Robert Estrin - piano expert

Unique Problems With Steinway Pianos

If you love the piano, you want to know this!

In this video, Robert talks about a unique and peculiar characteristic of some Steinway pianos. If you love the piano, you may want to know about this!

Released on September 18, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is, and I am Robert Estrin with a great subject today, unique problems of Steinway pianos. Now, Steinway pianos are the defacto standard of the concert world. In fact, it's the only company left that still supports the concert market with concert grands in virtually all major cities in the world, an arduous task when you consider the cost of each one is in the six figures.

Well, Steinway at different periods of time had several different problems, and I'm going to bring out two of them today. Now, fortunately, the pianos they're manufacturing today do not suffer from either of these problems. I want to let you know that right out of the gate, but early in the 20th century, Steinway had an idea of a way that they could make actions last longer and be less susceptible to corrosion. They used some sort of solution containing paraffin on their actions.

Well, if you ever looked at old Steinway pianos or sat down at an old Steinway that's been neglected and it plays like a truck, and you look inside, and the hammers, they go up, and they just barely swoop down. There's no speed and everything is gummed up in there. You can actually see green in all the little felt bushings of all the hundreds of action parts. That is an example of verdigris. Verdigris is what happens with the oxidation that results ... This paraffin had exactly the opposite of the intention that Steinway had to make it avoid corrosion. Well, unfortunately, in certain environments, they would just gum up like crazy.

Now, is there a solution to this? Well, yes. Sometimes, it's possible to get things moving by using different chemicals and treating it. Very often though, with a really severe verdigris, all you can do is rebuild the action with all new parts. Sometimes, you can replace center pins if it's not a really bad problem. You could try lubricating, but oftentimes, a problem will recur when the humidity outside gets inside the piano, and you might think you got it licked, and everything is moving nicely, and then, a month later, it starts gumming up again. That's one problem of old, pre-1940s, I don't know the exact dates, but definitely, in the early part of the 20th century, you have to be careful to watch out for verdigris on Steinways.

Well, one other problem ... I said two. Well, there's another one. Steinway in the CBS era experimented with something that sounded like a great idea. Actions wear out because of all this felt bushing. They thought, "Why don't we use this space-age material of Teflon?" From around 1968 to 1082 or somewhere around there, they used Teflon in their piano actions. Now, what's wrong with this? Well, I'm a believer that, oftentimes, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. However, the problems that plagued them is that some pianos going to extreme environments where the wood would swell and contract with the weather. Of course, the Teflon is hard, so then there would be space between the Teflon and the wood, you get a noisy action. Sometimes, all you can do is rebuild the action in those cases.

However, I will say this. The vast majority of the time, the biggest problem with Teflon actions is finding a technician who knows how to service them properly because, oftentimes, it's not the problem I just described of the Teflon itself, the wood expanding beyond the Teflon, it's that maybe there's a little bit of wear in the Teflon. In which case, using slightly larger center pins can solve the problem fine, and because Teflon is very robust, it could last many, many years.

Teflon is not necessarily a problem. In fact, if I was buying a piano, a Steinway piano from that era and it had Teflon and there were no problems, if it's my personal piano, I wouldn't have a problem with it. Now, it doesn't mean I never would have problems with it, but you know what? It doesn't matter what piano you have, it doesn't mean you'll never have problems with it.

That's the long and short of Teflon. It was sometimes they tried, and they eventually gave up the practice even though the idea of a piano action that doesn't wear out so quickly is a very appealing idea. I applaud them for trying something. If you have a piano with Teflon, if it isn't giving you problems, don't worry about it. There's nothing really wrong with it. As long as it's functioning well, you're in good shape. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Keep the questions coming in. I'm happy to bring these videos to you. We'll see you again.
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