WHAT MAKES A STEINWAY DIFFERENT
April 22, 2022
Steinway & Sons pianos are world-renowned for their signature sound.
This rich tonal quality is made possible by Steinway’s innovative soundboard.
Steinway pianos are sought after by musicians worldwide for their myriad of desirable qualities, including their beauty, expert craftsmanship, high-quality materials and long lifespans. Yet, it is the unrivalled power and richness of the sound produced by Steinway grands that makes them a favourite of master pianists and collectors alike. Modern models have their spruce soundboards to thank.
What is a piano’s soundboard?
The soundboard is often referred to as the heart of the piano, providing it with its full and rich sound. This sheet of wood follows the curved shape of the piano’s belly and can be found within its interior; the strings are placed over the soundboard, working together to produce an incredible and captivating sound. The soundboard can be considered the piano’s diaphragm, amplifying the sound produced when played. In an upright piano, the vertical soundboard can be found at the back of the instrument.
How a piano’s soundboard is constructed
Steinway & Sons never compromise on quality, which extends to the selection of materials used to craft its pianos. Steinway soundboards are made from high-quality, solid Sitka spruce, the most resonant of all woods. This comes from slow-growing trees found at high altitudes on one island in Alaska. These specific conditions demanded by Steinway’s impeccably high standards ensure that the trees grow with very tightly packed annual rings. The high-quality grain density, direction and colour provide the soundboard with fantastic transmission, with the sound-producing energy travelling to the very end of the board. Close-grained wood makes the soundboard incredibly responsive, helping the vibrational energy travel more efficiently.
The wood gradual tapers outward, with the thickest section in the middle and the thinnest at the edges. The soundboard is designed with a slightly curved shape, giving it a natural crown that allows it to vibrate more freely. This free vibration is key to producing the famous Steinway sound. Dowels stick up around the edge of the soundboard; this provides a place for the cast iron frame to sit whilst ensuring as little contact as possible is made with the soundboard.
Crafting a Steinway piano takes up to a year, with the soundboard alone requiring seven days in a specialised conditioning room before it is installed. This next step takes a whole day and is completed by a ‘bellyman’, an artisan that specialises in this craft. The soundboard is glued to the ribs and bridge on installation.
What makes Steinway’s Diaphragmatic Soundboard different?
In 1937, Steinway patented its innovative tapered design. This became the Diaphragmatic Soundboard, which revolutionized the making of pianos, acting as a true diaphragm that grants the player greater control over the piano’s rich tone. Its differences are marked by the gradual tapering of the soundboard from the thick middle point outwards towards all edges. The careful design of the Diaphragmatic Soundboard ensures the soundboard vibrates as a whole, rather than sectionally, with greater movement that creates an unrivalled richness of sound. This offers a level of subtlety that performers find enchanting, with more than 98% of performing pianists insisting on using a Steinway piano.