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#908913 - 03/25/04 07:36 AM Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Would someone care to share some trade secrets when it comes to preparing a Steinway for the C&A program? How do you get a piano to have that concert sound to which we have become accustomed ? I have used lacquer in diluitions of 4:1, 5:1, 8:1 and found them to be all too strong. Now I basically use a table spoon in 8 oz of lacquer thinner. After that a series of hammer filings and needling. I've heard say there is no real secret, but I'm sure there is a technique which out performs others. Care to Share? Please? \:\)
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#908914 - 03/25/04 09:26 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
RonTuner Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 1666
Loc: Chicagoland
Ralph,

It may have more to do with "working from the bottom up", than any specific voicing technique.

By that, I mean starting with the bedding, working through the regulation,(careful attention to pinning) seating the strings to straighten out the bends, and careful mating of the hammers to strings. Only then, is the instrument really ready for any work to the hammers.

Ron Koval
_________________________
Piano/instrument technician
www.ronkoval.com
@ronkoval

my piano videos:
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#908915 - 03/25/04 11:25 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5484
ralph,

i spent some time following a steinway concert voicer on his rounds a while back. he emphasized to me that everything he did was top secret, and not to be repeated. not only that, he told me that nobody would tell him anything--nothing!--when he was first learning, not even the top voicers he worked with at steinway. the only good advice he got was to buy his own concert grand and use it as a laboratory.

he owns five of them now, says he's ruined hundreds of sets of hammers, and i can tell you that his voicing methods are quite unique to him alone. he developed his own protocol from trial and error, and no doubt he would advise you to do the same.

so, i'll be surprised if you get a lot of help here from steinway voicers, but i'll be very interested to see what people say!

i will concur though that you must fine-tune the regulation to as perfect as you can get it before you even think about fooling with the hammers.

and the one secret from this voicer i can pass along with some confidence-- 90 percent of a great concert voicing is a great concert tuning. and learning how to do a great concert tuning isn't easy, either.

good luck!
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piqué

now in paperback:


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#908916 - 03/25/04 01:37 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Pique and RonTuner,

You are both so right! I've found nothing but resistance and reluctance when it comes specifically to finding out how a concert Steinway is prepped and voiced. I've gone through a few sets of hammers myself trying to discover the key to this secret club of concert Steinway voicing. That's quite different than someone who knows how to voice well. I believe there is a way the top Steinway techs, ala Franz Moher, prepare their pianos. No one associated with Steinway, and mean one one will even give me a hint. The tech that preps the pianos for Curtis music recitals won't tell me even though I've seen him many times and am a Curtis benefactor. For example, I'll ask if he uses lacquer or keytop. He answers by saying well, some people like one over the other. Thanks, big help. I have seen a lot of reference to string leveling and regulation in the PTG archives, but nothing yet from a Steinway employed tech. I'm convinced Steinway teaches only a few people their style of prep work and the old timers aren't giving it up.
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#908917 - 03/25/04 02:58 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Chris Aher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/31/01
Posts: 299
Loc: Brookfield CT
I worked in the C&A dept in NYC for awhile about 30 years ago with Franz M. as my supervisor. You have been given the "secrets" already by Ron and Pique. There is no magic secret formula that I am aware of. I have absolutely no skin in this game, I've been out of the business for more than 20 years.

Secrets:
1. Careful action regulation from the ground up. Take the time to do it right and don't take shortcuts. Ron's comments are right on the money.

2. Top quality concert tuning. (excellent observation, Pique) This is an art form (not a science) in and of itself. Back then the stroboconn wasn't up to the task. Today's ELTs very well may be, but the unisons need to be just so. Sadly, I can no longer tune at the concert level. One of the reasons that I left the trade is that my hearing deterioriated (I was in my early thirties at the time)to the point that my speed and accuracy suffered to what I considered to be an unacceptable level.

3. Be prepared to ruin a few sets of hammers. It takes lots of practice and experience to understand what each individual set of hammers has to offer and what it takes to bring out the best in them. For instance IIRC Franz M used lacquer and the best voicer he ever trained used dissolved keytops. The reality is that either works well in the right hands (and ears).

Another factor is raw talent. Some people have naturally more discriminating ears for voicing than others. Training, practice and experience will (ideally) develop your skills to the best that your ears are capable of. I was a good voicer but Franz and Ed were great. It also helps if you can work on the same pianos day after day.
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regards,
Chris

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#908918 - 03/25/04 04:31 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
JohnC Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/10/02
Posts: 1672
Loc: Lower Left Coast
Everything said here has nothing to do relative to Steinway and everything to do with being a top notch tech who can get the best out of any piano.

I own a Steinway and even I don't believe that BS that they have some secret formula.
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#908919 - 03/25/04 06:54 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5484
they don't have a secret formula, and they don't teach anybody. each tech finds his own methods. the tech i followed around has a secret chemical formula and a secret protocol, but it's just the one he developed on his own that he doesn't want to share.

when i asked his advice about having someone voice my piano, he said to just let them use the tools and methods they developed on their own. they might use things he never would, but it doesn't matter.

this is a self-taught process.

you'll need to spend 20 years first learning how to tune unisons to that level of refinement, anyway.

unless you are making voicing your profession, this could be more of an investment of time and effort than is worth it for just your own piano.

why not hire a steinway voicer to do the job for you? it'll probably be cheaper in the long run.

just bear in mind that concert voicings don't last very long unless you don't play the piano....
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now in paperback:


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#908920 - 03/25/04 07:27 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
I can say I agree with everything stated above, but will add I think Steinway has a proven way of voicing they share amoung themselves at keep it at that. There are some excellent threads in the PTG archives about string leveling and how that affects the tone. Some very good comments about how the bend in the wire, even under tuned tension (about 160lbs!), will change how that wire vibrates. It's virtually impossible to have all three unisons vibrating the same way so that they decay along the same frequencies. The result of poorly matched unisons are annoying buzzing and ringing sounds. Obviously the harder the hammer gets, the more one will hear these affects. In todays' growing mentality of using harder hammers out of the box, I can see how it would be hard to voice a piano "the old fashioned way" and get that sound I remember years ago and on classic recordings. In the hands of an expert voicer such as those posted above, the results with a manipulable hammer are fantastic. However, it is hard to come by. Very few can command the sum needed to cover the time neccessary for that kind of voicing. I still swear, there's a secret in there some where. Even if found through trail and error, there must be a common thread in all good voicers. I've played many good pianos, but only a very few with that concert sound.

I have to support Pique and others who emphasize tuning. The unisons need to be just so. An ET can get you very close, but you may have to put one of the unisons out of tune visually so that it does not interfere with the sustain and decay of the other unisons. I tune my own piano and do so about once a week. You can't voice an out of tune piano nor can you expect to get a good tone without a good tune.
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#908921 - 03/25/04 08:00 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
otherside Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/27/04
Posts: 145
How about using the equal beating victorian temperament http://www.billbremmer.com

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#908922 - 03/25/04 08:30 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Chris,

Sorry, I forgot to thank you personally for sharing your experience. Even though you say there is no secret, I think there is even if the top techs themselves don't think so. They may be unaware of the subtlties they possess.

I know some great sugeons who are just better than others. It doesn't appear as if they do anything differently, but for some reason their results are better. Some people have an innate or inherent ability to do certain things. Most of it can be taught, but the best just know how.
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#908923 - 03/25/04 09:11 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
JohnC Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/10/02
Posts: 1672
Loc: Lower Left Coast
 Quote:
Originally posted by piqu:
they don't have a secret formula, and they don't teach anybody. each tech finds his own methods. the tech i followed around has a secret chemical formula and a secret protocol, but it's just the one he developed on his own that he doesn't want to share.

when i asked his advice about having someone voice my piano, he said to just let them use the tools and methods they developed on their own. they might use things he never would, but it doesn't matter.

this is a self-taught process.

you'll need to spend 20 years first learning how to tune unisons to that level of refinement, anyway.

unless you are making voicing your profession, this could be more of an investment of time and effort than is worth it for just your own piano.

why not hire a steinway voicer to do the job for you? it'll probably be cheaper in the long run.

just bear in mind that concert voicings don't last very long unless you don't play the piano.... [/b]
Exactly.

Sometimes people who take years to perfect their trade prefer not to share. But it is their skill and experience that gets the results, not following a magic formula. Even if they shared their "secrets" the next tech might not be able to achieve the same results because that tech is not as skilled.

Because there are probably more S&S pianos around (relative to other high end brands) a good tech can conceiveably get more Steinway experience than say Bosie experience. As such, some are better at achieving what you want out of an S&S piano than they might be with another brand. That is probably who you want to hire. ;\)
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#908924 - 03/25/04 09:27 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
curry Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 3769
Loc: Hamilton Twp, NJ
Ralph,there is no secret.I can tell you how I prepare raw Steinway hammers,which was taught to me by a voicer with 30 years at the factory.First,as already stated,the piano must be perfectly tuned and regulated,including all hammer mating and string leveling.Listen to the tone of the raw unvoiced hammers.The piano will tell you what it needs.Perhaps the tone is a bit weak through all the registers.If so,you will need to build the tone up with lacquer.A 3:1 ratio of thinner to lacquer to start with is the preferred ratio.As done in the past,and as is reccomended by Steinway now,the hammers from the bass to mid treble are saturated with lacquer,literally it is just poured on until it runs off the tails For the mid treble from notes C4 to F6,you apply to just the shoulders,not the crowns.From F#6 to C88,you will again just pour the lacquer on the hammers.Sometimes one application is enough,sometimes you might need another in the bass and high treble sections.After the tone has been built up to an acceptable level,you will next do a fine voicing, needling just the crown of the hammers to even out volume and the attack.To finish,the hammers will be needled with the action in the shift position(una corda).Call Kent Webb at Steinway Tech services,he will explain this method in more detail,he is very generous with his knowledge and advice. \:\)
_________________________
G.Fiore "aka-Curry". Tuner-Technician serving the central NJ, S.E. PA area. b214cm@aol.com Concert tuning, Regulation-voicing specialist.
Dampp-Chaser installations, piano appraisals. PTG S.Jersey Chapter 080.
Bösendorfer 214 # 47,299 214-358

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#908925 - 03/25/04 10:22 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
RonTuner Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 1666
Loc: Chicagoland
Ok, here's the secret....

You've talked about trying lacquer, and we've all agreed on prepping the action, strings, and tuning to the max. What works for the stage, may not be appropriate for the home. Voicing for the stage is for one show. Then you move on to the next. The next show, start over again. So, that 'perfect' sound isn't meant to last and last, you simply use whatever technique that works for the moment.

But on to the secret...

Multiple passes of doing the most basic stuff.

There, I said it, the cat's out of the bag. Simplified, you go through at multiple sound levels, marking the notes/areas that don't match, and change them. Then start all over again, because with each pass, you will begin to hear more subtle differences. Smooth transitions at any playing level... You are finished when:

1. They turn out the lights and tell you to leave.
2. You've run out of band-aids, and don't want to drip all over the pianos. (dang, those needles are sharp)
3. You just realized that you haven't eaten for a while.
4. It's the artist's turn now.
5. You suddlenly realize you've used up your alloted time, and no one is paying anymore!

Ron Koval
_________________________
Piano/instrument technician
www.ronkoval.com
@ronkoval

my piano videos:
http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=drwoodwind


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#908926 - 03/25/04 11:04 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Ron, Curry and John,

Thanks very much. I guess I actually stumbled across the very technique that's used. I poured the lacquer over the bass and upper treble. The middle is a little trickier. Can't juice the crown or else it gets very unpleasant. The transition between the two is the tough part. It can't be noticable. I've got a set of NY hammers in a box and Hamburg hammers on the piano for now.

Absolutlely, the voicing does not last. As I play the piano, it changes over time. I guess I wasn't so far off with lacquering, filing and needling multiple times. Sure shortenes the life of the hammer. Very true a voicing done for a concert hall may not be suitable for the home. The C&A pianos get constant attention with tuning, regulation and voicing. Home pianos don't, although mine comes close now. There's a 5 year old C&A B for sale in Phili that I'm going to see this Sunday. Usually those pianos are beat to hell by the time they are available to the public. I doubt I'll like it better than mine, but it will be fun to compare.
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#908927 - 03/26/04 08:37 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3274
Loc: Madison, WI USA
As some others have said, there is no secret, it's all in the basics. You can't just tune one time, regulate one time or voice one time. Each time you repeat the process, you get closer to perfection but perfection itself is never quite attained.

The difference between lacquer and keytop/acetone is that lacquer is slow to dry and acetone is quick. With either solution, it is better to use very light concentrations until the desired hardness is attained rather than a heavy concentration.

I attended the regulation and voicing seminar that Steinway offers and I can attest that there are no secrets. The only reason some techs are reluctant to share is because they, themselves are still unsure of what they're doing and have a difficult time expressing it.

Now, the EBVT, that really is a secret. Even though it's all spelled out in my website, I am the only person in the world who can do it!
_________________________
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA
www.billbremmer.com

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#908928 - 03/26/04 11:02 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Bill,

I've read a lot about your EBVT way of tuning. I use the Verituner and see that this is one of the options in the menu. Is this your EBVT? I tried it once, but really didn't give it a chance.
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#908929 - 03/26/04 11:26 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5484
ralph,
a lot of concert tuners do not use an electronic tuning aid, they use their ears. they feel the mechanical aid interferes with the more subtle artistry they can obtain that isn't measurable by a machine.

the other thing i should probably give you a heads up on is that steinway hammers have changed. the new ones have been pre-lacquered. the methods being described here might be inappropriate for new steinway hammers.

you definitely should follow the suggestions to contact a current steinway tech and find out the current protocol.
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piqué

now in paperback:


Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey

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#908930 - 03/26/04 12:00 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
I know about the endless and ongoing debate about aural tuning vs EDT's. I use the Verituner which is very good and gets very close. Then I customize the stretch from the pitch it gives me. Lacquered hammers change very quickly depending on temperature and humuduty. When it rains and the humidity in my room goes up, the voice on the hammer goes down. The inconsistancy of the sound and constant maintenance has me thinking of going to a hard hammer without lacquer. I just got off the phone with Brooks Ltd and they are going to send me samples of their 17lbs Encore and Performance level hammers. I'm getting a bass, mid treble and upper treble of both types. I'm anxious to hear them.

The hammer voice also changes the tuning. Harder hammers bring out upper partials which changes the stretch needed on the piano. Lacquered hammers sound great once you get them right. They just don't stay that way. It drives me nuts.
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#908931 - 03/26/04 01:12 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5484
look forward to your report on your impressions of the abels. i may be getting a set myself.
_________________________
piqué

now in paperback:


Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey

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#908932 - 03/26/04 01:44 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
I'll be sure to let you know. The more I think about it, the more I convince myself a non-lacquered hammer is the way to go for the long term. I've grown up listening to piano recordings which I'm sure used lacquered hammers. All the classical recordings from the 1930's through the 1970's. It's a sound that is probably unrealistic to achieve for a home piano. Still, it's what I've had in my head for years. The Abels will be the third set of hammers on my Steinway since the rebuild one year ago. You may be seeing a set of NY and Hamburg hammers on ebay. \:\)
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#908933 - 03/26/04 05:27 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Thanks to everyone on this thread. I thought it was very worth while and insightful. Now I have to run. Going to see Alfred Brendel at the Kimmel Center. \:D
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#908934 - 03/26/04 07:53 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
RonTuner Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 1666
Loc: Chicagoland
Hi Ralph,

Y'know... what exactly happens to the hammers that you've had on your piano that you don't like. What sound(s) are you getting that make you look for new hammers? Too dull, too zingy, just rocks?

The reason I ask, is that if you read what Curry wrote again, the Steinway hammers need to be soaked. The most common mistake in prepping the hammers is to be too timid with the amount. Then you add a little more, then a little more. What you end up with is a shell of laquer over a pillow...

Lots of attack, with no power behind it. So, you can take your old sets, and flush them with laquer thinner to get the laquer into the body of the hammer, then start over. You can even tip the action up on the side and with a dropper add laquer under the strike point next to the wood, building strength from the inside out.

Or, I hear Ari Isaac's hammer have plenty of bounce built in to them, and you can add just as much surface laquer or keytop to give them the attack you want.

Ron Koval
_________________________
Piano/instrument technician
www.ronkoval.com
@ronkoval

my piano videos:
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#908935 - 03/26/04 08:31 PM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Bill Bremmer RPT Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/21/02
Posts: 3274
Loc: Madison, WI USA
"I've read a lot about your EBVT way of tuning. I use the Verituner and see that this is one of the options in the menu. Is this your EBVT? I tried it once, but really didn't give it a chance."

I was just kidding, of course, about me being the only one who can tune it. Yes, that is my EBVT. The maker or the Verituner contacted me to ask permission to put it in the device as an option.

I've heard glowing reports about how well the Verituner works and don't doubt them. However, when I tune, I have a unique way of constructing the octaves which none of the smooth curve, calculated ETD programs quite match. It is a small distinction but I believe it gives my tuning a unique sound.

I still use a Sanderson Accu-Tuner II because it does everything I need and want it to do. I use it in the Program Mode only, never the FAC program. I use a different partial selection than the FAC program uses and construct each of my tunings by a combination of aural and direct interval tuning which the SAT provides (so does the Verituner).

I encourage you to go ahead and try the EBVT with your Verituner but I honestly have to say that I don't know exactly what its yield will be. But if you tune it, please do let us all know what you perceive its effect on music is. It is intended to make everything played, virtually all kinds of music sound more pleasingly harmonious. It gives each key that you play in, whether major or minor its own distinct "color" but without the harsh, out of tune sounds that most Historical Temperaments inevitably yield. With my unique octave tuning method, I would also add the word, "cleaner" or "clearer" to the overall sound.

Please do experiment a little. Everything you do towards an attempt at an improvement will affect the overall sound. New hammers and a new way of tuning will undoubtedly conspire to yield results which will surely please you.
_________________________
Bill Bremmer RPT
Madison WI USA
www.billbremmer.com

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#908936 - 03/27/04 02:51 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1300
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Ron,

Thanks, but I already found that out. I over lacquered my hammers so I took them off the piano and soaked them in lacquer thinner, completely submerged, for 30 minutes. Paper toweled them dry and let them sit for 24 hours. It washed the surface lacquer off and pushed the rest deeper into the hammer. The result was a softer surface with more strength underneath. Then I would start all over again voicing them up. Your right, too little lacquer ends up with a lacquer shell that can't be penetrated. Those NY hammers take a lick'n and keep on tick'n. If I couldn't kill them, no one can. I almost put Isaac hammers on my piano, but opted out at the last minute. I played a rebuilt B by Willis Snyder that had Isaac hammers. That piano had a very clear and clean tone, but my rebuilder has a lot of experience with NY hammers so I went with that. I actually like them a lot, they just don't stay consistant. The voice changes very quickly and I think it's the lacquer breaking down and then getting crushed and compacted by playing. I even tried shellac a few times. That's interesting if you never tried it. Darn good sound to be honest, but that breaks down even more than lacquer because it's so brittle. You have to make it up yourself from flakes. If I want to wash the hammers out every few weeks and revoice, they would sound great all the time with lacquer, but of course I'm don't want to do that. I've concluded you just can't keep a concert sound ala C&A piano for very long. Those pianos require constant attention. I'm strongly considering the Abel Performance hammer. We'll see once I get a few and try them out. My piano sounds great right now, just a little out of tune. Bill, tomorrow I'm putting your EBVT to the test. It takes me about two hours to put a good tune on the piano. I hope it pays off because I HAVE to play golf tomorrow. I'd hate to have to retune it again. \:D

I just got back from hearing Brendel and my piano sounds better than the D he played. I guess I should say Dave Hughes did my rebuild and did an outstanding job. He's also a wonderful gentleman. What great sustain it has. The so-called killer octave is virtually gone. Plenty of power without the need for direct application on the crown. Again, the problem is that the hammers just start to slip. Maybe after a while they would stabilize, but right now it's a never ending see-saw. I'm also probably too particular, but I've waited all my life for this piano.
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#908937 - 03/27/04 08:26 AM Re: Steinway's Concert Sound
JPM Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/24/03
Posts: 1010
Loc: NM, GE & Wash. DC
It's threads like this that keep bringing me back to PW. Great info. This one ought to be added to the FAQ so it doesn't get lost.

Ralph, the Abels on my piano hold their voicing a long time. But I don't necessarily play as much or with the same vigor you ... or have as sensitive an ear.

I believe, with these hammers at least, that humidity control is the secret to maintaining a long-lasting desireable tone. I've been able to go 4-6 months between tunings/voicings by keeping the room at +/- 2% of the RH at which the piano was last serviced. The main reason the piano needs servicing at this point is to voice down the treble a little bit ... the tuning is still pretty much dead on.

Unfortunately, that is the only "secret" on this subject I am qualified to share with this group of experts. \:\)

JP
_________________________
"Piano music should only be written for the Bechstein."
-- Claude Debussy

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