Yet another NY vs Hamburg Steinway review and I will attempt to make it as objective as possible!
I am by no means an expert but but here is my experience that allows me to write a review:
- Played about 10 Hamburg D's ranging from 2003 to 2013 range.
- Played about 10 NY D's ranging from 1992 - 2013 range.
First lets start with the superficial.
I won't go into the fact that the Hamburg is a shiny black vs the NY's common matte black finish (which I think is also available now in the shiny).
The fit and finish of the Hamburg is better. Things just seem to fit better. When taking out the front lip of the piano, the fit is very tight and firm and there are no visible gaps.
I think the quality of the NY fit and finish is absolutely superb! But the Hamburg just brings it to a whole new lever. That of a seriously O.C.D. builder.
There are a few things on the Hamburg that don't exist on the NY model that are really neat.
-The lid has a locking mechanism on the side of the piano
-On the NY there are long flathead screws under the "cheeks is it?" On the hamburg there is a lever that you twist, and once undone, the lever stays in the piano so you don't have 2 large screws laying around when you take out the action.
-There seem to be a better consistency in hammer shape on the Hamburg. They have a perfect tear drop shape them. On the NY I've seen some very oddly shaped hammers that resemble more of that of a tennis ball than a tear drop shaped hammer.
-The lid on the Hamburg has one brace in the middle. The NY has I think 3 or 4 which subjectively make it look unfinished.
-Obviously the arms of the piano (on either side of the keybed) on the Hamburg are round and the NY is sharp edged but WHO CARES??
-Included with the Hamburg D is a very nice little box arranged with a few things to justify the insane cost of the piano. A nice heavy locking key, a beautiful red velvet keytop cover, and a leather cleaning cloth.
Now lets get to some deeper stuff.
HAMMERS HAMMERS HAMMERS!
I think nomatter what I end up saying later on in this review, it all in the end lies in the hammer differences between Hamburg and NY.
Besides the fact that the shape of the NY hammers is inexcusable, lets talk a little about the compressed hammer found in the Hamburg and the non-compressed NY hammer.
For a piano to make a sound, the strings must be "struck". It's a piano - we are not plucking strings here
The striking object must have physical strength or else you may feel like a cotton ball is hitting the strings.
A simple analogy:
The hammers in the Hamburg is "born" strong.
The hammers in a NY are filled with steroids in order to be strong.
If you go to the NY selection room you may find that most pianos do not emit much sound. The piano sounds like the hammers are made of cotton balls.
The theory is that with years of laying, they will harden.
The issue is that those hammers are so severely SOFT, that it would literally take years of playing to get the piano to organically come alive.
I don't believe this ever happens. No one has the patience for that, and I guess if you did have the patience, and let the NY hammers organically compact due to playing the piano might sound really nice, but we will never know. Those pianos are unplayable unless you "juice" the hammers.
So the hammers on the NY will ultimately have to be "juiced". I believe it's some sort of lacquer that hardens the felt. It is artificial and synthetic hence my analogy to giving it steroids.
Once the hammers are juiced the piano comes alive immediately! Magic? Hardly!
The sound is very shallow and uninspiring. It's almost as if only the top of the hammer is hard now, and the rest still weak. So you get an initial "bite" out of each key that is difficult to control.
Just imagine if at the very tip of each hammer you put a small steel plate. Every note would be harsh nomatter how lightly you tried to play.
Ideally, I like a hammer that is soft on the tip and gradually gets harder towards the center. So when played softly you are brushing the strings with the soft tip of the hammer, but when applying more force you quickly move into the deeper (0.5mm) harder more compact area of the hammer.
This is kind of what the Hamburg hammer (I know, made by renner) feels like. It has intrinsic strength and you can needle the surface to achieve better dynamic range and multiple colours at different dynamic ranges.
I'm not a piano technician obviously, but i think if you inject the hammer with laquer from the inside there would be better result rather than putting it on the tip.
For those who will buy a new NY steinway, my advice is be very patient with the hammers. A NY steinway is not about any sort of instant gratification. Play those hammers in and go easy on the "soy sauce". The piano will come alive over time - A LONG TIME.
The tragedy is that you will never notice it. It's a like a child growing up. In 2 years you will have a fantastic sounding instrument but you won't ever say "wow" because you so slowly got there. The first 6 months should be unbearable because you won't get much sound from the piano.
If you choose to have the hammers lacquered for immediate gratification, you will get a very low quality artificial sound...
I had a 1998 C&A D for about a year, and the hammers on that piano were HARD because of being played. No lacquer. It had some serious dynamic range!!!
So in order to go ever further in the review I will compare the best NY D's I've had which was this C&A to my new Hamburg D.
The NY C&A D was incredible! It had tremendous dynamic range. You could make that piano whisper in way you can't even imagine.
A piano with good dynamic range reads your mind. You no longer play with your hands, but with your mind. When you "think" ppp, it plays pppppppp. When you think FFF it plays FFFFFFF and everything in between.
Your brain doesn't have to tell you fingers what to do, and the fingers must "attempt" to accomplish the task.
The Hamburg D's all posses this quality. Every single one I've played. The dynamic range is intrinsic to their corrector.
My specific Hamburg D has more easy to accomplish dynamic range the the C&A D which I didn't think would ever be possible
The Hamburg pianos have less overtones and more of a direct immediate sound. If you are playing debusy, ravel and things like that, the NY models may give you brushes that are just not available in the Hamburg cousins.
If you are playing classical music from bach up to Rachmaninoff but no later, the Hamburg sound is the same sound that some compositions were composed for, and therefore would sound more natural.
It's like playing a chopin nocturne on guitar. It still will be beautiful, but it was composed for a piano, for the timbre of a piano, not the plucking of guitar.
So in a much more subtle sense, the chopin ballade will sound better on a European piano than a NY because subconsciously, that composition was written on a piano with immediacy of clear, clean and precise sound rather than a rounder, less sharp full of overtones type of sound. Hope that makes sense and it's just a thought. I don't actually have experience playing a piano from 200 years ago in europe.
Braking the piano in:
When you buy a new NY model you will be asked by the dealer to allow the piano to break in and the hammers to get hard. As covered earlier, this is true but sometimes very misleading on how slowly the process is. They will tell you it will take 6 months. Plan on 2 years to reach the actual maximum potential.
The Hamburg piano is braking-in in a very accelerated fashion. Playing it for 8 hours yesterday the action is getting noticeably looser and notes that are lacking in power, I just hit them really hard about 10 times, and they quickly harden and come alive.
My hamburg D was getting better by the hour which brought a whole new meaning to the term "breaking-in". For the first time I'm seeing a piano changing along with the notes getting brighter, richer, more dynamic range, I'm also knocking the piano out of alignment with every blow. Notes are going out of tune fairly quickly and it's a success because the piano is changing to fit the environment and the abuse of its new owner.
This is impossible to explain, but I like the action of the Hamburg a little better although they feel fairly similar. It's difficult to judge action because so much of the "feel" is interpreted through the sound and separating the 2 is very difficult, at least for me.
But if I had to choose it would be the Hamburg (renner) action. Just like the piano build quality, it's just a notch above.
To finalize my review here is the main point and I'm sorry NY Steinway if you are reading but it's my responsibility as a member of society to inform future buyers:
If you are going to by a new NY steinway, don't! Buy a used one. Obviously if you were thinking a new Steinway, then go with about 1-2 year old Steinway and SELECT it. (You will increase you selection possibilities with going 10-2 years old)
If you are in the market for a B, then you must invest in travel and play at least 3-5 B's. Some of the B's may have been rushed and lacquered to death and they will lack dynamic range. The B's that were patient, will have better sound in my opinion. But either way, if you buy a new one, it'd be like buying a new ferrari that you cannot rev beyond 3000rpm for the 1st 20,000 miles which is pretty much the life of the car hahaha.
There is no point "selecting" a new NY Steinway. It'd be like selecting a sperm and an egg under a microscrope - you have NO idea what it will become.
If you absolutely need to be the first owner, get yourself a Hamburg and go select in Germany.
If you are strictly shopping used, I recommend trying out a hamburg and see if that european sound is more for your liking.
Reading on the internet you see alot about how Hamburgs are brighter which leads one to imagine a bright Yamaha upright sound. This is NOT the case.
It's an extremely clear and precise sound that is still complex with its beauty of its purity. It's not an obnoxious bright sound. It's rather extremely soothing, delicate, until of course you jam the notes hard and the thing is just a BEAST!!!!