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#2320908 - 08/28/14 12:31 AM What makes a piano sound honky-tonk?
harpon Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/04/14
Posts: 12
And is there a way to diminish it?

Is it just an intrinsic trait, or do the hammers get hard, or something?

Started to wonder that after looking an old Wurlitzer- looked great and a nice price-

but I hated the sound immediately- very honky-tonk.

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#2320911 - 08/28/14 12:41 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7426
Loc: Rochester MN
Hi Harpon - Welcome to Piano World!

It's one of those sounds which everyone hears, but is hard to define.

Hard hammers are certainly one of the causes, but we also tend to equate "honky-tonk" with being out of tune.

Please be careful when shopping for used pianos. To fix the problems and make the piano sound acceptable to you usually costs more than the piano is worth. You'd be better off finding something you like from the start and work from there. It just takes a little extra time to play an assortment of pianos.

Have fun!
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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

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#2320925 - 08/28/14 01:36 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18018
Loc: Victoria, BC
Harpon :

As MM indicated, it's more likely the honky-tonk results from the piano being out of tune than anything else. If someone is trying to sell a piano and it is not in tune, ask the seller to have it tuned. If s/he refuses to do so, immediately cross it off your list and go look for another piano!

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190

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#2320941 - 08/28/14 03:01 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
harpon Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/04/14
Posts: 12
Well this piano didn't sound terribly out of tune- it was about a half-step off but in tune with itself-

still there was something about the sound- It's been a month now=

my first impression was that the hammers were insensitive somehow- and I was hearing too much attack I think- it just wasn't a warm sound somehow-

I started wondering if there was some way to soften the hammers-
maybe just a gentle cleaning to get years of grit off the surface

I also wondered if it was just the angle they were engineered with-
It would be interesting to be able to compare the sound when it was new to how it is now



Edited by harpon (08/28/14 03:02 AM)

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#2320942 - 08/28/14 03:02 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1361
Loc: Reseda, California
If the price is low enough and everything else looks good, you might still go ahead with the deal. But pay your own tuner/technician to check it over first. Since it's out of tune, that should definitely include torque testing the pins to see if it's not tuned because it won't hold. If that's the case, free is too expensive.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2320945 - 08/28/14 03:07 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: JohnSprung]
harpon Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/04/14
Posts: 12
No I didn't go through with the deal- and won't. The sound was an instant turn-off-

and I was kinda anticipating having another piano after several years now without- surprised myself walking away- but really did not like the sound

It got me thinking maybe a digital is just the way to go-
I hate to turn them on- but at least they're always in tune and more portable-

I worry slightly a piano might not agree with the floor and or foundation of my old house.


Edited by harpon (08/28/14 03:08 AM)

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#2320949 - 08/28/14 03:20 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
PhilipInChina Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/19/13
Posts: 852
Loc: China
My playing gets a honky tonk sound every time!

Play a few more acoustics before you consider the "D" word.
_________________________
Currently working towards "Twinkle twinkle little star"

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#2320981 - 08/28/14 05:58 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
bennevis Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5115
My (high-end) digital has a 'Honky-Tonk' setting among its thirty factory presets (all of them piano sounds).

As the tuning can be altered globally as well as for individual strings, I can easily 're-tune' it to sound less honky-tonk grin. When I completely 'tune' it, it still doesn't sound like a modern piano, because it is somewhat lacking in the low bass and extreme highs, and the sound is a little mellow & 'shallow' - like an upright c 1950.

So, true 'honky-tonk', it seems to me, isn't just detuned strings but is also an old-world upright tonal character. BTW, Cinnamonbear's piano recordings on his old Lester spinet (which you can hear in the Members' Recordings in Pianist Corner) have a honky-tonk character though his piano is (mostly) in tune.
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2320999 - 08/28/14 07:36 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Rickster Online   content


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8532
Loc: Georgia, USA
I agree that the "Honky-Tonk" sound has mostly to do with the tuning... it is basically an out of tune piano. Really hard hammers help too, I suppose. I've read that some "Honky-Tonk" piano lovers put thumb-tacks in the strike-point of the hammers to help achieve that sound, but that's a little extreme in my view...

One of my YouTube music videos of me playing one of my old "Honky-Tonk" pianos has garnered over 680,000 views; so, I guess some people like the sound... or do they just like me, period? smile

Rick
_________________________
Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel

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#2321059 - 08/28/14 10:41 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Rich Galassini Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 9222
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
You are all wrong. A "Honky Tonk" is a dive bar where the food is served cold and the beer is served warm.

The "Honky Tonk" sound happens when you try to play a piano that has been hanging out in one of these bars until very late the night before.

The best cure is a stern lecture on the responsibilities that the piano has ignored by behaving that way... that and a fine tuning. smile
_________________________
Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
Dir. Line (215) 991-0834
rich@cunninghampiano.com
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#2321064 - 08/28/14 10:45 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
toyboy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/11/08
Posts: 334
Loc: Vermont
It's my understanding that back in the day, thumb tacks were put in all the hammers to give it that effect. So you might check to see if there are any in the Wurlitzer. wink

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#2321068 - 08/28/14 10:56 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: toyboy]
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18018
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: toyboy
It's my understanding that back in the day, thumb tacks were put in all the hammers to give it that effect. So you might check to see if there are any in the Wurlitzer. wink


Isn't that just a bit "tacky"?

Cheers!
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190

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#2321085 - 08/28/14 11:40 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7426
Loc: Rochester MN
Does a Honky Tonk piano usually have residual bullet holes?

(Miss Kitty, git me a double and one for the pianer player)
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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

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#2321092 - 08/28/14 11:53 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: Minnesota Marty]
bennevis Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5115
Aaron Copland specified a honky-tonk with bullet holes (preferably from a sub-machine gun) for the piano solo in his ballet Rodeo (Ranch House Party).

Do cowboys use machine-guns?
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2321096 - 08/28/14 11:58 AM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7426
Loc: Rochester MN
I believe that Wyatt Earp's street gang, the Tombstoners, does.

(Miz Kritty, s'anotha round)
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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

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#2321138 - 08/28/14 01:48 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: Minnesota Marty]
88 Fingers Jeff Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/21/14
Posts: 42
Loc: Peoria, IL
I believe that the intentional honky tonk effect is usually obtained by detuning unisons to some pre-determined number of beats.

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#2321143 - 08/28/14 01:56 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Corvus Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/28/13
Posts: 40
My dad played piano at Shakey's Pizza Parlour and a number of other establishments in the 1960s. He used to talk about people shellacking the hammers of a piano to get a honky-tonk effect.

In the early 1980s, I recal playing an upright at a friend's house that had a lever that would lower a strip of leather or vinyl in front of the strings, with metal rivets or tacks at the point where the hammers would hit, resulting in a twanging honky-tonk sound. I had not thought of that piano for thirty years, until this thread reminded me of it. Now with a little help from google, I see that this device is called a mandolin rail:

http://www.perfessorbill.com/help/help.htm
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tack_piano

I agree that the vast majority of honky-tonk sounding pianos are simply out of tune (and many of them, after decades of neglect, are not really capable of holding a good tuning anymore). However, it may be that this piano you tried had the hammers lacquered to deliberately give it a honky-tonk sound.

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#2321150 - 08/28/14 02:10 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: bennevis]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1361
Loc: Reseda, California
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Do cowboys use machine-guns?


No. The first practical hand held machine gun was the Thompson in 1927, decades too late.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2321230 - 08/28/14 06:16 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
harpon Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/04/14
Posts: 12
Well maybe the next obvious question is:

Is there any to soften hammers- maybe older hammers that have gotten hard through the years?


I've done wonders with glass cleaner- maybe small amounts on a rag, or soak the whole hammer head and physically knead the surface- and then let it dry-

If hammers have hardened there ought to be some way to soften them.....

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#2321297 - 08/28/14 09:40 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7426
Loc: Rochester MN
Harpon,

The way to "soften" hammers is by a process known as voicing. This is a very skilled process and isn't usually attempted by piano owners. Sometimes, hammers are just too far gone for resuscitation.

You are better off finding a piano in better condition from the start rather than trying to employ Heloise's Helpful Hints. Pianos can easily become money pits if the original purchase was unwise.
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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

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#2321332 - 08/28/14 11:25 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Dave B Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/11
Posts: 1969
Loc: Philadelphia area
True honky-tonk comes from hammers worn through to the moldings. To add even more flavor and to greatly prolong the life of the hammers, thumb tacks were inserted at the strike point.

Now, for the first time, the old guys who had been sitting way back at the bar for the last ten years realized there was a piano, and then the real party started.

So when people like Marty come along talking about "softening" hammers, make sure you've got fresh batteries for your hearing aids.


Enjoy

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#2321338 - 08/28/14 11:41 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7426
Loc: Rochester MN
I'm only going on what I was given!

I use X-tra Strength Downy Soft to give voice to my hammered-ness.

(s'mms Ketee, gimme unutha pink drenk. donn ferget that panner pla.. (hic))
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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

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#2321875 - 08/30/14 12:28 PM Re: What makes a piano sound honky-tonk? [Re: harpon]
BGJ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 163
Loc: Texas
While in college in central Kentucky in the 70's I played an old upright that had the bar with leather straps and metal brads (Corvus above said it is called a mandolin rail) that would come down and give it a real twang. The best part was when we moved it in the back of a pickup truck through several small towns on a fine Saturday and I played it down several small town main streets. The locals looked at us like we were crazy, that was a hoot!

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