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.