NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers?

Posted by: Fiorentino

NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 10:17 AM

Dear all,

On the advice of my piano technician, it is time to replace the hammers on my 2002 NY Steinway Model B (since there is no longer sufficient felt on the hammers for a further reshaping and voicing).

The piano has however been moved to London since its purchase, and my technician (from Steinway London) has suggested that I consider replacing the original NY hammers with new Hamburg hammers (since the London Steinway technicians are far more accustomed to dealing with and voicing Hamburg Steinway hammers, and it is in any event easier to source Hamburg hammers in London). I understand that there are significant differences between NY hammers and Hamburg hammers (as the former are made from softer felt that is hardened through the application of lacquer, and the latter are made from harder felt that is softened using needles and sandpaper). Steinway London has confirmed that there would be no price difference between NY hammers or Hamburg hammers.

In general, I have my own personal preferences as to the sound of a NY Steinway vs the sound of a Hamburg Steinway. However, I have never before played on a NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg hammers. Has anybody come across such a combination before? Alternatively, would anybody have any general thoughts on this situation?

I'd be very grateful for any insight.
Posted by: joe80

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 10:41 AM

Hello there,

In the first instance I'd trust that the technicians at Steinway in London know what they are doing. They are some of the best in the country (there are other, equally good techs who are not currently working at Steinway so I'm not saying they are the ONLY ones).

The Hamburg hammers - which are made by Renner - I think are harder than the US ones, but use less or no doping fluid, but don't quote me on that. It probably won't significantly change the tone of the piano, I mean, the fundamental sound of your instrument, but it may bring out slightly different nuances to the ones you are used to. It certainly wont sound like a Hamburg Steinway all of a sudden. I know that there have been a few US Steinways come through London and they've ended up with Hamburg heads on them, and they've all sounded good.

If you want a second opinion, you could as Norman Motion, based in Edinburgh, and thoroughly knowledgeable on everything Steinway (look him up online), and probably knows your London technician.

Another good second opinion would be Jeffrey Shackell, who has extensive experience in restoring and servicing Hamburg and USA Steinways. He's easily found online too.

Good luck and enjoy your piano!
Posted by: Norbert

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 12:05 PM

+1

Norbert smile
Posted by: beethoven986

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 01:20 PM

Originally Posted By: e60m5
Dear all,

On the advice of my piano technician, it is time to replace the hammers on my 2002 NY Steinway Model B (since there is no longer sufficient felt on the hammers for a further reshaping and voicing).

The piano has however been moved to London since its purchase, and my technician (from Steinway London) has suggested that I consider replacing the original NY hammers with new Hamburg hammers (since the London Steinway technicians are far more accustomed to dealing with and voicing Hamburg Steinway hammers, and it is in any event easier to source Hamburg hammers in London). I understand that there are significant differences between NY hammers and Hamburg hammers (as the former are made from softer felt that is hardened through the application of lacquer, and the latter are made from harder felt that is softened using needles and sandpaper). Steinway London has confirmed that there would be no price difference between NY hammers or Hamburg hammers.

In general, I have my own personal preferences as to the sound of a NY Steinway vs the sound of a Hamburg Steinway. However, I have never before played on a NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg hammers. Has anybody come across such a combination before? Alternatively, would anybody have any general thoughts on this situation?

I'd be very grateful for any insight.


Best practice dictates dry fitting a few samples of different new hammers in the piano and selecting the one that is as close to your ideal sound right out of the box. If you like a mellow tone, there are much better choices, but you will probably have to source those from North America. That said, I have played one or two NY Ds with Hamburg hammers, and they can work reasonably well if the technician knows what he's doing.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 01:39 PM

Fine advice above. But here's an obvious, childlike thought.

If you prefer NY Steinway sound, then don't use German Steinway hammers. Insist on procuring American Steinway hammers. Never mind issues of voicing, you are talking of fundamental sound quality.

But conversely, if you are drawn to German Steinway sound, then by all means head in that direction with the new hammers, as your technician obviously prefers.
Posted by: Ed McMorrow, RPT

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 03:31 PM

I agree with Mr. Mose's advice that if you prefer NY sound go with a NY hammer.

The most significant way to build up the treble tone of the NY hammer is to control the weight very carefully by tapering the sides and even reducing the width slightly to remove mass and thus reduce the hammer string contact time (I.E. damping) by reducing the hammer weight without removing much felt from the striking surface, (I.E. artificial hammer wear). You will find this approach reduces the amount of hardener needed dramatically which will improve tone on full shift, (I.E. regulate shift and hammer spacing to clear one string), and improve the stability of the tone.

You may find it helpful to trim the hammers enough to reduce the front leads in the key which will speed up repetition and improve overall dynamic control. Touch and dynamic tone response are inextricably linked-you want a technician who understands this.

The few Hamburg hammers I have worked on brighten up quickly and need more needle work more often (which wears felt out), and shaping them neatly is more difficult because the felt pills up. That said, a well prepared Hamburg is a very nice piano. I still prefer the well-prepared NY with its more colorful sound.
Posted by: BDB

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 03:38 PM

The most recent Hamburg Steinway I have worked on had hammers which I thought were more like New York hammers than earlier models.
Posted by: Supply

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 04:37 PM

Just as important as the source of the hammers is having someone who is well versed in getting the best out of them. The UK techs may have no experience with NY hammers, which can be quite different animals and are voiced using completely different techniques.
In any case, the piano with new hammers will sound different than with the old hammers, so you are in for a re-conditioning of your ears no matter which route you go.
Posted by: steinway guy

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 04:50 PM

Im an ex-Steinway London technician.
Talk to your technician and make sure he knows what sound you like. I'd be very surprised if you are unhappy with the sound after the work is completed, though there may be an element of getting to know/used to the piano again but that wont take long.
Posted by: Ralph

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 06:19 PM

Originally Posted By: Supply
Just as important as the source of the hammers is having someone who is well versed in getting the best out of them.



+1. Priceless advise.
Posted by: Keith D Kerman

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 07:06 PM

Originally Posted By: Ralph
Originally Posted By: Supply
Just as important as the source of the hammers is having someone who is well versed in getting the best out of them.



+1. Priceless advise.


I will + 2 this.

Without getting too deep into this, I strongly feel this thread has some well intentioned, but let's say incomplete advice.

Hamburg hammers can sound great on a NY Steinway, but they do sound different than NY hammers. If you are a serious player and playing hours a day, the Hamburg hammers will need to be voiced down more often than New York hammers. I am pointing this out since you have gone through a set of New York hammers in 10 years which indicates a lot of playing, or a lot of tech work on the hammers, maybe both.

The Hamburg hammers don't require as expert a tech, IMO, to sound decent. With a great voicer, I feel the New York hammers have more color, but, I go back and forth on that. Just when I think I prefer New York hammers, I will hear a Steinway with Hamburg hammers that I love.

My advice would be to find Steinway Bs with new Hamburg hammers and play them. Find the one you like the best, and if you like it enough, use the tech that voiced that piano to work on your piano ( if they install hammers in addition to voicing ).
I would be weary of a tech inexperienced with NY hammers using them on my piano. But, I suspect you may be able to find a tech in London who is experienced with New York hammers, so if you just really don't like any of the Steinways with hamburg hammers, you may need to go that route.

Personally, I would consider going for the hamburg hammers, just for the sake of variety. Sometimes it is good to shake things up as a musician, and the different voice of the Hamburgs will force you to listen differently and play differently as well.
Posted by: Ed Foote

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 07:19 PM

Greetings,
The NY hammers will sound like the technician that installs and voices them. The alchemy required to bring out the best of the NY hammers is very experience-dependent so without that, you are going to get soft hammers and a steep learning curve. The Hamburg hammers, at least those of the last few years, respond to a more traditional voicing and give pretty consistent results if given consistent needling.

Both of these hammers have certain imperatives if you want the most performance out of them. The NY hammers have to be soaked thoroughly enough on the first pass to get to the center of the hammer. The Hamburg hammers need a lot, and I mean a lot, of shoulder work before they are needled near the top or played too much.

Inexperienced voicers often chicken out, using too little solution or needles too shallow and high. To make either of these hammers really produce, they have to be handled with certainty from the outset as they don't respond well to a tentative, bit by bit approach.
I would find a voicer whose sound you like, and trust his judgement on your piano.
Regards,
Posted by: Ed McMorrow, RPT

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/25/13 09:56 PM

Another thought is-how do you know the hammers ARE worn out? Does shaping with some needle work (assuming all the requisite spacing and phasing of unison is well done), produce a tone that you like and that stays that way for several months. If the hammers have been shaped a lot-the touch-weight may now be in the fly-away zone if some of the front leading has not been reduced. Is it control issues or tone stability that has reached the tipping point?
Posted by: rysowers

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/26/13 10:58 AM

I agree with those that say getting the right technician is more important than getting the right hammer. A good voicer can get surprising results from a mediocre set of hammers (or as Ed states above a set that is significantly worn) and a tech who hasn't developed good voicing skills can ruin the best set of hammers.

I also agree that the NY hammers do seem to be more stable in their voicing. With a Renner type hammer, overly bright tone does seem to creep back in more quickly - especially after a thorough reshaping.

However, if your trusted tech is comfortable with a hard pressed hammer, and not so much with the soft-pressed type, it is best to go with what he/she feels most confident with. Especially since they will be the one maintaining the instrument.

Here is a question for the European techs: How often do you come across lacquered hammers, or use lacquer? I would think that it is pretty rare over there, but I really have no idea. I'm curious.
Posted by: Fiorentino

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/26/13 12:40 PM

Dear all,

Thank you all very much for sharing your thoughts! It's fantastic to hear wisdom from both sides of the Atlantic. I'm particularly grateful for all of the insight into the different characteristics of the NY and Hamburg hammers, and the different techniques that are involved in their voicing. I'd like to reply to each and every post individually, but I fear that would just breed repetition - so having expressed my thanks to you all, I hope you will forgive me for posting a general reply.

My personal preference lies with a very "NY" sound, and accordingly, my first instinct was to lean towards NY hammers. However, having read the replies in this topic, I see a lot of sense in focusing on the technician instead of the hammers. So, thank you! I can certainly see that NY hammers might not produce the NY sound that I love if they are not voiced by somebody with the necessary experience.

It is interesting to hear that the Hamburg Renner hammers will "brighten" at a faster rate than the NY hammers. Keith, well spotted and you are absolutely right - I do play quite a lot (and have had a reasonable, although not excessive, amount of work done on my current hammers), which would explain why I have gone through a set so quickly! Ed, I understand that the suggestion to replace the hammers has stemmed from the extent of the grooves that have been worn into the felt from playing, and the fact that there is no longer sufficient felt for a further reshaping to level the surface of the hammers. The piano does have a light (though not uncontrollable) touch-weight, although this was deliberate (I discussed and planned this with my previous technician when the hammers were last reshaped in 2007).

Before making any final decision, however, I think I will try to seek out a few NY Steinways that have been fitted with Hamburg hammers. I am sure that fitting Hamburg hammers will affect the sound, and I am curious to learn how. For those who have played NYs fitted with Hamburg hammers, how would you describe the resulting sound - at least, as compared with a regular NY?
Posted by: BerndAB

Re: NY Steinway fitted with Hamburg Steinway hammers? - 01/26/13 01:46 PM

Originally Posted By: rysowers
Here is a question for the European techs: How often do you come across lacquered hammers, or use lacquer? I would think that it is pretty rare over there, but I really have no idea. I'm curious.


I am no european tech but have talked with a lot of them. They all avoid this pouring of lacquer. The general approach seems to be that the hardening of hammers is left to the playing itself but not with any chemicals.

Maybe that applying lacquer might happen in the gardens and reservations of Hamburg Steinway technicians, but this I don't know, would be interested in .. ..

The eurpoean technicians sometimes talk of falsely treatenend hammers which were needled too soft.. Then they say "Die Hammerköpfe sind totgestochen." The hammer heads have been needled to death..

Here sometimes an "ultima ratio", a "last exit" is to pour in some hardening lacquer. But the recommendation merely found in this case will be: ".. sorry to say that - buy a new set of hammer heads.."

Additionally this lacquer ("Zaponlack") seems to have some implications of hazard to the men.. straight forward: these chemicals stink. And if anything stinks, most people in Europe stay away from this, because the cultivated "richer" people in Europe mostly do not believe in too much chemicals..

A well known technician from the Netherlands wrote a book about intonation works, André Oorebeek.

http://www.thevoiceofthepiano.com/about_author.shtml

Not every european technician seems to agree fully with Andre's approach. But they know this, and merely accept this. To my knowledge his most important hint is to do NO needling in the 12 o'clok position on top of the hammer-string-contact.. and to NEVER apply any lacquer.. if I remember correctly.

He divides the hammer into three sections: 12 o'c is forbidden area, 9 to 11 and 1 to 3 is "support of sound", 7 to 9 and 3 to 5 are "reserve battery areas of tension" from where an experienced technician may move by competent needling some tension to the 10 and 2 oc areas for a better sound support. (..my fragile words only..)