One day in 1932, Josef Hofmann, the American pianist, composer, and inventor who had already spoken of the Steinway’s “extraordinary perfection of action,” came to Steinway Hall and said, “It isn’t quick enough. Can’t you make it still more sensitive, still more responsive?”
Hofmann’s challenge was the impetus for Steinway to become the most responsive and sensitive of any piano made. Frederick Vietor, grandnephew to C. F. Theodore Steinway, fulfilled Hofmann’s request by creating the Steinway Accelerated Action, enhancing the Steinway action to respond to the touch instead of being forced into action. Today, the Accelerated Action is found on all American-made Steinways.
Laboratory tests have proven that the keys on a Steinway can repeat 13% more quickly than any other piano. The same features that allow for this faster repeat also provide a much more sensitive, responsive keyboard, an aspect that can be appreciated even by beginning pianists.
The keys of a Steinway are constructed of Bavarian spruce. The quarter-sawn maple action parts are mounted on a Steinway Metallic Action Frame, which consists of seamless brass tubes with rosette-shaped contours, force fitted with maple dowels and brass hangers to assure the stability of the regulation.
Pianoforte circa 1720 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, Italy
This action shows a remarkable degree of precision for its time.
When striking the key, the fly is automatically released, so that the hammer hits the string with full force and falls back into place, with a backcheck as brake.
Viennese action circa 1770 by Johann Andreas Stein, Augsburg, Germany
This was the dominant action in piano-making for more than a century.
The hammer sits in a cradle attached to the end of the key and is mobile. When the key is pressed, the hammershank tail is released by an escapement tongue and a fixed tab forces the hammershank to swing upward, whereupon the hammer hits the string. While the key moves back into normal rest position, the hammershank tail glides back into its initial position.
Patent Grand Action by Henry Steinway Jr., 1860, New York
This action introduces a wippen, or flanged repetition support.
This action has its own wippen, or repetition support, fixed to the frame with a flange and driven upwards from the key by a connected piece. While the key returns to its normal rest position, the spring-mounted balancier assists the repetition action of the fly. The spring-mounted fly is separately linked to the repetition support.
French-style Grand Action by Henry Steinway Jr., 1865, New York
This action marks the introduction of the double-escapement action.
This action incorporates the “Erard system” (Strasbourg) with the improved double spring for fly and balancier by Henri Herz (Paris). The fly allows fortissimo blows, while the adjustable balancier allows pianissimo playing. Repetition is possible without the key having to return to its rest position. “Escapement,” a clock-making term, is defined as a controlled mechanical release.
Grand Action by C.F. Theodore Steinway, 1869, New York
This action features the world’s first metallic action frame.
The patented brass “Tubular Metallic Action Frame” with rosette-shaped rails and flanges, bronze action brackets, as well as the let-off regulating screw loop, appeared for the first time in this model. The metallic frame resists climate changes, while the rosette rails and flanges automatically align the action parts upon tightening of the flange screws.
Grand Action by C. F. Theodore Steinway, New York
This action features the patented capstan screw and marks the beginning of the modern grand piano action.
The repetition support and hammer can be regulated by turning the capstan screw. Due to the capstan screw, the entire action stack can easily be removed to allow service to the keys. This principle is still being adhered to today.
1875 / Introduction of the capstan screw
1911 / Fly-regulating screw and button are added.
1931 / “New Action” (abbreviated N.A.), now known as Accelerated Action, incorporates a rounded fulcrum or balance rail bearing under the key for a more sensitive touch and faster repetition. Tests prove that the action speed increases by 14% faster fortissimo and 6% faster pianissimo.
1983 / “Permafree-II” action centers (Emralon-impregnated center-pin bushings) are introduced. Emralon, the liquid version of Teflon, reduces wear and eliminates friction.
1992 / “New York Improved” action geometry (improved leverage as well as improved manufacturing precision)
2006 / Ecsaine (synthetic leather) is introduced on backchecks, knuckles, and balanciers for quieter operation of action parts.
2008 / Climate control and daily computer measurement of tolerances are introduced in the Action Department for making the world’s finest piano action parts.