early 20th century will still be going strong.

So, ethical rebuilders take these massive parts, the case and the plate, and use them as a platform to essentially build a new piano on a vintage base. This is exactly what high-end shops that restore vintage cars do; they build a new car on an old frame and chassis, with all-new, modern but vintage-looking (cosmetically) parts on the inside, new paint, the whole works. At its heart, it’s a ’32 Ford coupe; but really, it’s a new and expensive automobile worth 60 or 70 thousand dollars.  Car freaks could just as well pay less money for a replica kit of that car, but the market says the vintage body makes that old car worth more.

And so it is with vintage Steinways, for instance. I could make an exact-in-all-ways replica of a Steinway grand piano using a new rim and plate, and have all of the parts in the piano be exactly what’s in a brand new, $100,000 Steinway, or a rebuilt vintage Steinway—and I’d have a difficult, if not impossible, time selling it for what it cost to make. My point? The global piano market says the iconic name on the fallboard, Steinway & Sons, makes all the difference in the world. And perception is reality in the market….

But wait a minute, you say, what about the most important part of the instrument? The very heart of the instrument? That much-discussed and little-understood thing called a soundboard?

That, my friends, is for Part 2. Stay tuned. So to speak.

If you’ve glanced through my website, you will know that I am a big fan of Steinway pianos. They comprise a significant percentage of my personal tuning and maintenance clients, and an overwhelming majority of my restoration clients. 75% of the pianos I sell are used Steinways.

There are two reasons for this: first, Steinway did an insanely great job branding their name on the global consciousness as THE piano in the world and THE piano to have. Second, for almost all of their history, both Steinway factories – one in New York City, begun in 1854, and one in Hamburg, Germany, begun in 1880 – have been making, according to most artists, the finest pianos in the world.

Here is the surprising fact:  320 million people in the world—the United States—know a Steinway piano that comes from the New York factory. The entire rest of the globe—some 7 billion people—know a Steinway piano that comes from the Hamburg factory.

Every single one of those German Steinways have action parts made by the oldest and most illustrious action parts maker in the world, Louis Renner. In essence, those parts made by Renner are genuine Steinway parts…for the 7 billion of us that don’t live in the United States.

Other than certain short periods in the 70’s and 80’s, every American Steinway piano used action parts that were either made by or subcontracted for Steinway to Steinway’s exact specifications.

Artisan rebuilders all over the world have a few brands of world-class after-market action parts to choose from when they restore a Steinway piano, or any piano, to its “as new” glory: Steinway & Sons, Renner, Abel, Tokiwa, Ronsen, Wessel, Nickel, & Gross, Isaacs, Yamaha…a long list.

If you restore a 1932 Ford coupe to its original glory, and you use a transmission built by a small, artisan, aftermarket company, is it still a Ford? Absolutely.

If you restore a Steinway grand piano, and use artisan aftermarket parts made by another company, is it still a Steinway?

Absolutely. Reputable rebuilders, using a wide array of parts from different manufacturers, restore Steinways to an incredibly high and excellent standard. Rest assured that when you fall in love with a piano like this, and buy it, you are buying a Steinway in all its glory. 

I just had another stark “experience replaces belief” thing happen. Last week I sat down and played a 1993 Steinway “L,” really listened to it, felt it, “grokked” it, as I’ve learned to do so quickly after 40 years. Normal living room, carpet underneath, nice spacious house, nice mix of hard and soft surfaces. The piano sounded […]