The two best quality American piano manufacturers are Steinway and Mason and Hamlin. Both have distinctive characteristics, but which is a better piano? The answer is that there are advantages to both. Let’s take the models one by one. In determining the price range I will concentrate on the various pianistic characteristics of the pianos without regard to the many different furniture styles and finishes. I am comparing pianos with straight legs and satin finishes. Fully restored means new sound board, new action and refinished case.
Steinway S: 5 ft 1 in. fully restored piano
Price range is $25,000.00 – $30,000.00
This model has a reputation for having a weak bass. Many clients will not consider this piano irrespective of the evidence to the contrary. A properly restored Steinway S with the proper crown and down bearing, Steinway hammers, and high quality bass strings, properly voiced can have a rich powerful bass. This model should not be overlooked.
Mason and Hamlin B: 5 ft. 4 in. fully restored piano
Price Range is $20,000.00 – $25,000.00
Many clients are totally unaware of this gem. Properly prepared this piano is at least the equal of the Steinway S.
Steinway M: 5 ft.7 in. fully restored piano
Price range is $30,000.00 – $35,000.00
This is definitely the most popular piano model amongst discriminating pianists who are limited by the space that is available for their piano. Properly restored this model Steinway can have a lush romantic sound that can’t be matched by other brands of good pianos such as Yamaha Kawai, Estonia, etc.
Mason and Hamlin Model A: 5 ft. 7 in. fully restored piano
Price Range is $25,000.00 – $30,000.00
This is the second most under-appreciated piano in the high quality piano market. Properly restored the Mason A is the equal of the Steinway M. The price of this piano is significantly lower than the Steinway M while the potential quality of the piano is the same. It is a mistake not to compare these two models before you choose which piano to purchase.
Steinway O/L 5 ft. 10 ½ in. fully restored
Price range $35,000.00 – $40,000.00
These models properly restored have more potential than either the Steinway M or Mason A. Because of the larger case there is the potential for more power, and more clarity in the bass.
There is no comparably sized Mason and Hamlin piano.
Steinway Models A1, A2, A3: 6 ft. in – 6 ft. 4 in. fully restored piano
Price range is $40,000.00 $55,000.00
These are the models that start to appeal to musicians that are not limited by physical space or budget constraints. Properly restored these pianos can be magnificent. Many pianists have a prejudice against the A 1 which is the earliest model in the evolution of the Steinway Model A. In fact the hook bridge in the tenor section with the bass supplement is harder to voice evenly than the later evolutions of the Steinway A. However, I know from experience that it can be done.
Mason and Hamlin AA: 6 ft. 2 in.
Price Range is $30,000.00 – $35,000.00
The Mason AA is the most underappreciated fine piano in the market place. A properly restored Mason AA has the potential to play every bit as well as a Steinway A. When comparing high quality six ft. pianos it would be unwise to overlook the Mason AA. The price is significantly lower without sacrificing the quality of the touch, dynamic range, power or clarity of tone.
Steinway model B: 6 ft. 11 in. fully restored
Price range is $45,000.00 – $70,000.00
The model B Steinway properly restored has more potential for power, dynamic range, and clarity than the smaller pianos. This allows the pianist to express himself more fully with a wider range of color that can be extracted from the piano. The more capable the pianist, the more important is the size of the piano and the quality of the restoration, for full realization of the performance.
Mason and Hamlin BB: 6 ft. 11 in. fully restored
Price range is$40,000.00 -$55,000.00
The Mason BB is a magnificent piano, but it has very different characteristics than the Steinway B. The bass section of the BB is hugely powerful. It has the potential to overpower the rest of the piano. It is much more difficult to voice the BB than many other pianos, but with patience and time it can be done. There is a significant cult following for the BB. The choice between a properly restored Mason BB and a Steinway B is totally subjective. However, in my experience, whatever the criteria of the pianist, their preference will be immediate and conclusive.
Steinway Model D: 8 ft. 11 in. fully restored
Price range is $70,000.00 and up
This is the piano of choice for concert halls. Whether it is the best piano in the world is a matter of subjective opinion. There are many fine pianos such as Fazioli, Bosendorfer, Bechstein, Mason and Hamlin, Steingraber, etc. However, the fact that most concert halls and concert pianists choose the Steinway D speaks volumes.
Mason CC: 8 ft. 11 in fully restored
Price range is $45,000.00 and up
There are three models of CC. The first two made in the very early 1900’s are quite rare. They were much longer and wider that the more typical CC made from 1910 – 1984. I have restored one of those pianos using Bosendorfer hammers. It was one of the most satisfying restorations that we have done. The piano found a home in a concert hall in San Diego.
The more common CC with the designation CC 2 is also a magnificent piano. It has a hugely powerful bass section that has to be somewhat tamed so as not to overpower the rest of the piano. This model piano despite its power, dynamic range, clarity and lower price is not chosen nearly as often by concert halls or pianists as the Steinway D. However, as with the Mason BB there is a sizable cult following for the CC. It is a fine piano and should not be overlooked.
Steinway versus Mason and Hamlin restored pianos. What are the conclusions to be drawn from this article?
- Steinway and Mason have qualities that set them apart from lesser pianos
- Both brands should be considered with an open mind. The decision should be subjective based on the pianistic qualities of the piano, the look of the piano, and the price, not the brand name.