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#1126141 - 04/28/04 09:38 PM Scale Design - tension
Grotriman Offline
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Registered: 03/07/04
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Loc: New York City
So I've read that Mason and Hamlin are high tension scale designs.

I've heard that Steinway and Sons S, M, L are low tension designs.

Anybody know where others stand in this range?

Bosendorfer, Grotrian, Schimmel, Yamaha, Steinway B, C etc?

Thanks.
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#1126142 - 04/28/04 09:54 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Norbert Offline
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Ulrich Sauter just told me that his pianos are 'low tension'.

[obviously designed for *high attention*.... ;\) ]

Norbert
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#1126143 - 04/28/04 10:00 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Dan M Offline
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Registered: 12/30/03
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Loc: California
I think I heard the Walter is low tension, where's Del?

I think he said here once that low tension scales tend to be mellow, and high tend to be more brilliant.

The Estonia is a rather low tension scale if I recall too. Please correct me if this is wrong.

Dan
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#1126144 - 04/29/04 12:07 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by Dan M:
I think I heard the Walter is low tension, where's Del?

I think he said here once that low tension scales tend to be mellow, and high tend to be more brilliant.

The Estonia is a rather low tension scale if I recall too. Please correct me if this is wrong.

Dan [/b]
The Walter 190 (with the tenor strings in the 155 to 165 lb range) is relatively low, though not as low as it would be if I were doing it today.

The Estonia (according to the published literature its tenor strings are in the 140 to 150 lb range) is extremely low.

Del
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#1126145 - 04/29/04 02:31 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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I've sort of wondered about this term, and whether it refers to an absolute amount of tension, or the percentage of tension to the breaking strength or the elastic limit.

You can change the absolute amount of tension by changing the string gauges, but the percentage remains pretty constant and can only be changed by a change of design. Hubbard used the terms long scale or short scale with harpsichords, and indicated them by the length of the strings on the C above middle C. A short scale would have low tension as a percentage of the breaking strength.
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#1126146 - 04/29/04 12:23 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
I've sort of wondered about this term, and whether it refers to an absolute amount of tension, or the percentage of tension to the breaking strength or the elastic limit.

[/b]
I can’t speak for harpsichord designers but, by convention, when discussing piano scales this refers to absolute wire tension.

While the percentage–of–breaking strength (pbs) is an important parameter to keep in mind (it's always best to avoid designing a scale in which strings are regularly breaking) it is not particularly critical through the tenor section of the scale. Even in a relatively high–tension scale like the Steinway D (with tensions in the 190 – 210 lb, or 85 – 95 kgf, range) the strings will be pulled to only about 35 – 40% of their rated breaking strength.

As well, changing the wire size to alter string tension has very little effect on the string’s percentage–of–breaking strength. For example, take a typical note F-33 in a concert grand: with a length of 972 mm and a wire diameter of 0.043” the tension will be 190 lbs and the string’s pbs will be approximately 37%. Increasing this wire diameter to 0.045” (keeping the length the same) will increase the tension to 208 lbs but the pbs will increase only to approximately 38%. Going back to the original wire diameter and increasing the length to 1,017 mm will also increase the string tension to 208 lb. This change will have a greater effect but still the pbs will only go up to approximately 41%.

It will not be the effect of the change in the percentage–of–breaking strength that will cause the tone quality to go sharper and more strident, it will be the higher impedance to motion across the bridges caused by the additional stiffness of the strings and the “tie-down” effect of the overall string plane.

Wrapped strings, of course, are a whole other issue.

Del
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#1126147 - 04/29/04 01:06 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Dan M Offline
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Registered: 12/30/03
Posts: 770
Loc: California
 Quote:
Originally posted by Del:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Dan M:
I think I heard the Walter is low tension, where's Del?

I think he said here once that low tension scales tend to be mellow, and high tend to be more brilliant.

The Estonia is a rather low tension scale if I recall too. Please correct me if this is wrong.

Dan [/b]
The Walter 190 (with the tenor strings in the 155 to 165 lb range) is relatively low, though not as low as it would be if I were doing it today. [/b]
Del,
Why as your thinking evolved towards the lower tension scale? Interesting comment about the Walter, I had read a post by somebody once who complained about the 190's lowish tension scale, and how (this individual) felt that it would benefit from a higher tension design. If I had to make a choice I tend towards lower tension pianos (Estonia, Walter, Bosendorfer), but it does seem to be taste specific. What do you like and dislike about lower, and higher tension designs?
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#1126148 - 04/29/04 04:33 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
[/qb] [/QUOTE]Del,
Why has your thinking evolved towards the lower tension scale? Interesting comment about the Walter, I had read a post by somebody once who complained about the 190's lowish tension scale, and how (this individual) felt that it would benefit from a higher tension design. If I had to make a choice I tend towards lower tension pianos (Estonia, Walter, Bosendorfer), but it does seem to be taste specific. What do you like and dislike about lower, and higher tension designs? [/QB][/QUOTE]


Well, my taste has changed with experience and time. And perhaps I've become some less tolerant of crude and stagnet piano design over the years. I've never been particularly attracted to loud, raucous and unsubtle music and I find increasingly that I don’t care for hard and harsh–sounding pianos. And I’ve reached the age at which I no longer have the time or inclination to put up with them.

I now rarely go to piano concerts that are held in large halls because the piano must generally be voiced so hard (to ‘project,’ you know) it looses its inherent dynamics. Where is the subtlety? The dynamics? I do go to concerts in smaller venues where the piano can actually be voice to perform as a pianoforte and where there is some connection and intimacy between the performer and the audience. I may miss out on seeing and hearing some of the superstars this way, but so what? I’ll enjoy much more the connection with an artist who may well be just as talented — often more — but who lacks the personality drive to enter the business of profession performance.

If one is much of a fan of classical music at all you have to wonder what the original composers would have thought of this tendency toward the monochromatic, loud, fast and slavish reproduction of the works they labored over. If you’ve ever attended a concert performed on a fortepiano you know their instruments weren’t capable of anything like the enormous volume levels being demanded of the modern piano. Even with the advent of the so–called ‘modern’ piano during the mid to late 1800s the voice of the piano was much, much softer and more subtle that what we have ended up with today. (The felt wasn’t felted as hard and the hammer presses were not capable of either the pressures or the heat used to make modern hammers.)

One day before I have to hang up my mouse I’d like to design a modern pianoforte for the home and/or small concert hall. I can envision a long (say, 250 to 300 cm, or 8’ 2.5’ to 9’ 10” in length) and slender (say, 135 cm, or 53” in width across the front of the rim) instrument having a long but low to medium tension scale (i.e., one using relatively thin wire). Coupled with hammers of moderate mass and high resiliency the tonal dynamics would be to die for. It would be subtle and warm yet, believe me, it would be loud enough, when called on, to blast most reasonable folks out of the room. An, as an added bonus, the action would be light and quick due to the reduced reciprocating mass of the action system — less leading would be required to balance out the hammers. Demanding, perhaps, but infinitely rewarding.

High tension scales tie the soundboard system down, making it more difficult to develop a nice solid fundamental. The power is there, obviously, but it is concentrated in the upper harmonics. This is accentuated by the more dense and harder hammers required to drive those (usually) more massive and higher tension strings.

This whole issue has been an evolutionary process for me. My early studies (and studies) into scale evaluation and design were based on what has gone before. There is little written material that really evaluates the tonal consequences of scale tension schemes — we’ve kind of had to work things out as we go along. So, most of my early work was done with the higher tension scales typically found in our older pianos. (Once drawn wire was introduced, and the gray iron plate was developed to support the higher tensions possible with this wire, piano designers went crazy!) Over the years I’ve been taking another look at lower tension scaling and, increasingly, I’m liking what I’m hearing.

Del
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#1126149 - 04/29/04 04:55 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
MLT Offline
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Registered: 10/10/03
Posts: 356
Del,

I recently discussed my first experience going to a concert played on a fortepiano at the University of Washington. I was pretty blown away by the instrument and lamented about how loud the modern piano has become. I found the fortepiano concert to be one of the most gratifying musical experiences that I have been to. These instruments seem so much more personal than a modern piano, and so much more expressive. I especially like the sound produced by the leather hammers, kind of zingy. What was most interesting to me was that you could hear the pianist breathing while he played. I really felt like I was sharing the experience of the music with the performer, as opposed to observing a musician pounding away at a giant black beast.

I have thought alot since then about the potential of pianos to return to their smaller simpler roots. It seems to me if you got rid of the big tight strings you could eliminate the massive iron frame and alot of the supporting wood work. Maybe the frame would be steel or some type of unified body construction using steel extrusions. Who knows. I like the reliability of the modern piano and I think you could easily keep those good improvements while returning the sound and structure back to its genesis a little bit. I'd buy one.

Kirk

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#1126150 - 04/29/04 05:10 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Dan M Offline
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Registered: 12/30/03
Posts: 770
Loc: California
Del,
Great post Del. Chopin would agree I think, he said once that real music can't be made outside of the drawing room. Liszt might have felt differently though.

I think there are other reasons why we have gone to a more brilliant sound in this culture, and it's not just limited to pianos, but that's another discussion \:\)

Dan
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#1126151 - 04/30/04 08:44 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
pete Offline
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Registered: 05/28/03
Posts: 796
Loc: port washington, ny, us
Thank you, Del for the free seminar. Very interesting to read what you are thinking. I loved the sound of the Walter grand, although I wound up buying an Estonia. Guess that makes me a low tension guy.

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#1126152 - 04/30/04 09:19 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Steve Cohen Offline
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Del....what an asset to the Piano Forum.
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#1126153 - 05/01/04 02:58 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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There is a point at which the tension becomes so low that the volume really falls off. You can hear it near the break in pianos which have the hockey-stick shaped bridge. There seems to be a loss of harmonics there as well. Maybe you can design that out, but there must be qualities that are inherent to higher tensions. I guess there must be some limits.
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#1126154 - 05/01/04 10:28 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
Dan M Offline
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Registered: 12/30/03
Posts: 770
Loc: California
Hi,
What's the deal with the hocky stick type bridges? I recall Del saying something about the Walter not having it, I think because of the logrithmic scaling. Why would a piano have or not have it, is it generally a good thing or not, and what effect does it have?

Dan
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#1126155 - 05/01/04 11:47 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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Well, it foreshortens the scale near the break. You can make the rest of the piano relatively longer. However, I find that there is a dramatic fall-off in the tension of the strings there, unless you change the gauge of the wires often. Which I have been doing lately.

Grotriman brought this topic over to the Tuner's area, and some rumored data has been posted there. Unfortunately, it can't be correct. Also, some rough measurements I made on a couple of concert grands (Steinway D, Yamaha CFIIIs) indicate that the tension on them may not be so high either. What I can see is that where manufacturers have paid some attention to scale tension (many did not), there is a desire to have most of the treble at about 160 lb. Shorter pianos tend to have the tension drop off in the tenor, longer pianos tend to have it increase, as one would expect.
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#1126156 - 05/01/04 12:10 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by Dan M:
Hi,
What's the deal with the hocky stick type bridges? I recall Del saying something about the Walter not having it, I think because of the logrithmic scaling. Why would a piano have or not have it, is it generally a good thing or not, and what effect does it have?

Dan [/b]
BDB's point is well taken. This is one of the major shortcomings (no pun intended) of the traditional scaling techniques. One of the most glaring offenders, simply because it is so well known, is the Steinway B. It has an average tension in the 155 – 165 lb range through the middle tenor section but from B#-26 (with 155 lbs.) it drops down to 115 – 120 lbs at F-21. Regardless the voicer’s skill this is going to be audible. It can be made less bad and you can grow accustomed to it, but it will never be good. (Well, it can be made good but it requires the installation of a transition bridge.)

The problem, of course, is that the designers of these scales felt it necessary to place the bass/tenor transition relatively far down in the scale. As to exactly why they believed this was necessary is unclear. It was probably a holdover from the harpsichord and fortepiano days and their brass bass strings though this is just speculation on my part. As may be, the early piano scale designers were quite willing to develop a more-or-less log scale pattern down to the mid-tenor (higher or lower, depending on the length or height of the piano) but then found it necessary to foreshorten the scale to avoid running into the back, or bottom, of the piano. They seem to have given little thought to possibly extending the bass section up a bit.

Using a very broad sweep of the scaling brush pianos below six feet or so will work best with 30 – 32 unisons of wrapped strings. Pianos in the six foot to seven foot range will work best with 25 – 32 unisons of wrapped strings. Pianos above seven foot will best use 20 – 27 unisons of wrapped strings. All of these transition points will be dependent on the type of scaling desired, i.e., long or short and high tension or low tension.

The goal here is scaling uniformity. It is desirable that the strings, regardless of their type, develop approximately the same harmonic spectrum and power given a uniform hammer blow. You can (and usually should) drop a bit of unison tension when transitioning to the wrapped bichords, but it should be kept to no more than 10 – 20 percent. This is easily achieved by maintaining approximately uniform string tensions and this is best achieved through the use of a log scale and by keeping the length disparity between the last plain steel string unison and the first wrapped unison relatively small.

There are many factors that govern the physical transition between the plain steel strings and the wrapped bi-chord strings but, regardless the length of the piano, these can be worked out to maintain a reasonably uniform tonal transition between them. It can only be done, however, if the designer is free to place that transition where it is best suited for the overall length of the scale. This means maintaining a log sweep to the bridge down to the point where length becomes a problem and then making the transition regardless of tradition.

Del
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#1126157 - 05/01/04 12:27 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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 Quote:
The problem, of course, is that the designers of these scales felt it necessary to place the bass/tenor transition relatively far down in the scale. As to exactly why they believed this was necessary is unclear. It was probably a holdover from the harpsichord and fortepiano days and their brass bass strings though this is just speculation on my part.
One should never underestimate the cheapness of manufacturers. Wound strings are more expensive than plain strings!

It's ridiculous in some respects. Piano strings, even the wound ones, are dirt cheap compared to other stringed instruments.

That's speculation on my part!
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#1126158 - 05/01/04 04:38 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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 Quote:
One of the most glaring offenders, simply because it is so well known, is the Steinway B. It has an average tension in the 155 – 165 lb range through the middle tenor section but from B#-26 (with 155 lbs.) it drops down to 115 – 120 lbs at F-21. Regardless the voicer’s skill this is going to be audible. It can be made less bad and you can grow accustomed to it, but it will never be good.
I ran the B scale through a spreadsheet, and found for a uniform tension of 160 lb. per string, the note #21 speaking length would be about 67", which is not out of line for a 7' piano. Change it from #21 wire to #22, and it drops down to about 64".

What really shows up to me is that in order to get a uniform scale, you really should use half sizes of wire at the break, and you should change gauges often. Conversely, there's not much point in making a lot of changes of gauge in the high treble. Here's my confession: The last 5'-8" Knabe that I did ended up with the top 24 notes being all #14 wire! That meant that the entire top section and a few notes beyond were the same size wire. The results were good. It sounds fine and stays in tune well, even on being freshly strung. It allowed me to lower the tension in the middle of the piano, and got rid of most of the nasty inharmonics which you usually get in Knabes.
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#1126159 - 05/01/04 05:54 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
One should never underestimate the cheapness of manufacturers. Wound strings are more expensive than plain strings!

It's ridiculous in some respects. Piano strings, even the wound ones, are dirt cheap compared to other stringed instruments.

That's speculation on my part! [/b]
It may be speculation but it's not a far-fetched as some might think given today's economy.

When Samuel Wolfenden published the first edition of his book, "A Treatise on the Art of Pianoforte Construction" in 1916 World War One was raging and copper was at a premium. What little there was was going into land fill in France and Germany with little, if any, being available for piano bass strings. This, of course, drove up the price of copper world-wide, including the U.S. It created a large market for soft iron wire.

Del
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#1126160 - 05/01/04 06:03 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
I ran the B scale through a spreadsheet, and found for a uniform tension of 160 lb. per string, the note #21 speaking length would be about 67", which is not out of line for a 7' piano. Change it from #21 wire to #22, and it drops down to about 64".

[/b]
Actually, with #21 wire and a target of 160 lbs. per string I come up with a string length of about 1630 mm, or 64.2" With a length of 1705 mm, or 67.1" I come up with 160 lbs. of tension using the original #20 wire.

In either case these are longer string lengths than I would want in any 7' piano I was designing.

Del
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#1126161 - 05/01/04 07:02 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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You're right. I wrote the wire gauges wrong. The Steinway chart has all these obsolete scales, and it gets confusing.

If notes #1 and #21 are approximately the same length and are the longest strings in the piano, with agraffes about 12" from the front of the piano, it looks like there would be about 12-15" available at the tail, which would provide a lot of room at the hitchpin end for the flexibility you want.

The reason I mentioned the 64" length for what I should have said was #21 wire was that is the maximum size on a D or CFIIIs. (The CFIIIs uses the same wire gauges as a D except for 4 notes of 13-1/2 at the top.) I would think it shows that it would be rather difficult to design a concert grand with enough mass in the strings to impart a lot of energy to the soundboard without upping the tension as you approach the break.
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#1126162 - 05/01/04 07:55 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
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Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
I would think it shows that it would be rather difficult to design a concert grand with enough mass in the strings to impart a lot of energy to the soundboard without upping the tension as you approach the break. [/b]
It depends, I should think, on the size and mass of the soundboard assembly.

Del
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#1126163 - 05/01/04 10:48 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
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Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:


If notes #1 and #21 are approximately the same length and are the longest strings in the piano, with agraffes about 12" from the front of the piano, it looks like there would be about 12-15" available at the tail, which would provide a lot of room at the hitchpin end for the flexibility you want.

[/b]
Well, let's see. The Steinway B is about 82.5" long. I don't have one handy but I'd guess the agraffe for A-1 is about 12.5" back from the front of the keybed. That leaves us with 70" to play with. Now, we're going to want at least 12" between the back of the rim and the leading bridge pin so that leaves us with about 58" for the strings. It sounds like the actual Steinway B A-1 speaking length of about 59.5" is about right. I'd sure not want the speaking length of B-21 to be any longer than that. It would sure complicate bass string scaling. Why not just put a transition bridge in there and make about the last seven unisons bi-chord wrapped strings? Which is, in fact, what we do with this scale.

Del
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#1126164 - 05/02/04 12:09 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
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Well, I've got 9-footers this week: two Ds, the CFIIIs and a Bechstein E (only 17 bass notes!). I guess I actually see them more often than any 7-footers.

In my earlier days I had a M & H A-3 which had been rebuilt rather badly before I got it. It has 2 bichords at the tenor break. I was never happy with the plain strings there and eventually got wound strings for them and it was much better. So I can see your point. It's just that it should be possible to make a decent piano about 7 feet with 20 bass notes. Maybe not desirable, though.

What I really find is the problem with seat-of-the-pants scales is that the tension goes way up a couple of octaves below C-88, and remains so high that it is hard to get a smooth transition when the scale gets foreshortened nearing the break. More wound strings is a possibility. Lowering the tension higher up, and changing gauges as the scale is foreshortened is another.
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#1126165 - 05/02/04 01:16 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
David Burton Offline
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Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
I certainly like Del's idea for a concert fortepiano and agree that such an instrument might be better able to give us new and dramatic perspectives on old familiar works, which could also be played with smaller orchestras. These would be best suited to the classical piano concertos from Haydn and Clementi to Chopin. Del could even find some young piano bravo to highlight his piano with a series of recordings of the Beethoven sonatas or of the Mozart sonatas. Schubert would be a revelation on such a piano. Such an instrument would also be better suited to the baroque literature, considering as I do that Scarlatti and even Bach were looking forward to a true pianoforte and that so nany great baroque keyboard works have been rendered so well by many great pianists.

A pianoforte more nearly approaching 7 feet would be more acceptable to more people. Perhaps Del would consider something the length of a Steinway C with lower tension design, etc.

Assuming that Del could sell everything he made, and I think he probably could, such pianfortes would of course be quite expensive but it's also a matter of scale, the cost of make and build for how many units. And it's also a golden opportunity to consider alternative, lighter and stronger substitutes to cast iron plates, perhaps some carbonite composite ceramic that is poured into a mold and baked solid. I believe that such a material could be made as acoustically dead as the best iron plates.

Then I could see two men move a concert grand piano by merely picking it up as such a change would radically reduce the weight of the piano.

Certainly there are technical centers in universities and industry that would be willing to look into the feasibility of using some of these new materials and the cost of production might turn out to make the difference.

Of course Del probably knows as much about bellies as anyone; soundboards, ribs, bridges, the uses of aprons, etc. I wonder if he'd consider making these out of some other material as well, the goal being maximum tuning stability? I'm assuming he'd use the usual pinblock material, not clear how the action would differ (does he intend to go back to Viennese actions?).

I'll never complain about how expensive good grand pianos are again, if I ever have. I've just been finding out how much people are willing to spend on SUV's and trucks. Certainly if it could be kept reasonable, no more than $40,000 apiece, one of these pianos would be well worth it.

Del, tell us how you'd think such a piano would perform the music of Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev, etc. How well would it do Rhapsody in Blue?
_________________________
David Burton's Blog
http://dpbmss041010.blogspot.com/

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#1126166 - 05/02/04 08:24 AM Re: Scale Design - tension
fmelliott Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/01
Posts: 894
Loc: Virginia
Actually, Pinblocks need reform as much as anything. I have wanted to ask Del for sometime if it wouldn't be possible, and highly desireable to go to a "screw stringer" type tuning method.

Well, Del, why do we continue to use pinblocks which can be such a hassal?

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#1126167 - 05/02/04 02:20 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21656
Loc: Oakland
Pin blocks work just fine. There's an industry to support them, including lots of tuners who know how to work with them. Screw stringers required different skils that could be awkward if you aren't familiar with them. Strings need to be sized to a pretty exact length on them, for instance. For the end user, there would be no difference in performance, so there's no point in changing.

There are a lot of romantic about how some things that used to be used in old pianos might have been better than what we use now. The Viennese action is another one of them. Awkward to work on, inaccurate, clumsy, yet people think they were somehow better. Bösendorfer didn't even provide a let-off adjustment on theirs, so how could it possibly have been better?

The fact is that the modern piano, particularly the Steinway model which is so popular to bash around here, evolved from specific desires that people wanted. Sure, there are improvements that could be made. Evening the tension is one of them. Whether that means higher tension or lower tension, I'm less sure. Personally, I think that it is dependent on the size of the piano. But if you deviate too far, you lose something.

Still, if you want to make a revolution in piano manufacture, you aren't going to make it starting with a concert grand, or even a 7' grand, no matter what Stuart & Sons may think. You are more likely to do it starting with a good upright, like Charles Walter, or even Mason & Hamlin did years ago. There just isn't enough market for anything else.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#1126168 - 05/02/04 02:56 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Jeffrey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/04
Posts: 2948
Loc: New York
Two questions: (1) Does the high-tension/ low-tension distinction also apply to uprights? Where would some common uprights (Boston, Schulze-Pollmann, Grotrian, Kawai, M+H, etc.) fall on the tension spectrum? I recently purchased a S-P 126 as a first piano. (2) Has Steinway changed its tension design over the years, or between makes? I agree with what Del says re: large concert halls. I recently saw Andreas Schiff playing some Bach fugues on 9' Steinway with the top off at Lincoln Center - top performer, but didn't feel quite right to me. Also heard a large living-room recital on a 1930's Steinway M (5'7") (Handel piano duets with violin). Much more mellow and intimate: piano "fit" better with music, in my opinion. I don't know if it was just the ambiance of the room and how close we were to the performers, or if the older M was tuned differently. A lot of this is very subjective, of course, but others opinions would be interesting to me.

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#1126169 - 05/02/04 08:06 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by David Burton:
I certainly like Del's idea for a concert fortepiano and agree that such an instrument might be better able to give us new and dramatic perspectives on old familiar works, which could also be played with smaller orchestras. These would be best suited to the classical piano concertos from Haydn and Clementi to Chopin. Del could even find some young piano bravo to highlight his piano with a series of recordings of the Beethoven sonatas or of the Mozart sonatas. Schubert would be a revelation on such a piano. Such an instrument would also be better suited to the baroque literature, considering as I do that Scarlatti and even Bach were looking forward to a true pianoforte and that so many great baroque keyboard works have been rendered so well by many great pianists.

A pianoforte more nearly approaching 7 feet would be more acceptable to more people. Perhaps Del would consider something the length of a Steinway C with lower tension design, etc.

Assuming that Del could sell everything he made, and I think he probably could, such pianofortes would of course be quite expensive but it's also a matter of scale, the cost of make and build for how many units. And it's also a golden opportunity to consider alternative, lighter and stronger substitutes to cast iron plates, perhaps some carbonite composite ceramic that is poured into a mold and baked solid. I believe that such a material could be made as acoustically dead as the best iron plates.

Then I could see two men move a concert grand piano by merely picking it up as such a change would radically reduce the weight of the piano.

Certainly there are technical centers in universities and industry that would be willing to look into the feasibility of using some of these new materials and the cost of production might turn out to make the difference.

Of course Del probably knows as much about bellies as anyone; soundboards, ribs, bridges, the uses of aprons, etc. I wonder if he'd consider making these out of some other material as well, the goal being maximum tuning stability? I'm assuming he'd use the usual pinblock material, not clear how the action would differ (does he intend to go back to Viennese actions?).

I'll never complain about how expensive good grand pianos are again, if I ever have. I've just been finding out how much people are willing to spend on SUV's and trucks. Certainly if it could be kept reasonable, no more than $40,000 apiece, one of these pianos would be well worth it.

Del, tell us how you'd think such a piano would perform the music of Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev, etc. How well would it do Rhapsody in Blue? [/b]
David,

You pose some interesting questions. The idea would be to produce a modern piano — that is, an instrument with the stability and reliability we have come to expect — but with a tonal performance and aesthetic that has long since been lost. Its style would be closer to the pianoforte of the 1830s to 1850s than to the modern Steinway-derived style. The action would be modern but set up for a generally lighter and quicker feel and response. In essence it would be what I think the pianoforte might have become if Steinway had not overwhelmed the industry with their manufacturing innovations.

Size.
Well, I’m already working on a 200 cm (6’ 7”) grand that incorporates a few of these ideas though it is intended to be somewhat closer to what we think of as the “modern” piano than this. I’m not locked into any particular size. The size should fit the need and the venue as well as the desire and taste of the performer. I’ve been toying with the idea of a longer piano because I’ve been thinking about the concert grand piano market. I’ve been discussing this market with a couple of people involved with various piano manufacturers and I’ve been wondering just why anyone would want to introduce yet another conventional (read Steinway D Clone). It makes no sense to me. Where is the market? The world is flooded with concert grand pianos that are not selling. Or the prestige everyone dreams about. Even if the thing were to outperform the Steinway D, By virtue of their C&A fleet Steinway owns the concert stages of the world and will for some years to come. Why bring out yet another concert piano to compete in an already saturated market? Why not develop another market niche entirely? A concert piano for the home? The small stage. Yes, make it long, give it the length to develop that solid, low frequency growl that comes only from a very long string yet make it musically pure and tonally matched to a smaller venue. Make it narrow and slender, exotic and elegant.

Now, certainly, this concept could be scaled down to a shorter scale. A pianoforte in the 225 cm (7’ 2”) could be built that would incorporate most of these attributes with only a moderate loss of low bass performance. Much less than that and something of the aesthetic balance I have in mind will be lost along with that very low bass performance. Which is not to denigrate the performance of the shorter piano at all; I have every reason to believe the low bass performance of our Model 200 will be excellent for its size. But it will not be the equal of what is possible with a even 225 cm (or longer) piano of modern design.

Cost.
As you say, the cost of the finished instrument is highly dependent on the economy of scale. I’ve no idea what the ultimate market for an instrument of this size and type might be. But let me speculate. Let’s assume production would be less than 60 instruments per year. This translates into five instruments per month. Assuming there will be good basic tooling and fixturing along with adequate heavy-duty woodworking machinery but very little in the way of automated equipment let’s further assume it will take about 400 hours of semi-skilled to skilled labor to produce each one. (That’s almost certainly an over-allowance but let’s leave it there for now.) This means a workforce of approximately 15 or 16 people. Labor (direct plus burden) in the U.S. is going to run about $12,000 to $15,000 per instrument. Depending on how much is built in-house rather than purchased, parts and materials costs could range from a low of, say $5,000 to a high of perhaps $10,000 (keeping in mind this is a very low production venture and the costs necessarily will reflect that). Now add to this the costs of overhead, return on investment, marketing and management, profit and so forth, a final price in the $40,000 to $50,000 range might be possible. That’s assuming they were all sold direct and not through dealers. If it proves impossible to maintain this sales rate and dealers become necessary then all this goes out the window and it becomes a whole new ballgame.

Technology.
It is quite probable that several new technologies could well transform the piano as we know it. However, developing these technologies and making them production ready and reliable will not be cheap. In my little scenario above there is no room for the extensive R&D work that would be required to bring either an exotic structure or an exotic soundboard assembly to market. That would introduce a whole new level of complexity and development costs. As described above the whole thing could be developed using existing technology and the end result would be quite predictable. Once new technologies like these get introduced a whole new level of complexity and uncertainty comes into the picture. Unless the project were funded with just huge amounts of money I wouldn’t even think of going that route. (I shouldn’t think even a university could take on this type of project without some outside funding. But I could be wrong — it’s been known.)

Performance.
The idea of a project such as this would be to carry forward the concepts of the early instruments and produce a modern equivalent of what these composers and performers actually played on. I see no contradiction between an instrument that would perform with equal charm both Prokofiev and Gershwin. Or, for that matter, Dave Brubeck or Oscar Peterson. John Cage is a whole other issue.

One of the advantages of a (relatively) small project like this should be versatility. Once the basic design and structure is in place there is no reason why it couldn’t fairly easily be altered to suit the needs and desires of an individual performer. That is, from a basic tone standard, a version could be made a bit brighter and more percussive or a bit warmer and sustaining. It would take only relatively minor changes to scaling and soundboard design. Actions could be easily altered to accommodate varying tastes in touch and feel.

So, why not do it?
Well, money, of course. Or the lack thereof. A project like this would cost a considerable amount to get started. Not as much as starting up another Baldwin or Steinway, but still a fair amount. I’ve never done even a basic business plan for something like this but I’m guessing it would cost closer to a million than a hundred thousand. Not all that much compared to what is spent on some of the high-tech startups we hear so much about (nearly all of which go belly up) but quite a bit more than I have at my disposal.

I think it would make a certain amount of sense for some existing piano manufacturer to pick up a project like this and develop it along side what they are already doing but I don’t see it happening any time soon. As an industry we don’t seem to be able to look beyond the basic Steinway and/or Old European archetype and conceive of what might be. And our vision of R&D seems limited primarily to manufacturing technologies. It would take a brave soul indeed to attempt developing a market niche of this type even if it would be one they totally owned for years to come.

Del
_________________________
Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon

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#1126170 - 05/03/04 10:57 PM Re: Scale Design - tension
Grotriman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/07/04
Posts: 724
Loc: New York City
So I understand that the higher the bass section goes in the scale, the higher the tension. (?)

Also if there are wound strings in the lower tenor, there is a likelyhood the scale design is higher tension.

I hear lots of statments about certain pianos being low tension designs. But I don't hear of any particular piano that is a "high tension" design.

Sometimes I get the feeling that "low tension" design is (was once) a marketing tool to give the notion that a piano was not going to go out of tune so fast (being under less stress).

But where is a high tension design?
_________________________
Regards,

Grotriman

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