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The Making of a Steinway Piano

There are certain brand names that are synonymous with excellence. One of those is the Steinway piano, known as the preferred instrument of concert artists and symphonies around the world.

Steinway and Sons has been making pianos in New York for 152 years, and is the last major American manufacturer still making pianos by hand. A Steinway is an expensive investment, ranging in price from $30,000 for a baby grand to more than $100,000 for a concert grand. The company is proud of its craftsmanship and the endorsement of artists as diverse as Van Cliburn, Ahmad Jamal and Billy Joel. VOA's Melinda Smith takes us inside the "House of Steinway."

Before a Steinway gets to the concert stage, it is born here, at the company's 125-year-old factory in the Queens borough of New York City.

With a few exceptions, the process of making a Steinway has changed little in the last century. Each piano takes a year to make, and most of the 12,000 components are made by hand.

Steinway's Executive Vice President Frank Mazurko says that's why craftsmanship is so important, "It's paramount. It is what separates us from all other pianos."

Steinway and Sons was founded in 1853 by Henry Steinway, a German immigrant. But it was his son, William, who became the driving force of the company. In 1870, William Steinway built what soon became the largest piano factory in the world and built a nearby village for the employees. Mr. Mazurko says, "So you could come to work for Steinway and William Steinway provided the housing and mortgages."

The village no longer exists and the Steinway family sold the company in 1972. Still there are generations of employees who take pride in their work and regard it as a 'family' operation.

Rupert Forbes carves notches for the strings in what's called the 'belly' of the piano, "I like when I cut the wood, I see the chips flying, I like to see a finished job, lookin' good."

Mr. Forbes is from Jamaica. Many of the company's 400 employees have immigrant backgrounds. There are at least 25 languages spoken among the workers.

Anita Glavan, a Croatian, translates for Camil Katana, who is originally from Bosnia. "He's very grateful that he came, that the United States did accept him, and he found a good job in a good environment, and that he made a home over here. He's already seven years here."

Don't judge a Steinway by this noise. Each piano's unique "voice" evolves hereā€¦ where crafts people, such as Yuriy Kosachevich from Ukraine and Victor Tilak from Guyana, regulate the toning. Mr. Talk says, "I check every key, every hammer that it's complete and there's no problem with it."

Walter Boot adds, "I am the last one to play the piano before it leaves the factory. I play it. I look it over, I make sure everything's working."

Mr. Boot may have the best job of all. It's his responsibility to make sure the piano's tones are even. It takes a good eye, he says, a good ear, and a good sense of touch. "A lot's got to do with the way the piano feels when you play."

Walter Boot's skill at the keyboard may not be as developed as concert pianist Shura Cherkassky's, but when he puts his stamp of approval on a Steinway, that's good enough for the company.