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#1701763 - 06/25/11 10:47 AM Copying a maker's scale design
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19443
Loc: New York City
Is it possible to do this to a high degree of accuracy? I have heard things like(just as an example)the original Falcone pianos were based on the Steinway scale designs with some additional "improvements".

Are there things in the building of a piano that are not possible to copy even if one wanted to?

If Steinway has a highly desired tone(at least for some), what would keep one manufacturer from trying to duplicate its scale design?

I realize that materials and workmanship are other factors in building a piano that might make it not possible to copy a Steinway(or some other high end pianos) due to cost constraints.

Some people feel Steinways are terrific pianos but that one has to pay a "surcharge" for the name. Assuming that's true(just for the sake of argument), why don't some manufacturers try to clone a Steinway but offer it at a lower price? Are there proprietary parts to building a Steinway that are secret? Are the scale designs patented so that a different piano's scale design has to be different to some extent?





Edited by pianoloverus (06/25/11 06:10 PM)

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#1701778 - 06/25/11 11:00 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Rickster Offline


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8563
Loc: Georgia, USA
Hi Pianoloverus,

This may not directly address your question, and I have gotten some ridicule and criticism from some members here about this subject, but I owned a late 1980’s Japanese made Tokai G180 (5'10") grand piano that was supposed to be an exact replica/copy of a Steinway O. It looked exactly like the Steinway O in detail.

Of course, the Tokai grand was in no way equal to a real Steinway O, but I thought it was a nice piano for my purposes. It was a bit bright and nasally sounding, as many Asian pianos of that era, and the bass was a bit weak, but it served me well for about 4 years.

I would imagine a lot of piano designers have copied the better designs to some degree over the years.

Rick
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#1701780 - 06/25/11 11:09 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Pianolance Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 1192
Loc: Nashville, TN
Rickster, I almost posted before you did that Pianoloverus should ask you about your Steinway copy, then just a few minutes later you posted about your Japanese Steinway. Many, many companies have copied Steinway's designs including Steinert who sold Steinways and his own copy of a Steinway in his same showroom in Boston. Many people considered the Steinert and its twin sisters Jewette and Hume to be pretty good replicas with similar sound. I always wondered if a company couldn't copy some of the great Baldwin pianos with great success. I don't know if it was ever tried, but it would be interesting.
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#1701797 - 06/25/11 11:48 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
BerndAB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/17/10
Posts: 544
Loc: Germany
Copying scale design is by far not enough to copy sound.

Materials may differ. (Who knows the exact material specification for the iron cast material of the "Cupola" plates..?.. to have them on the one hand "dead" regd. sound, on the other hand strong enough for 22 tons of string tension..)

The processes and the accuracy of manufacturing may differ. The tensions of wood, rim, structure, soundboard etc. will differ. Steinway sound is said as depending on right tensions. Hundreds of piano makers tried to copy Steinway grands.. Seems to be not easy.
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#1701805 - 06/25/11 12:12 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Is it possible to do this to a high degree of accuaracy? I have heard things like(just as an example)the original Falcone pianos were based on the Steinway scale designs with some additional "improvements".

Are there things in the building of a piano that are not possible to copy even if one wanted to?

If Steinway has a highly desired tone (at least for some), what would keep one manufacturer from trying to duplicate its scale design?

I realize that materials and workmanship are other factors in building a piano that might make it not possible to copy a Steinway (or some other high end pianos) due to cost constraints.

Some people feel Steinways are terrific pianos but that one has to pay a "surcharge" for the name. Assuming that's true(just for the sake of argument), why don't some manufacturers try to clone a Steinway but offer it at a lower price? Are there proprietary parts to building a Steinway that are secret? Are the scale designs patented so that a different piano's scale design has to be different to some extent?

It is not only possible to copy existing designs, it is common. In fact, it is probably today’s most common method of coming up with a “new” product line.

Design lethargy is not a new problem in this industry. In 1916 a contemporary of Vant’s, Samuel Wolfenden, gives fairly detailed instructions for calculating string lengths based on desired string tensions in his book, A Treatise on the Art of Pianoforte Construction. He also gives fairly extensive instructions on how pianos were designed and how scale drawings were made in 1916. But even by 1916 design lethargy was settling into the industry:
Quote:
Some pianoforte makers are unwilling to incur the trouble and cost of properly calculated and drawn scale designs. The more usual way is to copy instruments of suitable dimensions, which seem to possess pleasing qualities. Naturally this method of procedure not only reproduces such errors of design as there may be in the instruments copied, but probably introduces others.
Surely it is real economy, when setting out to make a new style of piano (even of cheap grade) which it is hoped to sell in large numbers, to use every endeavor, at the outset, that the result shall be as successful as care and knowledge can ensure.
There is no reason why even inexpensive pianos should not be true musical instruments, satisfying educated tastes. The differences between some of the lower grade and the highest, is due less to the relative cost of materials and workmanship, than to initial errors of design. There are many pianos on the market which would not be greatly improved, however expensively they might be made.


I know of quite recent situations where early versions of the Steinway Model A and the Steinway Model C have been purchased in the U.S. and shipped to Korea and/or China where they are carefully measured and more-or-less faithfully copied. Other pianos that have been copied are various Bechstein models..

The copies rarely, if ever, come close to matching the performance of the originals because the companies doing the copying rarely, if ever, have a great deal of experience in understanding the fundamentals of how the piano really works. The devil is in the details and, without understanding the fundamental principles of piano tone production, it is hard to get the details right. Soundboards end up being subtly different; hammers are not the same, etc. Not too long back the makers of one Chinese-built piano—though you wouldn’t know this from their advertising which is intended to persuade the unwary that the pianos are actually European—went through the process of copying the Steinway Model O. The resulting piano is, of course, nothing like the Model O in performance. The hammers are excessively massive and dense, the soundboard is some thicker than the original, etc. It’s not necessarily a bad piano but it comes a long way from living up to the potential of the original.

These copies can be done well but often significant mistakes are made. In one situation that recently came to my attention a piano in the 215 cm (≈ 7’) range was exhibiting certain tonal problems that the technician—an experienced and very competent voicer—could not get rid of. Turns out the piano has a significant hammer strike point problem in the tenor and lower treble sections. Obviously mistakes were made in copying the plate.

Personally, I consider this practice of copying fundamental designs to be one of the most significant problems facing the piano industry today. It is and easy and cheap way to get into the business but it leads to a design lethargy that is stifling the industry. Innovation and creativity are crushed and a certain sameness pervades the marketplace. It’s as if all modern automobiles were based on the product lines offered in 1932. Our flathead V-8s would be built of better metals and we could order our cars in something other than black but the basic recipe would be the same.

Ah, well, I rant and it’s time to get back to work.

ddf
_________________________
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Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
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Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon

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#1701855 - 06/25/11 01:39 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Del]
ScottM Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/05
Posts: 556
When reading Del's comments an obvious question came to my mind. Don't companies making pianos that copy other pianos realize that a piano is a system and not just a product of a scale design? They are either remarkably foolish to assume a piano is solely made on its scale design, or, which may be more likely, going through the absolute minimum effort to make something that at least sounds reasonably good.

Pianos seem to be one of those products where you truly can fool most of the people most of the time.
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Scott

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#1701866 - 06/25/11 02:03 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
PianoWorksATL Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/09
Posts: 2726
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Once you have a great plan, it is all about execution. A so-so plan with great execution will often defeat a great plan with so-so execution. One in particular great maker has been known to have significant variability within their own execution for decades. A maker has to stay on their game in addition to having or creating great designs.

For those dedicated to a copy, the sum of the production and execution changes may be a different piano. With a piano like Steinert, the methods and standards were comparable to the original and yield a veritable clone. High-end restoration works in this way. With a mass producer like Tokai, the scale design is merely a base. The marketing dept. doesn't usually answer to the technicians.
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#1701888 - 06/25/11 03:17 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
master88er Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/07
Posts: 860
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
The OP asked about copying "scale design," which is simply the measurement of string wire thickness, and the points at where the thickness graduates and eventually wound strings appear. As others have said, this is a VERY easy thing to copy, and there are books the readily give the design of virtually every significant piano ever made (Donelson's Piano rebuilders handbook comes to mind). But to copy a piano and come out with the same result as the original is a totally different story. As Del eloquently stated, there is more to it than that! Many painters have copied Renoir or other famous artists, and while their paintings may be superior in some aspects to the original, they are still NOT the original. It is up to the individual Eye to determine which is preferable, or that they want to hang on their wall.

Another, perhaps more palatable example (pun intended), is fine wine, which is simply crushed grapes whose juice is extracted, placed in a barrel and aged... yeah, right. The difference between Manischewitz and Chateau Lefite-Rothschild, even though both are from grapes, is arguably in the artistry of crafting the grape juice - and it is an art.

The same for piano construction.

Those who are true artists, continually strive to make improvements to their craft. As technology changes, and true Artisans find better or more accurate ways of producing products, so does the craft and the art. One interesting thought this brings to mind would be that a famous piano maker has not kept pace with the changes in technology and the craft/art, and are building products much the same as they have always done while competitors have refined, and continually refine, the craft of building pianos. A perfect example of this are the recent developments in small grands. Most of us, I think, would agree that grand pianos smaller than 5'4 were never very interesting to play and listen to. But in the last year or so, several VERY musical and lovely small grands have come to market and IMHO rival 5'7 pianos of earlier vintage (Congratulations Del on that new small Weber of yours!).

So, I guess my point is (whew, finally getting there) is that piano building is an ART, and while one can make a photo copy, you can't copy the passion or intention of the original - flaws and all! laugh
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Berkeley, CA

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SF Area Dealer: SteingraeberGrotrianSauterEstoniaKayserburgBaldwinBrodmannRitmller
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#1701939 - 06/25/11 05:28 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: master88er]
Roy123 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/04
Posts: 1717
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: master88er
The OP asked about copying "scale design," which is simply the measurement of string wire thickness, and the points at where the thickness graduates and eventually wound strings appear.


I believe the scale design includes the string lengths, their thicknesses, the bridge placement and design, the front and back string bearing surfaces including their placement and string angles, the inclusion or lack of aliquots, the back-scale lengths, the soundboard design, including its size, shape, thicknesses, rib placement and stiffnesses, and method of achieving crown, amounts of down bearing, hammer strike point, and hammer mass and resilience. I no doubt have left some things out.

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#1701949 - 06/25/11 05:44 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2339
Loc: Lowell MA
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Is it possible to do this to a high degree of accuaracy? I have heard things like(just as an example)the original Falcone pianos were based on the Steinway scale designs with some additional "improvements".

Are there things in the building of a piano that are not possible to copy even if one wanted to?

If Steinway has a highly desired tone(at least for some), what would keep one manufacturer from trying to duplicate its scale design?

I realize that materials and workmanship are other factors in building a piano that might make it not possible to copy a Steinway(or some other high end pianos) due to cost constraints.

Some people feel Steinways are terrific pianos but that one has to pay a "surcharge" for the name. Assuming that's true(just for the sake of argument), why don't some manufacturers try to clone a Steinway but offer it at a lower price? Are there proprietary parts to building a Steinway that are secret? Are the scale designs patented so that a different piano's scale design has to be different to some extent?





In my opinion, there is NO "surcharge" for Steinway or any "High End" name.

The reality is it takes enormous commitment to make and deliver to market a piano such as Steingraeber or Steinway or any of the top names.

If it were "All that easy" as copying the visual and obvious design elements, everyone would have achieved that success already and the top names would be forced to lower their prices.

_________________________
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E. J. Buck & Sons
Lowell MA 01852
978 458 8688
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#1701994 - 06/25/11 07:42 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Rod Verhnjak Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 3659
Loc: Vancouver B.C. Canada
I love motorcycles.
My bike is a Harley copy, it's a Yamahog (Yamaha Vstar)
Great bike and affordable. 20 years from now if I have this same bike I probably be wishing I purchased a Harley. 20 years from now this bike wont be worth rebuilding but the Harley, it will be.
We all make choices whether it be for the now or for the future. It's our choice but don't tell me my copy is the same as the real deal.

Brand recognition is worth more than the product itself.
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Specializing in the Restoration, Refinishing & Maintenance
of Fine Heirloom Pianos

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#1702112 - 06/26/11 12:16 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
MrMagic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/29/05
Posts: 371
Loc: Stettler AB Canada
Speaking of motorsports, I once listened to a salesman pitching a Chinese copy of a popular Japanese all terrain vehicle, saying they took the Japanese example apart and "reverse engineered it"! Interestingly, low tech substitutions (carburetors) were made for the high tech stuff (fuel injection). Couldn't "reverse engineer" that huh??

Attempting to copy a scale design has some similarities to attempting to copy a suspension system. You may be able to copy geometry and spring wire diameters, but copying spring rates is much more difficult because it involves metallurgy among other things. It may LOOK the same, but how it WORKS is a different story.

IMO, do your own R&D, you just may come up with something new and innovative!
_________________________
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1920 Mason & Risch Upright (actually my mother's)
1971 Hammond R-100
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#1702174 - 06/26/11 03:09 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: master88er]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: master88er
The OP asked about copying "scale design," which is simply the measurement of string wire thickness, and the points at where the thickness graduates and eventually wound strings appear. As others have said, this is a VERY easy thing to copy, and there are books the readily give the design of virtually every significant piano ever made (Donelson's Piano rebuilders handbook comes to mind). But to copy a piano and come out with the same result as the original is a totally different story. As Del eloquently stated, there is more to it than that! Many painters have copied Renoir or other famous artists, and while their paintings may be superior in some aspects to the original, they are still NOT the original. It is up to the individual Eye to determine which is preferable, or that they want to hang on their wall.

That depends on how you define “scale design.” I tend to view it a bit more broadly than just measure of the wires. In his little book, Piano Scale Making (1927), Albert B Vant wrote, "Piano scale making is the design of the interior of a piano. It takes in every part of the piano, sounding board, strings, keys, the outlines of the case, in fact everything pertaining to tone, touch, and even the outlines of the case. It is a work that very few of the factory workmen ever get to see." This, to me, fairly well defines the task of the scale maker, or what we now call the piano designer.

The analogy of the copied Renoir is apropos. I’ve seen too many bad pianos coming out of factories that copied some standard instrument such as a Steinway or a Bechstein or whatever and have come up with something less than wonderful. Since the companies doing the copying are copying for a reason—in general they lack the in-house experience and wealth of knowledge required to conceive and develop an entirely new instrument—they are not aware of the problems they are copying or the new problems they are introducing. Pianos such as the Steinway Model A can be wonderful pianos in spite of some significant shortcomings in their designs. In building the piano either in the U.S. or in Europe for, what, something better than a century now, they have figured out how the extract the most performance from the fundamental design and overcome its inherent design flaws.

The companies copying this design lack both the experience and expertise necessary to make it all work so they end up with a hodge-podge of problems they neither recognize nor are able to resolve.

Quote:
So, I guess my point is (whew, finally getting there) is that piano building is an ART, and while one can make a photo copy, you can't copy the passion or intention of the original - flaws and all! laugh

How true. It would be bad enough if all that got copied were the original flaws. What generally happens is that a whole new batch of flaws gets worked into the system as well. But, no matter, we’ll just tout its European heritage, its European-sounding name and a few pictures of an old European factory that no one in the current company has ever seen and hope no one asks about where the thing was really made.

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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#1702186 - 06/26/11 03:36 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Del]
Dara Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/18/09
Posts: 1035
Loc: west coast island, canada
Originally Posted By: Del
Pianos such as the Steinway Model A can be wonderful pianos in spite of some significant shortcomings in their designs. In building the piano either in the U.S. or in Europe for, what, something better than a century now, they have figured out how the extract the most performance from the fundamental design and overcome its inherent design flaws.

The companies copying this design lack both the experience and expertise necessary to make it all work so they end up with a hodge-podge of problems they neither recognize nor are able to resolve.


I'm curious Del if you are familiar with the Brodmann 187 ? Supposedly the design of this piano has features similar to Steinway A... from statements made on PW in the past. I purchased the 187 last year and have been very happy with it's sound and touch and overall features. I don't know who specifically designed this model and whether they used the Steinway A as a prototype. I'm not able to comment on any similarities, as I'm not familiar with the Steinway A.

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#1702239 - 06/26/11 07:31 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
wouter79 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3551
Yes as Del writes it can be done and has been done. Some copies sound even better than the original and of course are cheaper. I have heard and played them. But Del already indicates that making a perfect copy is takes an expert, let alone to improve on it. And besides I think there are indeed patent issues. But if I'm not mistaken most patents involved have run out by now.
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#1702714 - 06/27/11 01:42 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Dara]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: Dara
I'm curious Del if you are familiar with the Brodmann 187 ? Supposedly the design of this piano has features similar to Steinway A... from statements made on PW in the past. I purchased the 187 last year and have been very happy with it's sound and touch and overall features. I don't know who specifically designed this model and whether they used the Steinway A as a prototype. I'm not able to comment on any similarities, as I'm not familiar with the Steinway A.

It is a very close copy of the Model A that crossed the ocean to be used as the “prototype.” By most accounts the Brodmann 187 is a decent piano but it is not a Model A. It should also be noted that the Brodmann 187 is about one-fourth the cost of a Model A. And this is usually why such copying goes on; the whole idea is to bring to market a less costly version of some instrument that has, over time, gained a reputation and following.

I have not said that a blatant copy of some well-known original can’t be a good piano. Depending on the accuracy of the reverse engineering the copy may well end up delivering quite credible performance. But, just like that Renoir copy is not going to be a real Renoir, the copy of a Steinway or Bechstein or Whatever is not going to be a real Steinway or Bechstein or Whatever. Usually, if not always, however good it may be the copy is going to be lacking in either subtle or, sometimes, significant ways.

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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#1703439 - 06/28/11 07:21 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Roy123 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/04
Posts: 1717
Loc: Massachusetts
This is an interesting topic. Suppose a piano company decided to bring to market a 1st-rate piano that was much like, both in size, performance, and tone, of, let's say, a Steinway O. Let's further stipulate that this piano company had access to the requisite engineering knowledge and manufacturing prowess. This company would likely copy some aspects of the O, but also might improve the design to eliminate the O's well known shortcomings. In doing this design, this piano company, being a high-volume seller, would also engineer the piano for modern, highly automated assembly. This piano, although presumed not to be a high-volume seller, would have access to the machinery used in the manufacture of the company's other pianos.

Assuming this company was true to its goal of producing a 1st-rate piano, and succeeded in doing so, is it likely that this company could sell this piano at a price quite a bit less than the O? Perhaps there are too many unknowns and suppositions for any intelligent answer to my question. It is nonetheless true that automated manufacturing and high-volume production can produce almost magical results in terms of cost.

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#1703450 - 06/28/11 07:45 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Roy123]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19443
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Roy123
This is an interesting topic. Suppose a piano company decided to bring to market a 1st-rate piano that was much like, both in size, performance, and tone, of, let's say, a Steinway O. Let's further stipulate that this piano company had access to the requisite engineering knowledge and manufacturing prowess. This company would likely copy some aspects of the O, but also might improve the design to eliminate the O's well known shortcomings. In doing this design, this piano company, being a high-volume seller, would also engineer the piano for modern, highly automated assembly. This piano, although presumed not to be a high-volume seller, would have access to the machinery used in the manufacture of the company's other pianos.

Assuming this company was true to its goal of producing a 1st-rate piano, and succeeded in doing so, is it likely that this company could sell this piano at a price quite a bit less than the O? Perhaps there are too many unknowns and suppositions for any intelligent answer to my question. It is nonetheless true that automated manufacturing and high-volume production can produce almost magical results in terms of cost.
This is more or less what I was thinking about in my original post.

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#1703466 - 06/28/11 08:27 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21656
Loc: Oakland
I will give you an example of a piano copied from someone else's design: The Steinway K of today was copied from the Steinway K of yesteryear. It is a very good copy, with a few modernizations.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#1703478 - 06/28/11 09:01 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Roy123]
MrMagic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/29/05
Posts: 371
Loc: Stettler AB Canada
Originally Posted By: Roy123
This is an interesting topic. Suppose a piano company decided to bring to market a 1st-rate piano that was much like, both in size, performance, and tone, of, let's say, a Steinway O. Let's further stipulate that this piano company had access to the requisite engineering knowledge and manufacturing prowess. This company would likely copy some aspects of the O, but also might improve the design to eliminate the O's well known shortcomings. In doing this design, this piano company, being a high-volume seller, would also engineer the piano for modern, highly automated assembly. This piano, although presumed not to be a high-volume seller, would have access to the machinery used in the manufacture of the company's other pianos.

Assuming this company was true to its goal of producing a 1st-rate piano, and succeeded in doing so, is it likely that this company could sell this piano at a price quite a bit less than the O? Perhaps there are too many unknowns and suppositions for any intelligent answer to my question. It is nonetheless true that automated manufacturing and high-volume production can produce almost magical results in terms of cost.


I don't know if this is an intelligent answer, however I understand that credible manufacturers in many industries buy examples of compeditors' successful products. They take them apart to see how they tick, try to emulate the good and avoid the bad.

Technology advances in some products such as autos or computers happen so fast that this may be quite futile.
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#1703529 - 06/28/11 10:32 AM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2339
Loc: Lowell MA
The relationships that make the truly high end piano are best known and maintained by the people themselves.

These same relationships are not so easily translated to machine.

The indication that the relationship is the right one is the sound.

Example; If regulation was such an exact science then every first year student that can memorize the numbers would be an excellent "regulator" and all would be capable of the same result and in about the same amount of time.

As it turns out, this is not the case.

The same analogy would apply to voicing. Also not the case.

Now, apply that same analogy to a piano with it's sound board, scale and balance of the piano's design. Definitely not the case.

The "nature" of the relationship that makes it unique to Steingraeber, Steinway or any of the high end pianos is in the experience of the craftsman.

I know the engineers here, and I have tremendous respect for them, will believe it can be reduced to a CNC machine. For various reasons, I disagree that it ALL can be.

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#1703683 - 06/28/11 04:20 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Larry Buck]
Roy123 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/04
Posts: 1717
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: Larry Buck
The relationships that make the truly high end piano are best known and maintained by the people themselves.

These same relationships are not so easily translated to machine.

The indication that the relationship is the right one is the sound.

Example; If regulation was such an exact science then every first year student that cam memorize the numbers would be an excellent "regulator" and all would be capable of the same result and in about the same amount of time.

As it turns out, this is not the case.

The same analogy would apply to voicing. Also not the case.

Now, apply that same analogy to a piano with it's sound board, scale and balance of the piano's design. Definitely not the case.

The "nature" of the relationship that makes it unique to Steingraeber, Steinway or any of the high end pianos is in the experience of the craftsman.

I know the engineers here, and I have tremendous respect for them, will believe it can be reduced to a CNC machine. For various reasons, I disagree that it ALL can be.



Good point, Larry. In the manufacture of any complex product, there's always a mixture of man and machine. The real issue is the optimal combination--that is, what's best done by machine, and what's best done by hand. The portion of the product that can be made by machine is often related to how the design is executed, and how much capital the company can spend in tooling and factory setup. I would content that the best products result from using machines as extensively as possible, and then using skilled people as required.

Milling wooden parts and drilling accurate holes is almost surely best done by machine. Voicing hammers and doing a fine regulation will probably always be best done by skilled people.

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#1703705 - 06/28/11 05:04 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2339
Loc: Lowell MA
I would include top sound board design and installation in that group requiring trained experienced craftsman as well.

I do agree there is a place in manufacturing for machines if some forms of efficiency are the priority.

Certainly, there is more to say here as I believe there are some important issues concerning the Art of piano making as we move through the 21st century. Time won't allow it right now.
_________________________
Has Anyone Seen My Glasses ?

E. J. Buck & Sons
Lowell MA 01852
978 458 8688
www.ejbuckpiano.com
facebook.com/E. J. Buck & Sons Performances

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#1703812 - 06/28/11 08:36 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Larry Buck]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: Larry Buck
The relationships that make the truly high end piano are best known and maintained by the people themselves.

These same relationships are not so easily translated to machine.

The indication that the relationship is the right one is the sound.

Example; If regulation was such an exact science then every first year student that can memorize the numbers would be an excellent "regulator" and all would be capable of the same result and in about the same amount of time.

As it turns out, this is not the case.

The question then becomes, why not? Action geometry and regulation should be a fairly straight-forward process. If it is not it is because there are uncontrolled variables somewhere back in the process.

Modern action making is a mechanized process. If the quality control people are doing their jobs there should be virtually no variations one action stack to the next. So is modern keymaking. A run of keysets made using decent machinery should be virtually identical—at least in the parameters that matter. If action stack placement is done correctly there should be virtually no variations from one key and action set to the next. It should be possible to pre-lead the keys as part of the keymaking process and end up with the desired—engineered—up and down weights within very narrow tolerances.

Notice that there are a lot of “should be” qualifiers in there. It is the task of the high-volume piano manufacturer to ensure that its processes are capable of producing key and action components accurately enough to make this process smooth and reliable. Not all manufacturers pay adequate attention to the details and actions do end up with more variables than there should be but that is the fault of the individual manufacturer.

The real problems show up when each piano is treated as a one-off product or when the system is fundamentally flawed in some way. I’ve observed action making processes that do not have fixed index—or reference—points so that the final overall action ratio is a moving target. In these cases, yes, the process is dependent on a highly skilled technician to bring the system together and make it work acceptably. Each piano may well perform a bit differently but they will all be acceptable. It is an interesting piano building philosophy but not one that lends itself to economical production or to product consistency.


Quote:
The same analogy would apply to voicing. Also not the case.

Now, apply that same analogy to a piano with it's sound board, scale and balance of the piano's design. Definitely not the case.

The "nature" of the relationship that makes it unique to Steingraeber, Steinway or any of the high end pianos is in the experience of the craftsman.

I know the engineers here, and I have tremendous respect for them, will believe it can be reduced to a CNC machine. For various reasons, I disagree that it ALL can be.

You are quite right—it cannot all be done by machine. But forty years ago we’d have said that virtually none of it could be done by machine. Indeed, we did say that and we were wrong.

Whether hammers will ever be pressed consistently enough to not require voicing by a skilled technician is an open question. Certainly some hammermakers have made progress but I doubt anyone would claim to have solved this one. And, I suspect, as long as we want to use wool fiber for their basic construction, we never will. But for most everything else there is at least the potential to reach the goal of primarily machine process and assembly. Including soundboard manufacture and installation. To get there may require more redesign and reengineering of the basic product than we are comfortable with but that is another issue. And we may find that developing the machines to do certain tasks is cost prohibitive and we’ll continue using human labor for certain tasks—stringing comes to mind—but that also is a different issue.

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

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#1703845 - 06/28/11 09:36 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Larry Buck]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: Larry Buck
I would include top sound board design and installation in that group requiring trained experienced craftsman as well.

I do agree there is a place in manufacturing for machines if some forms of efficiency are the priority.

Certainly, there is more to say here as I believe there are some important issues concerning the Art of piano making as we move through the 21st century. Time won't allow it right now.

Going back to the original question of “copying a maker’s scale design,” your comment goes to the heart of the problem as it exists today.

I mentioned that an old Steinway Model A made the trip to China where it was “copied” by some other manufacturer. The thing is that not everything really was copied. It never is. The Steinway production process has the inner and outer rims being pressed as a unit in a single operation. There is no inherent structural or performance advantage to doing this but that is how the original was built. No modern, high-production manufacturer is going to follow this practice; the assembly process, therefore is modified so the basic skeleton—the inner rim, the bellyrail and bellybraces, the keybed, etc.—can be processed as a unit with the outer rim being attached later. Both assembly processes are capable of producing outstanding instruments but the folks doing the copying has best understand the differences between the two. .

Larry brings up the soundboard design, and for good reason. The old Model A used a purely compression-crowned soundboard system. It is unlikely that any modern pianomaker is going to want to build soundboards this way so more changes are required. Both systems are capable of producing great-sounding pianos but again, the folks doing the copying had best understand the differences. Unfortunately, to date my observations lead me to conclude that most do not.

One of the difficulties with copying some other company’s product design is that the original design has been tweaked over the years to work with one style of manufacture. It may not be readily adaptable to another process. Oh, it can be done—obviously—but something always gets lost in the translation. In my opinion piano acoustical design and piano manufacturing design should go together; it is a symbiotic relationship. I have yet to see a copied design that takes full advantage of modern manufacturing processes.

ddf
_________________________
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ddfandrich@gmail.com
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Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon

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#1704411 - 06/29/11 04:38 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Del]
Dara Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/18/09
Posts: 1035
Loc: west coast island, canada
Originally Posted By: Del

I know of quite recent situations where early versions of the Steinway Model A and the Steinway Model C have been purchased in the U.S. and shipped to Korea and/or China where they are carefully measured and more-or-less faithfully copied.

Personally, I consider this practice of copying fundamental designs to be one of the most significant problems facing the piano industry today. It is and easy and cheap way to get into the business but it leads to a design lethargy that is stifling the industry. Innovation and creativity are crushed and a certain sameness pervades the marketplace.

Originally Posted By: Del

I mentioned that an old Steinway Model A made the trip to China where it was “copied” by some other manufacturer. The thing is that not everything really was copied. It never is.

Originally Posted By: Del

It is a very close copy of the Model A that crossed the ocean to be used as the “prototype.” By most accounts the Brodmann 187 is a decent piano but it is not a Model A. It should also be noted that the Brodmann 187 is about one-fourth the cost of a Model A. And this is usually why such copying goes on; the whole idea is to bring to market a less costly version of some instrument that has, over time, gained a reputation and following.


I find this information quite interesting, especially as I am a recent owner of the above mentioned piano (Brodmann 187).
I am interested to know who designed it and what was some of the criteria involved. Would your statement "innovation and creativity are crushed " apply to the design of this piano?
I suppose Brodmann isn't going to admit that they copied the design from Steinway. Is this actually true though?
What has been copied?

Do you see this as an example of "design lethargy that is stifling the industry" and another example of sameness pervading the marketplace?
Just an "easy and cheap way to get into the business" ?

I imagine you'd be hesitant to speak out publicly against another piano make/designer (if you haven't done so already) ... especially being involved in the design and manufacture of pianos yourself.
It would be very interesting to know your private thoughts on the matter though, as you obviously have strong feelings regarding this subject and a wealth of experience in piano design.

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#1704448 - 06/29/11 05:35 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: Dara]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5316
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: Dara
Do you see this as an example of "design lethargy that is stifling the industry" and another example of sameness pervading the marketplace?
Just an "easy and cheap way to get into the business" ?

I imagine you'd be hesitant to speak out publicly against another piano make/designer (if you haven't done so already) ... especially being involved in the design and manufacture of pianos yourself. It would be very interesting to know your private thoughts on the matter though, as you obviously have strong feelings regarding this subject and a wealth of experience in piano design.

What I mean by design lethargy is simply that many companies find it acceptable to essentially copy an existing design rather than develop a new, fresh design of their own. It is lazy design and does nothing to improve the breed. It is why we still don’t have high-performance smaller pianos. It is why we still have pianos that are overly bulky—aesthetically—and overweight by about a third. It is why pianos are still needlessly wasteful of high-quality materials. It is why so many pianos share a similar look and sound. It is why pianos are not more seasonably stable. And on and on….

Assume you are a piano maker and you have a gap in your product line. You decide you need a new grand piano to fill that gap. One way to come up with a piano of that size is to simply purchase a competitor’s instrument and copy it. Oh, sure, you change a few things because you can’t build it exactly the way the original was built and some of the original materials are too expensive for you, but for the most part it’s a part-by-part copy. Others contributing to this topic have pointed out that it is common for manufacturing companies to purchase and study competitive products. And, of course, this is true in nearly every industry. But it is taken further in the piano business than in nearly any other industry and it’s so common that no longer does anyone seem at all embarrassed to be caught at it. Some—in my opinion, to their everlasting shame—even brag about it! It is viewed as a fast and cheap way to circumvent the design and engineering costs involved in developing a new instrument of your own. You simply disassemble your competitor’s piano, measure and copy. What could be easier?

But neither the industry nor your own company has made any progress in furthering the development of the instrument. To be sure, your company now has a new piano in production. You are also saddled, not just with the aged design of the original, but with any mistakes you may have introduced in the process of copying someone else’s product. Whatever strengths your new piano might possess its performance will always be compared—usually unfavorably—with that of the piano you used as a basis for your copy. At least among those who know its pedigree it will never have the opportunity to be judged on its own merit.

The other way to fill that gap is to study the competition and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Then decide for yourself the kind of performance you want your instrument to possess. Decide for yourself how you want your instrument to look. Decide for yourself what technological advances you can make that will give your piano a performance and marketing edge. If you don’t already possess them you accumulate or acquire the knowledge and skills necessary and you design an entirely new instrument that takes advantage of the best your manufacturing capabilities has to offer. You incorporate the best new technology available into your new instrument. You aspire to performance goals that do not just match that of your competitors but surpasses them in ways that are clearly discernable to the marketplace. You put your competitors on the defensive. You give your dealers something to sell beyond a debatable pedigree and a discount off the MSRP.

This second path is certainly the more difficult and challenging one. But, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it is the one that offers the most certain path to success.

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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#1704470 - 06/29/11 06:00 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Dara Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/18/09
Posts: 1035
Loc: west coast island, canada
Thank you for your thorough, informative and creative attitude/ approach towards piano design/manufacture, in your response Del.

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#1704475 - 06/29/11 06:14 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5277
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
Isn't piano design a mature technology? Are there still aspects of piano design that can be improved upon ... and if so, what exactly?
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#1704480 - 06/29/11 06:21 PM Re: Copying a maker's scale design [Re: pianoloverus]
Dara Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/18/09
Posts: 1035
Loc: west coast island, canada
I think most consumers are simply concerned with the end product. How many really care about the process involved in getting there? Most want something that looks, feels and sounds good. Nothing wrong with that.

Being a visual artist, intensive gardener, and improvisational pianist I am always as much or more interested in process. And invariably... enthusiasm, innovation, research, experimentation and creativity ...in process, lead to a finer end result.
And it's more fun!

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