Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened?

Posted by: Ezra

Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 03:52 PM

I've read differing opinions, so curious what the consensus opinion is here, or what others think - both from players as well as piano techs.

The Knabe upright (47", 2009) piano I am strongly considering for many reasons feels a teensy *drop* too firm in the action. Nothing major, but a) my son (7 yrs old) and I are coming from playing on a very good Yamaha YDP-223 (digital, btu graded) where the touch was obviously much lighter. and b) the Knabe feels a *little* bit firmer than some other verticals I have tried. It's not really a deal breaker for me, but I'm wondering if a piano tech (I am in NYC) can make a minor adjustment just to lighten the touch by a 'hair'. Make sense?

I have read and heard from others that on vertical pianos, there is not much that can be done "in a big way on touch -- and I totally understand that. But I also get the impression that minor improvements (in either direction) is possible.

Of course, this piano has received zero playing time so it has not "broken in" and I aimagine that might lighten up the touch over time anyway, but I'd like to lighten it a *drop, drop* at the get-go.

Surely I am not the first one with this concept and need. Thoughts? Thanks as always - really loving this forum and the invaluable insights from players, dealers and technicians around the world.

Ez
Posted by: BDB

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 04:13 PM

It can be done, but it will happen naturally. I do not recommend doing it. The touch of an acoustic piano is different from that of a digital, so changing the touch may not be what you want. There are usually adverse effects that go along with it. I bet you will get used the piano quickly, probably long before you pay the cost of changing the touch.
Posted by: Supply

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 04:33 PM

You need to have it assessed by a tech. There are a number of measures which can be taken to improve/lighten the touch. Some may even need doing, such as regulating the damper lift. This often goes out of adjustment on new pianos as the damper arm felts compress in the first few years.

Short answer: YES, it can be lightened.

Caveat:
a) this can only be done within certain limits
b) each piano needs to be assessed by a technician as to its condition to determine which steps would be most productive
c) your family will in any case need to forget about the touch of the keyboard and become conditioned to the touch sensation of a real piano. Good news: this will happen automatically within a few weeks or months, no extra effort required (besides regular playing). And it's free.
Posted by: electone2007

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 04:34 PM

As a matter of fact, you can make the touch feather light if you want, by changing the hammers to lighter ones. Which is, of course, not recommended at this point.

But I do know that the touch may be made a hair lighter by taking care of all the friction points in the action such as the balance rail pins, jack and hammer butts, etc. I once changed the balance rail felts on my upright and noticed a slight lightening of the touch. I suspect it was because the act of removing and replacing the felts effectively cleaned and polished the balance rail pins and therefore reduced some of the friction.
Posted by: KurtZ

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 04:41 PM

You'll get used to it. Getting used to throwing that hammer is part of what makes an acoustic more interactive and rewarding to play. If the piano has hadn't much prep it may be that it will loosen up some as it's played or might need the action centers eased or lubed. I'm not even a semi-pro tech so I'll leave to real techs to comment beyond that.

I asked this question of an RPT because I'm having so much trouble with tendinitis. He said he could do something but that I would lose something else in the bargain, volume, control, dynamic range as possible examples. He did do something with what he called the let-off not so much to lighten the action but to make it easier to play softer than mezzo-piano.
Posted by: Supply

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 05:37 PM

Originally Posted By: electone2007
As a matter of fact, you can make the touch feather light if you want, by changing the hammers to lighter ones. ...
Not so. In an upright, there is very little lifting of the hammer involved in the key stroke, as opposed to a grand.
In any piano, the largest hammer in the low bass has around twice the weight of a treble hammer. In grands, this weight is offset by 4 or 5 lead weights in the bass keys. Not so in uprights. Why? Because the hammer weight hardly affects the touch weight in uprights.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 05:45 PM

I agree with all those that think you should not do anything right away because:

1. You will probably adjust to the heavier touch fairly quickly
2. Just playing the piano will probably lighten the touch a little

So I'd give it one or two months and then only proceed very gradually if you still want a change.
Posted by: Michael Taylor

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/25/13 11:41 PM

After going from a Yamaha digital to an acoustic upright, I quickly learned that I didn't like the light touch of digitals. Add that to all of the sound "missing" in digitals....I wouldn't change anything. You will adjust very quickly.
Posted by: backto_study_piano

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/26/13 02:09 AM

The other thing is that it WILL sound different in your home than in the shop - maybe problem solved.
Posted by: electone2007

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/26/13 07:01 AM

Originally Posted By: Supply
Originally Posted By: electone2007
As a matter of fact, you can make the touch feather light if you want, by changing the hammers to lighter ones. ...
Not so. In an upright, there is very little lifting of the hammer involved in the key stroke, as opposed to a grand.
In any piano, the largest hammer in the low bass has around twice the weight of a treble hammer. In grands, this weight is offset by 4 or 5 lead weights in the bass keys. Not so in uprights. Why? Because the hammer weight hardly affects the touch weight in uprights.


Not trying to argue here, as I am not a technician. But I swear that after I had the hammers changed on my Yamaha U2 there was a dramatic change towards a lighter touch. Maybe not the touchweight but the inertia?
Posted by: rysowers

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/26/13 10:43 AM

Be careful when it comes to wanting a lighter touch! I work with a lot of piano teachers, and more often they wish their student's pianos had a heavier touch. I had a conversation about this with one of the top teachers in my state. He said he preferred that his students practice on a piano that has a relatively firm touch and a mellow tone. It makes the students have to work a bit harder to develop a full dynamic range. Also many teachers complain that their students with digital pianos don't seem to want to engage the piano keys with enough firmness.

So I say if your piano is a bit on the firm side, that is a GOOD thing! smile Your son's piano skills may benefit.
Posted by: asd123321

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/27/13 10:37 PM

Weights can be added to the keys. With mine, I adjusted the dampers so they didn't lift off the strings so quick to fix it.
Posted by: beethoven986

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 12:51 AM

Originally Posted By: rysowers
I work with a lot of piano teachers, and more often they wish their student's pianos had a heavier touch. I had a conversation about this with one of the top teachers in my state. He said he preferred that his students practice on a piano that has a relatively firm touch and a mellow tone. It makes the students have to work a bit harder to develop a full dynamic range. Also many teachers complain that their students with digital pianos don't seem to want to engage the piano keys with enough firmness.

So I say if your piano is a bit on the firm side, that is a GOOD thing! smile Your son's piano skills may benefit.


Playing the piano does not (or at least it should not) require gargantuan strength; it requires economy of motion, and having a firmer touch does not help one achieve this. Unfortunately, many people (who should know better) insist on having pianos with a 'firm' touch and ridiculous finger independence exercises with the intention of 'building technique'. All this does is potentially damage the body. I have seen numerous people succumb to tendinitis over the years. A few years ago, I even experienced this myself after an extended recording session on a NY Steinway D; the incident left me incapacitated for two weeks. I agree that caution should be exercised before anything is changed, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that excessively heavy touch is an imaginary problem (not to say that this is what you're doing).
Posted by: Supply

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 12:56 AM

Originally Posted By: electone2007
... I had the hammers changed on my Yamaha U2 there was a dramatic change towards a lighter touch. Maybe not the touchweight but the inertia?
No one can deny your perception. There is a lot of interplay between the different senses (tactile/kinesthetic/aural). It is often referred to as psycho-acoustic feedback. For example: a harder hammer will give the sensation of a lighter touch, because less force is required for a forte tone.
Posted by: erjamo

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 01:54 AM

I bet you will get used the piano quickly, probably long before you pay the cost of changing the touch.
Posted by: Del

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 02:55 AM

Originally Posted By: Ezra
I've read differing opinions, so curious what the consensus opinion is here, or what others think - both from players as well as piano techs.

The Knabe upright (47", 2009) piano I am strongly considering for many reasons feels a teensy *drop* too firm in the action. Nothing major, but a) my son (7 yrs old) and I are coming from playing on a very good Yamaha YDP-223 (digital, btu graded) where the touch was obviously much lighter. and b) the Knabe feels a *little* bit firmer than some other verticals I have tried. It's not really a deal breaker for me, but I'm wondering if a piano tech (I am in NYC) can make a minor adjustment just to lighten the touch by a 'hair'. Make sense?

I have read and heard from others that on vertical pianos, there is not much that can be done "in a big way on touch -- and I totally understand that. But I also get the impression that minor improvements (in either direction) are possible.

Of course, this piano has received zero playing time so it has not "broken in" and I imagine that might lighten up the touch over time anyway, but I'd like to lighten it a *drop, drop* at the get-go.

There are several parts to the “touch,” or “touchweight,” equation. The way technicians measure “touchweight” is really an indication of an action’s static touchweight only. In other words, how everything feels in very slow motion. It is useful, when combined with a similar measure of “upweight,” for learning how much friction is present in a given action. But it tells us little about the dynamic response of the action.

In the upright piano downweight is a measure of how much force is required (1) overcome friction, (2) to rotate the keys on their pivot points (and front portion of upright keys is generally a little heavier than the back portion unless they are back-weighted), (3) raise the weight of the wippen, (4) rotate the hammerbutt, hammershank and hammer (initially there is a little “weight” involved here, but not much) and (5) bend the hammer return spring. In terms of static touchweight (in a vertical piano action) the biggest contributors to the static touchweight measure are the weight of the wippen assembly and the tension of the hammer return spring.

In most vertical pianos the keys are relatively light—and, as mentioned, the keys are usually a little front-heavy so they actually work to decrease the static downweight measure—as are most vertical piano action wippens. Depending on the actual geometry of the specific action the hammerbutt assembly usually doesn’t add a lot of weight to the static downweight measure. The hammer return spring will, however, and this can sometimes be significant. (As would the damper spring if the damper pedal was not always fully depressed during this measure.)

Dynamic touchweight is a whole other issue. This is a measure of how the action feels when it is played with enough keyforce to move the hammers rapidly toward the strings. Now both spring force—that hammer return spring—and the mass of all of the parts, especially the hammer, come into play. The more massive the action parts, the higher the dynamic downweight will be. This won’t affect how the piano feels when played slowly at pianissimo levels but it can have a significant effect on how it feels when played rapidly at forte levels. Unfortunately piano technicians do not have any readily available tools with which to measure and quantify dynamic touchweight; it is a very subjective measure and is determined largely by how the action “feels” to the individual pianist.

What you are finding in switching from a digital to a piano is that there is a difference between a mostly spring-loaded, relatively low-mass/low-inertia key system and a spring-loaded, high-mass/high-inertia system. There is probably some difference in the amount of spring force used in the two actions but generally there is a much bigger difference in the overall rotating mass—hence, inertia—between the two systems.

Because dynamic touchweight is not quantified by actual measurement there is a lot of subjectivity in the answers given in response to your question. One person’s “firm” action will be another’s “light” action and yet another’s “heavy” action.

Most vertical pianos have actions that are generally considered “light” by teachers and accomplished pianists. Usually when teachers complain that their students are practicing on piano with to light a touchweight the piano involved is a vertical of some kind. Sometimes—as I believe is the case with Knabe verticals—the touchweight of the vertical action is increased somewhat by back-leading (installing one or more lead weights somewhere toward the back of the key). Generally this is a good thing because front-heavy keys can contribute to chronic repetition problems as they are more sensitive to even slightly high amounts of friction.

It is unlikely that the touchweight of a modern vertical piano action such as that found in the Knabe you are considering will be excessively heavy even though it may feel that way to you at first. Excessively heavy actions are usually found in grand pianos fitted with heavier-than-necessary hammers and (sometimes) with inappropriate overall action lever ratios. In the case of the Knabe piano you are considering, if the action’s dynamic touchweight really is too heavy— assuming it is not plagued by excessive friction—it would probably be due to the hammer return springs being too strong and these can be adjusted by a competent technician if necessary.

Unless the action in the Knabe is actually diagnosed as being “heavy” by a technician familiar with how good piano actions function and feel I’d assume that it is functioning properly and within normal limits. Assuming you go ahead with this purchase I’d suggest that you (and your son) play the piano for a few months and then re-evaluate the situation. If, after this acclamation period, you still find the touch to be excessively firm—in your opinion—then have a discussion with your piano technician about your options. Again, assuming the friction points in the action are within reasonable tolerances, I’d then be looking at the tension of the two springs involved: the hammer return springs and the damper springs. (The damper return springs come into the picture when the key has reached about one-third of its stroke and, if they are too strong—a fairly common problem with modern piano makers—this can make controlling the action at pianissimo some difficult.)

ddf
Posted by: electone2007

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 05:00 AM

Originally Posted By: Supply
Originally Posted By: electone2007
... I had the hammers changed on my Yamaha U2 there was a dramatic change towards a lighter touch. Maybe not the touchweight but the inertia?
No one can deny your perception. There is a lot of interplay between the different senses (tactile/kinesthetic/aural). It is often referred to as psycho-acoustic feedback. For example: a harder hammer will give the sensation of a lighter touch, because less force is required for a forte tone.


Hi Jurgen!

The reason I changed the Yamaha's hammers was because they were bright. I bought Abel wurzen felt hammers from the coolest guy (that's you BTW) over the internet and so my piano went from bright to mellow BUT ended up with a much much lighter touch.

They were 15 lb or 17 lb hammers, I don't recall exactly.

So it's the reverse of the psychoacoustic phenomenon that we know.

Maybe lighter hammers really do change the dynamic touch? Not the static touchweight but the inertia?
Posted by: Rickster

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 07:34 AM

This is just an opinion with no real meat added to this discussion, but most uprights I've ever played had a lighter touch... I prefer a medium-heavy touch.

I do know that there is a lot involved in makeing a change to the touch of an action, upright or grand.

My philosophy... if it doesn't feel right to start with, move on to something else.

Rick
Posted by: electone2007

Re: Can the TOUCH on a vertical piano yes/no be lightened? - 01/28/13 05:03 PM

Originally Posted By: Del






Dynamic touchweight is a whole other issue. This is a measure of how the action feels when it is played with enough keyforce to move the hammers rapidly toward the strings. Now both spring force—that hammer return spring—and the mass of all of the parts, especially the hammer, come into play. The more massive the action parts, the higher the dynamic downweight will be. This won’t affect how the piano feels when played slowly at pianissimo levels but it can have a significant effect on how it feels when played rapidly at forte levels.


ddf


Thank you for this explanation. Static and dynamic touchweights are two related but different things and this explains why changing the hammers on my upright dramatically changed the perceived touch although in theory they shouldn't, as was earlier said.