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MMD > Archives > September 2000 > 2000.09.05 > 06Prev  Next

Bechstein vs. Steinway
By John Farrell

A couple of years ago my daughter Alison bought a 1910 Model B
Bechstein grand but fell out of love with it because, "The top octave
doesn't sound right even after the piano has been tuned".  She had the
instrument thoroughly examined by a piano tech who discovered a crack
in the soundboard, so now she has her heart set on a Steinway.

I thought listmates might be interested to read some of the comments
she has received from somebody who hopes to sell her one :

"Regarding your Bechstein, I know exactly what you mean.  There are
several possible reasons for this.

"1.  Bechsteins don't usually survive the years as well as Steinways
and the first sign of aging in any piano shows in this area of the
compass.  The bridge in old Bechsteins is made of Beech, whereas
Steinways used maple (and still do I think).  Maple is a far better
material for this purpose, as the grain is more consistent and it is
harder.  It is my opinion that as a 'rule of thumb', instruments with
maple bridges remain fresher for longer but this is a generalisation.
Because of this, Bechsteins are more easily traumatised by
re-stringing, but unfortunately this is unavoidable, particularly with
these instruments, because of the difficulty tuning them with old wire
and the drag factor created by the large surface area of the bearing
pads which becomes sticky with age.  This is a feature of the design.
Most people in the piano trade are utterly insensitive to this.

"2.  The strike line and bore of the treble hammers is absolutely
critical.  If this is out by less than a millimeter, the result is less
than optimum.  If new hammers have been fitted then what you complain
of is no surprise.  They are likely to be quite a bit heavier and
harder than the originals as well.  But above all, the angle of the
bore is probably inaccurate and this has resulted in an unsatisfactory

"Would you like me to take a look and assess the piano?  I have someone
interested in Bechstein 'B's of this period, or maybe I can improve it
for you and you won't want to get rid of it at all!"

And later, this arrived :

"The older Steinways that pass through here are streets ahead of
anything they make now, provided of course they haven't been vandalised
by the cowboys.  I have for sale a piano very similar in size and
appearance to the model 'L' but 'light years' ahead of it musically and
mechanically.  It is a 1920s August Forster 5ft 4in grand, also black
and fully reconditioned.  Although the work was not undertaken by me,
it is basically sound and mechanically the piano is first rate.  This
action is superior in many respects to the Steinway, particularly the
repetition spring configuration.  No Steinway can be regulated with
such precision.  I can weigh of the touch to order.  At the moment it
is a little lighter than the Steinway 'L' was, but a bit heavier in the
bass than the Hamburg specification of 47 gms.  Adding a little weight
to the front touch would facilitate control of pianissimos, although
I think most pianists would find it pretty satisfactory as is.  The
price is half what the Steinway was.  I am asking GBP 7500 (British
pounds) for it as it is.  Any extras we could negotiate.  I really is
worth coming to see (or more importantly play and hear!).  Also it is
a far better instrument than any Yamaha or similar.  If you must have
a Steinway of this size go for a 1920s or 30s model 'O' which is a piano
from heaven.  I have one coming in next week to be rebuilt.

"Alas this one isn't for sale.  But it is worth hunting for one.  If
you find one, it must not have had the hammers replaced (which Steinway
et.  al. always do).  They can now be very successfully re-covered in
Germany thus retaining the original character and feel etc."

I would be grateful if some restorer listmates gave an opinion as to
whether or not this guy is giving sound advice.

John Farrell

(Message sent Tue 5 Sep 2000, 12:31:03 GMT, from time zone GMT+0100.)

Key Words in Subject:  Bechstein, Steinway, vs

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