As seen in the Fall 2012 edition of the Steinway Chronicle.
NEW YORK — It was a shopworn part of living history that graciously gave all it had to help define a distinctively American musical genre, the sounds of which echoed across the pond to profoundly influence four lads from Liverpool.
So last summer, when Paul McCartney went to sit behind an 1877 Steinway grand piano at the Motown Museum in Detroit, it came as no surprise there was little left in terms of recreating some vintage magic on the keys.
The former Beatle told museum officials he wished to aid in the restoration and then called on Steinway & Sons in New York — the very place that handcrafted the nine-foot Victorian rosewood instrument the same year that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Motown acquired the Steinway when it purchased Detroit’s Golden World Studio in 1967.
“Paul asked if we would be willing to partner with him in rebuilding this historic piano and of course, we were very excited to get involved with such an extraordinary project,” says William Youse, Director of Technical Services and Special Projects at Steinway & Sons. The highly prized artifact was shipped from Motown to Steinway & Sons Restoration Center in Astoria, Queens.
“While the Museum did its absolute best to keep this instrument from deterio- rating any further, they faced a daunting task,” Mr. Youse observes, adding the piano had interventions that impacted the soundboard, strings, action, finish and case.
“We learned that the piano was restrung in the 1960s, and the action was reworked on different occasions, along with several major repairs to the soundboard. There were parts from many different pianos that were used just to make it work,’’ he recalls.
At some point, the original rosewood finish was converted to black. Fancy legs from the factory were replaced, as well. “All very noble efforts but in their totality did not add up to a playable piano, never mind a Steinway,” Mr. Youse says.
Motown representatives toured the factory and restoration facility, where they had a chance to meet the highly skilled craftspeople who would be responsible for breathing new life into the piano.
After the get-together, Steinway artisans were told to replace everything to bring the instrument back to its authentic splendor including the soundboard, keys, hammers, pins and strings, but they were also instructed to retain the original case. “We needed to make the piano safe to play as well as mobile,’’ says Mr. Youse. “Everyone became comfortable with each other’s ideas, and I believe they were thoroughly convinced that only Steinway & Sons should handle such a critical restoration.”
Steinway & Sons opened the restoration facility more than 25 years ago. “This is the only place in the western hemisphere where a Steinway & Sons piano can be returned to its resplendent beauty and performance standards while remaining 100 percent Steinway,” he asserts. “Nobody else can replace a Steinway & Sons soundboard with a Steinway & Sons soundboard, as we neither sell this extremely important part of the piano nor share its technology.”
All work performed at the Restoration Center is warranted by Steinway & Sons for the same term and conditions as a brand new Steinway. Mr. Youse explains it this way: “Here is where you come if you want your Steinway piano — signed, sealed and delivered — to remain a pure Steinway piano.”