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#1353813 - 01/20/10 12:25 AM A Modern Fortepiano
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
A Modern Fortepiano

1 Loudness matters
When I was twelve, my parents gave me a cheap upright piano. I was practising a lot, my neighbours often complained and before long, the piano was too noisy for my ears. The sound was not good, either, not very subtle for Mozart and Bach, my favourites. Blankets and insulation behind the sounding board did not help either. Finally, the piano and me became a long-lasting love-hate relationship. The trauma stayed with me for quite a while. A more expensive piano was out of the question, not to mention the possibility of a baby grand, there would not be any room for it and no money. Moreover, I was never entirely happy with the grand pianos I encountered at my school, though I realized that they were superior in many ways to my own upright piano. Instinctively, I was drawn towards historical pianos, though I could not afford a historical piano either, although my parents allowed me to build a clavichord, which was an interesting experience, but no replacement for a fortepiano.

2 Going digital
In the early nineties, digital pianos such as Yamaha's Clavinova series became affordable and were a real alternative for somebody practising in a rented apartment. It was quite a relief after the bad upright piano I was used to and I made some progress on it. However, before long the sound became quite artificial and unpleasant to my ears, but again, there was no other choice. Resignation set in. Moreover, I was not an outstanding pianist either, so why bother? It was as good as it was.
One could always wait for the perfect digital piano to come along, after years of research and progress in digital technology. This is also why I didn't hesitate to upgrade to a Grand'Touch II digital grand piano. The action felt like on a real grand piano and I was hooked easily, even though the sound was not perfect.

3 Missing the real thing
What is wrong with digital instruments? Nothing. However, I have come to suspect that the general public has a different attitude towards high-fidelity sound compared to high-definition screens, for example. Everybody wants to have a nice high-definition flat screen for a TV nowadays. Prices are affordable. Everybody is aware of the fact though that a screen just gives us pictures of the real world, but a screen would never be taken for the real thing. The most extreme example may be a walk in nature and fresh air as opposed to a report on such a walk on a screen. High-fidelity sound systems seem to be a different story. For the majority of people today in the developed world, the sound of acoustic musical instruments is played most often through stereo sound systems. Hardly anybody has an acoustic instrument at home and live classical concerts are quite an exception. Pop music almost entirely relies on synthetic, digital sound. This comes primarily from a wish to create fancy artificial sound effects, to amplify sound even for live concerts and most of all, because music today is generally distributed by radio broadcast, on compact discs or via the internet. People simply are not aware of the intrinsic difference of live acoustic instruments from digital sound. However, digital sound is at best a very good picture or image of the sound of live acoustic instruments. It is at the same level as a screen in comparison to the 'real world'. However, in our culture, most people are not aware of this fact.

4 Piano stores
In my late thirties I felt an urge to buy an acoustic piano. I was shopping around in the local piano stores. The enormous sound of a modern acoustic grand piano discouraged me more than once. After a bit of trying, I got used to this sound, that is, almost. At least in the show rooms, which were actually halls, the sound could be accommodated in some way. I realized that I liked Steinway grands most. Most of all, I loved their clarity. The bass registers were always a bit murky, but again, it was as good as is could be. Apparently, that was all that was possible. In terms of price, we are talking from $ 40,000 to $ 55,000 for renovated Steinway A grand pianos (188 cm). The price was a big deterrent.

5 Collections of historical instruments
Alternatively, I went to some very interesting collections of historical fortepianos, although most of these instruments to me looked and often sounded like something creeping out of a vault, mostly with very crude actions. Nobody bothered about a thorough renovation of the action mechanism, either the know-how was absent or the price of the renovation could not be afforded, or nobody cared. These instruments were not affordable either and into the bargain went easily out of tune. Not my first option, though I admired the delicate and interesting sound these historical pianos produced.

6 Fortepiano makers
I visited a few fortepiano makers in their workshops, which was inspiring and interesting. Prices however were out of my scope. $ 50,000 for a replica of a 1790 Mozart fortepiano, which already failed to accommodate the works of the later Beethoven. This did not seem a practicable option to me, let alone the $ 70,000 for a replica of an infatuating 1828 Conrad Graf fortepiano, 2.45 meters long into the bargain – a nightmare to transport through a staircase and to accommodate in a smallish apartment.

7 The modern grand piano revisited
What is great about a modern grand? Tuning once a year, reliable and precise action, easy replacement of action parts and the 'modern' feel of it. It doesn't look and feel like an old piece of junk or a so-called 'antique' that seems to struggle not to fall apart when played. There is another advantage on a modern grand. The keys are much spacier than on historical pianos, which is ideal for my big hands, especially when you want to play harpsichord music, e.g. Bach's Goldberg Variations, that were intended for a double-manual harpsichord.
I was almost certain to go for a second-hand Yamaha. Yamaha grand pianos are held in high esteem by piano technicians, because they are neat. The action mechanism usually keeps well-regulated for a long time and often it comes close to a well-regulated Steinway grand piano. The sound however often is perceived as less musical and refined than a Steinway piano and rather on the loud side. After some trying, I ruled out the C2 (173 cm) and C3 (186 cm) models, because the transition from the treble to the bass was unconvincing and these pianos sounded like thundering church bells in the bass rather than the strings of a piano, at least to my ears.
Finally, I fell for a second-hand Yamaha A1 (149 cm) baby grand. It was quite short and that was noticeable in the bass, of course. But the transition from the treble to the bass was attractive to me, especially the lack of any 'church bell quality'. The piano sounded reasonably well in the showing room. I bought it and it came to my place, where I soon got tired of its thundering loudness. I was frustrated, angry with myself and afraid to have made, once again, the wrong decision in a pricey business. In the same piano store that sold me the Yamaha grand, there was an 110-year old Broadwood cottage grand piano, not yet renovated, because of the patent iron-topped wrest plank, which was quite tricky to replace. Whatever the outcome, I was not convinced about the antique Broadwood grand piano. I was looking at the aged-old action, which was not properly regulated, and the ugly case, which looked like a wreck from the past. And anyway, reselling my Yamaha grand piano would have meant losing money, effort and time. The piano seller would not just take it back. What to do?

8 Analysing the problem and finding a solution
First I had to define loudness. Loudness is partly measurable in absolute terms. There are quite a few musicians (not only professionals) with tinnitus due to an exposition to excessive levels of sound. On the other hand, loudness is relative. In a concert hall, it is desirable for a grand piano to be heard by the audience in the last rows. In a smallish room at home, a piano is too loud, if it is no longer possible to differentiate between pianissimo and forte, when the piano at its softest level is always perceived as 'shouting' instead of speaking. It has also to do with timbre. The hammers hit the strings in a violent manner, even when playing in the piano range so that an unpleasant barking sound results. It is not only the volume level that seems to be wrong, but also the timbre of the sound. At this point, many people would call in a piano technician to 'voice down' the piano's felt hammers. Usually, one ends up with a mellow or even flat sound, which in my opinion is just as unpleasant and unconvincing as the barking, harsh sound, which is at the other end of the spectrum.
The idea that the source of the problem might be the hammers is an informed guess. The size and weight of the hammers is always important, the formula being F = m * a. The force striking the strings is equal to the mass (or weight) of the hammers multiplied by their acceleration. Assuming the same acceleration from the fact that the same action mechanism and the same blow distance is used, a reduction of the mass will reduce the force with which the hammers hit the strings. 18th century fortepianos only have tiny hammers compared to modern pianos, especially in the treble. In the bass, more mass on the hammers is required to set in motion the greater mass of the longer and thicker strings. This also applies to the modern piano as can easily be perceived.

9 Lighter hammers, part 1
My first guess was, lighter felt hammers. I had my local piano technician order lighter hammers from the Helmut Abel company in Germany, who specialises in piano hammers. The core of the hammers was spruce instead of beech wood. The hammer shanks were maple instead of beech. Both parts were additionally grooved or thinned out to reduced the weight even more. The felt was to be the special Abel natural felt which was less compressed than standard felt. The hammers that arrived were about half the weight of the old standard ones. The five test hammers in different sections of the piano sounded softer, however the reduction of the volume was not considerable. The felt would have needed voicing into the bargain, the work of a specialist, and the cost would have been a matter of several thousand dollars. Consequently, I stopped the experiment at this point, because there was no sense continuing along theses lines.

10 Lighter hammers, part 2
The piano was a pain to play and so I finally stopped playing it, which made me angry every time I looked at its beautiful case. I felt utterly stupid. At one moment, I withdrew the action stand from the piano and screwed in the original hammers, in an attempt to restore the piano to its former set-up in order to resell it. One of the hammer heads in the middle treble had come loose from the hammer shank. When taking the glue out of the cupboard I had a brilliant idea: here was the possibility to fit a small piece of spruce wood to the hammershank and a bit of leather and listen, if the sound was going into a more convincing direction. The experiment was successful, the sound got much thinner. The mass of the hammer head was reduced even more and the single layer of leather created a sound much closer to that of historical fortepianos. I was intrigued. I cut away the felt of a few spruce hammer heads and glued on a piece of leather, the soft side on the outside, hitting the strings. My experiments were convincing in two ways: on the one hand, the loudness was reduced, but also the timbre was improved. There was no barking, but a clear articulation. I was using the pedal a lot before, but the new sound, was blending much better, with a clearer articulation into the bargain. No more thundering bass, but a distinct, musical voice. This time I did not contact the piano technician, having decided to work on my own. The Helmut Abel company in Germany was contacted once again and after a while, the order was placed for a new set of spruce wood hammer cores without any felt (length of hammer cores in the bass: 69 mm, in the treble: 65 mm, tails with rounded C-shaped grooving, 'C-Kehlung, gerundet' in German, i.e. Yamaha style), maple hammer shanks, both pieces thinned out to the maximum to reduce weight. The tip of the hammer cores was 3 mm and flat. There were four sections of hammers and I sent in the starting and the ending hammer of each section as samples for the Abel company to drill the holes in the spruce hammer cores at the correct angles. The Abel company also supplied the deerskin leather, already cut in appropriate stripes, though I replaced this leather after a while with Chamois leather (see below). Everything cost about $ 1000.
Meanwhile, I was aware of the fact that the keys were now too heavy in the front. Especially in the bass, the keys would not properly fall back into position when not pressed down, because the hammers were now so super light. I decided to drill out the lead weights in the front of the keys, which took quite a bit of courage, since a standard component of the piano was to be changed, maybe irreversibly so, whereas screwing on a different set of lighter hammers was no big deal, rather like changing the tyres of a car. However, if the drilling out is neatly done, the keys can, if necessary be re-leaded at a later stage, when heavier hammers are fit into the piano. First a thin drill through the centre, then a 12 mm diameter drill, the leads being 14 mm. Many of the lead weights tumble out by themselves, the rest has to be carefully scratched out with a screwdriver, sometimes drilled a second and a third time. The drilling out of the lead weights was about eight hours of work. The lead had to be properly disposed of in an official waste management centre.
After that intervention, I supposed the piano was no longer playable with the old hammers, but I was entirely wrong. I had the impression that I could play faster and more comfortably once the lead was gone, although it was somewhat heavier to press down a key in the bass.
The new hammerheads and the hammershanks have to be glued. I used universal white glue in a watery solution, water resistent, to glue both the wood and the leather. The old hammers are replaced one by one, the new hammers have to be glued in the same angle as the old hammers, when the shank is already glued in. Before glueing, the keys have to be lifted by about 1 mm at the back by inserting a 1mm piece of felt behind the keys. This is because the release does not work properly with the new hammers, because the shafts are too long. The long ends of the shafts have to be sawed off later, when the glue is set, and then the felt can be withdrawn again at the back from under the keys. The hammerheads must be glued at the correct position, so that the hammer is held up by the check, when the hammer is released by the action, when the key is entirely depressed. The regulation screw (Abnickschraube in German) of he hammershank has to be screwed in quite a bit to set the release point of the hammer. The hammers were coverd twice with glue as a varnish, especially the tips, in order to make the soft spruce wood more resistant. The region near the hammershank was left unvarnished.
Instead of glueing the leather on the spruce hammer cores (the tip of the hammer core should be left unglued not to ruin the voicing), I used a nylon (polyamid) thread to string the leather on as a test set-up. The nylon thread was 0.25 mm and I wound it six times around, before tying the ends together with several knots. Sewing cotton or thread works as well for testing. The advantages of stringing as opposed to glueing are that there is no residue left on the wood, while testing, no waiting for the glue to set and in case a thinner or a thicker piece of leather would have to be put on in terms of a different voicing, the nylon thread could easily be removed.
The first set of leather was not ideal, so I kept testing. I got the best results from Chamois leather, the leather of a variety of goats living wildly in the Alps. The leather is very soft and creamy white. It can be bought at a near hobby supermarket and is widely used to wash cars and sindscreens. I used three layers of rather thick leather pieces of Chamois leather, about 6 cm. Each piece is glued seperatly at two points on both sides of the hammer core. The glue is strong, so only four little drops are needed. If anything gets ever detached it can be re-glued in no time. The tip of the hammer must always be left unglued not to ruin the voicing. The leather must have a little tension when glued, so it does not shift at the tip of the hammerhead. The ends of the leather, about 8 mm should be left unglued so the leather can be easily removed by pulling on these flaps when the leather has to be replaced. The last leather piece is voiced with a tiny fraction of candle wax. Only the tip of the hammerhead is waxed when the leather is already glued on the hammer core. Take an ironing iron on a low temperature, move the candle only once across the ironing iron. Only use a tiny fraction of candle wax, too much ruins the voicing and makes the piano sound like a harpsichord. Iron the tips of the hammers. One streak of wax on the iron is enough for one section of hammers (there are four sections of hammers). Apply a kitchen paper towel between the iron to spread the wax or take some of it away again. The problem area is the middle section. Be most careful in the middle section. If you do it wrong, you will simply have to replace the top leather.
With the new test hammers playing felt very much like on a historical fortepiano. The modern repetition action responded very subtly to every motion of my fingers and the hammers obeyed gracefully. It made sense again to me to play Mozart on this modern piano. I added a plywood board 6 mm thick below the soundboard, closing off the under part of the piano to reduce the volume even more, because I have a plain parquet floor and do not want to put in any carpets. This is really optional.

10 All was already there
The joy of playing a modern grand piano returned. The bass was much clearer, even with this 1.49 meter Yamaha baby grand, which is the shortest Yamaha grand piano that exists, the sound was musical, singing and at the same time transparent, the individual notes blending very well – in a word, an inspiration. I realized that all was already there. The piano was a caterpillar pupating, waiting to turn into a beautiful butterfly. Once the ugly shell of its former thundering barking sound was shed, the grand piano became a real musical instrument. I call my special configuration of my Yamaha baby grand a 'modern fortepiano', because it has the charming sound of a historical fortepiano, while at the same time displaying all the advantages of a modern grand piano.
Yesterday, a piano teacher and pianist came to my place to try my piano. He stayed for two hours and would have stayed on if he had not had another engagement. He played Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. He was fascinated with the sound and found it attractive. As on a historical fortepiano, every range on the piano has a characteristic register. He realised that and liked it very much. The action was modern, but he realised that he had to play more legato and depress the keys more than he was used to. He said he would very much like to have such a piano.


Edited by Puck01 (01/20/10 12:43 AM)

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#1353823 - 01/20/10 12:48 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
crogersrx Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/25/08
Posts: 712
Loc: San Francisco, CA
Wow, very interesting, and very adventurous of you to have done this experiment. I can't say that I would have done any such thing on a new piano of considerable value, but perhaps on an older piano that was in excellent condition but not worth a rebuild.

I'm sure I speak for other readers when I say that we'd be very interested in hearing some good recordings of this piano being played! Perhaps you can share some photos of the work you did.
_________________________
Cary Rogers, PharmD
San Francisco, CA
1887 Knabe 6'4" (Rebuilt)

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#1353846 - 01/20/10 01:34 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: crogersrx]
Oz Marcus Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/09
Posts: 457
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
What a fascinating story!
I agree that some photos of your work and some sample recordings would be great.

All the best,

Marcus
_________________________
Oz Marcus
Currently working on:
Schubert Impromptu in C minor - D899
Chopin Prelude Op28 No 15, nocturne Op48 no 1
Bach Prelude & Fuge WTC II No 12 in F minor
Aspiring to Rautavaara - Piano Sonata 2 - Fire Sermon

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#1353849 - 01/20/10 01:49 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Oz Marcus]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19292
Loc: New York
Can someone summarize what happened? smile
_________________________
"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)

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#1353868 - 01/20/10 03:45 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Mark_C]
David-G Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/06
Posts: 1228
Loc: London
A very interesting story. Thank you for describing it so fully. Could you perhaps comment on how the sound compares with the sound of a "real" fortepiano?

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#1353883 - 01/20/10 04:45 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: David-G]
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
Great story; it was a fun read. Thanks for sharing.
We have another member who could give you advice on how to turn the adventures described in your post into a 300 page book, if you are interested.

I know that there are a lot of us living in apartments in Europe who would like to have an acoustic piano or keyboard instrument with a more appropriate sound for the listening space and their surroundings than the overly loud, shouting monsters that are today's modern grand pianos, all playing a game of oneupmanship and pretending to be concert hall contenders.

We have one fellow in town who has been restoring old Erard instruments, some of which are much more appropriate for home use than all the modern grand pianos being sold today. However, consistent with your experience, not without a substantial price tag.

http://www.erard.nl/

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#1353885 - 01/20/10 04:52 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: David-G]
Ludwig van Bilge Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/09
Posts: 204
That was very lengthy but fascinating. Congradulations on the success of all that effort. If you choose to post photos & recording I'd be interested.

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#1353912 - 01/20/10 07:16 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Ludwig van Bilge]
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Good for you. An excellent musical story and I think you are a true musician to go in search of the sound you want. Very creative solution.

Now we need a recording posted up!
_________________________
S&S Hamburg D, Yamaha CLP 280


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#1353918 - 01/20/10 07:46 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: AJB]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
I would have just bought a square. They start at around £600, date back to pre-1800 and are quite quiet. They were very popular in Paris and London in Mozart's day.
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snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1354327 - 01/20/10 05:41 PM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: keyboardklutz]
Ken Knapp Offline



Registered: 04/18/06
Posts: 2130
Loc: Pennsylvania
Wonderful story and well written. Thanks for sharing it with us. smile

Ken
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Ken

Piano Organ Depot
http://www.pianoorgandepot.com
Hammond Organ Technician


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#1354351 - 01/20/10 06:12 PM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Mark_C]
crogersrx Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/25/08
Posts: 712
Loc: San Francisco, CA
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile


He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.
_________________________
Cary Rogers, PharmD
San Francisco, CA
1887 Knabe 6'4" (Rebuilt)

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#1354703 - 01/21/10 10:27 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: crogersrx]
rodmichael Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/08
Posts: 334
Loc: Maryland
Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile


He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read by providing this brief summary of an otherwise interesting note? Mark would probably benefit by reading the original post since the summary statement obviously has none of the very nice flavor of the original post.
_________________________
Rod Michael
Mason & Hamlin AA, SN 93018
Yamaha CGP-1000, SN UCNZ01010
Zoom Q3



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#1354718 - 01/21/10 10:45 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: rodmichael]
crogersrx Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/25/08
Posts: 712
Loc: San Francisco, CA
Originally Posted By: rodmichael

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read by providing this brief summary of an otherwise interesting note? Mark would probably benefit by reading the original post since the summary statement obviously has none of the very nice flavor of the original post.


Yes... caught in the act of enabling. I guess I've gotten so used to all the lazy people who just want a synopsis of what they need to know to get by, but never really do any work or learning.

I found his (very long) description of his motivation for this experiment, and the modification he made to his modern piano very interesting, and a bit frightening. At a certain point, there's really no going back.
_________________________
Cary Rogers, PharmD
San Francisco, CA
1887 Knabe 6'4" (Rebuilt)

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#1354767 - 01/21/10 11:47 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Ken Knapp]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Let's hear it!
_________________________
rhythm must be inborn

An Article on the unusual makeup of original Pleyel hammers, during Chopin's lifetime:

http://acortot.blogspot.it/2012/07/pleyel-hammers-in-chopin-era-i-martelli.html

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#1354772 - 01/21/10 11:51 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Ken Knapp]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.
_________________________
rhythm must be inborn

An Article on the unusual makeup of original Pleyel hammers, during Chopin's lifetime:

http://acortot.blogspot.it/2012/07/pleyel-hammers-in-chopin-era-i-martelli.html

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#1354784 - 01/21/10 12:16 PM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: acortot]
sandalholme Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/31/09
Posts: 744
Loc: Dorset, UK
A fascinating account. I am surprised that the sheer bulk of the casework and the shortness/thickness of the strings allow the harmonics of a fortepiano to sound in the same way as an original instrument or faithful copy. As you found out from your friend, the key dip is far more shallow on an early piano - which has quite an impact on how to play it and of course had a direct influence on the style of music composed for it. But maybe you are less concerned with creating a fortepiano without the horrendous expense of buying one and more with lightness of tone/volume in your domestic situation. Interesting that the tonal quality varies across the compass - which again was used by composers to musical effect. This variety of tone was of course laboriously engineered out of pianos in the late 19th and 20th centuries!

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#1355109 - 01/21/10 10:21 PM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5067
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: acortot
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.


Had I been doing the whole job, yes, I would probably have replaced the soundboard and ribset with something thinner and lighter. And I'd have dropped the tensions down some. But this would have driven the cost up considerably. It sounds like the solution Puck01 has come up with on his own is satisfactory for now. Five years from now – who knows? – he may be ready to try soming more advanced.

Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano. It would be ever so much better for the industry to offer a broader range of options. I’d like to see a modern version of the fortepiano offered in various lengths and styles. Picture a nice 200 cm grand built on a lighter physical scale (saving quite a lot of mass and even some floorspace) using lower tensioned scales that could be driven by hammers weighing perhaps 2/3 what the typical modern piano hammer weights. Key travel could be reduced without requiring muscleman fingers and arms. Quick, light and expressive actions. A more balanced tone palette optimized for smaller homes and apartments. I could really get carried away with this...Oh, yes, did you read about that rim I just pressed? Kind of like that....

ddf
_________________________
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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#1355164 - 01/21/10 11:29 PM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Del]
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
Originally Posted By: Del

Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano. It would be ever so much better for the industry to offer a broader range of options.


When people post about volume, it's inevitably because it's too high.

Maybe get the volunteers together again and knock out a prototype;-)

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#1355190 - 01/22/10 12:03 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: crogersrx]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19292
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile

He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Thank you, and nice job!
Now let's see what the next post says..... ha
_________________________
"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)

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#1355193 - 01/22/10 12:07 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: rodmichael]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19292
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: rodmichael
Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile

He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read.....

Do you really want to characterize it that way? bah smile

I can absolutely guarantee you that I am far, far from the only one here who would tend not to read such a long post.

HOWEVER.......perhaps you'll be pleased to know that I did look through it enough to see essentially what it was about and to realize it was something that interested me, more so because it so happens that one of my main teachers was someone at the forefront of the fortepiano movement.

Which in turn might make you wonder why I would ask (jocularly, I might add) for a summary, rather than just read it all.
For the answer to that, see the above-quoted portion of your post. smile

I am very glad that there are so many people here (like you) who are willing and able to read such long posts. It is impressive, and a great comment on this site.
_________________________
"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)

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#1355198 - 01/22/10 12:11 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: crogersrx]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19292
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Yes... caught in the act of enabling. I guess I've gotten so used to all the lazy people who just want a synopsis of what they need to know to get by, but never really do any work or learning......

(Right, I never really do any work or learning.) smile
_________________________
"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)

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#1355201 - 01/22/10 12:16 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Del]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19292
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Del
Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano....

I likewise, and I've forever had my pianos worked on toward that end, with partial success. My exposure to fortepiano has probably helped push me in that direction.

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#1355260 - 01/22/10 02:03 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: acortot]
crogersrx Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/25/08
Posts: 712
Loc: San Francisco, CA
Originally Posted By: acortot
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.


He did mention removing some of the weighting... it was such a long description, though, that you might have missed that part.

Excellent idea on the lower tension, lighter strings. It would take an expertlike Del to work out the physics of wire thickness, etc. Given that redesigning the bridge is probably out of the question, restringing with lighter guage string may be out of the question.
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San Francisco, CA
1887 Knabe 6'4" (Rebuilt)

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#1355269 - 01/22/10 02:30 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
Thanks for your replies I will try to anwers your questions soon. Meanwhile, after more tests, I'm going to change the hammer-covering again, using only one layer of thin felt and one layer of leather, since the sound is less harsh and it is easier to play really soft. I would change this section of the text:

10 Lighter hammers, part 2
(...)

I used one layer of about 1.5 mm thick felt and one layer of about 1.5 mm thick Chamois leather, both about 6 cm long. The stripes of leather and felt were cut using a hand-operated paper cutting machine, very common in schools, with the material to be cut in between two layers of thin paper cardboard for a neat cut. The sound quality was less harsh than with three layers of Chamois leather. Each piece is glued seperatly at two points on both sides of the hammer core. The glue is strong, so only four little drops are needed. If anything gets ever detached it can be re-glued in no time. The tip of the hammer must always be left unglued not to ruin the voicing. The leather must have a little tension when glued, so it does not shift at the tip of the hammerhead. The ends of the leather, about 8 mm should be left unglued so the leather can be easily removed by pulling on these flaps when the leather has to be replaced. I applied a wooden clothespin after glueing for about 10 minutes. The leather piece on top is voiced with a tiny fraction of candle wax. Only the tip of the hammerhead is waxed when the leather is already glued on the hammer core. Either rub a white candle on each hammer tip and spread the wax with your fingers, or take an ironing iron on a low temperature, move the candle only once across the ironing iron. Only use a tiny fraction of candle wax, too much ruins the voicing and makes the piano sound like a harpsichord. Iron only the tips of the hammers. One streak of wax on the iron is enough for one section of hammers (there are four sections of hammers). Apply a kitchen paper towel between the iron to spread the wax or take some of it away again. The problem area is the middle section. Be most careful in the middle section. If you apply to much wax, you will simply have to replace the top leather. No wax makes the piano sound less articulate.

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#1355279 - 01/22/10 02:59 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: crogersrx]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
Recording is a difficult matter for me. I do not have a recording studio. There's only a rather cheap microphone and a cheap PC.

I can describe the sound in this way, by referring to a early 19th century fortepiano: In an early 19th century fotepiano, you have rather short, but thin iron strings in the treble and brass strings in the bass. When you hear a fortepiano for the first time, you are a bit put off by the nasal character of the treble. This is caused by several factors: The thin, short, very low-tension iron strings and the tiny leather hammers.

In a modern piano, the felt is compressed and voiced. The felt takes a very active, dynamic part in the sound, which is also rather loud. In an early historic piano, the hammer is rather passive. I would claim, the only factors that matter is the weight of the hammer, the surface of the hammer and the "cushioning" by felt (or leather) below the top layer. The sound is weaker, less impressive, less dominant and sometimes a bit "unrefined", compared to the modern piano. However, after getting used to this sound, the sound is often perceived as more interesing, more natural. It is an ideal sound for the Mozart's fantasies in d minor (KV 397) and in c minor (KV 475), which are difficult to make sense of on a modern piano.

Most impressive is the bass in a fortepiano. It is not dominant at all. Rather than church bells, it has a wiry quality to it, which is ideal for Mozart and the Romantics. The bass is very much transparent, melodies and single notes can be easily perceived.

What happens to a modern grand piano by changing to the hammers I have described is going very much in the direction of the early fortepiano. Even the bass of a short grand piano becomes quite attractive. The treble gets weaker, but this is no real disadvantage.

My piano, being a modern piano, is still louder than a fortepiano, but its sound takes many features of the fortepiano, which is amazing to me. At the same time the action is more reliable and precise. I practically used the same hammers for the entire piano, which is fast and cheap. The fact that the result is amazingly good is a pleasant surprise.


Edited by Puck01 (01/22/10 07:39 AM)

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#1355301 - 01/22/10 05:30 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
Here are some pictures.

( If the links here do not work, go temporarily to this page.
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/ )


Attachments
hammers1.jpg

hammers3.jpg

hammer01.jpg

hammer03.jpg

keys1.jpg

keys2.jpg

action2.jpg

action3.jpg

grand_piano1.jpg




Edited by Puck01 (01/22/10 08:50 AM)

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#1355340 - 01/22/10 07:20 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
Here is part of Mozart's Fantasia in d minor, KV 397. Sorry about the bad quality of the playing, I haven't played for two days and I am not yet used to this piano. I just wanted to give you some impression of the sound.


Attachments
fantasia11.zip (66 downloads)


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#1355341 - 01/22/10 07:26 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
2


Attachments
fantasia12.zip (32 downloads)


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#1355342 - 01/22/10 07:27 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
3


Attachments
fantasia21.zip (11 downloads)


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#1355344 - 01/22/10 07:27 AM Re: A Modern Fortepiano [Re: Puck01]
Puck01 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 54
Loc: Bern, Switzerland, Europe
4


Attachments
fantasia22.zip (12 downloads)


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