Steinway and Sons is perhaps the most recognized and revered brand of piano, dating back to 1853. And rightfully so! Steinway is an industry-leader and innovator with 126 patents in piano making. Some credit Steinway for inventing (or refining) the modern day piano and continuing to be “the piano by which all others are judged”.
To own a Steinway and Sons piano is an honor, an investment, and a legacy to leave for future generations. But this honor comes with a significant price tag.
One option for those who would like to enjoy the beauty and richness of a Steinway piano at a lower price point is to purchase a used piano. This guide will help you determine whether a used Steinway is right for you and how to purchase a used Steinway piano.
While there is really no standardized classification system for used Steinway pianos, there are six general categories:
Original: An original used Steinway has never had any parts replaced since manufacturing. The piano is entirely original and has only been serviced and original parts repaired. These pianos are usually less than 20 years old.
Repaired: A repaired Steinway is in playable condition. Some parts have been repaired but none of the major components were replaced. Depending on their age, some repaired pianos may need major components serviced or replaced in the near future.
Rebuilt: A rebuilt Steinway has had all its original components serviced and rebuilt to their original condition. The soundboard, bridges, and action parts are the most common major components that need rebuilt in a piano.
Factory-restored: A factory restored Steinway was serviced by the Steinway Restoration Center in New York City. All the repairs and replacements are genuine Steinway parts.
Heirloom Collection: These pianos are completely refurbished with genuine Steinway parts and labor, usually at the Steinway facilities. Heirloom Steinways come with the same 5-year warranty and a certificate of authenticity as new Steinway and Sons pianos.
Shell: This is a used Steinway that has not been serviced or restored. Shells are not usually in playing condition and show significant signs of neglect, damage, or compromise.
For the purposes of valuation, many piano dealers and Steinway experts place used Steinways in one of three categories:
“Like new” instruments are in excellent condition and only require standard maintenance like tuning and action adjustments. Under the right circumstances and care, a used Steinway may stay in “like new” condition for 25 years or longer! It is possible to discover Steinway pianos well over 30 years old that have no need for restoration or reconditioning. A Steinway piano is built to last if it is well cared for and kept in the right environment.
Reconditioned Steinways typically required new strings, tuning pins, damper felts, hammer reshaping, and action regulation. The amount of work depends on how the instrument was maintained and stored over the years.
Fully restored Steinways are generally over 50 years old and usually required extensive work to get them back to “like new” condition. Some fully restored pianos basically get entirely new parts and workings along with repaired keys and case refinishing. But, again, this is entirely based on how owners have cared for the piano and the environment it lives in.
One thing to remember is that it wasn’t new Steinways that gave this company its global recognition; it was the fact that each piano was made with such impeccable craftsmanship that they stand the test of time. So, while used Steinway pianos come with a much lower price tag, that does not mean you are necessarily purchasing lesser quality.
Most used pianos still have many generations of music, life, and beauty left in them if they are properly maintained. One unique thing about pianos is they can be built and rebuilt over and over again.
This does not mean that Steinways appreciate (gain value) with age; it does mean they hold their quality well. Perhaps it’s impolite to discuss, but there is such a thing as depreciation with musical instruments. Just like the value of a new car declines as soon as it leaves the lot, a new piano (of any brand) depreciates as soon as it leaves the showroom floor.
The cost of a used Steinway piano varies widely depending on what type of piano it is, how much restoration or maintenance it requires, and many other factors. Prices typically range from 30% to 70% less than the cost of a new Steinway.
Steinway pianos are designed to use only genuine Steinway parts, thus the saying, “If it doesn’t have all 12,116 Steinway parts, it’s no longer a Steinway.” Some people go so far as to call Steinways repaired with non-Steinway parts a “Steinwas”… it used to be a Steinway but now it is not.
While Steinways repaired with non-Steinway parts still produce beautiful music, using non-Steinway parts does alter the piano’s sound, performance, and most assuredly its investment value. For this reason, it is important to ensure the piano rebuilders used authentic Steinway parts to repair or rebuild a Steinway.
This is not simply a marketing ploy to keep the prices high. Steinway pianos are musical instruments and works of art and design. Non-Steinway replacement parts are much cheaper and sometimes made differently, impacting performance and sound.
The soundboard in a Steinway gives you an idea of the standards by which Steinway measures every single component of their piano. Steinway only uses close-grained, quarter-sawn Sitka spruce with a prescribed minimum number of annual growth rings in the wood. Steinway does not purchase any soundboards. They make every board in-house to tightly control the quality of materials and craftsmanship. Steinway never sells their soundboards and this particular part can only be replaced in the Steinway Restoration Center.
What does this mean for you? Steinway pianos repaired with non-Steinway parts should cost significantly less than those repaired with genuine Steinway parts. Most resellers will not advertise whether a Steinway was repaired with genuine parts or not. If this is important to you (and if you are paying for a Steinway, it should be), it is best to ask and to even request to see the repairs log if available.
This is a hotly debated topic with accomplished musicians on both sides presenting compelling evidence. Many professional pianists declare they’ve played both outstanding and sub-par pianos from all piano companies, including Steinway. Every piano is unique and has its own temperament and quirks. Perhaps that’s part of what makes playing them so enticing.
The brand recognition and authority of Steinway is no accident. They worked hard for many years to develop a high quality business and piano and a loyal following. They woo artists and schools to play and advertise their instruments. In many ways, Steinway has placated and even fed the music culture that deeply values tradition and authority.
At the highest end, the differences between a Steinway and most other brands are subtle (if they exist at all). Truthfully, even many accomplished pianists have difficulty identifying pianos by sound or feel in blind tests.
Many other piano brands are experimenting, innovating, and improving their product year after year. Steinway, on the other hand, is slow to change and committed to tradition. Some Steinway artists are beginning to invent and try to mesh the old and the new.
Most of Steinway’s patents have expired, leaving the brand with few technological innovations while the rest of the piano industry has thrived on experimentation and pushing the envelope of what is possible.
While some might disagree, the evidence shows that purchasing a Steinway does not guarantee you are purchasing the best piano. There are many other companies building pianos of equal quality, sound, and longevity. Buying a Steinway is more akin to purchasing a piano that is also a work of art and craftsmanship itself. It is a good investment but it should not be considered the only option for best quality and overall performance.
All pianos require regular maintenance and care. The environment in which they are stored impacts all pianos. So, in that regard, all pianos are equal and their value largely depends on their condition. With the exception of digital pianos, which do depreciate with age (because of advances in technology), most reputable pianos age well as long as they are properly cared for. Therefore, there is no evidence or market research to suggest that Steinways hold their value longer or better than other reputable brands. It is less about the name on the piano than the condition and quality.
If you are purchasing a used piano of any kind, it is important to be aware of its condition inside and out. Purchasing from a reputable dealer is the best defense against paying too much or ending up with an instrument that needs extensive work. The dealer will be able to help you choose the right piano that matches your lifestyle, musical abilities and