When it comes to high calibre piano manufacturing and philosophy, two names stand tall above the rest of the crowd, that of Steinway & Sons and C.Bechstein. Both originating from German heritages, these two titans represent the pinnacle of what is possible on premium pianos.
Today we will break down a little about the two, their approach to piano production as well as highlighting some of the similarities and differences between them both in order to help you make a decision which brand might be right for you.
About The Brands
The first thing to note here is that whilst Steinway and C.Bechstein are both the dominant premium piano brands in the world, each producing thousands of pianos each year, there are smaller manufacturers who also deliver similar calibres of instruments, just on far smaller scales, notably brands such as Bösendorfer who still produce sensational instruments, but far fewer of them.
Kicking things off with C.Bechstein, originally founded back in 1853 by the world famed Carl Bechstein, C.Bechstein have always been produced with the highest quality pianos in mind. Even in their infancy, C.Bechstein pianos were made bespokely for the popular artists of the day and their reach spanned far beyond Germany, throughout Europe and became a hallmark of the aristocracy within Europe and Britain. The two world wars impacted C.Bechstein production massively, however the brand has since made a huge renovation and ever since the turn of the century, they have been continuing to produce the highest quality of instruments imaginable, from both their German factory in Seifhennersdorf and in the factory of their sub sister brand W.Hoffmann in the Czech republic, which excel even the highest quality instruments from the likes of other popular brands such as Yamaha and Kawai.
C.Bechstein are innovators in production and have put enormous effort into their research and development departments. With this, they consistently bring with them new innovation and advances in colour and sound that few others come close to reaching. This is not only through the likes of their sensational Vario Silent System, but also through philosophical shifts in the way their pianos are produced. For example, C.Bechstein are one of the few brands who produce their own hammer shanks in house in order to maintain full control over their sound and tonal differences. They also are one of the few who utilise the finest materials in the world on their iconic Concert Series of pianos, namely the mesmerising and superior Val Di' Fiemme spruce instead of Austrian spruce that many others use. These advances are so prevalent in recent years that even when comparing C.Bechstein pianos from 10 to 15 years ago, there is almost universally a notable improvement across the board in terms of attention to detail.
Want to learn more about the C.Bechstein philosophy and ranges? Read our guide here!
When it comes to Steinway, they are arguably the most recognisable and famous piano brand in the world (perhaps with the exception of Yamaha). Founded in 1853 by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who later anglicised his name in New York to Henry E. Steinway. For a long time and to this day, Steinway remains the dominant piano manufacturer in the United States, with over 100 patented piano designs and techniques their prestige is known across the world and associated with many concert halls and touring musicians.
In 1880, Steinway returned to Germany, opening their factory in Hamburg where they still remain to this day. What has been particularly interesting here is how the reputation of Steinway pianos has changed, with their New York home factory generally being considered less consistent than that of their German factory.
Steinway’s rise to popularity and prestige came as a result of exceptional marketing tactics, opening concert halls in London, New York and Hamburg to attract the most affluent of society and culture. From there Steinway secured their reputation via their artist programme as the best pianists in the world were (and for many, still are) seen playing Steinway pianos in Steinway concert halls.
The Differences Between Steinway & Bechstein
Now we have set the floor of these two piano giants, let’s dive into the differences between these two brand philosophies and what they mean for piano buyers and players.
The first comparison to note is actually the differences between how the two handle their sub-brands of pianos. With Steinway creating the Boston and Essex piano ranges and C.Bechstein creating the W.Hoffmann and Zimmermann lines.
Where C.Bechstein take full control over the production of their brands, for example with every piano in their W.Hoffmann lineup coming from their Czech Republic factory in Hradec Králové,, Steinway instead outsource their production to the likes of other piano manufacturers, most notably Boston pianos actually being manufactured by Kawai and Essex pianos being produced in a number of factories, such as the Pearl River Factory in China.
This means a few things in terms of the pianos, but most notably it has resulted in a lack of consistency within Steinway pianos. Where all C.Bechstein pianos produced at the same times resemble one another incredibly closely as they come from the same woods, same factories and same production process, due to being produced all over the world, the same can’t be said for Steinway and the same piano models may sound dramatically differently based on where they were produced.
Attention to Materials
The next difference between these two brands is their use of materials, namely that many Steinway pianos utilise a great attention to maple hardwoods as a sole material in their production, creating a very particular colour and tone to the pianos that is highly resonant and bright. This makes the Steinway sound incredibly bright and recognisable.
C.Bechstein differ in this in that they are far more versatile in the materials used in their piano production, not only from the use of Val Di' Fiemme spruce in their concert range, but also from their use of not only maple, but also other tonewoods such as mahogany, walnut and many other levels of intricacy. As a result, in our opinion, C.Bechstein pianos generally feel more ‘full’, more ‘colourful’ and a little more ‘alive’ than that of a Steinway piano.
This use of materials also impacts how the pianos feel in that C.Bechstein pianos are widely considered to feel a little lighter, with a deeper keybed whilst Steinway pianos feel notoriously more heavy with a shallower keybed, which some may enjoy more.
All in all, when comparing pianos of this calibre, we are truly splitting the finest of hairs when it comes to the quality of these instruments, both brands are exceptional in their sound production and it is not our place to say one is better than the other without knowing the needs of the pianist.
What we can say however is that the level of consistency in C.Bechstein ranges is known to be more stable than that of the Steinway, meaning that unless the Steinway piano you are buying is the exact model that you have played in a showroom, be prepared to experience some differences in feel when the piano arrives with you if it has been created in a Steinway factory. With C.Bechstein, you are given a level of certainty in production that every model is uniform to be played exactly as intended.
In terms of their tones, Steinway pianos generally have a far more broad range of tone across the board, where C.Bechstein instead emphasise the personality and colour within their instruments, allowing for a romantic, charismatic voice in their instruments that many who hear them simply fall in love with.
Want to learn more about the differences between the brands? Or want to demo a C.Bechstein piano in our Cambridge showroom? Contact our piano experts today!