For the best sound and higher rates of amazing an audience, musicians require top of the line instruments. You could say they’re a bit particular, especially when it comes to pianists. Whether they play jazz, classical or pop, pianist want the best piano–the best sound–possible. One name has stood above the rest for over a century, with a manufacturing process to match.
Steinway has been around since 1853, beginning in the Manhattan loft of German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway. For thirty years, Henry and his sons developed and built what would become the modern piano. Since then, Steinway has been known for their status and unmatched quality. The company continues to develop and build their pianos to this day, recently providing a fascinating behind the scenes look at the process with photographer Christopher Payne capturing the moments from start to finish.
Each piano is made in one of several factories around the world. Though there are machines to aid workers, most of the piano is made by many hands. About 85% percent of the piano is made out of wood, which is air-dried for one year and then dried in a kiln to ensure the lumber doesn’t warp or crack. Once the wood is ready the construction process begins. The first step is bending the wood to make the rim of the piano, which is done with a maple glaze and finished off by a machine press. The rim is then left to set for 24 hours and conditioned for several months depending on size.
Many parts of the piano, such as the rest plate and the corners are made out of several layers of wood. This is done to make sure the piano is sturdy for years to come. The soundboard bridge and iron framework come together to create the belly of the piano or the innards. The soundboard is made from spruce
the same maple wood as the rim, while the framework is made from high grade metal. This is one of the most delicate procedures. The soundboard and bridge have to be placed properly and be the right height. Otherwise, the piano strings won’t have the correct pressure causing jarring sounds.
Next come the strings which are placed into the piano by hand with the aid of machinery. Each note gets three strings and are placed around a duplex, which is supposed to provided rich sounds. Once the hammers, which are made out of felt, are finished its placed into the key frame and fitted into the piano. The slightest skewed inch affects where hammers are hitting the strings, so it’s important to get the fit just right.
Such precision and dedication goes all the way down to the keys. Workers use special instruments to measure the depth or how far down the keys travel. Once the piano is completes, it sits in a soundproof room where a machine plays the keys to break them in. After making sure the tone is even across the all keys, the piano is ready for amateur and professional players alike.
See the complete series of Steinway photographs on Christopher Payne’s website.