Archive | Pianos

A Tale of Three Steinway Concert Model D

Steinway Hamburg D Concert Grand Piano Serial 603146 - pic 2

In my 40-year association with Steinway I’ve had numerous opportunities to play and even record the Horowitz Steinway Concert D. Twice I have had the chance to meet for several hours with Horowitz technician, the renowned Franz Mohr, whose book “My Life with the Great Pianists” is a must-read for anyone who wants to delve into how the malleable Steinway allows you to fit the expectations of quirky and high-level concert performers.  

What I learned from my meeting Franz and so many other artists and technicians, as well as an opportunity to personally play nearly 1000 different Steinway Grands over the course of four decades, can be distilled into the two most essential elements that set each Steinway apart from one another: Individual Tone and Touch.

First let’s discuss Touch. There is a Steinway factory spec which puts the ideal touch-weight in the 50 gram range. (We can discuss after-touch and repetition elements, but that’s for another time). Franz told us the story bout how Arthur Rubinstein preferred his “practice piano” to have closer to a 65 gram touch-weight. A bit like running with ankle-weights to prepare for a big race, he felt that when the time came to play a concert, when he had a little bit of nerves, the lighter touch of the piano would be more forgiving, allowing him to play more freely.Vladimir Horowitz, according to Mohr, thought this was nonsense. He preferred a much lighter 38 – 40 gram touch-weight, and wanted to play concerts on the same piano that he practiced on, most often having a crane pluck his Steinway from his NY Penthouse to be used in each of his performances. (Was by chance in NY meeting with Franz the day Mr. Mohr accompanied this same piano to Moscow for Horowitz triumphant return home).

It can be said without fear of contradiction, Horowitz piano had the lightest touch of any of the modern classical pianists, and most folks who played this piano have told me that it runs away from you. “Blow on the keys and they almost move”. So is there a right or wrong? Indeed not, and this further illustrates how dramatically one can Customize a Steinway to suit each individual performer’s tastes and predilections – capable of being made one-off!

Now as for Tone, the best example of the vast differences that a Steinway can be “voiced” to achieve was made evident to me when I had Van Cliburn and Horowitz pianos side-by-side in the late 1990’s. Horowitz piano was brilliant, clear, precise. Van Cliburn’s piano was mellow, sonorous, and velvety. While not the most mellow(pianos voiced for opera or single violin accompaniment are often even more silky),the Van Cliburn piano had a warmth and roundness that most folks associate with a New York Steinway, whereas Horowitz piano had an edge that is more associated with a Hamburg than a New York Steinway. I admit I went to the showroom at 7 a.m. every morning for a week so that I could have some alone-time with each of these legendary instruments. In the end, my vocalist sensibilities had me completely enraptured with the Van Cliburn, whereas devotion to jazz had me in the Horowitz camp.

In summary, what makes Steinway the #1 piano on earth isn’t it’s use by 19 out of 20 concert halls in the world. What makes it special is the unique ability to fit the hand and the ear of each artist. Tone and Touch – Steinway alone can be manipulated to the greatest degree to satisfy the individuality of each performer. No other piano has the range of possibilities that Steinway possesses. No other piano even comes close! With apologies to a handful of other world-class grand pianos, none is so Chameleon-Like in the way it can paint tone-pictures.

Questions, Comments? Email – Thanks for reading !!

Vladimir Horowitz playing Träumerei by Schumann

With the release of Vladimir Horowitz playing Träumerei by Schumann, Steinway’s Spirio Library now offers the listener an opportunity to hear the over 1000 shadings and variations of dynamics which they could never realize outside a live performance.

Here is the heart of the matter: no other piano can whisper like a Steinway.

Many pianos play loud (not always pleasing toned, but capable of high volume).

Only Steinway give you rapturous, riotous fortissimissimo with such a sweet tone, and yet render so many tone-colors in between its ‘thunder’ and its ‘rain-drops’.

And it is that pianissississimo that Howowitz creates in Träumerei that reveals a truly amazing and faithful rendering of the Maestro’s singular sense of touch!!

The Spirio has indeed replicated the Spirit of so many wonderful performances.

With utterly flawless nuance! Here’s why:

Spirio’s high resolution playback system uses proprietary software to measure hammer velocity (up to 1020 dynamic levels at a rate of up to 800 samples per second) and proportional pedaling, for both the damper pedal and soft pedal (up to 256 pedal positions at a rate of up to 100 samples per second).

Did I mention a Streaming and Continuously Growing Catalog is Free with a Spirio?

A fantastic library of artist performances that is growing every month.

So many compelling reasons for Players and Non-Player alike to own one!

Please contact Michelle’s Piano and schedule an audition. You’ll thank me later . . .

I never got to see Horowitz live

I never got to see Horowitz live. I’ve listened to most of his prodigious discography on some of the finest electrostatic speakers ever devised.

I’ve watched his live performance in Moscow on a world class home theatre, and nothing in my aging audiophile’s ears can come even remotely close to the experience of being in a finely tuned concert hall with a magnificent Steinway Grand.

That transformative experience of not hearing a meticulous reproduction, but the original sound!

One might argue, the unattainable just became attainable.

Leave it to Steinway, who truly invented the modern grand piano to come up with the answer!

The Spirio from Steinway allows you an almost holographic experience of being in the room with some of the greatest pianists in the world. With thousands of audio and video available including Glenn Gould, Billy Joel, Art Tatum, and many more.

Actually comes with an iPad.

I never got to see Horowitz live . . . Spirio brought him to my living room!

Spirio a New Kind of Cool

Steinway & Sons Spirio is the newest innovation. The Spirio is coming soon to Michelle’s Piano.  This innovative high resolution player system married to Steinway & Sons a 163 year tradition piano company. It has been seventy years since Steinway had a player system called the Duo- Art player utilizing paper rolls. Same concept, except for holes cut into the paper, are now very highly defined 0′ and 1’s to deliver lifelike reproduction of the piano. Unlike other player systems, this one truly brings state of the art digital technology by allowing the nuances of pedaling and triple pianissimos and pressure sensitive action of the keys.

Two of the most important features that set this player system from other player systems out there is: closed loop proportional pedaling and high resolution drive technique. This new dynamic pedaling technology allows for greater expressive pedaling for delivering the ultimate musical experience, 250 levels of shading in the volume of sound. The high resolution drive system allows for more accurate velocity in the keys by allowing the piano to whisper or roar

Along, with the new technology, Steinway & Sons is ushering a new catalog of recordings from approximately 1700 Steinway Artist. From classical to rock, baroque to jazz and everything in-between the listener can have the intimacy of a private piano concert for their own enjoyment or to bring in world class artist perform for their parties. The system uses the simplicity of the iPad to hold the library, update and manage this unique playlist.

The player systems are integrated in the New York and Hamburg factories. This allows for the precise installation, testing and quality assurance for the customer. The Spirio will be fitted into three popular home models; the Steinway B 6’10”, the Steinway O 5’10”, and the Steinway M 5’7″. Michelle’s Piano Company anticipates the arrival of the Spirio in July 2016! Look to our website as we proudly announce this new state of the art p

Digital Pianos – The low cost, no maintenance, and fun alternative to piano learning


Robert Cutiietta, now Dean of Thornton School of Music at USC, wrote an insightful book called, “Raising Musical Kids.” The approach of the book was written from the vantage point of an educator of music teachers, parent, band director, and more importantly musician! The overarching theme of the book was music improves the culture of a community and we want our children to be playing music as adults in their 90’s. Digital pianos, are becoming a great option for families looking to engage their children and even themselves in learning the piano.

With technology and more importantly learning the piano, technology increasingly plays a larger role! Roland’s family of instruments have the capability to be blue-tooth enabled thus linking it with the Apple device whether tablet or phone. The free Roland, Piano Partner App, allows the beginner to learn notes either visually or aurally. A flash card or corresponding note is displayed or played for the student and then they find the corresponding note. They also can play a wide range of music and the Hanon/Czerny exercises along with both notation and track with. This capability also allows the student to change the tempo. This instrument increases the student’s ability to become more engaged with the music as well, reinforce practice time with lesson time, and connect them to the music for the long term.

The digital piano has come a long way since the early days of the class piano. Touch and tone have been improved vastly. Digital pianos are modeled extensively after the concert grands. Roland uses digital recording of the New York Steinway Model D to capture the beauty and touch of the prestigious concert grands. Roland is the only manufacturer where one can put “dip weight” on their keys and the keys slowly drop similar as to the action of a grand piano. Why is this important? It provides a more responsive touch allowing for more expressiveness for the pianist. The tone of digital pianos have drastically improved. Most music professionals in hearing the recording of digital vs. acoustic are unable to differentiate the difference.

One can make the correlation of that to digital photography. When the first digital cameras came out they were grainy at best but we were excited because we could take multiple pictures, silly picture, and perhaps photos we didn’t want anyone to see and we were not wasting paper in the process. Today’s 22 mega pixel camera are as clear, detailed and life like as their SLR counterparts. So, is the sound of digital pianos.

Digital pianos get their sound through sampling. This is simply recording acoustic instruments taking the recording converting to algorithms plotting these points along a curve that resemble the natural frequency of the sound wave of an acoustic piano.

Digital pianos provide more than just piano sounds. Digital pianos span the musical genre from the clavichord to electric piano sounds in pop soundtracks of today. When both young and older students alike can play music from rag time, well tempered clavichord, or with an accompanying rhythm this ability brings a greater sense of fun and enjoyment in the pursuit of learning music. Music is all around us and we simply must find the musical outlet for all of these budding musicians. So, come in and try for yourself this exciting, captivating and highly engaging instruments to tap the inner musician waiting to express yourself!

Thinking of buying a used piano?


On an average week we get several calls from customers who are inquiring as to what it will cost to move a piano from a private source to their home? As the conversation goes along with a few investigative questions we find out that the piano is free or within a few hundred dollars. These characteristics of the “free piano” raises several red flags, which then the customer then begins to question if the purchase is a wise investment.

1000’s of parts-

Pianos have several 1000 parts made of wood, wool, felt and fabric material. We have seen several of these pianos in our restoration/ rebuild center with a tell-tale sign of damage, usually indicated by mouse droppings, hence the deterioration and destruction of parts. For many of these pianos the parts of the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) maybe obsolete or it is not cost effective to replace them. The time and labor to replace these parts then becomes a cost that maybe too much to bear. Many pianos of this magnitude are simply to cumbersome and financially to absorb.

It has London, New York or some other major city on the plate-

There were over 400 piano manufacturers in the United States and Europe. Simply because it has the name of a major city on the plate does not indicate the quality of the instrument. When buying a used piano check to see if the brand is Steinway, Mason Hamlin, Baldwin, Knabe, Clarendon, Bush and Lane or a few other major brands. Again, there were 400 manufacturers and the so called city of origin does not always indicate quality. Unlike the Antique Road Show some of these obscure piano names does not mean that you have hidden financial pot of gold!

Used pianos are not always suitable for beginner students –

We have many people who are desirous of a “beginner piano” for a young student or even themselves. Again, back to the first point, pianos having 1000s of moving parts. If the instrument is heavy this is an indicator that the piano has not been regulated. A piano is a machine, its origin of design is borrowed from the geometry of the clock. A properly “regulated” piano has been lubed, usually with a dry graphite, screws tightened, filed, hammers aligned properly, and hours of adjustments! Many of these used pianos that have been slated as “beginner pianos” will lend to injury of the young pianist! These so called cost effective instruments will not perform. A professor from one of our prestigious music schools said, “If the piano can’t do it, I can’t teach it!” This is so true, whether it is a triple pianissimo or thirty second notes in a descending scale, a poor regulated instrument means that the student is then working against the instrument. A well regulated piano is responsive to the artist touch and a pleasure to play. It’s important when buying a used piano to make sure it’s the right instrument with the right tuning, parts, history, and maintenance.

Used pianos are generally very bright –

The hammer head is generally long wool fibers stretched across wooden hammer head. As the hammers get older it becomes more compact after years of repetitive strikes on the strings. Also, dirt and other contaminates make the hammer head percussive. This over percussive and hardened head lends to a very bright and a tone that is not pleasing. With a percussive and bright annoying sound then requires a technician to come in and “needle” the hammer head. This is done by taking a very sharp tool and “pricking” the wool of the hammer head. Somewhat like fluffing the wool. In some cases we can bring back a warm tone to the instrument but this laborious and costly adjustment does not mean the piano will be pleasant to play.

Unlike wine, a piano does not get better with age –

Yes, perhaps like wine a piano might increase in value but not necessarily get better. In fact, quite the opposite happens. Again a piano is a machine made of several 1000 parts! The sound does not become sweeter. The soundboard is the heart of the piano- the soundboard does not mature, it is dead wood. In fact, the sound board, due to the lack of humidity can develop cracks or it can lose it crown dynamic. The crown dynamic is the ability of the soundboard to magnify and project sound. Again, the hammers do not ripen if anything they become unbearably bright and percussive.

The hidden cost of free –

There are many things that are supposedly free in life… free lunch, free rides, free kittens… there are always costs associated with free. We see many customers that purchased that “free piano” and now are in the quandary of what to do with this albatross called the free piano. It will cost several hundreds of dollars to get it into good working condition.

We would like to invite you to meet with our panel of qualified technicians and piano experts who can help you to:
-What five main components to check for when thinking about the purchase of a piano?
– What to look for in a beginner piano?
-What costs are associated with a “free piano?”
– How to determine the value in a used piano?
-How do I determine if the free piano is of any value either from an investment or playing perspective?
This class will be held on March 21st at 10:00 am here at Michelle’s Piano located at 600 SE Stark St. Portland, OR. If interested in attending please call 503-295-1180.