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#2307188 - 07/25/14 09:49 PM What makes crisp clear tone?
miltonx Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/01/14
Posts: 9
This question may be too far a stretch into the pro department. Just curious, what makes a piano sound more crisp clear, which might be described as higher "definition of individual notes" during play? Such as the case with entry to mid grade yamahas compared with other brands at similar price ranges. Is it the hammer material, attack point, wood quality, action design…? And is it possible to regulate a more mushy sounding piano to sound more brisk?

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#2307211 - 07/25/14 11:40 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
kennyz Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/27/13
Posts: 7
Loc: N.E Pennsylvania
There are lots of factors that come into play. I don't think brand comes into play per say. A bad tuning job can rob the clarity from any piano, if you don't have clear unisons you'll never have good clean sound. Other factors can come from hammer voicing , false beats, old strings, soundboard or down bearing issues, the list goes on.

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#2307383 - 07/26/14 02:08 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
SMHaley Offline
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Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 524
Loc: Seattle
Such a broad question only returns a broad answer... Everything comes in to play. There is an axiom however. Hard hammers will not make a Steinway a Yamaha. Conversely the opposite is also true.
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#2307438 - 07/26/14 05:28 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
Olek Online   content
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Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: miltonx
This question may be too far a stretch into the pro department. Just curious, what makes a piano sound more crisp clear, which might be described as higher "definition of individual notes" during play? Such as the case with entry to mid grade yamahas compared with other brands at similar price ranges. Is it the hammer material, attack point, wood quality, action design…? And is it possible to regulate a mo, re mushy sounding piano to sound more brisk?


Their history with piano making plus most equipment produced locally. A piano is a complete figure, when we reduce it to an assembly, even with concepts driving each section, there is yet much overlap and the result can be all but coherent as advantage on one side can be the opposite for another process going at the same time.
.

The Chinese factory unerstood that well by paying European or mostly German techs to train and help production.
Making exchanges, so some knowledge can be passed to the workers.
Whithout it, the results cannot be excellent.

There is also a simple answer which is "voicing" including hammer hardening, raising the resiliency to have more partials.
all voicing operations are one to extract the most of the tone body available. if not enough, tricks are used to get some artificially.

Good hammer felts are important, allowing a good tonal range up to saturation, a large dynamic plague ..But only what exists yet can be used, a carboard style soundboard will not gie a nice ethereal tone, even if top voicers can create an acceptable tone.

Touch (regulation and action quality), impacts for 50% what you hear


Edited by Olek (07/26/14 05:36 PM)
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#2308136 - 07/28/14 12:36 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Originally Posted By: miltonx
is it possible to regulate a more mushy sounding piano to sound more brisk?
Yes, it is possible; it may require a tremendous amount of time/work, but it is possible.

If you were to take a mid-grade piano of decent size, and put c.+100 hours in to the preparation, the results are usually outstanding. Many pianist dismiss Yamaha as a quality piano, even though that is the piano they own: "it's OK, but it's not an S&S." Those statements drive me cray: I think it's sad. If people would put the same amount of time prepping a Yamaha as they do S&S, they would be blown away by the side-by-side comparison.

Getting a great/crisp/clear tone starts with regulation. I start from the beginning: ensuring that the hammers and whippens are all traveling straight and at a perfect 90 degree angle to the rails, and also make sure the action geometry is optimal for "whatever" is there (i.e., this may require bolstering the knuckles/whippen heels to get everything to line-up correctly and consistently). The changes are seemingly small, but the make a HUGE difference in the clarity of touch, which is directly related to our sense of sound.

The other important thing that I do is ensure, in as much as is physically possible, is to have the hammers centred above the shank (i.e., no/little hammer tilt in the tenor bass). This produces much more tonal clarity and power in these registers.

Reduced hammer weight, and larger strike points are extremely important for bold/fundamental attacks that produces excellent definition in tone.

Hammer-to-string fitting (i.e., ensure the strings contact the hammer in the same moment) helps with tonal power/presence, and the elimination of a hollow/sizzle sound.

And, finally, the skill of the tuner makes a HUGE difference. Different styles of unisons and other note alignments determine wether the note will "pop" or not.
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#2308152 - 07/28/14 01:04 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
Olek Online   content
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Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
That sound more and more strange

How can you center the hammers above the shanks when their CG in vertical mode asks for at last 1° tilt, and the rotation creates a lateral displacement of 2-3 mm ?

An instrument can only give what he have. crispness is highly dependent on the amount of stress contained in the soundboard as this allow it to answer very fast to any solicitation, but also raise the tone deepness ratio.

Pianists advice is that the dynamics allowed before the tone deepness disappears (saturation reserve) is what qualify a piano to play some romantic repertoire, for instance. The most obtuse of them will state that Yamahas can be good to play up to Mozart repertoire wink





Edited by Olek (07/29/14 12:34 PM)
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#2308384 - 07/29/14 05:31 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
miltonx Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/01/14
Posts: 9


I may not have made my question clear.

By crisp clear, I'm talking about the character rather than quality of tone. Some high quality pianos have a warmer, fatter tone, which can be as beautiful as, if not more beatiful than a crisp clear tone. Of course that also depends on what music you play and/or like.

So let's put this way: I'm more curious about the envelope of sound and the design/regulation rationales behind them.

I drew a rough diagram of the envelope for each type of sound.

A has a quick attack, and its sustain has a lower volume relative to attack.
B has a slower attack, and its sustain shows a less reduction in volume.

Assuming they both have good sustain, are equally well made & regulated, both pianos can sound beautiful, but do sound different. Any piano may sound more like A or more like B, without a hard and fast rule on which is better, I guess.

My impression is that entry to mid grade yamahas are more on the A side compared with other brands. However I may be wrong as I have not done any serious comparison testing. Whether that impression is true, the question is what are the design/regulation tricks that make an A type sound?


Edited by miltonx (07/29/14 05:45 AM)

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#2308429 - 07/29/14 09:35 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
...so A is what you call "crisp" sound?

In piano design/prep, there are 4 parts to the sound envelope: attack, hold, decay, and sustain. Yamaha typically strives for a long hold, which results in a quicker decay down to the sustain. This can be altered with voicing (i.e., needles and sandpaper).

Hammer weight and shape has a lot to do with the profile of the sound envelope. The majority of the influence is here. The other main factor is the design of the soundboard/rim. Lighter soundboards/rims are much better at louder attacks, but then suffer with "body" in the decay; heavier soundboards/rims are great at decays, but worse with louder attacks.

If you are asking about a tone with more attack and less thickness in body, lighter hammers with flatter strike points will do that (i.e., file the hammers).
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#2308440 - 07/29/14 10:19 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Tuning, BTW, makes a difference too: a DOA (dead on attack) has less body to the tone but a much crisper attack, whereas a Viennese unison has more depth, colour, and body with a "rounder" attack.
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#2308492 - 07/29/14 12:07 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
WilliamTruitt Online   content
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Registered: 07/12/14
Posts: 36
Loc: New Hampshire
A443, I have not heard the term "hold" when describing the sound envelope. Could you please define hold, as well as the 3 other components.

When you say lighter hammers with "flatter" strike points, surely you don't mean that the hammer surface is flattened in the direction of the wire, do you?

Will
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#2308514 - 07/29/14 01:24 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: WilliamTruitt]
A443 Offline
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Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
AHDSR (attack, hold, decay, sustain, release) is often discussed in the synthesiser world. In the piano world, we deal with the AHDS primarily in the condition of the hammer [and the design of the board/rim], and the R as the condition of the dampers--the release is all about damper timings and how smoochy the felts are.



LOL: yes, whistle, I do mean to file the hammers flat!!!I know that it seemingly flies in the face of all logic, but that logic ONLY applies to overweight hammers.

The lighter the hammer, the flatter you can go. This is great news, because a flatter hammer will give you more fundamental sounds (i.e., more body vs. a thinner tone) and produce more attack. Just try it sometime on a hold hammer. Cut away all the bottom felt, so the hammer is lean and mean, and then go to town crafting a big fat tone that will smack you in the face with attack. Then maybe back down on the aggression a bit. <---but first, you need to find the limits!!!

HINT to piano manufactures: if you insist on making small grand pianos, and you also want them to have a decent/tolerable bass sound, you need to start off by using lighter/flatter hammers (i.e., and also making some scale adjustments). The larger surface area prevents the excessive smaller out-of-tune partial distribution while keeping the energy in the larger pulses/waves. It's not rocket science, but it is science, and it can do tremendous things when applied properly.
tiki
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#2308529 - 07/29/14 02:06 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
WilliamTruitt Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 07/12/14
Posts: 36
Loc: New Hampshire
With respect to your graphic, you still have not offered me a definition of hold or the other terms as you would refer to them - you have only given me their order. Define your terms and then I can clearly understand what you are saying.

And now for a loaded question - if you have a customer whom you know to play with a heavy hand, hour after hour, would you still file your flat profile onto the top of the hammer?

I have other issues with a flattened top surface of a hammer, but I will hold them for now.

Will
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#2308552 - 07/29/14 02:55 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Attack: the manner in with the sound is initiated. In the piano, this is controlled by the outer surface of the hammer (e.g., a very small layer of soft felt on the top produces a slightly slower/rounder attack; crispy top felt yields a noisier/sharper/sizzle in the attack).

Hold: the amount of time the tone maintains close-to-peak levels, after the attack (i.e., approach), and before the decay (i.e., shape) occurs. Stiffer shoulders yield better hold times and shapes (e.g., Yamaha, S&S, Estonia, etc.). It is also influenced by the design/construction: lighter/thinner/more-flexible soundboards/rims release more energy in the attack, and a stiffer constructions equate to longer/louder hold times.

Decay: the main drop/movement in the tonal body of the piano's sound envelope that occurs after the close-to-peak levels. There is either a more-or-less consistent drop-off, or--as is my preference--a swell-back that is more conducive to melodic playing. Increasing decay is done in shoulder voicing, in increased NSL/pin-tensions, and in unison styles.

NOTE: proper half-pedal regulation allows the pianist to mute/bypass the decay portion and drop to the sustain portion of the sound envelope quickly.

Sustain: the more-or-less constant/straight decay (i.e., shapeless) portion of the sound envelope. This is adjustable with string tension, and soundboard/rim design. It has, as far as I can tell, very little practical use in terms of performance.

Release: the manner in which the tone, at any point in the piano's sound envelope, is brought to a rest by the dampers.
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#2308557 - 07/29/14 03:07 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
Olek Online   content
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Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
"Sustain: the more-or-less constant/straight decay (i.e., shapeless) portion of the sound envelope. This is adjustable with string tension, and soundboard/rim design. It has, as far as I can tell, very little practical use in terms of performance."

String tension is more creating the musical power limit of a given piano. I Dont know its influence on the thin sustain.

All the beginning of the tone up to sustain is much influenced by rim and soundboard, in my opinion. (out of the hammers influence )
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#2308559 - 07/29/14 03:09 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: WilliamTruitt]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Originally Posted By: WilliamTruitt
And now for a loaded question - if you have a customer whom you know to play with a heavy hand, hour after hour, would you still file your flat profile onto the top of the hammer?
Absolutely I would, without any hesitation or reservations.

Piano technicians need to understand that mass is what breaks strings, not specifically the surface area. Anytime there is a pianists that is breaking strings, the first thing that should be done is to reduce the weight of the hammers in the melodic section. <---since that is typical where it is happening! Pianists are trying to pull out a melody with overweight hammers, and when those hammers start to flatten out with repeat abuse, the strings break. More importantly, the overweighted hammers deform the piano wire at the point of contact, causing, among other issues, MORE falseness in the tone over time in the life of the string.

None of that will happen when the hammers are the correct weight for the original intended design of the grand piano. I'm not saying anything that is new/novel; this is simply how things were before the piano industry forgot about how the system works.
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#2308570 - 07/29/14 03:27 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: A443]
SMHaley Offline
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Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 524
Loc: Seattle
Originally Posted By: A443
Many pianist dismiss Yamaha as a quality piano, even though that is the piano they own: "it's OK, but it's not an S&S." Those statements drive me cray: I think it's sad. If people would put the same amount of time prepping a Yamaha as they do S&S, they would be blown away by the side-by-side comparison.


Am I beginning to sense a bias here? I remember noting a favoritism towards... what was it... a Japanese chisel or some such thing?
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#2308573 - 07/29/14 03:35 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
BDB Online   content
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There are an awful lot of Steinway pianos out there that have never been prepped as well as Yamahas are coming out of the factory. Yamahas and Steinways are different, and while I would not necessarily recommend one over the other against the tastes of the person choosing the piano, I believe that there will always be differences no matter how they are prepped.

Back to the original question, I believe that clarity of the tone comes from the surface of the hammer. The cleaner the hammer comes off the string, the clearer the tone is. However, if the hammer comes off the string too fast, there is more of a tendency for the string to excite in a higher mode, resulting in a tinny sound.
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#2308579 - 07/29/14 03:41 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: SMHaley]
A443 Offline
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Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Originally Posted By: SMHaley
Am I beginning to sense a bias here? I remember noting a favoritism towards... what was it... a Japanese chisel or some such thing?
No, that is not a bias, that is the expression of my experience. Yamaha pianos, for example, can last 2-3 times as long in an institutional setting before requiring a rebuild, compared to S&Ss--when properly maintained (i.e., which also takes comparatively less time to do).

I don't remember writing about chisels on PW, but I do have many thousands of dollars invested in a few Japanese chisels, hand planes, and whetstones. Japanese have been refining blades/edges for a very long time--there is a very long and well refined tradition that is still alive.
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#2308607 - 07/29/14 04:49 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
BTW, I don't particularly like the YAMAHA tone, which I find tonally impersonal/translucent. I hate the dampers and under lever system used mad , and am no fan of the plate sound in the capo section (i.e., in the 'conservatory' and under series in the past) which can quickly produce a tinny capo sound/noise.

None of that, however, distracts from the fact that those pianos hold up extremely well under sustained abuse in an institutional setting. And, if a technician puts a lot of work into prepping them, as one would do for a S&S, amazing performance results happen. Fact, not bias! whome yippie
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#2308610 - 07/29/14 04:55 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
WilliamTruitt Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 07/12/14
Posts: 36
Loc: New Hampshire
A443, let me put a few things together here, and please correct my understanding of what you are doing if it is not accurate.

You modify piano hammers to make them very light by removing a considerable amount of felt from the shoulders (I believe you narrow the width of the hammer, but leave the sides untapered). You also flatten the surface of the hammer by cutting it very carefully with a razor to achieve a broad contacting surface with the string. You dope your hammer with shellac, which "cements" the felt fibers together. Presumably, this makes your shoulder shaping easier, and the hammer surface felt fibers won't lose integrity because they are cemented together by the shellac.

Is this accurate? How large a flat surface do you try to create throughout the scale? (let's use all the C's for reference examples). How strong is the shellac, is it diluted or concentrated?

I do share your admiration for Japanese tool makers and the centuries old traditions that go with it. It is a beautiful, very Japanese aesthetic. (I also love Japanese cinema, particularly from the 1950's, when directors like Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, and Kobayashi made many of their greatest films)

Will
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#2308624 - 07/29/14 05:18 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: A443]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: A443
Originally Posted By: SMHaley
Am I beginning to sense a bias here? I remember noting a favoritism towards... what was it... a Japanese chisel or some such thing?
No, that is not a bias, that is the expression of my experience. Yamaha pianos, for example, can last 2-3 times as long in an institutional setting before requiring a rebuild, compared to S&Ss--when properly maintained (i.e., which also takes comparatively less time to do).

I don't remember writing about chisels on PW, but I do have many thousands of dollars invested in a few Japanese chisels, hand planes, and whetstones. Japanese have been refining blades/edges for a very long time--there is a very long and well refined tradition that is still alive.


Hi I like the look of those chisels and many tools they do are excellent
BUT, not intended for our hard woods, the ones we work on in Europe.
A friend use only Japanese chisels (harpsichord building, older pianos an forte work)

his chisels are extremely small today, they needed to be sharpened again and again, the blades do not accept European hard woods .

So I kept the saws, and plan to have only a few chisels for some soft wood work only.

We make good chisels for wood carving here, if necessary.
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#2308644 - 07/29/14 05:51 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
WilliamTruitt Online   content
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Registered: 07/12/14
Posts: 36
Loc: New Hampshire
To the contrary,Isaac, Japanese chisels can be used to work with hardwood (including beech) and quite successfully. All of my bridge notching chisels are made of laminated steel. Not as nice as A443's, but still very serviceable. I can cut a notch in a bridge and it will leave a burnished surface, the cut is so clean. That, of course, requires that you keep your chisels deadly sharp.

Will
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#2308659 - 07/29/14 06:24 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
Olek Online   content
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Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
I just relate what 2 colleagues told me , their experience with the wood species they work with, Too much sharpening, the tools wear too fast in the end.

Both builders, Forte copies , harpsichords. not occasional use.

Nobody said they did not cut wonderfully, but they are expensive then.

What is the advantage of those sort of laminated steel (2 softer steels layers around the small hardened part in the middle : ease of sharpening ?

Those solution may have been retained because there is little iron mine in Japan, it is precious .
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#2308677 - 07/29/14 06:58 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: WilliamTruitt]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Originally Posted By: WilliamTruitt
A443, let me put a few things together here, and please correct my understanding of what you are doing if it is not accurate.

You modify piano hammers to make them very light by removing a considerable amount of felt from the shoulders (I believe you narrow the width of the hammer, but leave the sides untapered). You also flatten the surface of the hammer by cutting it very carefully with a razor to achieve a broad contacting surface with the string. You dope your hammer with shellac, which "cements" the felt fibers together. Presumably, this makes your shoulder shaping easier, and the hammer surface felt fibers won't lose integrity because they are cemented together by the shellac.

Is this accurate? How large a flat surface do you try to create throughout the scale? (let's use all the C's for reference examples). How strong is the shellac, is it diluted or concentrated?
Very, very close. thumb I'll start a new topic and expand on that a bit later tonight/tomorrow.
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#2308698 - 07/29/14 07:49 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: A443]
SMHaley Offline
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Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 524
Loc: Seattle
Originally Posted By: A443
Yamaha pianos, for example, can last 2-3 times as long in an institutional setting before requiring a rebuild, compared to S&Ss--when properly maintained.


I'm told the secret is in the resorcinol glue.
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#2308742 - 07/29/14 10:22 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: Olek]
WilliamTruitt Online   content
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Registered: 07/12/14
Posts: 36
Loc: New Hampshire
Gosh, Isaac. The durability of the edge has never been an issue with me using Japanese chisels. My experience is that they hold their edge longer, no matter what the material. If one sharpens often to hold a very keen edge, most of the sharpening will be in the higher grits of water stones. Because you don't let the edge get very dull, you are taking very little off at each sharpening, so they should have a long life. Some people use a microbevel to establish the final edge, which would wear the chisel even less. Mostly I am chiseling maple, but have used them on a variety of hardwoods, along with softwoods.

Which hardwoods are they used on?

My chisels have two lamina, a thick top lamination of a much softer and flexible steel as the main body, and a relatively thin bottom lamination made of very hard (and brittle)steel of something like 64 to 67 on the Rockwell C scale.

It is a mystery to me why Japanese chisels would perform poorly in a hardwood. Perhaps A443 can throw in his two cents on that.

Will
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#2308754 - 07/29/14 10:38 PM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
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Laminated steel was used on the best American and European chisel and plane blades at one time, because the mild steel takes the shock and the hard steel holds the edge.
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#2308820 - Yesterday at 05:22 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
Olek Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 7251
Loc: France
oak, beech, maple, for the hard species , may be the grain is tighter . Anyway that is the report I had - second hand there, sorry..
Very good taste on Japanese movies Will wink

The woods used in Japan have larger grain, and are easier to glue, while being lighter, they may create assemblies adapted to their climate hence the longevity .
But the way the tone loose length after 40 years or less is not something that can be repaired.
_________________________
Isaac OLEG - http://picasaweb.google.fr/PianoOleg pro

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#2309222 - Today at 07:23 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
miltonx Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/01/14
Posts: 9
A443, that's a lot of knowledge! Amazing pro stuff! I neglected the hold part considering it very transient and insignificant for piano tone. Your advice about flattening the hammer shows it does matter. I will tinker and see the effect.

BTW, as pros, do you or your customers mostly prefer a louder or quieter sustain? (assuming the attack hold decay is set)

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#2309258 - Today at 09:16 AM Re: What makes crisp clear tone? [Re: miltonx]
A443 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 896
Loc: Vienna-Houston-Tokyo
Miltonx, I don't particularly enjoy a piano voicing set-up that aims for long holds. To me, that sounds a bit boring (i.e., musically): it is a straight sound, that then falls off quickly. I prefer a swell-back in the decay portion of the sound, as it seems to help the performer with the connection of melodic lines.

The sustain is the tail portion at the very end, and there is very little I can do to affect change, except through a design change. However, I do like the Bösendorfer 290 and the extra bass notes, as when the setup is done correctly, the extra resonance adds some additional colour/wetness to the sustain. However, that is a bit more like reverb control--still cool, nonetheless.
_________________________
Klavierbaukünstler

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