Steinway’s State-Of-The-Art Plate Factory (2024)

Steinway’s State-Of-The-Art Plate Factory

This article originally appeared inTHE MUSIC TRADESin November of 2015.

Piano maker invests millions in Ohio plate foundry with plans to supply global production.

In 1999, Steinway & Sons faced a critical manufacturing dilemma. The O.S. Kelly Company of Springfield, Ohio, its sole supplier of piano plates, had just lot key customers including Baldwin, Aeolian, and Wurlitzer and was on the brink of bankruptcy. A tough choice confronted management: abandon its sand cast iron plate, a key component that had distinguished Steinway pianos for almost 150 years, and find a new source of supply overseas; or get into the plate manufacturing business by purchasing O.S. Kelly.

“It was a very tricky decision at the time,” recalls Andrew Horbachevsky, vice president of manufacturing, Steinway & Sons. “With so many of the parts that go into our instruments, we have deep sources of supply, but our sand cast piano plate is so specialized and difficult to make. We couldn’t find any foundries capable of meeting our specifications so we opted to buy O.S. Kelly to protect this key source of supply.”

Piano experts will debate the merits of sand cast piano plates, like those produced by Steinway at the O.S. Kelly factory, verses V-Pro plates, which are commonplace with high-volume Asian producers. “It would have been easy for us to just go to China and get a cheaper V-Pro plate,” offers Horbachevsky. “But our sand caste plate is different, a slower production process that we feel yields a better sound. It’s a critical component.” He adds, “Our cast-iron frame, also called the plate or harp, is responsible for sustaining the massive tension of the strings, which by some measures must support tensions of up to 40,000 pounds. There is no margin for error when you are dealing with this type of tension.”

Ten years after acquiring O.S. Kelly, Steinway again faced a serious impasse. The factory and its team of 50 employees were producing quality plates for both the New York and Hamburg Steinway factories. However, aging equipment and rising costs forced management to again make an important choice: plan for the future and commit millions in capital expenditures or close down the plant and find an offshore plate supplier.

In 2010, management again sided with O.S. Kelly and pledged a commitment to invest in a multi-million dollar capital campaign to modernize the aging factory. The investments, initiated in 2012, are just now coming to a close with the completion of a new 25,000- square-foot factory, state-of-the-art CNC machining center, and high-tech recycling systems that will not only make O.S. Kelly a more environmentally friendly facility but lower operating costs as well.

“Night and day” is an apt description of the new O.S. Kelly facility versus the 19th century shop it replaces. Poorly lit areas with sand-covered floors have been replaced by new brightly lit rooms where operators load molds with a special mix of sand and binders. These molds then move by rail to the casting area where operators fill them with a molten mix of iron that can weigh up to 400lbs if it’s a plate for a Steinway concert grand piano. A new high-tech recycling system now eliminates the need for carting hundreds of thousands of pounds of sand used in creating molds to landfill sites each year. Sand now goes through a heat system where it’s recycled to be used again in creating new molds.

The new systems in place at the O.S. Kelly factory are decidedly different from anything a visitor would see at either of the Steinway factories in New York or Hamburg. Steinway is about woodworking and handcraftsmanship, while O.S. Kelly is all about metallurgy and metal working. “We’re very proud that we have a manufacturing and engineering team that can not only visualize complex systems like this, but make them a reality,” continued Horbachevsky.

Horbachevsky and his Springfield, Ohio-based engineering team are especially proud of their new “school-bus”- sized CNC machining center—which can take a 400 lb. concert grand plate, flip it over, and with 48 computer-controlled tools, drill all the holes for hitch pins, agraffes, and tuning pins—and at the same time, deburr all the sound holes. It’s a proprietary machine with a price tag well north of $1 million that, according to Horbachevsky, “will not only bring a new level of precision but also allow us to expand production and take on additional work.” The plate that emerges from this machine is then ready for the painstaking finishing process that includes a powder coating and sanding followed by two rounds of paint and a final matte satin finish.

Springfield, Ohio at one time was the piano plate capital of the world with nearly one thousand workers producing 250,000 plates per year at O.S. Kelly and the now defunct Wickham Piano Plate company. Although volumes at O.S. Kelly today are much lower, the factory is busy supplying thousands of plates to Steinway’s factories in the U.S. and Hamburg as well as a few other domestic and foreign-based piano manufacturers. Horbachevsky sums up, “The precision we use today would never allow us to return to the volumes of the past, but we now have the capability to not only produce the finest plate in the world, but to expand production as well.”

Steinway’s State-Of-The-Art Plate Factory (2024)

FAQs

Where are Steinway pianos made in the USA? ›

Steinways are still handmade in the Steinway New York and Hamburg factories, as they have been since 1880. Experience the making of a Steinway from wood selection to polishing to final tuning at the Astoria, New York factory.

Do Steinway artists get free pianos? ›

130) Steinway Artists are not paid to play a Steinway nor do they receive a Free Steinway for personal use. Steinway Artists choose to perform on Steinway pianos.

Who owns Steinway and Sons now? ›

As of early 2021, Paulson & Co. remains the ultimate parent of Steinway & Sons, with head office at 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

How much does a new Steinway cost? ›

The Model B ranges from $92,400 to $101,700. Model D: Measuring 8′ 11 3⁄4″, the Model D Steinway grand piano is designed for the concert stage and is overwhelmingly chosen by concert pianists. The flagship Model D ranges from $148,700 to $163,600.

How do I know if my Steinway is Hamburg or New York? ›

Steinway aficionados are aware of the difference in the arms of the New York and Hamburg Steinway piano arms. The Hamburg piano arm was more rounded, while the New York Steinway was a more clear-cut arm. The difference was a mildly cosmetic one and created no difference in the piano's tone.

What is the difference between American and European Steinway? ›

European pianos (Hamburg, Bluthner, Boesendorfer, C. Bechstein, Steingraeber, Schimmel, Fazioli, even Shigeru and CFX) are generally described to have clearer, leaner, brighter, more focused sounds, while NY Steinways tend to have richer, rounder, and more colorful sounds.

Who owns the most expensive Steinway piano? ›

John Lennon's Steinway Model Z ($2.37 Million)

Does a Steinway hold its value? ›

A well-maintained Steinway can retain much of its value, more than other premium piano makers. This is partly due to the fact that used Steinway prices are tied to the price of a new Steinway, which rises 3-5% each year.

How hard is it to become a Steinway artist? ›

The artist has to own a Steinway piano. You must give a certain number of recitals every year on a Steinway piano and you should present this list retroactively for a few years. You are also qualified based on your biography. They expect absolute loyalty which isn't hard while these are the best pianos in the world.

What is so special about Steinway? ›

Every Steinway & Sons grand and upright is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and a consummate work of art. Each Steinway, consisting of more than 12,000 individual parts, has its own musical character and is as unique as the individual who plays it.

Why is Steinway so expensive? ›

The special wood procured by Steinway for their famous soundboards alone is of great cost. Steinway pianos combine the resonance of Sitka spruce with the rigidity of Hard Rock Maple to intensify the richness of the sound. Plus, all Steinway soundboards are made with Sitka spruce, the most resonant wood available.

What is the life expectancy of a Steinway grand piano? ›

Even so, to avoid disappointments as your piano is passed down to your children, you need to know that the average manufactured piano lasts about 30 years, whereas a handcrafted piano like a Steinway can go well beyond 50 years.

What is the best year for a Steinway? ›

The Golden Age of Steinway typically refers to the period of manufacturing during the 1920s and 1930s. As remains the case today, during this period Steinway pianos were sought after and considered the best fine pianos worldwide.

Does Steinway negotiate on price? ›

Yeah, Steinway feels they're special enough to not have to discount making their already horrific high prices 30% worse. As for the other "no haggle" store, the best thing you can do in those cases is to express your strong interest but tell them it's just a little too high for your tastes.

Are any pianos made in USA? ›

The Premier American Piano. Since 1854, Mason & Hamlin has proudly continued its tradition of using only the finest materials and time-honored methods to produce the World's Finest Pianos.

Are Baldwin pianos still made in the USA? ›

Since 2001, it has been a subsidiary of Gibson Brands, Inc. Baldwin ceased domestic production in December 2008, moving its piano manufacturing to China.

When did Steinway start making pianos in New York? ›

In 1853, German immigrant Henry E. Steinway founded Steinway & Sons in New York City with the goal of building the best piano possible.

When did Steinway stop using ivory? ›

1956-Steinway along with the other American piano manufacturers all agreed to abandon ivory and start using plastic for keys.

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