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The workers were supposed to bend and shove those 18

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wrench and a time-conscious foreman. The workers were supposed to bend and shove those 18 strips into a familiar-looking shape, and beat the clock. “We’re allotted 20 minutes,” the foreman muttered. After 14 minutes of pushing and pulling and flexing and grunting that another boss standing nearby called “the Fred Flintstone part of the operation,” the wood was
Technology and Quality at Steinway & Sons Case #6-0023Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth—Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies 6 forced into a curve. And, in the too-warm basement of a gritty factory that opened when Ulysses S. Grant was president, piano No. K0862 was born. Like other newborns, it came with hopes for greatness and fears that it might not measure up despite a distinguished family name, Steinway. Or that it would be grumbled about by Steinway’s customers—temperamental, obsessive, finicky pianists whose love-hate relationship with the company and its products is as complicated and emotional as anything in Chekhov. Yes, pianists grouse that Steinways are not what they used to be. Yes, pianists ascribe whatever faults they found in whatever Steinway they just played to every Steinway. And no, the majority would never play anything but. Steinway knows all this. Like No. K0862, every new piano that rolls out of the Steinway & Sons factory—in Astoria, Queens, next to oil tanks that block the view of the Rikers Island jails—is an attempt to refute the notion that the only good Steinway is an old Steinway. So how good will No. K0862 be? Will it sound like “a squadron of dive bombers,” as the pianist Gary Graffman said of a Steinway he hated on first hearing but came to love? Or will it begin life with the enormous bass and sweet-singing treble that pianists prize the way wine lovers prize a 1989 Romanée-Conti? Will it be good enough for Steinway’s concert division, which supplies pianos to big-name artists? No one can say. Not yet. It will take about eight months to finish No. K0862, an 8-foot 11 3/4-inch concert grand. Along the way, the rim will be aged in a room as dim as a wine cellar. It will be sprayed with lacquer, rubbed and sprayed again. Its 340-pound iron plate will be lowered in and lifted out 10 or 12 times. It will spend time in rooms where workers wear oxygen masks to avoid getting headaches (or getting high) from smelly glues. It will be broken in by a machine that plays scales without complaint, unlike a student. Someone walking through the factory, following the progress of No. K0862, could forget a basic fact about what goes on there: Every Steinway is made the same way from the same materials by the same workers. Yet every Steinway ends up being different from every other—not in appearance, perhaps, but in ways that are not easily put into words: colorations of sound, nuances of strength or delicacy, what some pianists call personality. Some Steinways end up sounding small or mellow, fine for chamber music. Some are so percussive a full-strength orchestra cannot drown them out. On some, the keys move with little effort. On others, the pianist’s hands and arms get a workout.

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Term
Spring
Professor
ll
Tags
Valuation, Steinway, Steinway grand piano

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