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#2110942 - 07/01/13 01:17 AM American vs German sound
King Norre Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/04/02
Posts: 59
Loc: Antwerp, Belgium
Hi,

I posted this topic in the beginners section but someone suggested it would be better if I posted this in the piano section. So I hope you don't mind my double post. If so, I apologize and please delete this.


I was wondering what everybody means with American sound or German sound. Is it safe to think that an American sound is more "in your face" and more powerful, and that a German sound is more soft and warm?
If so, is an American sound better for baroque pieces and a German sound better for romantic pieces?
I'm just starting to learn how to play so please forgive my ignorance and/or stupid questions.
And what about a Japanese sound? Is it somewhere in between?

Thanks,

KN
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#2111058 - 07/01/13 09:06 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
The best way to appreciate the difference between German and American sound is to listen to the pianos.

When you have listened to current New York Steinways, Mason and Hamlins, and when you can find them, Charles Walters you will have a good idea of American sound today.

Then listen to Hamburg Steinways, Bechsteins, Bluthners, Bosendorfers (Austrian), Forsters, Grotrians, Sauters, Schimmels and Steingraebers to distinguish the character of German sound.

Compare performances and perhaps you will find more resonances in American sound and a greater clarity in German sound.

Then there's crystal clarity of Italian sound, typified by Fabbrini Steinways and Fazioli, and that rich Estonian sound which comes from a centuries old musical tradition, as Norbert recently explained, with its wonderful male voices.


Edited by Withindale (07/01/13 09:21 AM)
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#2111064 - 07/01/13 09:18 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
terminaldegree Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 2676
Loc: western Wisconsin
No need to apologize- it's an interesting question and one that may elicit different answers from everyone.

In my experience, American pianos of different brands (Walter, Mason, Steinway, older Baldwins) do not sound the same. The same goes for German and other European pianos. At the same time, there are certain tonal "values" that can be discerned by playing enough of a brand.

There is a generalization that European pianos have more emphasis on the fundamental pitch and its clarity, and less on the higher partials in the overtone series that add "color" to the sound. Alas, one person's "colorful" is another person's "dirty" sound, so it's a matter of personal preference. The same goes for "warmth" versus "clarity" or power versus sustain. A lot of good pianos do one or the other well, not many can do everything (and some choose one over the other on purpose).

As I've played more pianos of established brands over the years, I've come to realize there are many, many exceptions to the generalization stated above. A German Seiler doesn't sound like a Bechstein Academy, a Sauter Delta doesn't sound like a Petrof Storm, a Grotrian 225 doesn't sound like a Steingraeber 232. A Bosendorfer sounds nothing like a Fazoili, and so on.

This is one of the things that I learned a bit about when reading Larry Fine's books as a college student in the mid '90s...there were all these brands I had never heard about that were supposedly different from anything I knew. It's gratifying to be writing and coordinating the reviews for this publication later in life, as going and playing every new piano I run across is now part of the job.
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#2111072 - 07/01/13 09:33 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: terminaldegree]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: terminaldegree
There is a generalization that European pianos have more emphasis on the fundamental pitch and its clarity, and less on the higher partials in the overtone series that add "color" to the sound.

Is there any substance to this generalization? In his article, The engineering of concert grand pianos, Richard Dain shows that a Bosendorfer has more harmonics in its spectrum than a Steinway. Isn't the "color" of American sound due to other overtones and resonances?
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2111089 - 07/01/13 10:09 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2051
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I have always experienced what I call the "American" sound as one that has more fundamental and somewhat stronger even numbered partials than most of the European pianos. Certainly Chickering and old Mason&Hamlin had more "darkness" to the tone. Good Steinways always have a little "smoke" in the tone. By this I mean a parallel to chiaroscuro in oil painting. (Which turns out mostly to be candle/lamp smoke deposited onto it as it hangs on the wall). Although in pianos it is present at birth.
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#2111119 - 07/01/13 11:02 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7413
Loc: Rochester MN
Here are examples of the difference between the German and American Steinway sound. These are recorded with the same pianist, in the same venue, by the same recording engineers, with different pianos.

New York S&S-D

Hamburg S&S-D

Vadym Kholodenko - Gold Medal Winner, 2013 Van Cliburn Competition
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Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2111151 - 07/01/13 11:58 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Withindale]
terminaldegree Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 2676
Loc: western Wisconsin
Originally Posted By: Withindale

Is there any substance to this generalization?


I'm no engineer or physicist, just a player who purports to have pretty sharp senses...so I can't say. Thanks for the link.

I pretty much agree with Ed's non-technical descriptors in his post above.
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Steinway A #585209, B #416809 @ work
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#2111296 - 07/02/13 01:14 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Norbert Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/03/01
Posts: 14138
Loc: Surrey, B.C.
Quote:
rich Estonian sound which comes from a centuries old musical tradition, as Norbert recently explained, with its wonderful male voices.


I didn't say 'male' did I?

Norbert wink
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#2111439 - 07/02/13 09:14 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Norbert]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: Norbert
Quote:
rich Estonian sound which comes from a centuries old musical tradition, as Norbert recently explained, with its wonderful male voices.


I didn't say 'male' did I?

No, you didn't, but I did because it came to mind.

What you said, "... the [Estonia] piano represents an age old Baltic culture where "singing" tones have been of great importance as part of their famous choires...."

Baltic choirs - male, female, mixed, boys and girls - did everyone else but me know they are one of the wonders of the world?
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2111452 - 07/02/13 09:46 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
I have always experienced what I call the "American" sound as one that has more fundamental and somewhat stronger even numbered partials than most of the European pianos. Certainly Chickering and old Mason&Hamlin had more "darkness" to the tone. Good Steinways always have a little "smoke" in the tone. By this I mean a parallel to chiaroscuro in oil painting. (Which turns out mostly to be candle/lamp smoke deposited onto it as it hangs on the wall). Although in pianos it is present at birth.

Ed, that's a very interesting way of putting it.

The Steinway I mentioned certainly had a stronger fundamental than the Bosendorfer, as if to prove your point.

I listened to Marty's link to the Prokofiev on the NY Steinway last night and chiaroscuro is as good a way as any of describing the difference from the recording of the Hamburg instrument.

Maybe you can answer a question about Mason & Hamlin as there don't seem to be any on show in the UK. The OP in another thread said the BB he was playing lacked tonal range until he put in his musician's ear plugs. Does that mean the chiascuro or smoke has a lot of high frequency overtones and resonances?
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2111472 - 07/02/13 10:19 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7413
Loc: Rochester MN
I guess I'm not understanding the use of "chiaroscuro" to describe a sound as having 'smoke.' Chiaroscuro is the contrast of light and dark to create dramatic contrast or focus. If anything, soot and tar over the years, will lessen the contrast, not increase it. A good cleaning (voicing) will restore the original intent.
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It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2111479 - 07/02/13 10:31 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Minnesota Marty]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
I guess I'm not understanding the use of "chiaroscuro" to describe a sound as having 'smoke.' Chiaroscuro is the contrast of light and dark to create dramatic contrast or focus. If anything, soot and tar over the years, will lessen the contrast, not increase it. A good cleaning (voicing) will restore the original intent.

Marty, a more than fair point. I took Ed to mean "the quality of being veiled" as Merriam-Webster puts it. Is there a better word?
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2111489 - 07/02/13 10:41 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2051
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
One of the things I have noticed about pianos that experienced and/or sensitive pianist appreciate is the tone color change with dynamics. The vowel tone of the sustained sound of a note should change with dynamics. Played hard it should evince some E-vowel sound but as it decays it should move through the vowel sounds from hardest vowel to softest vowel. The same way singers warm up vocalizing. EeeeeeAaaaaaAhahahahahahOHohohohohOOooooo.

Some of the European makes exhibit this quality well-as some of the American makes have and do.

The vowel tone of most pianos is almost all EEEEeeeee at all dynamic levels.

Withindale, I don't hear much of the same chiaroscuro in the new M&H's I have heard. The old ones including the dreaded Aeolian period had it in spades. The new ones are well built but they have changed something about the belly. I don't know what. Bruce Clark their Engineer agrees the sound is different-so it must be deliberate. I would prefer if they went back to that tone. They could then market themselves as the pianos with "Deep Tone".
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#2111519 - 07/02/13 11:24 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7413
Loc: Rochester MN
Ian,

Consider that what you quoted from M/W is not the primary definition and is not complete. The full citing is: "the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow." It is in reference to the use of chiaroscuro to create focus. I don't understand how this refers to a piano's sound and certainly has nothing to do with "being veiled" due to years of soot and tallow.

I do agree that the American Steinway has more focus on the fundamental than the Hamburg. In the Hamburg, there are more overtones (partials) evident throughout the volume range. At f and above, they can become overwhelming, with some brands, and can cause lack of clarity. With the NY example, they develop more and more as the volume increases.

Most tuner/techs will say that it is only a function of strike force which will change the "color" of any given note. I disagree with this, as I believe that the hand/finger technique of playing any given note (key) is also a variant to the resultant 'tone.'

For further comparison, you might enjoy listening to other pianists, playing four different S&S-D's, at the Cliburn Competition. Here is a link:

Cliburn Competition Videos

On the left side of the screen, there are check-boxes to select either full presentations by day, or lower down on the screen, by individual pianists.

There is also a thread which goes into a discussion of the tonal structure of the four different pianos. There are two Hamburgs and two NYs.

Hamburg vs. Astoria Steinway

As you can tell, I am very interested in the core sound of various manufacturer's pianos, how that sound develops with volume and technique, and how they relate to specific compositions. I am fortunate to be able to perform in Europe and have the chance to play pianos which are not common on the concert stage in the US.

I love all of the variation and Beethoven changes with each different piano!

Cheers,
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Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2111561 - 07/02/13 12:40 PM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Minnesota Marty]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Marty,

Let's not get hung up on whether one word or another conveys what Ed meant. As Humpty Dumpty might have said the point is the difference in sound. Perhaps wine is a better analogy than painting.

I suspect that the American sound depends on resonances that add to the fundamentals and their overtones. You might compare that to the flavours that oak barrels give wine.
_________________________
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2113106 - 07/05/13 05:56 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
joe80 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 1191
chiaroscuro is Italian for lightdark, particularly the strong contrasts between light and dark in paintings to give a three dimensional quality. I've never heard it used to describe sound before, but actually, if you think about it, it works, no?

In Steinway Hall there is an American B, the William Steinway edition, beautifully prepared and set up, and it is next to a Hamburg B. I would say that this particular American B sounds bolder than that particular Hamburg B. The Hamburg sounds cleaner and clearer perhaps, and the American has a really beefy quality, but is capable of great tenderness. Actually the American B was one of the most even Steinway Bs I've played, and I thought it was beautiful. The Hamburg was also beautiful but in a different way, and for once I preferred the American piano.

I guess it comes down to individual instruments, you see. The preparation on the American B was top notch, and I think that really brought out a special quality in it. It made the (exceptionally fine sounding) Hamburg B sound almost dry in comparison. Both were Steinways, both were fine pianos, and someone else might not have enjoyed what I enjoyed in the US piano.

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#2113200 - 07/05/13 11:15 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Hi King,

"I was wondering what everybody means with American sound or German sound. Is it safe to think that an American sound is more "in your face" and more powerful, and that a German sound is more soft and warm?"

What I hear is a difference in the basic tone color or timbre characteristic of each brands. "Warm" or "Powerful" are descriptors that are often misused or misapplied, as those sonic effects can be brought out of most pianos, even bad ones, by a highly skilled player. also, "Bright" or "Dull" can also be symptomatic of the prep work done (or not) on a instrument that doesn't really have anything to do with the timbre.

I find it helpful to compare these sounds to the voice-types of singers. I tend to think of Boesendorfer, Fazioli and Bechstein, for example, as a lighter, lyric tone color. White wine and brie, if you like. Japanese pianos tend to emulate this color, even though I've always thought they were trying to make a better Steinway. To my ear, the pre-WWII Mason & Hamlins have a smokey golden spinto, almost mezzo color that Ed was referring to. Yes, they should definitely bring that back! The characteristic American Steinway sound tends toward a darker, almost mezzo color that reminds one of steak and red wine especially when the bass is particularly growly. Grotrians are a little lighter than this, but they certainly fall into this darker color range.

However, the darkest tone colors I've heard lately actually are from vintage pre-WWII Bluethners, about 5 of them I've found in the last two years all from different places. Absolutely wonderful, reminding me of an almost bronze contralto color.

The richness or thinness of a piano sound has more to do with the scale and acoustical design than its timbre. This also where the most interesting part of the piano sound lies, in the harmonics left over in the decay of the initial sound. It's my impression that the more resonant the instrument, the more partials you'll hear in the decay even if the scale design is not perfect. Some of the things you are paying for when you buy an expensive piano (or should be) is a responsive state of resonance in the acoustical envelope, a beautiful fundamental tone color, and a lot of colors in the decay.
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#2113228 - 07/05/13 12:34 PM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
joe80 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 1191
Greg. Plus one. Your comparison is frighteningly accurate! :-)

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#2113461 - 07/05/13 10:26 PM Re: American vs German sound [Re: laguna_greg]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2051
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
Greg,
Since you brought up Bluethners-I have a customer with a 6-8YO, 5' Bluethner that has a wonderful range of tone color and dynamics. A truly great piano. It has a "golden" sheen in the that sounds like Fisher-Diskau's singing voice.


Edited by Ed McMorrow, RPT (07/05/13 10:27 PM)
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#2113525 - 07/06/13 01:40 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Jean Claude Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 357
Loc: France

Blüthner, not Bluethner.

And while we're on the subject, Bösendorfer, not Boesendorfer.

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#2113531 - 07/06/13 02:10 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Jean Claude]
ando Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 3575
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Originally Posted By: Jean Claude

Blüthner, not Bluethner.

And while we're on the subject, Bösendorfer, not Boesendorfer.


"ue" is a well accepted substitute for ü when non-German keyboards are used. Germans themselves use that spelling when using foreign keyboard. Same with "oe"/ö and "ae"/ä. What isn't acceptable is Bluthner or Bosendorfer.

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#2113536 - 07/06/13 02:52 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: ando]
Jean Claude Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 357
Loc: France


Well, Blüthner in London have the following website address: www.bluthner.co.uk

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#2113545 - 07/06/13 03:48 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Jean Claude Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 357
Loc: France
My German is very poor, even worse than my English, so I have been obliged to go and look up this usage and I must say that Ando is quite correct. My apologies to anyone who feels that I have questioned their ability to spell.

I must say in passing that I had no idea that English keyboards were not able to write ö ü or ä, presumably the same is true of ë. This must make life very tiresome for anybody called Chloë or Noël.


Edited by Jean Claude (07/06/13 04:21 AM)
Edit Reason: Speling Erer.

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#2113600 - 07/06/13 07:17 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Jean Claude]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 973
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Jean Claude
I must say in passing that I had no idea that English keyboards were not able to write ö ü or ä, presumably the same is true of ë. This must make life very tiresome for anybody called Chloë or Noël.

You mean Chloe and Noel, right? smile In USA these are fairly common names and usually their legal names don't have the "extra" symbols on them. Of course I understand it is different for other places in the world.

You can write these symbols from a USA keyboard, but it's not actually on the keyboard so you have to remember the strange little procedures (usually involves the ALT key plus a three digit code, or the OPTION key). Naturally the strange little procedures are different for each operating system.

Here it is from my ZAGG keyboard : ü, ë, ä
Yay! (patting self on back).

Wow this thread took a side-trip. Of course my post is only driving the car further off the road.
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#2113611 - 07/06/13 07:42 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Jean Claude]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5108
Originally Posted By: Jean Claude


I must say in passing that I had no idea that English keyboards were not able to write ö ü or ä, presumably the same is true of ë. This must make life very tiresome for anybody called Chloë or Noël.


Actually, you can on 'English' keyboards - you just have to know the way to do it.

Try alt + 130 for é, 160 for á
alt + 132 for ä, 137 for ë, 148 for ö, 129 for ü, 139 for ï
alt + 135 for ç

I'm typing this on my MacBook Pro laptop, which presumably is American, and the procedures are totally different.....
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#2113655 - 07/06/13 09:19 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7413
Loc: Rochester MN
bennevis,

您确定


MacBook Pro的
笔记本
电脑
真的是
美国
的吗


(Nín quèdìng nín de MacBook Pro de bǐjìběn diànnǎo zhēn de shì měiguó de ma?)
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Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2114035 - 07/07/13 01:05 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Thrill Science Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 513
Loc: California
Bösendorfers aren't German, they're Austrian, and have a different sound because of the difference in the rim. Instead of hard plywood--used by Steinway and everyone else--it has a solid spruce rim. The rim, frame and sound board are mechanically one unit.

You can't compare the sound of a Bösendorfer to anything else. To me it's the "softest and warmest" sound available, and I love the way it sounds in the home.

(And I have no trouble typing the ö on my Hebrew Mac keyboard! I just press Caps Lock--which allows input of Roman characters--and type option + u and then o. However, if you don't have the character, oe is acceptable. In fact the domain they have is www.boesendorfer.com. If you type www.bosendorfer.com, you'll be redirected.)



Edited by Thrill Science (07/07/13 01:24 AM)
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#2114106 - 07/07/13 08:53 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Mwm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 752
On an iPad, just hold a vowel key and it will pop up a menu for all the accents. Slide your finger up to the desired accent and you are done. On a Windows keyboard, use ALT and the number pad to choose the correct ASCI accent character, for example, ALT 0233 is é, ALT 0246 is ö. All of the alternate characters have asci values between 0200 (È) and 252 (ü).

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#2114107 - 07/07/13 09:02 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: King Norre]
Mwm Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 752
I find it interesting that this forum is called Piano World, yet many of the american contributers have issues with typing accents and understanding the comments of posters for whom american english is not their native tongue. The forum is more Piano America with a nod to everyone else. I can say this, being an ex-american, yet still an American.

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#2114111 - 07/07/13 09:10 AM Re: American vs German sound [Re: Jean Claude]
ClsscLib Offline

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 1754
Loc: Northern VA, U.S.
Originally Posted By: Jean Claude


Well, Blüthner in London have the following website address: www.bluthner.co.uk


It may be acceptable to them, but not to us.
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