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#2039760 - 02/26/13 05:25 PM General query: balance of treble and bass in grands
ec Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/08
Posts: 77
Loc: Long Beach, CA
What does the common wisdom have to say about bass/treble balance? In my long quest for a restored high-end 7' grand, I've run into several restored/rebuilt Steinways with booming basses and weak trebles, growing progressively "tinkly" above C5. Is this imbalance characteristic of an individual instrument or is it determinied by the skill and taste of the individual who handles the restringing and voicing, or are there other factors? Can this imbalance be rectified in an otherwise acceptable piano, or is it better to keep looking? So far, I'm running away from pianos with this flaw. I play a lot of wide-ranging repertoire (Debussy), so a timid sound beyond the break just doesn't work. I did identify a perfectly balanced B a couple of weeks ago, but a more decisive buyer with deeper pockets bought it before I could decide frown
_________________________
ec
Long Beach, CA
*********************

Chopin - Nocturne, Op.62, No. 2
Mazurka, Op. 41, No. 1 (C# minor)
Etude, Op. 25, No. 9
Polonaise, Op. 40, No. 2, C minor

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#2039774 - 02/26/13 05:41 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Mwm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 752
I hope a few technicians respond to your query. I bought a M&H BB and was concerned about the bass/treble balance as well. After a few months of playing it in and allowing it to settle in the new surroundings, I had the action regulated and a complete voicing done. That, coupled with finding the right stretch for the tuning has made the treble truly beautiful and perfectly balanced with the bass.

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#2039789 - 02/26/13 06:15 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: Mwm]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19199
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Mwm
I hope a few technicians respond to your query. I bought a M&H BB and was concerned about the bass/treble balance as well. After a few months of playing it in and allowing it to settle in the new surroundings, I had the action regulated and a complete voicing done. That, coupled with finding the right stretch for the tuning has made the treble truly beautiful and perfectly balanced with the bass.
I am far from an expert, but I don't see how finding the right stretch would affect the balance. When I think of balance I think of how loud the treble is compared to the bass. Stretch would affect the pitch, but I don't see how it affects the relative volume or even the sustain.


Edited by pianoloverus (02/26/13 06:27 PM)

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#2039791 - 02/26/13 06:22 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Mwm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 752
I'm not an expert either, but if the strike-point is set properly in the high treble so the notes speak as well as is possible and the stretch is such that the the lower notes are excited by the energy of the treble notes, the overall effect is one of increases volume and clarity in the treble. A poor stretch will deaden the upper notes in my experience.

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#2039821 - 02/26/13 07:29 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1081
Loc: Tennessee
Greetings,
Unlike guitars, violins, some wine, etc. pianos do not improve with age beyond the first 10 years or so. Soundboards gradually sag. In a piano with a compression crowned soundboard, such as the Steinway piano, a characteristic sound occurs, and it is exactly what you describe, a big boomy bass and a fifth octave with little sustain, little power, and little tone. It just doesn't have any power up there and won't until the board is replaced.

However, it is expensive to replace a soundboard, and there are a limited number of specialists who can successfully replace them, so the market is loaded with old Steinways that have been "rebuilt" around the original board. It is not uncommon for the voicing to be brightened up excessively in the G4-G5 range to overcome this deficiency, but the piano will simply be loud. It still will have little sustain or ability to respond to hammers that have some tonal range in them.

The educated buyer knows what to listen for. Leave the pedal alone and play C5. Hold the key down and pluck the string with a guitar pick, then listen to the decay. How long it is, and how abruptly it decreases in volume. Do this with the hammer, too. A dead soundboard will hold the note for about 2 seconds and then it diminishes to almost imperceptible before dying out shortly afterwards. A healthy board will have a sustain that gradually fades out without any sudden drop in sound.
It is doubtful that a soundboard is still capable of 80% of its original response after 50 years, and often things are worse than that, sooner.
Regards,

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#2039879 - 02/26/13 09:34 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1810
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
Broadly speaking Mr. Foote is correct. BUT pianos on the west coast of the U.S. when placed in a stable environment can easily have 50 year old soundboards that are excellent, some are better than some new ones you might test because it was a better than average board from day one. I also disagree on his condemnation of strictly compression formed soundboards. I have made and heard too many that perform wonderfully and have one in my living room that is a 30 year old rebuilt belly of mine and the treble is as good as ever.

Much of the treble weakness you are finding is more likely a function of the treble hammers being too heavy, or strike point errors, or lack of needed stiffening agent applied to the felt. Also treble weakness can be from less than stellar quality bridge work used to craft the string terminations at the bridge and at the capo/agraffe.

(Modestly placed plug) If you care to travel to my shop in North Seattle. I have 2 ebony B's available that are stunning in tone and touch.
_________________________
In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2039969 - 02/27/13 04:16 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 883
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
Broadly speaking Mr. Foote is correct. BUT pianos on the west coast of the U.S. when placed in a stable environment can easily have 50 year old soundboards that are excellent, some are better than some new ones you might test because it was a better than average board from day one.


I agree. I understand that in some parts of the country (or world) it might be different. But here in CA I've played pianos with orginal soundboards over 80 years old, and they can sound magnificent. Some have very long sustain in the killer octave, good tone, good power. Yes, these are the small percentage of pianos, but I think it's important to note the piano doesn't have an "expiration" date stamped inside of it somewhere.

I'm not a tech, so I can't explain why some soundboards last and others don't. I have read some good threads over in the tech forum talking about the question.
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2039973 - 02/27/13 04:28 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 883
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: ec
What does the common wisdom have to say about bass/treble balance? In my long quest for a restored high-end 7' grand, I've run into several restored/rebuilt Steinways with booming basses and weak trebles, growing progressively "tinkly" above C5. Is this imbalance characteristic of an individual instrument or is it determinied by the skill and taste of the individual who handles the restringing and voicing, or are there other factors? Can this imbalance be rectified in an otherwise acceptable piano, or is it better to keep looking? So far, I'm running away from pianos with this flaw. I play a lot of wide-ranging repertoire (Debussy), so a timid sound beyond the break just doesn't work. I did identify a perfectly balanced B a couple of weeks ago, but a more decisive buyer with deeper pockets bought it before I could decide frown


I think you're a smart buyer listening to the right things on the pianos you're auditioning.

So many "pianists" play the bass notes on a larger grand and are wowed by the strong bass and loose their thinking ability beyond that.

The 5th octave is where the rubber hits the road - it's what's difficult for the piano to do (for reasons that are beyond my knowledge to explain). IMHO this is also where concert grands divide between the lousy and the great ones.

Getting back to your questions - what you are hearing could be in the action (or hammers) somewhere, or the problem could be in the belly (soundboard or bridges). If it is the hammers then voicing can solve the problem. If it involves more, then voicing will only mask the problem.

Plucking the string can help determine where the problem is but I think it takes a capable tech to give a reliable answer for what it would take to fix the problem.

So I would suggest you keep running away from the pianos with a dead 5th octave.
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2039980 - 02/27/13 05:09 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: musicpassion]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1909
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
Broadly speaking Mr. Foote is correct. BUT pianos on the west coast of the U.S. when placed in a stable environment can easily have 50 year old soundboards that are excellent, some are better than some new ones you might test because it was a better than average board from day one.


I agree. I understand that in some parts of the country (or world) it might be different. But here in CA I've played pianos with orginal soundboards over 80 years old, and they can sound magnificent.


For information, are these pianos with excellent soundboards that sound magnificent all Steinways?
_________________________
Ian Russell
Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2040066 - 02/27/13 10:02 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
jim ialeggio Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/05
Posts: 573
Loc: shirley, MA
Originally Posted By: ec
I play a lot of wide-ranging repertoire (Debussy), so a timid sound beyond the break just doesn't work. I did identify a perfectly balanced B a couple of weeks ago, but a more decisive buyer with deeper pockets bought it before I could decide frown


The imbalance you speak of is a classic tonal profile not only of a tired piano, but also many pianos right off the lot. The structure that a soundboard must provide in that range is significant. It is a structure that is hard to achieve at fabrication and hard to maintain over the long haul. Once the structure is gone, it's gone, and it ain't coming back with that board.

That said, the picture is more complex.

For instance, a really great piano that is out of tune, even with a wonderfully live and vibrant board, will sound weak in the high 4th octave to low 6th octave. "Out of tune" does not even need to mean sounding painfully sour, but rather "out of tune" can mean the intervals and unisons are not tight enough to "couple". You get 88 notes acting as uncooperative individuals rather than 88 notes working as a cohesive whole. As you might expect the sound is sometimes considerably weaker...not sour, but weaker and with a grating percussive attack. Couple the unisions and intervals and the treble might improve considerably...but the coupling will only last a couple of weeks after the tuning...alas...

Sounds like you like Debussy. So do I.

He, like other 20th century masters, understood that supposedly "dissonant sounds" are consonant unto lush, in their own way. This means he plays with a tone's high partials big time. To really turn this music on, you need a piano which achieves its sustained treble through "structural sustain" rather than brightened short sustain sound you refer to in your post.

Interestingly though, the instruments Debussy played had significantly less sustain than pianos you are looking at. This shorter sustain though was balanced with a less powerful bass than we are used to. The bass was able to complement rather than overwhelmed the treble. The bass contained more tone and way less "growl" or "snarl" than most modern pianos shoot for.

The power of most modern pianos, power which is often relegated to the low end of the keyboard, can make life difficult for this music. The low registers for Debussy and Impressionists sing better if they are allowed be sound more like tones rather than Late Romantic "growl". You might keep this in mind as you look for a sound, as different styles prefer slightly to largely different tonal profiles. Any piano would work in any style, but some really sing in a particular style.

My own aesthetic taste prefers instruments with plenty of shimmering sustain for Debussy. So personally I would be looking for a high treble sustain piano if this music were high on my favorites list. Pianos which favor high partials really work with this music.

To this end, Rib Crowned & Supported boards can have trebles which are habit forming. This is specifically why my I design and fabricate this style of board, instead of standard modern compression crowned boards...RC&S boards can really pull this treble sustain off beautifully, but their sound is not everyone's cup of tea. I would suggest you try out a piano with Rib Crowned & Supported belly as you try and define what you are looking for tonally. You may be very taken with the sound.

Jim Ialeggio


Edited by jim ialeggio (02/27/13 10:09 AM)
_________________________
Jim Ialeggio
www.grandpianosolutions.com
advanced soundboard and action redesigns
978 425-9026
Shirley Center, MA

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#2040098 - 02/27/13 11:36 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21199
Loc: Oakland
My belief is that the whole rib-crowned versus compression-crowned debate is nothing more than sales hype for selling unnecessary soundboard replacements. I do not think that the method of making the soundboard makes enough difference that one could tell how the soundboard is made just by the way the piano sounds, no matter how old the soundboard is.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#2040155 - 02/27/13 01:21 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: Withindale]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 883
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Withindale
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
Broadly speaking Mr. Foote is correct. BUT pianos on the west coast of the U.S. when placed in a stable environment can easily have 50 year old soundboards that are excellent, some are better than some new ones you might test because it was a better than average board from day one.


I agree. I understand that in some parts of the country (or world) it might be different. But here in CA I've played pianos with orginal soundboards over 80 years old, and they can sound magnificent.


For information, are these pianos with excellent soundboards that sound magnificent all Steinways?


No.

I'm not a Steinway devotee, BTW.

If you're wondering about the compression crowning on Steinways, I don't know if that causes the soundboard to fail sooner or not. I've seen a lot of Steinways with failed soundboards, but there are lot of Steinways out there. So I don't know if the failure rate is higher or earlier. I'm not willing to just make that assumption.


Edited by musicpassion (02/27/13 01:31 PM)
Edit Reason: more information
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2040161 - 02/27/13 01:28 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: BDB]
jim ialeggio Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/05
Posts: 573
Loc: shirley, MA
Originally Posted By: BDB
My belief is that the whole rib-crowned versus compression-crowned debate is nothing more than sales hype for selling unnecessary soundboard replacements. I do not think that the method of making the soundboard makes enough difference that one could tell how the soundboard is made just by the way the piano sounds, no matter how old the soundboard is.

You are welcome to your beliefs.

We all have beliefs. Some beliefs are more important than the experience and tend to short circuit experience. And then some beliefs are confirmed by experience.

I recommended that the OP have a listen for him/herself. No debate necessary, just listen as a matter of educating one's self to the available possibilities. The experience will speak for itself to the individual either yea, nay or maybe.

Jim Ialeggio
_________________________
Jim Ialeggio
www.grandpianosolutions.com
advanced soundboard and action redesigns
978 425-9026
Shirley Center, MA

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#2040162 - 02/27/13 01:31 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1081
Loc: Tennessee
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
I also disagree on his condemnation of strictly compression formed soundboards. I have made and heard too many that perform wonderfully and have one in my living room that is a 30 year old rebuilt belly of mine and the treble is as good as ever.
Much of the treble weakness you are finding is more likely a function of the treble hammers being too heavy, or strike point errors, or lack of needed stiffening agent applied to the felt. Also treble weakness can be from less than stellar quality bridge work used to craft the string terminations at the bridge and at the capo/agraffe.


Greetings,
I don't think I condemned anything. I think the stresses involved in getting the maximum tone out of a piece of wood can, over time, change the wood itself, and not often in a beneficial way. I also think the compression formed boards sound better, that they have more response in them. I don't care if they are not immortal, because I consider soundboards to be non-durable parts of a piano. Not as often replaced as pinblocks, but, they do have a service life.

Special considerations such as stable environment can lengthen that service life, but it is a rare compression crowed board that still had a full voice after 70 years of age. Yes, they happen. I have several of them, but I sifted dozens of pianos over the years to find them. The great majority of 70 year old boards in these pianos are compromised beyond what I would accept as a fully musical instrument and certainly not worth justifying a new action and strings.
Regards,

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#2040193 - 02/27/13 02:20 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: musicpassion]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1909
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: Withindale
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
But here in CA I've played pianos with orginal soundboards over 80 years old, and they can sound magnificent.

For information, are these pianos with excellent soundboards that sound magnificent all Steinways?

No. [...]If you're wondering about the compression crowning on Steinways, I don't know if that causes the soundboard to fail sooner or not.

Thank you, Musicpassion. I'll stay away from the debate about crowning methods.

You and Ed Foote have confirmed what I thought; you can find a 50 -100 year old instrument that pass Ed's C5 test if you are prepared to look at and pass on umpteen pianos. Who can say if your chances are likely be higher with any particular make compared to Steinway?
_________________________
Ian Russell
Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2040260 - 02/27/13 03:56 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
lluiscl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/06
Posts: 145
Debussy liked C. Bechsteins...
I have recently restored one 7'3" with more than 110 years. Although its plate and SB were cracked (all fixed) it has a beatifull crown and plenty of power and sustain yet, and wonderful tone with new light hammers (and many hours of complex voicing). The bass is deep and never overwhelmed the trebles. I believe that its great cut-off bar help to keep the SB shape (and specially its killer octave).

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#2040282 - 02/27/13 04:25 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: lluiscl]
jim ialeggio Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/05
Posts: 573
Loc: shirley, MA
Originally Posted By: lluiscl
The bass is deep and never overwhelmed the trebles. I believe that its great cut-off bar help to keep the SB shape (and specially its killer octave).


Yes, the cutoff helps focus the tenor and bass. A genrous cutoff is a key part of an RC&S protocol. Though to be fair, some pianists and some musics do not want that area to be that focused...it all depends on what you are looking for.

Does anyone know how C Bechsteins were crowned?...curious...

Jim Ialeggio
_________________________
Jim Ialeggio
www.grandpianosolutions.com
advanced soundboard and action redesigns
978 425-9026
Shirley Center, MA

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#2040308 - 02/27/13 05:12 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: jim ialeggio]
lluiscl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/06
Posts: 145
Originally Posted By: jim ialeggio
Yes, the cutoff helps focus the tenor and bass. A genrous cutoff is a key part of an RC&S protocol. Though to be fair, some pianists and some musics do not want that area to be that focused...it all depends on what you are looking for.

Does anyone know how C Bechsteins were crowned?...curious...

Jim Ialeggio


I have asked myself the same... I think they used both RC in CC... (as Bl├╝thner does).
I also believe that generous cut-off bars tend to a more focused sound, with more partials-complex sound... Modern Bechsteins have reduced its cut-offs (and they sound more like Hamburgs...).

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#2040449 - 02/27/13 11:13 PM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1810
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I would like to take the topic back to an emphasis on the difference tone regulation can make in treble/bass (T/B) balance. When I serviced pianos for the Steinway dealer in my area for over 16 years-it was not unusual to be faced with a new owner who was dis-satisfied with T/B balance. More than a few technicians were willing to opine to the customer that the "soundboard was dead" or the "down-bearing was flat" in a portion of the treble compass.

I would then ask if I could try my hand at some serious tone-regulation and adjustment work involving reducing the hammer mass, rebalancing the touch-weight, contouring the V-bar to a true V, accurate string and hammer spacing, and some lacquer in the treble if needed.

Never had a single unhappy customer.

Now I certainly have found some "bellies" are better than others and that has always been true of all pianos ever made. Tone-regulation is more significant to making a fine musical instrument than some very subtle belly differences.
_________________________
In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2040471 - 02/28/13 12:32 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
ec Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/08
Posts: 77
Loc: Long Beach, CA
@Ed McMorrow, thank you-this actually gets to the heart of what I wanted to know about restored Steinways. However, I'm still not willing to take on a piano with such a problem, especially when correcting it seems not necessarily to be a routine RPT procedure or one on which RPTs even agree.

It's a mystery to me how anyone could ever tolerate an instrument with such a pronounced imbalance as the one I most recently played-I could barely make the higher octaves audible over the bass (and I've played many Bs where this is not a problem). I asked the owner about it--she said she "had noticed it" but didn't play much anymore--and I thought "No wonder!". Sometimes I think I should just stick with my much-loved and very well balanced Yamaha G-2 confused
_________________________
ec
Long Beach, CA
*********************

Chopin - Nocturne, Op.62, No. 2
Mazurka, Op. 41, No. 1 (C# minor)
Etude, Op. 25, No. 9
Polonaise, Op. 40, No. 2, C minor

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#2040551 - 02/28/13 05:38 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1909
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
... More than a few technicians were willing to opine to the customer that the "soundboard was dead" or the "down-bearing was flat" in a portion of the treble compass.

I would then ask if I could try my hand at some serious tone-regulation and adjustment work involving reducing the hammer mass, rebalancing the touch-weight, contouring the V-bar to a true V, accurate string and hammer spacing, and some lacquer in the treble if needed.

Never had a single unhappy customer.

Sometimes you don't even need to do any of the things Ed mentioned. Securing the plate and seating the strings may transform the sound in the treble.

In an older piano the effect of a small amount of rust or debris at the string contact points may be to drain almost all energy from a note.

When one or more of the screws and bolts holding the plate in place are even slightly loose the plate may take energy away from the soundboard so there is little sustain.

Another way to to ensure the strings are well seated is to replace them. Likewise a rebuilder will ensure the plate bolts are secure when replacing the soundboard. Extreme measures.
_________________________
Ian Russell
Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2040629 - 02/28/13 08:33 AM Re: General query: balance of treble and bass in grands [Re: ec]
jim ialeggio Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/05
Posts: 573
Loc: shirley, MA
Originally Posted By: ec
However, I'm still not willing to take on a piano with such a problem, especially when correcting it seems not necessarily to be a routine RPT procedure or one on which RPTs even agree.

Looking for unanimity amongst RPTs, or anyone in this field for that matter, will get one nowhere fast. RPT's are certified for tuning expertise and routine vanilla maintenance. As Ed Mcmorrow's fix is effective, but not routine vanilla maintenance by a long shot, the RPT designation does not certify that an RPT has the shop knowledge or structural knowledge to accomplish or even understand what he is talking about.

One needs to talk to and form a trust relationship with a builder who has the chops to make pianos sound nice. Many excellent rebuilders can achieve a nice sounding piano, but they will do it in a fashion that resonates with the way they personally think about and solve problems. The solutions will be a varied as their personalities. Some of them, though not all, will create a nice sounding piano.

Unachievable unanimity aside, in your part of the world, a guy like Ed M. has the chops to pull this off as he describes.


Originally Posted By: ec
Sometimes I think I should just stick with my much-loved and very well balanced Yamaha G-2 confused

So on a much more basic level, why are you looking to move away from a well balanced instrument you seem to be happy with??

Jim Ialeggio


Edited by jim ialeggio (02/28/13 08:56 AM)
_________________________
Jim Ialeggio
www.grandpianosolutions.com
advanced soundboard and action redesigns
978 425-9026
Shirley Center, MA

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