German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway?

Posted by: Redux

German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 09:58 AM

I recently had to chance to play some German pianos. Grotrian, Bluthner, Sauter, Bechstein. I was very impressed by them and found all of them to be better than Steinway. For the price and value, comparing the same size.

I really liked the Grotrians which have a rich bell-like tone, but clear and not muddy like some of the Steinways I've played.

Why is it that these brands seem to be better but much less known?
Posted by: Piano*Dad

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 10:28 AM

I'm a Grotrian owner, and I too preferred the tone, touch, and build quality over similar sized NY Steinways. But words like "muddy" to describe Steinway's tone, and "better" to describe these other pianos .... well, them's fightin' words to many people. And they are unnecessary. Your preferences are what they are, and your preferences are worthy of respect. But what you describe in Steinway as "muddy," others celebrate as "rich" and "colorful."
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 11:29 AM

To answer your original question, Steinway has not only built a very nice piano, but they have been a marketing machine and a family of very shrewd business people.

In fact, at The Wharton Business School here in Philadelphia, grad. students study the brand of Steinway because from a marketing perspective, they were doing things in the 19th century that nobody else did until the 20th century. I do not mean others in the piano industry - I mean nobody else - period.

In addition, they have built up to 5000 instruments per year at their peak. The peak number for all of the top tier European instruments put together is less than that today.

Enjoy playing and experiencing the different response, touch, and tone of instruments available today. Visit www.pianobuyer.com for a fairly comprehensive list of what you should look for and each company's background.

Cheers!
Posted by: Ataru074

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 11:33 AM

I'm in my quest of my perfect piano (started saving and going around playing..)...
so far: Shigeru's, Yamaha "S" and big "C", Steinways, two bosies, 4 C bechstein, one Blutner.

I agree with Piano *Dad... at a certain level you can get excellent pianos with their own personality.
They are like beautiful and smart women. they are all different, they are all excellent in their individuality. you just need to find the one you like the mix of qualities more.
Posted by: treelogger

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 12:21 PM

There also was historically a very big difference between New York and Hamburg Stainways. I don't know whether that difference still exists for recently manufactured instruments.

Much of the difference in sound between Stainway / Bechstein / Boesendorfer can be explained by different ways of attaching the strings and different physical layout. For example, on the Stainway the treble strings sit on a capo bar, which gives them different resonance frequencies for horizontal versus vertical motion. In contrast on a Bechstein the treble strings are held in individual agraffes, making for a different set of vibrations. The differences in Boesendorfers are obviously more extreme, with the extra strings and removable and vibration-isolated capo bar, and the single stringing (which probably only affects tune and tuning stability).

When we shopped for our piano (in the late 70s), it seemed that Bluethner and Grotrian were boutique brands, with a reputation for being mechanically unreliable (not an instrument you can practice on for hours every day), but with a particularly pleasant Biedermeier tone. You paid boutique prices for inferior craftsmanship. Typically, these pianos were sold in wood veneer with carved legs, more to be used as decorative pieces of furniture (status symbol for the nouveau riche) than as musical instruments. At least that was the general trend, clearly not true in all cases.

At the time Grotrian was in some fashion allied with Stainway (for a long time they used the "Grotrian-Steinweg" brand name), but I'm not sure of the financial arrangements they had. In contrast, a Bechstein or Boesendorfer was an instrument that you could pound on day in day out, and whose tone would be able to fill a large living room or a small auditorium (just like a Steinway, Yamaha, Petrov ...).

I haven't gone piano-shopping in Germany in a long time (one grand is plenty for me), but judging from what I see in friend's houses, the most popular brand of quality pianos today seems to be Yamaha. But that's not what your question is about.

If you look at the other German/Austrian manufacturers like Bechstein and Boesendorfer, you also need to consider that they have undergone large corporate transformations in the past few decades, sometimes involving "corporate near-death experiences". I don't know whether there is much continuity in the staff for example of Bechstein over the last 25 years, as German re-unification and the change in the economy changed their life. So whatever I remember from a generation ago probably has little bearing on today's reality.

BTW, these transformation are not restricted to piano manufacturers. Look at brass as an example: While Alexander and Miraphone have not had terribly traumatic events in the last 25 years, the other two giants in Germany (Meinl-Weston and B&S) have completely revamped themselves, and today are joined into one company with multiple brands, but they are still very fine instruments.
Posted by: Redux

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 12:31 PM

I did not mean to denigrate the Steinway brand, their pianos on the whole are fine instruments.

But I have encountered so much variance playing different Steinways. Perhaps it's the tuning or condition, but some have been quite muted and others sharp. With the others I get consistent qualities trying out a range, from upright to grands.

As a business grad I can see the marketing power behind Steinway, from their "exclusive" artists to Steinway only music schools. Much like Nike or Adidas and pro athletes.

I'm just saying compared to other German makes Steinway doesn't seem to perform or sound as good for the price.

But they are everywhere and the name is gold.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 01:36 PM

It's well known that Steinway (especially in USA) aren't (or didn't used to be, until recently) prepped properly at the factory and they expect the dealer to do it for them, which often didn't happen (Steinway justified that by saying that the dealer can tailor the prepping to the customer's preferences ....), leaving the customer with uneven action and tone, poor tuning etc at delivery. It's described in Larry Fine's book and supplement.

By contrast, the other German brands are carefully prepped at the factory, and customers get great pianos at delivery. Grotrian Steinweg is still Grotrian Steinweg in Europe, just not in USA because of legal issues with the name. It has a more trebly tone compared to Blüthner, while Bösendorfer also has bell-like treble but a 'woody' sound overall. Blüthner is the most mellow of these brands.
Posted by: JohnSprung

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 02:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Rich Galassini
In fact, at The Wharton Business School here in Philadelphia, grad. students study the brand of Steinway because from a marketing perspective, they were doing things in the 19th century that nobody else did until the 20th century. I do not mean others in the piano industry - I mean nobody else - period.


Indeed, in all businesses worldwide, they are perhaps second only to Rolls-Royce in building a brand name. Can anybody think of any other contenders? Perhaps Nikon cameras a distant third?
Posted by: Redux

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 02:34 PM

Originally Posted By: JohnSprung


Indeed, in all businesses worldwide, they are perhaps second only to Rolls-Royce in building a brand name. Can anybody think of any other contenders? Perhaps Nikon cameras a distant third?


I believe the top brands are Coca Cola, McDonalds, Nike, Apple, IBM, Microsoft.

Rolls royce is probably not even in the top 50 and Nikon..hmm.. I'm guessing you're a different generation. =)
Posted by: JohnSprung

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 02:46 PM

I'm thinking quality here, not just recognition. Microsoft in particular means the least they can get by with, not the best.
Posted by: R_Dorothy

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 03:10 PM

Don't forget Rolex, guys!
Posted by: treelogger

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 03:28 PM

If you were to measure value of the brand divided by the value of the business as a whole, Steinway would come out very high. Similar things traditionally happened indeed to Rolls-Royce, Daimler-Benz, Holland&Holland, and so on. A current example is Apple; a former example (now somewhat fallen from grace) is Hewlett-Packard (in test&measurement equipment). All these companies have in common that they make consistently fine products. Yet some have not managed to capitalize their reputation and brand; remember that Steinway was doing (financially, not musically) badly enough that it was acquired by Conn-Selmer (manufacturer of things that you blow into and get spit all over, how demeaning!), which quickly used the opportunity to rename itself into Steinway. So even more tongue-in-cheek I can now claim to use a Daimler pickup truck to transport my son's tuba (a RAM 2500, the truck not the tuba), and that my son occasionally plays a Steinway saxophone (it actually says Selmer on it, whereas my truck really has the Daimler-Chrysler sticker on the door frame).

But speaking of pianos: Can someone elaborate on what the difference between Hamburg and New York Stainways is? About a generation ago, the two had nothing to do with each other, except for corporate umbrella and overall design. I don't think they even shared any parts back then. What is the connection today? Are Steinways that are bought in Germany still built in Hamburg? Are the parts interchangeable, or even manufacturing shared? Are subassemblies (like actions or steel frames) being shipped back and forth? Are there still strong feelings that one type of Steinway is far superior to the other?
Posted by: Norbert

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/04/11 04:40 PM

Quote:
Why is it that these brands seem to be better but much less known?


Have you ever driven a German made Ford or General Motors [Opel]?

In this case you would notice quickly that there is a different standard, i.e "expectation" of things over there. And not just regarding pianos...

Germany's and much of Europe's history is unique in that's it's full of small, mostly family owned makers of extremely high quality stuff. Those who are doing well or are left today have survived for exactly this reason.

It was also one of the major reasons why Germany recovered so quickly after world war 2, there was a wealth off experience which had been historically accumulated and become part of its very identity.

Imagine if there would a dozen other top flight American piano makers left competing fiercely with each other.

Which one do you think would be the "best" or most wonderful one today?

Norbert
Posted by: Gregor

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 06:15 AM

Originally Posted By: Norbert
...you would notice quickly that there is a different standard, i.e "expectation" of things over there. And not just regarding pianos...


Indeed. I think it has to do with the very high standard of the craftmans training here. In Germany it´s not striking when a product is of very high quality, but it´s striking when it´s not. Someone mentioned the prepp work of German factories compared to Steinway New York. I never saw a brand new NY S&S, but from what I heard and read I must say that I am amazed about the poor prepping. Furthermore, in Germany nearly all piano salesmen are experienced techs. So, when (if) a piano should come poorly prepped into a store, it would be fixed or prepped by the store owner. In another thread someone said that the reputation of piano salesmen is between pimp and used car salesmen. This is completely different here in Germany, just because they are not only salesmen but also techs.

Concerning high quality pianos: what is high quality? Is it the sound, the touch and tone or just durability? Sound and touch is highly subjecitve and a little bit driven by brand image. The German piano brands are not unknown here in Germany. I am sure that they are much more known here than in the USA. But it´s true, Steinway might be the best known name, even here. Second name on the publicity list here in Germany might be Schimmel. They produced many pianos and Schimmel can be found in the most schools. Furthermore, a very famous German Singer/piano player named Udo Jürgens is endoorsing Schimmel:



On the other end of the publicity list might be Steingraeber. I think that these pianos are at least on the Steinway quality level, but that brand is very unknown, even here in Germany.

Gregor
Posted by: ClsscLib

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 08:44 AM

Perri Knize's wonderful book contains a long account of her visit to the Grotrian-Steinweg shop ("factory" seems too industrial; "atelier" too artsy -- what's the right word?). Her factual description is completely consistent with what Norbert and Gregor have written above.

She also gives some fascinating descriptions of encounters with U.S. craftsmen at different points in her odyssey.

In a way, the contrasts might say something about the different cultures -- and not necessarily in an unflattering light to the best of the U.S. craftsmen. It's just that what they do and how they get there is so very, very different from the German approach -- which obviously works well.
Posted by: Bart Kinlein

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 08:44 AM

Most satisfactory piano I ever had the plesure of playing was a Steingraeber. If only it cost about $100,000 less!
Posted by: Entheo

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 09:33 AM

Originally Posted By: Gregor
Furthermore, a very famous German Singer/piano player named Udo Jürgens is endoorsing Schimmel:



IMHO, this is a problem for schimmel and yamaha as well -- their association with marketing stunts, pop stars, plexiglas pianos, etc. Both companies build some very fine high end pianos, but have a stigma of gimmickry and mass marketing that weighs down their high-end products.
Posted by: hoola

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 03:37 PM

Very interesting statement by Entheo.

I was trained in mechanical engineering with German methodology and teachers graduated from Germany, worked a few years in mechanical engineering field, in both design rooms and factories.

Then I studied IT and work in IT in 3 continents.

I would say that if we apply the rigorous quality standard of Germany to USA then we can never see IT world and its application in every aspects of our life as we see today. The rigorous quality standard can be become a burden in a very fast moving, always changing requests from users; and a young competitor dropping out of school, working in garage with genius idea but has no training in quality can beat you, me ... - who is loaded with tons of quality concerns - up easily.

So the "weakness" of American would be a good "bad thing" in industry, there are trade-offs here.

And that's why we need and learn from each other
Posted by: treelogger

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 03:58 PM

Originally Posted By: Gregor
Furthermore, a very famous German Singer/piano player named Udo Jürgens is endoorsing Schimmel:


(really dumb picture of aging crooner with see-through piano placed in inappropriate surroundings elided, to save screen real estate)

Most serious piano players and buyers (who are typically interested in high-quality classical or jazz music) would be utterly disgusted by Udo Juergens, or by a plexiglas piano, or by the idea of putting a high-precision and temperature-sensitive instrument on a snow-covered mountaintop. If Schimmel intended this to be a marketing campaign aimed at serious piano buyers, they shot themselves in the foot. But then, what fraction of grand pianos are bought by serious music lovers and piano players, and what fraction are just status symbols intended to look good? I fear the fraction of status symbol pianos is quite high.

Horror story about inappropriate piano placement: We used to live in Hawaii, and someone there bought a Boesendorfer Imperial, and installed it on the lanai (outdoor veranda) of a house on the north shore of Oahu, right on the beach, a location that is continuously humid and salty, in a tropical climate. It was an absolute disaster, fundamentally just pretentious decoration for an overly rich person's new mansion. Fortunately, the piano was rescued within a few months, when the mansion owner fell into serious financial trouble. Even though none of the wood had delaminated or rotted away, just repairing the corrosion and mold took a long time.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 04:15 PM

I wouldn't say "better" — as that is highly subjective — but there is something to be said for stuff made in Germany.

But...




...for you newer folks, I am the proud owner of a New York made Steinway B and am therefore somewhat biased. I also have a great liking for quality stuff made right here in the USA.
Posted by: R_Dorothy

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 04:17 PM

That wealthy mansion owner should have purchased a plexiglass Schimmel!
Posted by: David Sprunger

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/05/11 04:18 PM

One of the things that the Steinway piano was designed for was to function as a concerto instrument. Because it was designed to be paired with an entire orchestra, Steinway and Sons originally voiced their concert pianos so that they could be heard above everything else.

In that setting, I really love Steinway pianos. But in most other settings, and of course this is just my subjective opinion, I think the sound of a Steinway is too brittle. Of course a piano technician can voice the sound down so that it's warmer, but I think other pianos such as Kawai and Yamaha have a warmer sound. Of course those are not German pianos, but it's something to consider.
Posted by: Redux

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 04:45 PM

speaking of German made things, I do find that they excel in a several things.

Cars: Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Audi.

Appliances: Braun, Miele, Bosch, Gagganeu

And of course the pianos.

I don't know what or how they do it.

Seems for electronics the Americans and Asians do it best, which is odd. i can't think of any german hi-fi brand.
Posted by: Redux

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 04:45 PM

wait, Sennheiser!
Posted by: Piano*Dad

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 05:14 PM

and Blaupunkt.
Posted by: Norbert

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 06:53 PM

When visiting small German towns you will always be amazed about the quality of the bread, the pastry, the beer.

At same time one should keep in mind that the bread maker, the pastry maker and the beer maker has always had plentiful and tough competiton right "around the corner" where same stuff was/is being sold in very close proximity.

Sluff off for one moment - and you're gone.

In a nutshell, this is the economic history of a small country called Germany. About the size of some of the bigger U.S. states....

Norbert
Posted by: David-G

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 07:15 PM

Originally Posted By: Redux
...Seems for electronics the Americans and Asians do it best, which is odd. ...

And the Brits! (for hi-fi)
Posted by: Supply

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 08:49 PM

Something about that "mountaintop" picture looks like a studio shot to me....

Not to say that helicoptering a grand onto a mountaintop hasn't been done, of course, just check youtube.
Posted by: Rotom

Re: German pianos- less known brands better than Steinway? - 11/06/11 09:16 PM

To answer the original question, I think it may because of the different amount of marketing different brands do. But of course, it is probably only one of many factors.