JWG (jwg) wrote,

Steinway Factory Tour

We finally got to go to the Steinway Factory Tour in Astoria. It was as interesting as we expected; somewhat similar to the film The Making of Steinway L1037 which we saw in January (and I just ordered). I recommend this to anyone interested in craftsmanship - reservations needed - it's 9:30-12:00 on Mondays and Tuesdays except July and August.

Bob, our chief guide, a volunteer historian, took us through many aspects of the process, telling us lots of interesting things. I think the key idea is the craftsmanship and extremely high standards that are followed. Many of the workers have been there for 30 - 40 years and in some cases they are second or third generation workers. That was really stressed in the film as well. They make no seconds - he said that if the piano is not up to snuff they chop it up and burn it. We met several of the workers and saw lots of them in action.

The first Steinways were made in 1853 in Manhattan when Henry Steinway founded the company, this factory was built in about 1870 - there was a machine there with a sign saying it had been first used in 1871! Today the company is not owned by the Steinway family, but Henry Z Steinway, age 93, still shows up sometimes. Several years ago to commemorate his 91st birthday they made 91 Steinway "Z"s following the 1915 design which was the year of his birth.

We were shown the veneering operation - they use all wood from the same tree for each piano, carefully matching grains when they glue pieces together and add trim. In several parts of the factory there were vapor emitting pipes near the ceiling to keep the moisture content up high. It must get hot there in the summer since they have no air conditioning.

Bob joked around here and there; he said that if you can carry put a piano on your back you can take it home. I think he said they weigh 900 lbs - perhaps there are people who can carry that although a quick Google check said no?

Apparently when the factory was built on a 400 acre plot Steinway built schools, a library, and housing and basically established a community in Astoria. The workers and their families all spoke German. The factory is on 1 Steinway Place and a block from Steinway Street.

Pretty amazing story - a niche product of great quality, with a tremendous following and with gradual evolution through 150 years. about 98% of classical concerts with pianos use Steinways - there was a scorecard posted on a wall.

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