Baby, it's grand: The piano business

Fred Patella tunes an early 20th century Steinway baby grand piano during a Christies auction media preview.

To understand why Steinway is so legendary, you should take a trip to the piano factory in Queens in New York. Or you can visit in it film.

Ben Niles, director of "Note by Note," made a documentary film that follows the making of a Steinway grand piano. He says the process can take up to a year. “When I first visited the factory I was so fascinated by what I was seeing...people were just working away like they were in Geppetto’s workshop.”

Building the pianos -- mostly by hand -- is said to give each one a unique sound.

Arnie Ursaner, managing director of CJS securities, says Steinway is to pianos what the Rolls Royce is to cars. A Steinway grand piano can sell for well over $100,000. There are two types of buyers for the pianos, both of whom can be counted on in good times and bad.

First, says Ursaner, the very rich. “He may have a private plane, he may have an estate. If he has an estate, he may very well have, or desire to have, a Steinway piano in his home.”

Then there are professional musicians. Ursaner says the company sells 2,500 pianos, globally, a year. And it’s looking to expand, especially into places like in China.

So kids, take heart. A shot at Carnegie Hall is only 10,000 hours of practice away.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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