Beethoven’s days on the New York Stock Exchange are numbered.
Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., the maker of the iconic piano played by soloists in nearly every major symphony in the world, is being acquired by Kohlberg & Co. of New York for $438 million.
The private equity firm plans to take the Waltham company private after 17 years of trading under the ticker symbol LVB, short for Ludwig van Beethoven.
“This will allow us to focus less on Wall Street and even more on operations,” said Michael Sweeney, chairman and interim chief executive of Steinway. “Now we can focus 100 percent on serving customers and expanding customer base.”
The company’s piano division, Steinway & Sons, has a rich history dating back to 1853, when German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway and his sons began making pianos in a Manhattan loft.
The pianos quickly became known for quality and in 1867 won the “Grand Gold Medal of Honor” at the Paris Exhibition, stunning the European market and cementing the company’s reputation as a maker of high-quality instruments, said Anthony Gilroy, director of marketing and communications for the piano division.
“They introduced this piano to Europe, and it blew away anything that was being made,” Gilroy said. “It was a product that was so new and different than anything before it that it was revolutionary.”
As the company’s popularity grew, so did its empire. Steinway Hall was built on 14th Street in 1866 and housed the New York Philharmonic until Carnegie Hall opened in 1891. By then, Steinway had factories in Astoria in New York and Hamburg, Germany, where the company still makes pianos by hand.
The company created its own town, Steinway Village, with a factory, housing, and amenities for its employees, and even made wooden gliders for the military during World War II.
The Steinway family sold the business in 1972 to CBS, which then sold it to two brothers in Massachusetts, John and Robert Birmingham, who owned it for a decade. It was then sold to Selmer Industries, renamed, and in 1996 went public under the LVB ticker symbol.
In more recent years, it expanded to own other instrument makers. Now Steinway Musical Instruments is the parent company to two divisions, piano maker Steinway & Sons, and Conn-Selmer, a collection of more than a dozen brands of instruments, including Bach Stradivarius trumpets, Selmer Paris saxophones, C.G. Conn French horns, and Leblanc clarinets.
But Steinway has also experienced tough times, especially in recent years.
Sales of pianos, which retail anywhere from $4,800 for an Essex model to $218,000 for a limited-edition grand, dropped before the recession and still have not fully recovered. The company makes about 2,500 pianos a year.
“The piano business was impacted by a slow day in housing,” said Arnold Ursaner, president and analyst of CJS Securities in New York.
“If you’re not building a McMansion, you don’t need a $100,000 piano.”
Conn-Selmer saw operational costs rise during a recent strike. And a second version of Steinway Hall, which opened on West 57th Street in New York City in 1925 to house Steinway & Sons premiere retail shop, had become a drag on the company.
The 16-story building, positioned strategically across from Carnegie Hall to lure musicians and spectators after shows, was partly vacant for years as the company tried to sell it. It finally sold for $46.3 million in June, although Ursaner said the company probably lost about $10 million in rental income as it waited for a buyer.
“The building was a drag on our financial results,” said Julie Theriault, a Steinway spokeswoman. She said the sale of the building, as well as improved business results, increased the company’s value for Kohlberg.
Kohlberg declined to comment.
Kolhberg will begin a tender offer to buy all of Steinway’s outstanding stock for $35 per share, a 15 percent premium to its Friday closing price of $30.43. The deal includes a 45-day ‘‘go-shop’’ period in which Steinway may seek alternative bids. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter.