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#2116425 - 07/12/13 01:11 AM Questions about grand piano actions.
Almaviva Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 598
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Guys,

Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the action of a modern grand piano is a refinement of a design introduced by Steinway somewhere between 1890 and 1910. If somebody knows the exact year and Steinway model, please speak up.

I know that this Steinway action did not immediately become an industry-wide standard. I know that Bluthner had its own patented action, and Bechstein might have had its own design as well. What other manufacturers had their own unique actions? What were the advantages and disadvantages of this new Steinway-developed action over other action designs? When did the Steinway action design become an industry-wide standard, and why?

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#2116431 - 07/12/13 01:47 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
PianoWorksATL Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/09
Posts: 2706
Loc: Atlanta, GA
The modern action is a refinement of the Erard double escapement action. Wikipedia dates it back to 1821. In relation to Steinway, there were changes and refinements on an ongoing basis, but "modern" for them dates to before 88 note grand models...before 1890.

Development of grand piano design was extremely rapid in the US, not actually centered on Steinway. Their patents and innovations were important along with others.

Inevitably, there were a few notable exceptions, but US makers largely adopted the modern action before European makers because of shared information and the concentration of competition in a single, large market. Thank industrialization, the railroads, shared language, etc.

Europe was still separated into many tiny markets with small regional makers, isolated enough to resist uniformity. Because of this, other action styles lingered among major European manufacturers until after WWI.

Most other designs lost out because they were inferior. Piano designers were much more willing to take risks and the industry was large enough to support hundreds of makers all trying to distinguish themselves.
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#2116456 - 07/12/13 04:20 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: PianoWorksATL]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Alfred Dolge illustrates developments of the Erard action from 1821 to the 1900s in his excellent book "Pianos and their Makers" published 1911, see pages 88 -91. He says all the top makers had adopted it except Bösendorfer which still preferred a variant of the English action. I'd recommend the book.

There is an interesting bit about the 1875 action pilot patent in the Steinway & Sons Wikipedia entry. [Received wisdom on PW is not to believe a word you read on Wikipedia!]


Edited by Withindale (07/12/13 01:08 PM)
Edit Reason: Links to Dolge and 1875 Steiway patent
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#2116463 - 07/12/13 04:54 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
BDB Offline
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21509
Loc: Oakland
Bösendorfer used a Viennese action, not an English action variant. Blüthner used what was essentially an English action, although with a slight variation that improved repetition.

Erard's action was pretty delicate and complicated, and it was substantially simplified by Henri Herz. It is Herz's action which is the basis of modern actions.
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#2116513 - 07/12/13 08:02 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Almaviva Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 598
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Thanks for the information, guys. I was aware beforehand of the "English action versus Viennese action" rivalry in the early years, and the Erard innovation that allowed rapid repetition of notes. (Liszt supposedly championed the Erard action.) However, I did not know that the Steinway refinements of the Erard action dated back to 1875. Are these 1875 Steinway innovations indeed the current industry-wide standard, or is the action still evolving as we speak?

BDB, I thought Henri Herz was a composer. Wikipedia makes no mention of any piano action design activity on his part. Which piano firm did Herz work with in implementing his innovation? Was it Erard, or somebody else?

Thanks again for the information.


Edited by Almaviva (07/12/13 08:13 AM)

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#2116514 - 07/12/13 08:10 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: BDB]
Rich Galassini Online   content
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 9222
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
Originally Posted By: BDB

Erard's action was pretty delicate and complicated, and it was substantially simplified by Henri Herz. It is Herz's action which is the basis of modern actions.


BDB is spot on, as usual.

But Sam is correct as well. Erard was the first to come up with double escapement, which is a staple of the modern piano touch.

However, Herz made the Erard idea work dependably and made it "regulatable". One big downfall of the Erard design was the damper assembly. It never really worked. Herz used gravity in a concept we still use today. Here are pictures from a lecture I give that illustrates both designs:



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#2116518 - 07/12/13 08:17 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Rich Galassini Online   content
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 9222
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
One other big difference between the two designs is the composition of the hammer material. Material experimentation was happening everywhere throughout this period so we cannot attribute this to either action designer, but the Erard uses a multi-layer hammer of leather and felt.

The design is similar to this 1844 Broadwood upright piano:



Although Herz's design is also multi-layer, his hammer is all felt.

I just thought this was worth mentioning.

My 2 cents,
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Cunningham Piano Co.
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#2116586 - 07/12/13 12:02 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: BDB]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: BDB
Bösendorfer used a Viennese action, not an English action variant.

According to the late Frederic Schoettler, who was professor emeritus of music (piano) at Kent State University, Bösendorfer used both Viennese and English actions.

In the article about Bösendorfer in "The Piano, An Encyclopedia" he wrote:

In the beginning the company employed the lighter Viennese action. By the end of the nineteenth century, pianos with both the Vienese and English Actions were constructed. When, in the first decade of the twentieth century, the general taste turned in favor of quicker key repetition, Bösendorfer built pianos with only the English action.
_________________________
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Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2116590 - 07/12/13 12:24 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
joe80 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 1188
Somebody at Bluthner in London told me that the reason Bluthner stopped making the patent action in the 1920s was because there was a fire in the factory, and rather than rebuild the equipment to reintroduce the patent actions, they switched to the double escapement from another builder - possibly flemming, schwander or renner.

How true that is, I have no idea. I believe the Bluthner action isn't inferior to the modern action at all, but it IS different. Takes a bit of adjusting. Also, I think it was only in pianos up to the Style 9 size (7 feet), and the larger grands had the standard action all along. Someone correct me if I'm wrong please!

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#2116596 - 07/12/13 12:45 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
PianoWorksATL Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/09
Posts: 2706
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Another common enough variation is the rocker capstan action. It's still a modern action with some performance benefits but much more tedious to service. We see them in pianos from both sides of the pond.
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#2116603 - 07/12/13 01:13 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Withindale]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1940
Loc: Suffolk, England
Originally Posted By: Withindale
Alfred Dolge illustrates developments of the Erard action from 1821 to the 1900s in his excellent book "Pianos and their Makers" published 1911, see pages 88 -91. He says all the top makers had adopted it except Bösendorfer which still preferred a variant of the English action. I'd recommend the book.

There is an interesting bit about the 1875 action pilot patent in the Steinway & Sons Wikipedia entry.

Please follow links above for more diagrams of grand actions, including Steinway, up to 1909.
_________________________
Ian Russell
Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2116623 - 07/12/13 02:08 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: joe80]
lluiscl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/06
Posts: 146
Originally Posted By: joe80
I believe the Bluthner action isn't inferior to the modern action at all, but it IS different. Takes a bit of adjusting. Also, I think it was only in pianos up to the Style 9 size (7 feet), and the larger grands had the standard action all along. Someone correct me if I'm wrong please!


Well, Ingbert Haessler-Blüthner told me that the Patent action was introduced to reduce the roller action adjustments... And it is really much quick to do it (problem begins when technician don't know about that...).
If properly do it (with the right hammer weight, if they have been replaced) they are great!!

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#2117149 - 07/13/13 06:44 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 972
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Almaviva
is the action still evolving as we speak?
.

Certainly in some areas the action is still evolving. Materials are a clear area of ongoing innovation - Kawai and Mason Hamlin are using new types of materials.
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#2117152 - 07/13/13 06:53 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: musicpassion]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

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

Thank you all for a fascinating and very useful discussion. I knew about the development of the Erard double escapement action, but to read about the development throughout the period, and from knowledgeable people, is wonderful.

It's a pity this can't all be turned into an article for the non-technical press.
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1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
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#2198975 - 12/17/13 07:00 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Rich Galassini]
Goof Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/05/12
Posts: 357
Loc: UK
As a "Mr Fixit" (electronics take mucho time), I've never worked on a grand but I see that the gravity concept would allow the felt to ride with ALL the movements of the string? I have just fitted new springs and bass felts to a small, 1900 straight strung, Broadwood.
What I found was that even with new parts the mono chords, especially, buzzed. One could even see it by releasing the key gradually.
As the new felts came c/w with a wood backing I interposed a small cube of felt dead center, i.e. the two felts on the front of the wood were held to the damper block with a flexing mount point - almost "a la jelly".
Problem solved!
I did also try the old felts using the same method and it worked!

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#2199000 - 12/17/13 08:11 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
guyl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/16/13
Posts: 100
Loc: Montreal, Canada
I have a Chickering grand from around 1885 and the action is a little different from the standard one we usually see. One of the escapement levers appears to be replaced by a metal spring-like wire instead. I'll have to take pictures the next time I open it up.

I have a copy of the Alfred Dolge book. A very interesting read for piano enthusiasts! He was a manufacturer of hammer making machinery and got to know many of the makers of well know brands personally.


Edited by guyl (12/17/13 08:14 AM)

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#2199203 - 12/17/13 03:31 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2048
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
The Erard double escapement, (which refers to the escapement of both the jack and repetition lever) is a throwback to the final actions of Cristsfori. Cristofori's final actions had a fixed hammer rail, a backcheck, and a rudimentary repetition lever.

The first actions of Stein, Silbermann, etc had a hammer center that moved with the key. This does not work well if you value tonal control.
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#2199471 - 12/18/13 12:28 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: PianoWorksATL]
michaelha Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/05/13
Posts: 829
Originally Posted By: PianoWorksATL
The modern action is a refinement of the Erard double escapement action. Wikipedia dates it back to 1821. In relation to Steinway, there were changes and refinements on an ongoing basis, but "modern" for them dates to before 88 note grand models...before 1890.

Development of grand piano design was extremely rapid in the US, not actually centered on Steinway. Their patents and innovations were important along with others.

Inevitably, there were a few notable exceptions, but US makers largely adopted the modern action before European makers because of shared information and the concentration of competition in a single, large market. Thank industrialization, the railroads, shared language, etc.

Europe was still separated into many tiny markets with small regional makers, isolated enough to resist uniformity. Because of this, other action styles lingered among major European manufacturers until after WWI.

Most other designs lost out because they were inferior. Piano designers were much more willing to take risks and the industry was large enough to support hundreds of makers all trying to distinguish themselves.



Great info. Thx.
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#2199995 - 12/19/13 04:30 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1358
Loc: Reseda, California
Originally Posted By: Almaviva
is the action still evolving as we speak?


In the piano business, people never stop thinking.

To me, the most interesting thing to evolve lately is that so many of the high end makers aren't making actions at all. They're buying them OEM, mostly from Renner.
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#2219072 - 01/22/14 07:27 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Muggsy Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/22/14
Posts: 9
Loc: Paris - London
Hi everyone

I read this very interesting post but haven't found an exact answer for what I am looking for. Sorry if the answer has been given somewhere in the Forum, I did a research which did not bring any interesting results...

I'm doing a research and now am interested in the action that is implemented in today's grand pianos.
The latter is apparently (correct me if it gets wrong) based on the Erard-Herz action, which was based on Backer/Stodart/Broadwood's "English" action (itself coming from Silbermann's, coming from Christofori & Schröter's, coming from, well... their minds).

Now diverse questions:
Q1- Is Steinway's "accelerated" action (1936) commonplace nowadays?
Q2- I have read (cant find where anymore) that Bösendorfer and some European makers (who?) use a specific action made by Renner (influenced by the Viennese one), some other makes like Steinway just using Renner's factories to manufacture their own actions. How true is this sentence?
Q3- Are there main makers' actions that are not based on the Erard-Herz system?
Q4- This leads me to THE question: are there specific actions chosen by different makes? If yes which ones?

Thanks a lot for any help you could give, and for this apparently gold mine-like forum (haven't had the time to browse the rest of the website yet)!
Muggsy
smile smile smile smile smile

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#2219110 - 01/22/14 08:25 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: JohnSprung]
phantomFive Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1381
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

To me, the most interesting thing to evolve lately is that so many of the high end makers aren't making actions at all. They're buying them OEM, mostly from Renner.

How long have they been buying from Renner? That is fascinating to me, as well.
_________________________
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#2220132 - 01/24/14 03:13 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: phantomFive]
SMHaley Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 612
Loc: Seattle
Originally Posted By: phantomFive
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

To me, the most interesting thing to evolve lately is that so many of the high end makers aren't making actions at all. They're buying them OEM, mostly from Renner.

How long have they been buying from Renner? That is fascinating to me, as well.


Many years. Why increase expense and overhead when it can subbed out with good quality and for a lesser price? With the right client Renner will custom produce parts to order.
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#2220360 - 01/25/14 03:45 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
hoola Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/07/08
Posts: 171
Loc: LA, USA
I hear a lot of compliments about Shigeru Kawai action.
I'm not sure how many percents are true, how many percents are from marketing tricks. but my close friend who owns a 227 cm Shigeru and played a lot of Bosie when he studied in Austria is very sincere with his happiness when playing his Shigeru, he said that he feels Shigeru is the extension of his body and produces what he wants, he fully controls the action.
What makes Shigeru action special and different?
is it material (carbon base)? Or enhancements to existing action? If yes, then Shigeru action are based on what original action (Steinway? Bosie? Etc...) , knowing that Kawai makes Boston piano for Steinway so maybe Shigeru action is inspired , or taking root from Steinway?

Experts, forget about the voice of each brand, can we rate the action of each piano brand based on criteria such as : sensibility, lightness etc...

Thanks


Edited by hoola (01/25/14 03:47 AM)

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#2220521 - 01/25/14 11:19 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: hoola]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2048
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
If you are seeking a "standard" to measure the feel of a piano action-I would like to point out that this is not a simple task.

The inertia of an action and the dynamic output of the hammers are inextricably linked. You can measure the inertia with accelerometers but defining the sound output in musically significant parameters is not easy.

I will state that the pianos that have proven to have the broadest acceptance as performing instruments have lower inertia than those less accepted.

The standard measuring of touch by seeing how many grams it takes to start a key in the down direction and how many the key will lift after being held down will not reveal much about how the action feels when playing. It will tell you how much friction is involved and it can be used to even the feel some across the compass.

You can derive some comparative information regarding the inertia in one action compared to another by comparing how many front leads are in the keys and how far the hammer moves in ratio with the key-dip.

Very similar looking actions can have significant leverage differences that need close measurement of all the individual levers to be revealed. And the hammers can be made from denser material that will significantly affect how the feel and tone interact.
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#2220649 - 01/25/14 04:12 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
M_albert Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/28/13
Posts: 46
Wow, excellent discussion.
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#2220659 - 01/25/14 04:31 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
phantomFive Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1381
Loc: California
Has anyone ever made a chart or study about comparative inertia in various piano actions?
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#2220809 - 01/25/14 11:16 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Yes. Inertia has been looked at.
David Stanwood has studied action inertia starting more than 20 years ago, and has complied a great deal of data.

Darrell Fandrich and John Rhodes also looked at and calculated inertia in many pianos, to find out what exactly creates TTDF (touch to die for, in Darrell's words).

There are others who have also worked in this field.

Many of the results have been published in the Piano Technicians Journal, some of it in the past six months.
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#2223213 - 01/30/14 02:57 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Muggsy]
Muggsy Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/22/14
Posts: 9
Loc: Paris - London
Hi again
Does anyone have an answer to my interrogation mentioned above?
Originally Posted By: Muggsy
Q1- Is Steinway's "accelerated" action (1936) commonplace nowadays?
Q2- I have read (cant find where anymore) that Bösendorfer and some European makers (who?) use a specific action made by Renner (influenced by the Viennese one), some other makes like Steinway just using Renner's factories to manufacture their own actions. How true is this sentence?
Q3- Are there main makers' actions that are not based on the Erard-Herz system?
Q4- This leads me to THE question: are there specific actions chosen by different makes? If yes which ones?
Thanks a lot in advance !!!
smile smile smile smile

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#2223232 - 01/30/14 03:54 PM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Muggsy]
wimpiano Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/13
Posts: 1249
Loc: The Netherlands
As to Q1. No, Steinway even doesn't do that in their Hamburg piano's as far as I've been able to find out.
Q2 Renner manufactures different designs for different piano builders. So for instance Bösendorfer has their own design manufactured by Renner. Don't know whether they are Viennese influenced. Bösendorfer says English which is definitely not Viennese..
@Q3 There used to be. Bluthner for instance. Don't know whether there are current action designs fundamentally different from the Erard-Herz system in use. Don't think so though.
Q4 Yes, see Q2.
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#2223405 - 01/31/14 12:00 AM Re: Questions about grand piano actions. [Re: Almaviva]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
It should be clarified that the "different designs" of Renner actions that have been mentioned vary only to very small degrees, so much so that they are not really different designs at all. They are simply the same components (shanks, wippens) with very slightly different dimensions. The differences would be indiscernible for the layperson, and even an expert has to measure carefully to see the differences.

On the vertical action front, for example, Renner produces only two different wippens - one for larger pianos and one for shorter pianos. Both styles are available with different sized wippen heels to fit different pianos.
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