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Book Review: The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand Piano by James Barron

The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand Piano by James Barron is an insight in to the making of piano K0862. Read more to find out about the fascinating journey this piano takes from tree, to concert hall.

Most books that we have read talk about the history of Steinway from a historical context. These usually start with and introduction to Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg and his family; follow through the Anglecanisation of the name and brand in New York; the troubles of war, strikes and competition all the way through to the most recent Steinways and how they have developed the business.

Unlike these books, Barron takes a new approach of focusing on one specific piano, K0862, and following it's journey through the factory stages to becoming a completed concert grand. Historical explanations are given throughout with the family history and patents being introduced as necessary, but mostly the book focuses on the people in the factory doing the work. Where did they come from? How does this differ to previous decades? What expertise do they have and why? How does this differ to other factories which are automated?

The book begins with one of the most crucial stages of the making of Steinway: bending the rim. This is done by traditional method of brute strength, glue and clamps. This is described to be a precise method timed to the minute for close to perfection. Why are there 18 laminations? Why are they glued in the specific pattern and manner in a time restriction? Follow foreman Gurrado through his day as he oversees his workmen, demanding excellence in skill and time management.

In the third chapter we meet Part No. 81 and through an explanation of wood grains, forests and quality learn that part No. 81 is the vital component which makes one Steinway different to another and causes some to feel that pianos pre American depression sound different to those after. Where does the wood come from and why? What humidity is best, how do they know that? How many rings are there per inch? Every plank of wood which goes in to No. 81 is quality assessed at every stage; when the logs are first felled, when they are rough cut, when they are cut for quality and company manufacturers and again when they arrive at Steinway and have been seasoned. Any imperfection can alter the vibration capabilities of the wood and Steinway and partners are meticulous in removing any plank that does not meet their exacting standards. Meet part No. 81, the soundboard.

As the book continues we learn about the importance of a crown in a soundboard for the ideal tone. Craftsmen who do the bellying lie on the soundboard crafting away with the sharpest of tools until finally the soundboard will only fit that exact piano rim. They are dried to 5.2% moisture content before the piano move on to the next process. People in the belly department are expected to get through two soundboards a day and the process is almost entirely done by hand; unlike the drilling of the wrest pins which is now done with machine as Michael Mohr explains it is not just quicker, but also more accurate. This is one of very few processes in the Steinway factory which are done with machinery.

The following chapter describes the company changes through the decades starting in the 1920's and 30's to help Steinway be profitable and manage through the depression years, where the impression was always given that the company was doing well regardless of the ups and downs. This was also the time in which Steinway stopped castings their own metal frames and a turning point from their original, "we make everything that goes in to our pianos". As the second world war arrived the company was no longer to produce such frivolity as pianos and so instead in 1942 the Steinway factory made wooden parts for glider planes which carried necessary ammunition and relief in to war zones. Steinway also profited from selling several thousand pianos to the army painted in army green. Recovering from the war years was difficult, overcoming the popularisation of the radio and then the television through the 50's and 60's until some economising decisions were made that created a turning point in the history of the company through to its eventual sale to CBS.

We head back to K0862 as the piano is left to rest and the action is made; 54 parts per note, 4752 parts in total. The keyboard is also assembled and we learn that the last piano to leave the Steinway with ivory keys left in 1989. Hammers are produced and bent in to position, the action is assembled on the keybed, the piano receives it's first tuning starting at 430HZ before being played in an automatic machine for 20 mins to ensure it is bedded in.

The book finishes with the final adjustments to K0862 and its eventual playing in by a Steinway patriot. Every process through K0862 being made has been signed off and the last signature is written with the understanding that this instrument has been crafted to the exacting standards that make Steinway some of the best pianos in the world.

We can honestly say that we thoroughly enjoyed this book and its unique story telling of the Steinway piano. We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on Book Review: The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand Piano by James Barron and that it has given an insight in to the making of a Steinway piano.

Book cover of Book Review: The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand Piano by James Barron
Book cover of The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand Piano by James Barron

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