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#1856445 - 03/05/12 08:41 AM Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
You may or may not know that the earliest felt used for piano-hammers was made from rabbit and hare fur, mixed with down and silk. Chopin's pianos used a very soft 'gray' felt which was probably made of a mixture of rabbit, cachemire and/or alpaca.. I have some of these hammers but I have not had them analyzed

here, thanks to Allen Wright, a piano-restorer in London, is a video showing rabbit-fur hammers taken from a 1919 Steinway model 0, compared to new Renners.

the Rabbit-felt has the unique ability to produce a soft, yet focused tone.. Wool-felt, as used in all modern hammers, tends to create a dull sound when toned-down by needling, in comparison to the firm, silvery, soft, veiled sonority of rabbit-felt.

click here to view theVideo
Alfred Dolge, father of the modern piano-hammer also mixed some rabbit-fur (which he called 'blue' felt) with his wool-felt hammers, after having nicked the idea from an European manufacturer of the time


Edited by acortot (03/05/12 08:43 AM)
_________________________
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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#1856461 - 03/05/12 09:13 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Rickster Offline


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8068
Loc: Georgia, USA
Interesting... I'd never heard that before. The video was nice, but the supposedly rabbit fur/felt looked about the same as standard, sheep’s wool felt to me. And, the piano in the video sounded like most Steinway O's I've heard (which was great!).

I suppose hammer technology has come a long way since the days of using rabbit’s fur.

Rick



Edited by Rickster (03/05/12 09:14 AM)
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#1856540 - 03/05/12 11:57 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Rickster]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: Rickster
Interesting... I'd never heard that before. The video was nice, but the supposedly rabbit fur/felt looked about the same as standard, sheep’s wool felt to me. And, the piano in the video sounded like most Steinway O's I've heard (which was great!).

I suppose hammer technology has come a long way since the days of using rabbit’s fur.

Well, it has evolved—I’m not sure that means it has improved.

We’re just coming off one of the truly dark periods in the history of piano hammermaking. Pianomakers are discovering that not everyone appreciates a piano hammer that must be counterbalanced by five or six leads even with a keytravel of 11.0+ mm. Not all ears welcome the sound of hammers pressed with so much pressure and heat that no semblance of resiliency is left in the poor things. And not all piano technicians are willing to “pre-jab” the bejeebers out a set of hammers to make their tone passably acceptable.

Press pressures seem to be coming down and increasingly we’re hearing about piano manufacturers using “cold-press” hammers. I doubt we’ll be seeing hammers using rabbit fur—economics—right away but at least we’re able to purchase hammers with hardness characteristics a little softer than granite.

ddf
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#1856616 - 03/05/12 02:03 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Rickster]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Originally Posted By: Rickster
Interesting... I'd never heard that before. The video was nice, but the supposedly rabbit fur/felt looked about the same as standard, sheep’s wool felt to me. And, the piano in the video sounded like most Steinway O's I've heard (which was great!).

I suppose hammer technology has come a long way since the days of using rabbit’s fur.

Rick



I found that the piano sounded quite different with rabbit-felt, compared to the new Renners..

the gray felt has a softer, less metallic attack, and yet it's quite focused for such a mellow sound..

another advantage to rabbit-felt is that it does not become compact after repeated strikes from the hammer, so you don't need to needle the grooves out, or soften the hammer regularly, like you would on a normal wool-felt hammer.

unfortunately there is none in production to my knowledge.


Edited by acortot (03/05/12 02:04 PM)
_________________________
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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#1856672 - 03/05/12 04:20 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
wouter79 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3244
Yes what you seem to hear is that the rabbit felt is much softer, resulting in a much less focused hit on the string which results in a much less sharp tone. Less overtones, less sharp attack and therefore the sustain seems to improve.
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#1856693 - 03/05/12 04:53 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: wouter79]
terminaldegree Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 2555
Loc: western Wisconsin
Originally Posted By: wouter79
Less overtones, less sharp attack and therefore the sustain seems to improve.


Although I agree with the rest of your post, I not sure about that last part-- In my experiences trying older evolutions of our "modern" piano, one of the most notably absent characteristics was long sustain. This manifests itself in the notably different tempi you hear fortepianists select for slow movements (for example) - the instrument just won't sustain the sound like our piano can today. Much of that difference surely has to do with other aspects of the instrument's construction besides hammer selection, though.
_________________________
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Piano Review Editor - Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer
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#1856791 - 03/05/12 07:40 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
the chopin-period pianos, and even a while after that were quite soft and small-sounding instruments IMO

the low tension/wooden frame translates to an instrument with a bit of twang to it if the string is struck with a hard hammer.. softening the attack you would avoid the weakness, and would gain from the more interesting decay of low tension and resonance interplay of the wooden frame with the harmony.
_________________________
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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#1856907 - 03/06/12 12:10 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: acortot
the low tension/wooden frame translates to an instrument with a bit of twang to it if the string is struck with a hard hammer.. softening the attack you would avoid the weakness, and would gain from the more interesting decay of low tension and resonance interplay of the wooden frame with the harmony.

How low is low? What kinds of tensions are we talking about?

ddf
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#1857011 - 03/06/12 06:37 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Del]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Hello,

less than 50 kilos per string in the 1840's and less in the 1830's, with about half that in the early 1800's..


by the way I have been told by Mr. Wright that the piano in the recording is a Steinway A type and not an O.
_________________________
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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#1857178 - 03/06/12 01:19 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
wouter79 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3244
terminaldegree

Quote:
In my experiences trying older evolutions of our "modern" piano, one of the most notably absent characteristics was long sustain.


I'm talking about how it sounds in this recording. This sounds to me like a *modern grand* equipped with rabbit felt.

On older instruments yes sure, the sustain was shorter generally. But also there, the use of softer felt might compensate that partially.
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#1857424 - 03/06/12 07:58 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
KawaiDon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/02
Posts: 1206
Loc: Orange County, CA
I would be interested in seeing microscope pictures of rabbit fur fibers. I am not at all convinced that they would even work to make hammers, as not all hairs have the same interlocking capability that sheep's wool has.

How were these suppositions about the material made? Has there been any real reference to a hammer maker using rabbit fur, or is this only based on the appearance of the hammer felt? That is not really very conclusive.

But my doubts are only based on the feel of rabbit fur and the smooth, long hair appearance. Maybe if run through the felting process they could be made to interlock like wool. Interesting idea.
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#1857479 - 03/06/12 09:33 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: KawaiDon]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: KawaiDon
I would be interested in seeing microscope pictures of rabbit fur fibers. I am not at all convinced that they would even work to make hammers, as not all hairs have the same interlocking capability that sheep's wool has.

How were these suppositions about the material made? Has there been any real reference to a hammer maker using rabbit fur, or is this only based on the appearance of the hammer felt? That is not really very conclusive.

But my doubts are only based on the feel of rabbit fur and the smooth, long hair appearance. Maybe if run through the felting process they could be made to interlock like wool. Interesting idea.

I’ve not looked at it through a microscope either but…I do remember, some years back, seeing hats made of what was claimed to be rabbit fur. My memory—always fallible—tells me the material had a base of wool with the rabbit fur mixed in. In any case the material was felted.

I have looked at hammer felt made with synthetic fibers added to the wool to increase the bulk and lower the cost. I can absolutely guarantee that those fibers didn’t felt! I don’t know if the company involved ever used the stuff or not but it was offered.

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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#1857680 - 03/07/12 08:18 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Del]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Rabbit fur was indeed used, even in 'modern' piano hammers.

Alfred Dolge called rabbit-felt Blue Felt, and marketed it as a superior fibre.

you can look it up on google books, it is mentioned that Dolge's blue felt was rabbit felt.

The Rabbit hair does not felt as easily as wool, and this is actually an advantage, because it never seems to compact and become hard-sounding, like wool does....it just eventually wears-out.

as far as Asian Manufacturer's hammer-felt, applying steam to the hammer shows that the felt is not normal wool-felt, but a felt which looks to be held together by some binding agent.. there are probably other fibres than wool even in the better asian brands, I have read somewhere..

anyhow, the asian hammer-design (hard, dense felt) does not really have much in common with a pre-war Steinway hammer anyhow, especially a gray rabbit-felt hammer..
_________________________
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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#1857681 - 03/07/12 08:21 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
By the way, you don't use the long, smooth hair of the rabbit to make the felt, but the curly, downy stuff near the skin, which has a bit of crimp to it as well as being fine in diameter.
_________________________
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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#1857766 - 03/07/12 11:56 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: acortot
… as far as Asian Manufacturer's hammer-felt, applying steam to the hammer shows that the felt is not normal wool-felt, but a felt which looks to be held together by some binding agent.. there are probably other fibres than wool even in the better asian brands, I have read somewhere..

The word “steam” may be misunderstood. The moisture content of the wool strip has to be fairly high as it is fed into the hammer press. Not dripping wet—this lets the felt pack down too much, especially if the heat in the press is high—but higher than ambient in most parts of the world. To get the felt to the proper moisture content the strips are stored in a “steam” chamber. It is called a steam chamber because the relative humidity of the air in the chamber is controlled by a combination of heat—it’s usually warmer than the air in the rest of the room—and periodic injections of steam.



Quote:
anyhow, the asian hammer-design (hard, dense felt) does not really have much in common with a pre-war Steinway hammer anyhow, especially a gray rabbit-felt hammer..

It is no longer valid to categorize all “Asian” hammers as having the same rock-hard density common just a few years ago. Some still do but there are now several companies showing signs of sanity. Young Chang/Weber hammers are now pressed with the temperature of the felt being held below the glass transition point of the wool. As well, the pressures in the presses have been decreased significantly. And, while I don’t know the details of the process I’m told Hailun is also pressing hammers at lower temperatures and pressures.

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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#1857994 - 03/07/12 06:34 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Hi,

what I mean by 'adding steam' is that if you try and swell the fibres of a yamaha, or chinese hammer (mind you, perhaps not ALL but the ones I've seen) with steam, the felt swells-up disproportionately and it seems to fall apart in a way.. this leads me to think that there is a binding agent which holds the fibres together, and not just 'felting'...

on real wool felt, made with wool, soap and water, you can steam without worrying about it destroying the hammer, in my experience..
_________________________
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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#1858018 - 03/07/12 07:44 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4393
Loc: San Jose, CA
All the piano industry needs now is to have P.E.T.A. get hold of this rabbit felt thing and stage one of their "press slut" (a direct quote from the founder) media actions.

Luckily, I have a feeling it's not even true.

Unluckily, I have a feeling that wouldn't stop them.

I thought we liked wool from sheep, innocently sheared, for piano hammers. Hasn't this been long settled and accepted technology? We've been weaned off elephant ivory, do we have to have the other eye blacked for going after the Easter Bunny?
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Clef


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#1858036 - 03/07/12 08:30 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Now, if I could just figure out how to get long, black dog hair to felt I could supply the whole industry! As long as we were all willing to accept black hammers.

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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#1858037 - 03/07/12 08:32 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Originally Posted By: acortot
Hi,

what I mean by 'adding steam' is that if you try and swell the fibres of a yamaha, or chinese hammer (mind you, perhaps not ALL but the ones I've seen) with steam, the felt swells-up disproportionately and it seems to fall apart in a way.. this leads me to think that there is a binding agent which holds the fibres together, and not just 'felting'...

on real wool felt, made with wool, soap and water, you can steam without worrying about it destroying the hammer, in my experience..


I have no way of knowing how limited your experience is, but the sweeping generalities you come up with do not really hold much water. (Excuse the pun). Are you saying that Yamaha hammers have some kind of a glue that holds the felt together?

This is the way misinformation gets started. As we all know, once anything, no matter how ill-conceived, is repeated three times on the internet, it becomes the Truth. smokin
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Piano Forte Supply
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#1858038 - 03/07/12 08:36 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Del]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Originally Posted By: Del
Now, if I could just figure out how to get long, black dog hair to felt I could supply the whole industry! As long as we were all willing to accept black hammers.ddf
Black hammers - the final frontier! Maybe the makers of those sexy black actions would jump at the opportunity to go black all the way...
_________________________
Jurgen Goering
Piano Forte Supply
www.pianofortesupply.com

Piattino Caster Cups distributor

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#1858283 - 03/08/12 09:35 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Supply]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Originally Posted By: Supply
Originally Posted By: acortot
Hi,

what I mean by 'adding steam' is that if you try and swell the fibres of a yamaha, or chinese hammer (mind you, perhaps not ALL but the ones I've seen) with steam, the felt swells-up disproportionately and it seems to fall apart in a way.. this leads me to think that there is a binding agent which holds the fibres together, and not just 'felting'...

on real wool felt, made with wool, soap and water, you can steam without worrying about it destroying the hammer, in my experience..


I have no way of knowing how limited your experience is, but the sweeping generalities you come up with do not really hold much water. (Excuse the pun). Are you saying that Yamaha hammers have some kind of a glue that holds the felt together?

This is the way misinformation gets started. As we all know, once anything, no matter how ill-conceived, is repeated three times on the internet, it becomes the Truth. smokin


I'm saying that if you apply steam to the felt it swells-up as if it had been pressed together with a binding agent.. you call it glue, I am not sure if I would call it glue..


How do you explain the presence of synthetic fibre in the felt (unless I am mistaken)? Synthetic fibre, as mentioned by Del will not felt with wool, so how does it stay together?

my guess is as good as anyone else's guess..

but what i DO know is that traditional, high quality wool felt for piano-hammers, as mentioned by Dolge, should only be made with wool, soap and water..

If I needle a hammer with real wool felt, or steam it, it reacts quite differently than a Yamaha or chinese hammer (my experience with chinese pianos is from the cheap stuff I have seen, which seems to break apart... not sure how to describe it.. not the same stuff as traditional wool felt IMO)


as far as dog-hair, traditional vs. modern material etc..

I believe that since what is deemed a decent grand piano can now be bought with 10,000 dollars, which is a crazy low price, I doubt that manufacturers are going to put the effort and money into higher-quality felt, which might be quite expensive to make, and on such a slight price-tag would certainly raise the price by a bit..


I prefer the rabbit-felt hammers' sound to that of the new renners, and I am not the only one according to feedback I am getting on the net.


Edited by acortot (03/08/12 01:47 PM)
_________________________
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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#1858478 - 03/08/12 03:19 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: acortot
I'm saying that if you apply steam to the felt it swells-up as if it had been pressed together with a binding agent.. you call it glue, I am not sure if I would call it glue.

To my knowledge no manufacturer has used a “binding agent” either in the felt as it is being made or as part of the hammermaking process. It is not needed to make felt hard and dense; moisture, heat and pressure can do that all by themselves. I suspect what you have found are hammers that were pressed with very moist felt using a lot of pressure and heat.

To illustrate, I once saw a sample of felt in the shape of a hammer—the kind of hammer you drive nails with—at one of the felt manufacturers that was quite dense enough actually do just that; it could be used to drive nails in very soft wood. This density was achieved by extending the felting time and then with a combination of wet felt, high pressure and heat. I don’t know that there was any use for felt this hard but it was an interesting example of what can be done with wool.



Quote:
How do you explain the presence of synthetic fibre in the felt (unless I am mistaken)? Synthetic fibre, as mentioned by Del will not felt with wool, so how does it stay together?

Synthetic fibers are added to some felt materials and products as an extender; it is used to lower the cost of the felt or, in some cases, to give the material properties it does not have naturally. The synthetic fibers do not themselves act as binding agents and no binding agents are used in the process. (At least not so far as I have been able to determine; If you have any real evidence to the contrary I’d be interested in who is using them and why.) Depending on the type of wool it can still be felted with up to 70% synthetic fibers. The result wouldn’t be tough enough for piano hammers, though, so when fillers are used they show up in relatively small amounts.



Quote:
but what i DO know is that real, high quality wool felt for piano-hammers, as mentioned by Dolge, should only be made with wool, soap and water..

If I needle a hammer with real wool felt, or steam it, it reacts quite differently than a Yamaha or chinese hammer (my experience with chinese pianos is from the cheap stuff I have seen, which seems to break apart... not sure how to describe it.. not the same stuff as traditional wool felt IMO)

Well, there is a little more to it than that. Chemicals are used to clean the felt and other chemicals are used to speed the felting process. But what you are seeing is the result of “real wool felt” that has been processed in different ways. Some felt makers “felt” the wool more tightly than others. Some achieve the final density by a combination of felting followed by a final pressing to size and shape.

Once the hammermaker gets the felt it can also undergo a variety of different processes. Without microscopic examination I doubt you’d be able to tell just what the felt has gone through between the time it left the felt maker and was inserted into the hammer press.

I suspect what you’ve found is not really the result of “real wool” and “the cheap stuff” is not so much a matter of cost or quality as it is the hammermaking and voicing process. Hammers that are pressed very hard require a certain amount of “pre-voicing,” or needling before they are installed on the piano. Or after they are installed, but in a factory it is often done first. Needling forces the fibers apart, tearing at least some of them. Highly needled felt is not the same as felt that was pressed to a lower density. The hammers become some softer but they are not as resilient as hammers that are pressed with less pressure and heat to begin with. This is true of all hammers regardless of where they are made or the quality (and cost) of the felt from which they are made.



Quote:
as far as dog-hair, traditional vs. modern material etc..

That was a joke….



Quote:
I believe that since what is deemed a decent grand piano can now be bought with 10,000 dollars, which is a crazy low price, I doubt that manufacturers are going to put the effort and money into higher-quality felt, which might be quite expensive to make, and on such a slight price-tag would certainly raise the price by a bit..

As I’ve said before, good hammers can be made from inexpensive felt and bad hammers can be made from expensive felt.



Quote:
I prefer the rabbit-felt hammers' sound to that of the new renners, and I am not the only one according to feedback I am getting on the net.
The following description on the making of rabbit-felt comes from Wikipedia:
Quote:
From the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries, a process called "carroting" was used in the manufacture of good quality felt for making men's hats. Beaver, rabbit or hare skins were treated with a dilute solution of the mercury compound mercuric nitrate. The skins were dried in an oven where the thin fur at the sides turned orange --- the color of carrots. Pelts were stretched over a bar in a cutting machine and the skin sliced off in thin shreds, the fleece coming away entirely. The fur was blown onto a cone-shaped colander, treated with hot water to consolidate it, the cone peeled off and passed through wet rollers to cause the fur to felt. These 'hoods' were then dyed and blocked to make hats. This toxic solution and the vapours it produced resulted in widespread cases of mercury poisoning among hatters, possibly giving rise to the expression "Mad as a hatter".


ddf


Edited by Del (03/09/12 12:03 PM)
_________________________
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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#1858817 - 03/09/12 05:36 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
Hi,

Interesting what you are saying about pressing hammers when wet under high heat..

I must say it does not make much sense to me because intuitively i would imagine that such a felt could not have the mechanical qualities for a wide range of colors from pp to ff

I am lucky in the sense that I deal mostly with antique pianos, and the felt on the hammers is usually put-on by hand, hammer by hammer.. as was done by Erard on their parallel pianos until 1920 or so.. no chance of any hot-pressed felt!

As far as the rabbit-felt and carroting, this is not something which is universally applied to rabbit-felt.

I can prove this by showing you this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67yqt-dTj...mp;feature=plcp

the felt I used to recover the hammers is hatmaker's felt, it is made of rabbit, and perhaps hare fur..

as you can see it is gray-ish just like the original Pleyel felt, but the sound is more percussive because of the type of felting.

the Pleyel is from 1842 and is only partially restored, and not tuned.. this was an improvised video done on my iphone!


Edited by acortot (03/09/12 06:32 AM)
_________________________
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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#1858881 - 03/09/12 09:25 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Rich Galassini Online   content
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 8975
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
I have only just seen this - sorry for coming late to the party. It is interesting from a historic perspective and has the makings of a great thread. I have a few undereducated comments.

ACortot, you are dealing with manufacturers in historic pianos that did things differently almost year to year. They were learning as they went empirically and did not feel the same way about their instruments in 1845 as they did in 1840.

Some of the early pianofortes used leather hammers with a felt reinforcement, then tried combinations of layers of felt and leather, then a few years later only wool felt, many times in layers. I think it might be a huge investment of time to try to do exactly what they did in 1840 and it may not give you the "authentic" tone in the end anyway.

Cleaning, scouring, and processing has changed so often since then. It would be dumb luck to arrive at the same lanolin level in the felt itself, for instance. This would make a huge difference when a hammer is made.

Also, from simple examination of a hammer, one cannot always tell if a single layer of felt is used or if it was multiple layers.

There are manufacturers today who use multiple felt layers that appear the same color. The only way to know the difference is to know the difference. It is not obvious upon examination.

My 2 cents,
_________________________
Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
Dir. Line (215) 991-0834
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#1859310 - 03/10/12 09:22 AM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: Rich Galassini]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
the felt in question is similar to the damper felto of the time, curly fibres of very fine diameter felted in all directions and not in layers..

today's felt is mostly layered.

I had a hard time getting some damper-felt made for an Erard, since there is no commercially available felt which comes close to my knowledge, and although the felt was good enough to do the job it did not have the same structure as the original Erard damper felt, which could be pulled-apart from any angle and it would break-up in a similar manner..

from a historical perspective, each manufacturer had his own approach, but Pleyel, having Pape as head of their factory for a period, in my opinion was using the 'Pape' felt, made of rabbit and other fibres, from about 1830 to 1850.. a description of 1844 mentions that one of the hallmarks of the Pleyel sound, apart from the velvety, veiled sonority, is that the pianos kept their tone, as when they were new, for an unusually long time..

the only material which can achieve this is rabbit-felt.. the rabbit felt was noted to never become hard and bright upon repeated use, hitting against the string.

wool felt becomes compacted, leaving hard spots where the string hits the hammer.. Leather becomes brighter in time as well.. only rabbit felt does not..

unfortunately no-one makes this felt anymore.. although as mentioned Steinway and Dolge, in a historic period which was very good for piano sales and piano quality, also exploited the rabbit-fur to make hammers..

today, the cost would outweigh the sales generated perhaps.. so I don't think we'll see it soon.. although the sound is certainly good, and in my opinion it is the sound that Chopin preferred.
_________________________
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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#1859459 - 03/10/12 02:21 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5065
Loc: Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted By: acortot
unfortunately no-one makes this felt anymore.. although as mentioned Steinway and Dolge, in a historic period which was very good for piano sales and piano quality, also exploited the rabbit-fur to make hammers..

today, the cost would outweigh the sales generated perhaps.. so I don't think we'll see it soon.. although the sound is certainly good, and in my opinion it is the sound that Chopin preferred.

Cost is certainly going to be one factor but not the only one. We may not see rabbit fur used to make hammers for modern pianos because it may not work all that well in modern piano construction or in the modern piano itself. And it will be extremely expensive and time-consuming to find out. Reliable sources of supply—in sufficient quantities to support continuous production—would have to be located. Real-world tests would have to be conducted. Felt makers would have to [re]learn how to work with the stuff. And when the felt is finally available hammermakers have to [re]learn how best to press the final hammers.

Finally, when we’ve reached this stage of the quest we can begin the real work of testing the hammers on real-world modern pianos and with real-world modern pianists and listeners. One sample is not enough on which to base a marketing strategy. Will the new hammers stand up to a million blows in the test machine? Will they prove superior in blind A – B testing? Will they find market acceptance? At any step along the way we may find out why those early builders abandoned the material in favor of the all-wool felt in use today in which case all that research investment will have gone for naught.

I give those early pioneers of the piano industry a lot of credit not just for inventing or developing the materials and technologies that made the piano what it ultimately became but also for having the wisdom and courage to abandon materials and technologies that did not work all that well. (We could use some of this in today’s industry!) And this may be one of those things left behind as the development of the piano pushed ahead. Unfortunately those builders were not always as forthright in documenting the things that failed as they were with touting the things that ultimately worked.

There is a tendency in these discussions to portray the things done historically as inherently better and the things done today as inherently less good. Techniques and materials evolved as the piano evolved. Sometimes—Steinway’s introduction of the continuous bent rim, for example—changes were made simply for manufacturing expediencies to reduce the cost of manufacture. Other changes—such as the transition to metal framing—were made because the builders of the time considered a particular approach or mechanism to be superior to what came before. Looking back it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference.

There also seems to be a tendency among the advocates of early instruments to lump all modern practices together and condemn, or at least strongly criticize them, as a class. Hammermaking seems to be one of these areas. Modern hammers are all the same and they are all bad.

The video linked to early in this is presented as an example of just what is wrong with modern all sheep’s wool hammers compared with early hammers made with (probably) some combination of sheep’s wool and rabbit fur. I might point out, though, that the recording is not the best; it does not exhibit the best qualities of either hammer selection. It certainly doesn’t clearly demonstrate to me that the so-called “rabbit fur” hammers are clearly superior. So we are left wondering if what we are hearing really demonstrating the tonal characteristics of either hammers at their best.

I would also argue that the Renner hammers used are probably not the best hammers to bring out the best tone qualities of an early Steinway Model A. To say, “I put new hammers on my piano” is a lot like saying, “I put a new car in my garage.” It tells us something, but not much. And it doesn’t tell us much more to say, “I put new Renner hammers on my piano.” Are those hammers light or heavy? Dense or resilient? Were they pressed with lots of heat and pressure or were they cold-pressed with low pressure? What were the characteristics of the felt? What was the shape of the felt strip? What was the moisture content of the felt when it went into the press? Was the felt pre-pressed? What kind of underfelt was used? What was the shape of the caul? How long was the press cycle? Was the felt cut to a straight taper or a progressive taper? Going back even further, was the felt heavily felted or was it lightly felted and pressed to shape?

The knowledgeable technician will be aware of these differences and will understand their various effects on the tone quality of the instrument in question. He/she will understand that an early Steinway will have a relatively light and flexible soundboard assembly, a relatively low-tensioned scale—for a “modern” piano—and that a piano with such scaling will call for a rather light hammer that was pressed with little or no heat and with relatively low pressures. Any other hammers put on this piano—the heroic voicing techniques of the world’s best voicers notwithstanding—will not produce a sound anything like that of the original. They can be voiced to give the piano a sound that is very nice and pleasant to the ear but it will not be the sound the original builders heard.

I would take this comparison much more seriously if the so-called “rabbit fur” hammers were paired with, say, a Ronsen hammer of comparable size pressed with Bacon felt in the same hammer caul using relatively low press pressures. These hammers, at least, would come close to the mass, density and resilience characteristic of the early Steinway felt hammers.

I am very interested in better understanding the techniques and materials used by the early builders. Their experiences and the knowledge they gained went on to form the basis of the so-called “modern” piano. As modern technicians we are often remiss in failing to adequately understand the technological history of the instruments of today. Our work and our sense of voice suffer as a result of our ignorance of the past.

I wish we had stronger links to that past in the form of viable new pianos that were built with a greater sensitivity to the musicality of that past. I would like to see the piano buyer of today have the option to play and purchase new instruments with aesthetics and voice that were at least similar to something a composer such as Chopin might have seen and heard when he sat at the keyboard. Instead we are all too often subjected to atrocities such as the one I found myself walking out several years back in which some “pianist” was pounding out some barely recognizable piece by Chopin on an overly bright and harsh [well-known modern concert grand] with such force his butt was lifting off the stool. Yes, I understand such music can be played on modern instruments with great sensitivity but I’d like audiences to have the opportunity to hear it played on instruments that are some closer to the original.

At the same time I’m not prepared to accept that every material and every technique used by early builders was necessarily the best and only way to build great pianos. They may have been the best available at the time and they may well be the best and only way to approach a restoration project but these things do not necessarily translate over well to the modern instrument.

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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#1859631 - 03/10/12 08:14 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
acortot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 423
Loc: Italy
yes, opinion is opinion..

I prefer the velvety sound of rabbit.. but I would not choose it to play elton john music for example..

as far as durability, I have been told they last a long time, and I feel that in general there is too much emphasis on durability and not enough on tone..

professional musicians will go to great length to get the sound they want, pro pianists will lug around their own piano and technician and/or have a grand in every major city..

when we deal with the 'consumer' market made-up of non musicians looking for something 'good' but cheap that is another story..

'good is the enemy of great'

let us not forget that these are Steinway pianos made in 1919.. was there ever a better-built steinway from a quality standpoint?... if it is not the golden age it certainly stands among one of the best and most fruitful periods..

Most of the old techniques were abandoned because of cost..

Rabbit-felt is more expensive to manufacture than Wool-felt

the modern hammer costs a fraction of the traditional multi-layered hammer and can be built in a fraction of the time...

the old hammer-method required many different layers of material, applied by hand..

the old cases were built of exotic hardwood, as were the veneers..

to build an old piano today, such as the ones used in the romantic period by Erard and Pleyel, Herz, Pape etc. would cost probably more than a Fazioli..

one only needs to know these pianos to see the sheer amount of material cost and work that went into them

a modern piano is quite simple to build in comparison, IMO.. and standardization has made assembly and repair much easier.. much cheaper..

so I wouldn't shrug the past off so quickly.



Edited by acortot (03/10/12 08:20 PM)
_________________________
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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#1860605 - 03/12/12 06:09 PM Re: Steinway hammers made of rabbit-felt [Re: acortot]
Lluís Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/09/09
Posts: 313
Loc: Barcelona,Spain, European Unio...
I agree Max!
_________________________
1942 Challen Baby Grand Piano

1855 Pleyel Pianino (Restoring -> www.pleyelrestoration.blogspot.com )

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