A Modern Fortepiano

Posted by: Puck01

A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 12:25 AM

A Modern Fortepiano

1 Loudness matters
When I was twelve, my parents gave me a cheap upright piano. I was practising a lot, my neighbours often complained and before long, the piano was too noisy for my ears. The sound was not good, either, not very subtle for Mozart and Bach, my favourites. Blankets and insulation behind the sounding board did not help either. Finally, the piano and me became a long-lasting love-hate relationship. The trauma stayed with me for quite a while. A more expensive piano was out of the question, not to mention the possibility of a baby grand, there would not be any room for it and no money. Moreover, I was never entirely happy with the grand pianos I encountered at my school, though I realized that they were superior in many ways to my own upright piano. Instinctively, I was drawn towards historical pianos, though I could not afford a historical piano either, although my parents allowed me to build a clavichord, which was an interesting experience, but no replacement for a fortepiano.

2 Going digital
In the early nineties, digital pianos such as Yamaha's Clavinova series became affordable and were a real alternative for somebody practising in a rented apartment. It was quite a relief after the bad upright piano I was used to and I made some progress on it. However, before long the sound became quite artificial and unpleasant to my ears, but again, there was no other choice. Resignation set in. Moreover, I was not an outstanding pianist either, so why bother? It was as good as it was.
One could always wait for the perfect digital piano to come along, after years of research and progress in digital technology. This is also why I didn't hesitate to upgrade to a Grand'Touch II digital grand piano. The action felt like on a real grand piano and I was hooked easily, even though the sound was not perfect.

3 Missing the real thing
What is wrong with digital instruments? Nothing. However, I have come to suspect that the general public has a different attitude towards high-fidelity sound compared to high-definition screens, for example. Everybody wants to have a nice high-definition flat screen for a TV nowadays. Prices are affordable. Everybody is aware of the fact though that a screen just gives us pictures of the real world, but a screen would never be taken for the real thing. The most extreme example may be a walk in nature and fresh air as opposed to a report on such a walk on a screen. High-fidelity sound systems seem to be a different story. For the majority of people today in the developed world, the sound of acoustic musical instruments is played most often through stereo sound systems. Hardly anybody has an acoustic instrument at home and live classical concerts are quite an exception. Pop music almost entirely relies on synthetic, digital sound. This comes primarily from a wish to create fancy artificial sound effects, to amplify sound even for live concerts and most of all, because music today is generally distributed by radio broadcast, on compact discs or via the internet. People simply are not aware of the intrinsic difference of live acoustic instruments from digital sound. However, digital sound is at best a very good picture or image of the sound of live acoustic instruments. It is at the same level as a screen in comparison to the 'real world'. However, in our culture, most people are not aware of this fact.

4 Piano stores
In my late thirties I felt an urge to buy an acoustic piano. I was shopping around in the local piano stores. The enormous sound of a modern acoustic grand piano discouraged me more than once. After a bit of trying, I got used to this sound, that is, almost. At least in the show rooms, which were actually halls, the sound could be accommodated in some way. I realized that I liked Steinway grands most. Most of all, I loved their clarity. The bass registers were always a bit murky, but again, it was as good as is could be. Apparently, that was all that was possible. In terms of price, we are talking from $ 40,000 to $ 55,000 for renovated Steinway A grand pianos (188 cm). The price was a big deterrent.

5 Collections of historical instruments
Alternatively, I went to some very interesting collections of historical fortepianos, although most of these instruments to me looked and often sounded like something creeping out of a vault, mostly with very crude actions. Nobody bothered about a thorough renovation of the action mechanism, either the know-how was absent or the price of the renovation could not be afforded, or nobody cared. These instruments were not affordable either and into the bargain went easily out of tune. Not my first option, though I admired the delicate and interesting sound these historical pianos produced.

6 Fortepiano makers
I visited a few fortepiano makers in their workshops, which was inspiring and interesting. Prices however were out of my scope. $ 50,000 for a replica of a 1790 Mozart fortepiano, which already failed to accommodate the works of the later Beethoven. This did not seem a practicable option to me, let alone the $ 70,000 for a replica of an infatuating 1828 Conrad Graf fortepiano, 2.45 meters long into the bargain – a nightmare to transport through a staircase and to accommodate in a smallish apartment.

7 The modern grand piano revisited
What is great about a modern grand? Tuning once a year, reliable and precise action, easy replacement of action parts and the 'modern' feel of it. It doesn't look and feel like an old piece of junk or a so-called 'antique' that seems to struggle not to fall apart when played. There is another advantage on a modern grand. The keys are much spacier than on historical pianos, which is ideal for my big hands, especially when you want to play harpsichord music, e.g. Bach's Goldberg Variations, that were intended for a double-manual harpsichord.
I was almost certain to go for a second-hand Yamaha. Yamaha grand pianos are held in high esteem by piano technicians, because they are neat. The action mechanism usually keeps well-regulated for a long time and often it comes close to a well-regulated Steinway grand piano. The sound however often is perceived as less musical and refined than a Steinway piano and rather on the loud side. After some trying, I ruled out the C2 (173 cm) and C3 (186 cm) models, because the transition from the treble to the bass was unconvincing and these pianos sounded like thundering church bells in the bass rather than the strings of a piano, at least to my ears.
Finally, I fell for a second-hand Yamaha A1 (149 cm) baby grand. It was quite short and that was noticeable in the bass, of course. But the transition from the treble to the bass was attractive to me, especially the lack of any 'church bell quality'. The piano sounded reasonably well in the showing room. I bought it and it came to my place, where I soon got tired of its thundering loudness. I was frustrated, angry with myself and afraid to have made, once again, the wrong decision in a pricey business. In the same piano store that sold me the Yamaha grand, there was an 110-year old Broadwood cottage grand piano, not yet renovated, because of the patent iron-topped wrest plank, which was quite tricky to replace. Whatever the outcome, I was not convinced about the antique Broadwood grand piano. I was looking at the aged-old action, which was not properly regulated, and the ugly case, which looked like a wreck from the past. And anyway, reselling my Yamaha grand piano would have meant losing money, effort and time. The piano seller would not just take it back. What to do?

8 Analysing the problem and finding a solution
First I had to define loudness. Loudness is partly measurable in absolute terms. There are quite a few musicians (not only professionals) with tinnitus due to an exposition to excessive levels of sound. On the other hand, loudness is relative. In a concert hall, it is desirable for a grand piano to be heard by the audience in the last rows. In a smallish room at home, a piano is too loud, if it is no longer possible to differentiate between pianissimo and forte, when the piano at its softest level is always perceived as 'shouting' instead of speaking. It has also to do with timbre. The hammers hit the strings in a violent manner, even when playing in the piano range so that an unpleasant barking sound results. It is not only the volume level that seems to be wrong, but also the timbre of the sound. At this point, many people would call in a piano technician to 'voice down' the piano's felt hammers. Usually, one ends up with a mellow or even flat sound, which in my opinion is just as unpleasant and unconvincing as the barking, harsh sound, which is at the other end of the spectrum.
The idea that the source of the problem might be the hammers is an informed guess. The size and weight of the hammers is always important, the formula being F = m * a. The force striking the strings is equal to the mass (or weight) of the hammers multiplied by their acceleration. Assuming the same acceleration from the fact that the same action mechanism and the same blow distance is used, a reduction of the mass will reduce the force with which the hammers hit the strings. 18th century fortepianos only have tiny hammers compared to modern pianos, especially in the treble. In the bass, more mass on the hammers is required to set in motion the greater mass of the longer and thicker strings. This also applies to the modern piano as can easily be perceived.

9 Lighter hammers, part 1
My first guess was, lighter felt hammers. I had my local piano technician order lighter hammers from the Helmut Abel company in Germany, who specialises in piano hammers. The core of the hammers was spruce instead of beech wood. The hammer shanks were maple instead of beech. Both parts were additionally grooved or thinned out to reduced the weight even more. The felt was to be the special Abel natural felt which was less compressed than standard felt. The hammers that arrived were about half the weight of the old standard ones. The five test hammers in different sections of the piano sounded softer, however the reduction of the volume was not considerable. The felt would have needed voicing into the bargain, the work of a specialist, and the cost would have been a matter of several thousand dollars. Consequently, I stopped the experiment at this point, because there was no sense continuing along theses lines.

10 Lighter hammers, part 2
The piano was a pain to play and so I finally stopped playing it, which made me angry every time I looked at its beautiful case. I felt utterly stupid. At one moment, I withdrew the action stand from the piano and screwed in the original hammers, in an attempt to restore the piano to its former set-up in order to resell it. One of the hammer heads in the middle treble had come loose from the hammer shank. When taking the glue out of the cupboard I had a brilliant idea: here was the possibility to fit a small piece of spruce wood to the hammershank and a bit of leather and listen, if the sound was going into a more convincing direction. The experiment was successful, the sound got much thinner. The mass of the hammer head was reduced even more and the single layer of leather created a sound much closer to that of historical fortepianos. I was intrigued. I cut away the felt of a few spruce hammer heads and glued on a piece of leather, the soft side on the outside, hitting the strings. My experiments were convincing in two ways: on the one hand, the loudness was reduced, but also the timbre was improved. There was no barking, but a clear articulation. I was using the pedal a lot before, but the new sound, was blending much better, with a clearer articulation into the bargain. No more thundering bass, but a distinct, musical voice. This time I did not contact the piano technician, having decided to work on my own. The Helmut Abel company in Germany was contacted once again and after a while, the order was placed for a new set of spruce wood hammer cores without any felt (length of hammer cores in the bass: 69 mm, in the treble: 65 mm, tails with rounded C-shaped grooving, 'C-Kehlung, gerundet' in German, i.e. Yamaha style), maple hammer shanks, both pieces thinned out to the maximum to reduce weight. The tip of the hammer cores was 3 mm and flat. There were four sections of hammers and I sent in the starting and the ending hammer of each section as samples for the Abel company to drill the holes in the spruce hammer cores at the correct angles. The Abel company also supplied the deerskin leather, already cut in appropriate stripes, though I replaced this leather after a while with Chamois leather (see below). Everything cost about $ 1000.
Meanwhile, I was aware of the fact that the keys were now too heavy in the front. Especially in the bass, the keys would not properly fall back into position when not pressed down, because the hammers were now so super light. I decided to drill out the lead weights in the front of the keys, which took quite a bit of courage, since a standard component of the piano was to be changed, maybe irreversibly so, whereas screwing on a different set of lighter hammers was no big deal, rather like changing the tyres of a car. However, if the drilling out is neatly done, the keys can, if necessary be re-leaded at a later stage, when heavier hammers are fit into the piano. First a thin drill through the centre, then a 12 mm diameter drill, the leads being 14 mm. Many of the lead weights tumble out by themselves, the rest has to be carefully scratched out with a screwdriver, sometimes drilled a second and a third time. The drilling out of the lead weights was about eight hours of work. The lead had to be properly disposed of in an official waste management centre.
After that intervention, I supposed the piano was no longer playable with the old hammers, but I was entirely wrong. I had the impression that I could play faster and more comfortably once the lead was gone, although it was somewhat heavier to press down a key in the bass.
The new hammerheads and the hammershanks have to be glued. I used universal white glue in a watery solution, water resistent, to glue both the wood and the leather. The old hammers are replaced one by one, the new hammers have to be glued in the same angle as the old hammers, when the shank is already glued in. Before glueing, the keys have to be lifted by about 1 mm at the back by inserting a 1mm piece of felt behind the keys. This is because the release does not work properly with the new hammers, because the shafts are too long. The long ends of the shafts have to be sawed off later, when the glue is set, and then the felt can be withdrawn again at the back from under the keys. The hammerheads must be glued at the correct position, so that the hammer is held up by the check, when the hammer is released by the action, when the key is entirely depressed. The regulation screw (Abnickschraube in German) of he hammershank has to be screwed in quite a bit to set the release point of the hammer. The hammers were coverd twice with glue as a varnish, especially the tips, in order to make the soft spruce wood more resistant. The region near the hammershank was left unvarnished.
Instead of glueing the leather on the spruce hammer cores (the tip of the hammer core should be left unglued not to ruin the voicing), I used a nylon (polyamid) thread to string the leather on as a test set-up. The nylon thread was 0.25 mm and I wound it six times around, before tying the ends together with several knots. Sewing cotton or thread works as well for testing. The advantages of stringing as opposed to glueing are that there is no residue left on the wood, while testing, no waiting for the glue to set and in case a thinner or a thicker piece of leather would have to be put on in terms of a different voicing, the nylon thread could easily be removed.
The first set of leather was not ideal, so I kept testing. I got the best results from Chamois leather, the leather of a variety of goats living wildly in the Alps. The leather is very soft and creamy white. It can be bought at a near hobby supermarket and is widely used to wash cars and sindscreens. I used three layers of rather thick leather pieces of Chamois leather, about 6 cm. Each piece is glued seperatly at two points on both sides of the hammer core. The glue is strong, so only four little drops are needed. If anything gets ever detached it can be re-glued in no time. The tip of the hammer must always be left unglued not to ruin the voicing. The leather must have a little tension when glued, so it does not shift at the tip of the hammerhead. The ends of the leather, about 8 mm should be left unglued so the leather can be easily removed by pulling on these flaps when the leather has to be replaced. The last leather piece is voiced with a tiny fraction of candle wax. Only the tip of the hammerhead is waxed when the leather is already glued on the hammer core. Take an ironing iron on a low temperature, move the candle only once across the ironing iron. Only use a tiny fraction of candle wax, too much ruins the voicing and makes the piano sound like a harpsichord. Iron the tips of the hammers. One streak of wax on the iron is enough for one section of hammers (there are four sections of hammers). Apply a kitchen paper towel between the iron to spread the wax or take some of it away again. The problem area is the middle section. Be most careful in the middle section. If you do it wrong, you will simply have to replace the top leather.
With the new test hammers playing felt very much like on a historical fortepiano. The modern repetition action responded very subtly to every motion of my fingers and the hammers obeyed gracefully. It made sense again to me to play Mozart on this modern piano. I added a plywood board 6 mm thick below the soundboard, closing off the under part of the piano to reduce the volume even more, because I have a plain parquet floor and do not want to put in any carpets. This is really optional.

10 All was already there
The joy of playing a modern grand piano returned. The bass was much clearer, even with this 1.49 meter Yamaha baby grand, which is the shortest Yamaha grand piano that exists, the sound was musical, singing and at the same time transparent, the individual notes blending very well – in a word, an inspiration. I realized that all was already there. The piano was a caterpillar pupating, waiting to turn into a beautiful butterfly. Once the ugly shell of its former thundering barking sound was shed, the grand piano became a real musical instrument. I call my special configuration of my Yamaha baby grand a 'modern fortepiano', because it has the charming sound of a historical fortepiano, while at the same time displaying all the advantages of a modern grand piano.
Yesterday, a piano teacher and pianist came to my place to try my piano. He stayed for two hours and would have stayed on if he had not had another engagement. He played Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. He was fascinated with the sound and found it attractive. As on a historical fortepiano, every range on the piano has a characteristic register. He realised that and liked it very much. The action was modern, but he realised that he had to play more legato and depress the keys more than he was used to. He said he would very much like to have such a piano.
Posted by: crogersrx

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 12:48 AM

Wow, very interesting, and very adventurous of you to have done this experiment. I can't say that I would have done any such thing on a new piano of considerable value, but perhaps on an older piano that was in excellent condition but not worth a rebuild.

I'm sure I speak for other readers when I say that we'd be very interested in hearing some good recordings of this piano being played! Perhaps you can share some photos of the work you did.
Posted by: Oz Marcus

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 01:34 AM

What a fascinating story!
I agree that some photos of your work and some sample recordings would be great.

All the best,

Marcus
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 01:49 AM

Can someone summarize what happened? smile
Posted by: David-G

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 03:45 AM

A very interesting story. Thank you for describing it so fully. Could you perhaps comment on how the sound compares with the sound of a "real" fortepiano?
Posted by: theJourney

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 04:45 AM

Great story; it was a fun read. Thanks for sharing.
We have another member who could give you advice on how to turn the adventures described in your post into a 300 page book, if you are interested.

I know that there are a lot of us living in apartments in Europe who would like to have an acoustic piano or keyboard instrument with a more appropriate sound for the listening space and their surroundings than the overly loud, shouting monsters that are today's modern grand pianos, all playing a game of oneupmanship and pretending to be concert hall contenders.

We have one fellow in town who has been restoring old Erard instruments, some of which are much more appropriate for home use than all the modern grand pianos being sold today. However, consistent with your experience, not without a substantial price tag.

http://www.erard.nl/
Posted by: Ludwig van Bilge

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 04:52 AM

That was very lengthy but fascinating. Congradulations on the success of all that effort. If you choose to post photos & recording I'd be interested.
Posted by: AJB

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 07:16 AM

Good for you. An excellent musical story and I think you are a true musician to go in search of the sound you want. Very creative solution.

Now we need a recording posted up!
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 07:46 AM

I would have just bought a square. They start at around £600, date back to pre-1800 and are quite quiet. They were very popular in Paris and London in Mozart's day.
Posted by: Ken Knapp

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 05:41 PM

Wonderful story and well written. Thanks for sharing it with us. smile

Ken
Posted by: crogersrx

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/20/10 06:12 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile


He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.
Posted by: rodmichael

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 10:27 AM

Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile


He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read by providing this brief summary of an otherwise interesting note? Mark would probably benefit by reading the original post since the summary statement obviously has none of the very nice flavor of the original post.
Posted by: crogersrx

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 10:45 AM

Originally Posted By: rodmichael

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read by providing this brief summary of an otherwise interesting note? Mark would probably benefit by reading the original post since the summary statement obviously has none of the very nice flavor of the original post.


Yes... caught in the act of enabling. I guess I've gotten so used to all the lazy people who just want a synopsis of what they need to know to get by, but never really do any work or learning.

I found his (very long) description of his motivation for this experiment, and the modification he made to his modern piano very interesting, and a bit frightening. At a certain point, there's really no going back.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 11:47 AM

Let's hear it!
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 11:51 AM

you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.
Posted by: sandalholme

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 12:16 PM

A fascinating account. I am surprised that the sheer bulk of the casework and the shortness/thickness of the strings allow the harmonics of a fortepiano to sound in the same way as an original instrument or faithful copy. As you found out from your friend, the key dip is far more shallow on an early piano - which has quite an impact on how to play it and of course had a direct influence on the style of music composed for it. But maybe you are less concerned with creating a fortepiano without the horrendous expense of buying one and more with lightness of tone/volume in your domestic situation. Interesting that the tonal quality varies across the compass - which again was used by composers to musical effect. This variety of tone was of course laboriously engineered out of pianos in the late 19th and 20th centuries!
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 10:21 PM

Originally Posted By: acortot
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.


Had I been doing the whole job, yes, I would probably have replaced the soundboard and ribset with something thinner and lighter. And I'd have dropped the tensions down some. But this would have driven the cost up considerably. It sounds like the solution Puck01 has come up with on his own is satisfactory for now. Five years from now – who knows? – he may be ready to try soming more advanced.

Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano. It would be ever so much better for the industry to offer a broader range of options. I’d like to see a modern version of the fortepiano offered in various lengths and styles. Picture a nice 200 cm grand built on a lighter physical scale (saving quite a lot of mass and even some floorspace) using lower tensioned scales that could be driven by hammers weighing perhaps 2/3 what the typical modern piano hammer weights. Key travel could be reduced without requiring muscleman fingers and arms. Quick, light and expressive actions. A more balanced tone palette optimized for smaller homes and apartments. I could really get carried away with this...Oh, yes, did you read about that rim I just pressed? Kind of like that....

ddf
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/21/10 11:29 PM

Originally Posted By: Del

Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano. It would be ever so much better for the industry to offer a broader range of options.


When people post about volume, it's inevitably because it's too high.

Maybe get the volunteers together again and knock out a prototype;-)
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 12:03 AM

Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile

He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Thank you, and nice job!
Now let's see what the next post says..... ha
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 12:07 AM

Originally Posted By: rodmichael
Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile

He dislikes the huge sound of modern grands, so he modified his Yamaha baby grand by replacing the hammers with just the wooden parts and covered them with chamois to get a forte-piano sound.

Are you "enabling" Mark's laziness or inability to read.....

Do you really want to characterize it that way? bah smile

I can absolutely guarantee you that I am far, far from the only one here who would tend not to read such a long post.

HOWEVER.......perhaps you'll be pleased to know that I did look through it enough to see essentially what it was about and to realize it was something that interested me, more so because it so happens that one of my main teachers was someone at the forefront of the fortepiano movement.

Which in turn might make you wonder why I would ask (jocularly, I might add) for a summary, rather than just read it all.
For the answer to that, see the above-quoted portion of your post. smile

I am very glad that there are so many people here (like you) who are willing and able to read such long posts. It is impressive, and a great comment on this site.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 12:11 AM

Originally Posted By: crogersrx
Yes... caught in the act of enabling. I guess I've gotten so used to all the lazy people who just want a synopsis of what they need to know to get by, but never really do any work or learning......

(Right, I never really do any work or learning.) smile
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 12:16 AM

Originally Posted By: Del
Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano....

I likewise, and I've forever had my pianos worked on toward that end, with partial success. My exposure to fortepiano has probably helped push me in that direction.
Posted by: crogersrx

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 02:03 AM

Originally Posted By: acortot
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.


He did mention removing some of the weighting... it was such a long description, though, that you might have missed that part.

Excellent idea on the lower tension, lighter strings. It would take an expertlike Del to work out the physics of wire thickness, etc. Given that redesigning the bridge is probably out of the question, restringing with lighter guage string may be out of the question.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 02:30 AM

Thanks for your replies I will try to anwers your questions soon. Meanwhile, after more tests, I'm going to change the hammer-covering again, using only one layer of thin felt and one layer of leather, since the sound is less harsh and it is easier to play really soft. I would change this section of the text:

10 Lighter hammers, part 2
(...)

I used one layer of about 1.5 mm thick felt and one layer of about 1.5 mm thick Chamois leather, both about 6 cm long. The stripes of leather and felt were cut using a hand-operated paper cutting machine, very common in schools, with the material to be cut in between two layers of thin paper cardboard for a neat cut. The sound quality was less harsh than with three layers of Chamois leather. Each piece is glued seperatly at two points on both sides of the hammer core. The glue is strong, so only four little drops are needed. If anything gets ever detached it can be re-glued in no time. The tip of the hammer must always be left unglued not to ruin the voicing. The leather must have a little tension when glued, so it does not shift at the tip of the hammerhead. The ends of the leather, about 8 mm should be left unglued so the leather can be easily removed by pulling on these flaps when the leather has to be replaced. I applied a wooden clothespin after glueing for about 10 minutes. The leather piece on top is voiced with a tiny fraction of candle wax. Only the tip of the hammerhead is waxed when the leather is already glued on the hammer core. Either rub a white candle on each hammer tip and spread the wax with your fingers, or take an ironing iron on a low temperature, move the candle only once across the ironing iron. Only use a tiny fraction of candle wax, too much ruins the voicing and makes the piano sound like a harpsichord. Iron only the tips of the hammers. One streak of wax on the iron is enough for one section of hammers (there are four sections of hammers). Apply a kitchen paper towel between the iron to spread the wax or take some of it away again. The problem area is the middle section. Be most careful in the middle section. If you apply to much wax, you will simply have to replace the top leather. No wax makes the piano sound less articulate.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 02:59 AM

Recording is a difficult matter for me. I do not have a recording studio. There's only a rather cheap microphone and a cheap PC.

I can describe the sound in this way, by referring to a early 19th century fortepiano: In an early 19th century fotepiano, you have rather short, but thin iron strings in the treble and brass strings in the bass. When you hear a fortepiano for the first time, you are a bit put off by the nasal character of the treble. This is caused by several factors: The thin, short, very low-tension iron strings and the tiny leather hammers.

In a modern piano, the felt is compressed and voiced. The felt takes a very active, dynamic part in the sound, which is also rather loud. In an early historic piano, the hammer is rather passive. I would claim, the only factors that matter is the weight of the hammer, the surface of the hammer and the "cushioning" by felt (or leather) below the top layer. The sound is weaker, less impressive, less dominant and sometimes a bit "unrefined", compared to the modern piano. However, after getting used to this sound, the sound is often perceived as more interesing, more natural. It is an ideal sound for the Mozart's fantasies in d minor (KV 397) and in c minor (KV 475), which are difficult to make sense of on a modern piano.

Most impressive is the bass in a fortepiano. It is not dominant at all. Rather than church bells, it has a wiry quality to it, which is ideal for Mozart and the Romantics. The bass is very much transparent, melodies and single notes can be easily perceived.

What happens to a modern grand piano by changing to the hammers I have described is going very much in the direction of the early fortepiano. Even the bass of a short grand piano becomes quite attractive. The treble gets weaker, but this is no real disadvantage.

My piano, being a modern piano, is still louder than a fortepiano, but its sound takes many features of the fortepiano, which is amazing to me. At the same time the action is more reliable and precise. I practically used the same hammers for the entire piano, which is fast and cheap. The fact that the result is amazingly good is a pleasant surprise.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 05:30 AM

Here are some pictures.

( If the links here do not work, go temporarily to this page.
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/ )
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 07:20 AM

Here is part of Mozart's Fantasia in d minor, KV 397. Sorry about the bad quality of the playing, I haven't played for two days and I am not yet used to this piano. I just wanted to give you some impression of the sound.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 07:26 AM

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Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 07:27 AM

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Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 07:29 AM

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Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 07:34 AM

I have uploaded my pictures and sound samples, but I think the site administrator has yet to allow the files to be published ...
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 08:24 AM

Here is another server I have put my stuff on temporarily, in case my uploads here do not work:

http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/

You may have to download the sound files to your desktop (or any other folder) by rightclicking the links.

Notice the "sobbing" quality of the sound, which normally is not found on a standard Yamaha grand and hardly on a good Steinway grand, but this is typical of early fortepianos. I was playing with only little dynamic changes. My neighbor is a nurse and at the moment doing her night shifts. I promised her to 'behave' so that she could sleep in the daytime...
Posted by: theJourney

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 05:22 PM

Originally Posted By: Del
Originally Posted By: acortot
you will need to balance the keys again.. you can get rid of a bit of lead probably and make the action lighter.

in the future you might consider lowering the tension of the string-scale and using softer wire like puresound or the like.

might have some problems with the thick and stiff soundboard though..

Maybe Del might have a better grasp of this issue.


Had I been doing the whole job, yes, I would probably have replaced the soundboard and ribset with something thinner and lighter. And I'd have dropped the tensions down some. But this would have driven the cost up considerably. It sounds like the solution Puck01 has come up with on his own is satisfactory for now. Five years from now – who knows? – he may be ready to try soming more advanced.

Personally I was delighted to read this account. I’ve long been an advocate of toning down the modern piano. It would be ever so much better for the industry to offer a broader range of options. I’d like to see a modern version of the fortepiano offered in various lengths and styles. Picture a nice 200 cm grand built on a lighter physical scale (saving quite a lot of mass and even some floorspace) using lower tensioned scales that could be driven by hammers weighing perhaps 2/3 what the typical modern piano hammer weights. Key travel could be reduced without requiring muscleman fingers and arms. Quick, light and expressive actions. A more balanced tone palette optimized for smaller homes and apartments. I could really get carried away with this...Oh, yes, did you read about that rim I just pressed? Kind of like that....

ddf



Please, anything you can do to move something like this forward would be a good thing. I think that there really is a demand for a tamed grand piano for the home.
Posted by: schwammerl

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 05:49 PM

Quote:
Please, anything you can do to move something like this forward would be a good thing. I think that there really is a demand for a tamed grand piano for the home.


theJourney,

What you said! Fully agree!

Grands suitable for small room?

schwammerl.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 08:49 PM

Originally Posted By: theJourney
Please, anything you can do to move something like this forward would be a good thing. I think that there really is a demand for a tamed grand piano for the home.

If they make it through the system intact the new Weber (by Young Chang) should be at least one small step in this direction.

I’ve dropped the scale tensions (the Weber scales are no longer the same as the Young Chang scales) and they will have somewhat softer hammers. The new hammers for both the Weber and the Young Chang will be cold-pressed but the Weber hammers will not be compressed quite as much.

As well, there are a few other changes to the plates, soundboards and ribs and the rim assemblies that should make them a bit more balanced and improve their dynamic range some.

You might have read the newspaper article (in our local paper—there was a link posted here a few days ago) about pressing the rim for my own new piano. This will be another step in that direction. As planned there will be two sizes; a 2.0 m (6 7) and a 2.5 m (8 2 1/2). Both share a similar shape; quite narrow and slender. They will take up less actual floor space than pianos somewhat shorter. For example, the 2.5 m pianos will take up about the same amount of floor space as a typical 2.15 to 2.2 m piano.

As designed both will have very low scale tensions (for their sizes), very light soundboard systems and very light hammers and actions. They will use WN&G composite actions and keys that are specially designed to keep the weight down yet be stiff enough to avoid premature action saturation. It is my intent to also keep the key stroke a bit on the short side—more like 9.0 to 9.5 mm rather than the current “standard” of 10.0 to 11.0 mm. (With lighter hammers this will still make it possible to balance the action with a minimum of lead.)

ddf
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 09:58 PM

Del, it speaks volumes about your stature in this industry that you were able to get YC to go for those scale changes - and to dump the front duplex, too. You previously posted re YC being favorably impressed by the demos, but I don't recall your mentioning cold pressed hammers. Did you include those on your demos?

I'm asking about these things because what you're doing with the Albert Webers constitutes, IMO, a bit of a sea change at YC.

Ah yes, the 6'7" piano. To my eyes that's where grands begin to have a graceful appearance. The lighter 'board may pay dividends, too. There have been a few posts re people preferring the CW 175 over the 190.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/22/10 11:15 PM

Originally Posted By: FogVilleLad
Del, it speaks volumes about your stature in this industry that you were able to get YC to go for those scale changes - and to dump the front duplex, too. You previously posted re YC being favorably impressed by the demos, but I don't recall your mentioning cold pressed hammers. Did you include those on your demos?

I'm asking about these things because what you're doing with the Albert Webers constitutes, IMO, a bit of a sea change at YC.

Ah yes, the 6'7" piano. To my eyes that's where grands begin to have a graceful appearance. The lighter 'board may pay dividends, too. There have been a few posts re people preferring the CW 175 over the 190.

The cold-pressed hammers have not shown up in any production pianos as yet. They, like most of the other design changes, should be phased in during the next year but I don't know the schedule.

With these new hammers I'm trying to eliminate the need for most voicing at the factory. I want the pianos to achieve their design voice without the need for a lot of needling or sanding or chemical hardening; especially the latter. Still, I want to give the technician a hammer that can be worked with to take that voice up or down (within limits) fairly easily to suit a particular customer’s musical taste.

Early sample hammers have been on some of the demo pianos I've heard at the factory but there is still some work to do on felt selection and dimensioning. I've not wanted to say anything about these—or the other changes that will be coming along—until the company made their own announcements. As they have now done this I am somewhat freer to discuss the changes that are being made.

As the 2.0 and 2.5 m pianos are my own project I can say anything I wish. Or not—there are some aspects of the design I’m not yet willing to divulge. Before deciding on the 2.0 m length for the shorter of the two pianos I made several mock-ups to scale but wasn’t really happy with how they looked. I’m after a modern version of the mid-19th century pianoforte and this was the shortest size that pleased my eye. It’s not that I don’t like shorter pianos—I have a cute little 160 cm (5' 3") design that I’d like to see built someday!—but not for this project. Besides the 2.0 m piano is the shortest one I thought I could sell at a price that would compensate me for all the money and work I’m putting into the project. (How’s that for exhaustive market research!)

ddf
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 02:03 AM

There should be a market for shallow key dip/lighter touch pianos. I'm looking out for a mid 1800's upright to play Chopin on myself. It's another world of experience to play on the appropriate instrument.
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 03:16 PM

Originally Posted By: Del
I’m after a modern version of the mid-19th century pianoforte and this was the shortest size that pleased my eye.
Well, the length is spot on. First impressions are important and these pianos will score high on aesthetic appeal.

The shallow key dip, you do realize that those of us who occasionally resort to a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am Jerry Lee Lewis imitation will feel a little awkward when first encountering this action;-)

Gotta love the goal, tho. So often we read about performance grands which have to be played with their lids down. I'm new to piano and can still recall the first time I played a grand, c.6 years ago. It was a parlour from Steinway Hall - not a Steiny. Played a song I'd written. Lid was down. Wasn't impressed. The owner then raised the lid. Immediately the tone bloomed and also immediately I understood the appeal of a grand. IMO if you can market a 6'7" piano which can be played at home on full stick, you'll have a winner - and one which we can recommend on PW.



Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 03:44 PM

Originally Posted By: FogVilleLad
The shallow key dip, you do realize that those of us who occasionally resort to a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am Jerry Lee Lewis imitation will feel a little awkward when first encountering this action;-)


The dip won’t be all that much shallower. Bearing in mind that when I started in this business the “standard” key dip was 9.5 mm (≈ 0.375”) for most pianos. Steinway was 10 mm (≈ 0.39”). And then hammers started getting heavier…and heavier…and heavier…. Pretty soon the limits of what the human fingers and wrists can handle were exceeded and action ratios had to change.

As may be, there will be power aplenty for those who need it. Funny thing is, I’ve noticed over the years that as I provide a better, warmer and richer pianissimo the need for that crashing, strident forte tends to disappear. Folks who used to bang and crash don’t do so all that much. The only conclusion I can draw is that folks are looking for range, not just power. If the piano provides an expanded range the whole level of play comes down.


Quote:
Gotta love the goal, tho. So often we read about performance grands which have to be played with their lids down. I'm new to piano and can still recall the first time I played a grand, c.6 years ago. It was a parlour from Steinway Hall - not a Steiny. Played a song I'd written. Lid was down. Wasn't impressed. The owner then raised the lid. Immediately the tone bloomed and also immediately I understood the appeal of a grand. IMO if you can market a 6'7" piano which can be played at home on full stick, you'll have a winner - and one which we can recommend on PW.

I will be very disappointed to see these pianos played with their lids down. I’ll be even more disappointed if it is necessary. Maybe I’ll have to put some sort of interlock device in there to prevent that from ever happening.

I’ll also be disappointed if any type of hydraulic lid lift device is necessary to help one lift the lid.

ddf
Posted by: theJourney

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 04:25 PM

Originally Posted By: FogVilleLad
[quote=Del] IMO if you can market a 6'7" piano which can be played at home on full stick, you'll have a winner - and one which we can recommend on PW.



Hear! Hear!
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 04:31 PM

I agree that the key to dynamic range is pianissimo.

here is my Erard at home..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTSdZ70m2gI

a friend is improvising..

the sound is not so good because it's the audio from my JVC emerio videocamera.

consider that the piano you see is 2.12 meters, but because of the low-tension scale and parallel stringing it occupies less space than one would think..

and the weight of the piano is about 300 Kg total, I can lift one side by hand

Erard was the heaviest and loudest french piano..

my 1844 pleyel is so light that I've put it on it's side by myself (with the legs off) from the floor. it is a 2m piano and yet it is quite small-looking.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 04:32 PM

consider that even on fortepianos, more layers of leather were added to the bass.
Posted by: schwammerl

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 05:40 PM

A 200 cm+ grand which has to be played with the lid fully open and which produces the ideal dynamic range appropriate for the home environment ........that leaves me with a practical question:

How is Young Chang going to market these Albert Weber grands?

Despite the fact that apparently quite a few piano lovers appaer to be interested in this concept how are these prospect buyers going to testdrive/audition these grands in the usual big factory like dealer showroom environments?

Testdriven in the above conditions I could imagine one would not find the sound and dynamic range to be splendid.

Will Young Chang need to instruct dealers to provide for the appropriate home environment like acoustic conditions in there showrooms? Or will one have to trial these grands straight in one own's home environment (which is not very practical, if at all feasable)?

I coulod see a tough job for both YC and the dealers.

schwammerl.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/23/10 09:20 PM

Originally Posted By: schwammerl
A 200 cm+ grand which has to be played with the lid fully open and which produces the ideal dynamic range appropriate for the home environment ........that leaves me with a practical question:

How is Young Chang going to market these Albert Weber grands?

Despite the fact that apparently quite a few piano lovers appaer to be interested in this concept how are these prospect buyers going to testdrive/audition these grands in the usual big factory like dealer showroom environments?

Testdriven in the above conditions I could imagine one would not find the sound and dynamic range to be splendid.

Will Young Chang need to instruct dealers to provide for the appropriate home environment like acoustic conditions in there showrooms? Or will one have to trial these grands straight in one own's home environment (which is not very practical, if at all feasable)?

I coulod see a tough job for both YC and the dealers.

schwammerl.


I wasn't talking about the Albert Weber or YC grands. I was talking about my own instrument. And I won't have dealers to worry about....

ddf
Posted by: schwammerl

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 02:59 AM

Quote:
If they make it through the system intact the new Weber (by Young Chang) should be at least one small step in this direction.


Quote:
I wasn't talking about the Albert Weber or YC grands. I was talking about my own instrument. And I won't have dealers to worry about....


So Del,

The Webers you were talking about are even not near your personal ideal?

If that is the case consumers will not have to worry in a foreseeable future about that practical concern,...... unfortunately?

schwammerl.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 03:58 AM

I think that once people get accustomed to the low-tension sound they will want to buy the pianos, even if they are not as loud.

the decay of a low-tension piano is more interesting to the ear. Hammers can be lighter, therefore making the action quicker and more sensitive. The soundboard can be made thinner and speaks quicker.

the difficulty with lower tensions is that the soundboard has to work ideally... you need to know what you are doing.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 06:44 AM

Thanks for the positive response. By the way, the modern key dip was not changed at all. The 'feel' of playing changes though, because of the super-light hammers.

What you say about the lid up is entirely true. You want to hear the details when the hammers strike the strings. That's the nicest thing about a grand piano. The Yamaha A-149cm model has this disadvantage: The music stand is fixed in the front of the piano. On other grands, I used to shift the music stand far back into the piano, so that my ears got the sound from the treble hammers directly from under the music stand. The shifting music stand is one of the great developments which make a lot of sense to me.
However, the big volume is always a problem on modern grands. After playing for half an hour I usually have enough and my ears are ringing. I would love to have a, say, maximally 180 cm grand piano (with a lower volume, the piano does not have to be so very long to sound nice, and think of the people who live in apartments with narrow staircases), very low-tension strings, tiny hammers and a somewhat historical sound ideal, but still a modern piano. The price should not exceed $20 000, but this seems to be an absolute dream. People like Del are an inspiration. I am convinced, there really IS a market for such a grand piano. Design one model of a grand piano, that can be manufactured with a consistent quality, at a relatively low price, even in the US or in Europe, a grand piano that is supported by pianists, piano teachers and music-lovers alike, say some kind of soft-spoken Yamaha/Steinway, about 180cm, and at a price of say $20 000, then you will have a success story.

What was said about the abilty to have a large piano range as opposed to fortissimo is very true. In my opinion, a piano should rather have a voice like a human being. A piano should have an identity, like a person, rather than an orchestra or a hellish machine. We want to be touched by a piano, not shocked. That's why a piano should 'speak' and not 'shout'.

Now here is my problem with the piano I have been working on: After a few days of playing and about one and a half hours per session, I come to the following conclusion: The action is not ideal for this type of hammer. The key is on a rather long way down for such a light hammer. Maybe this could be better regulated by a piano technician. However, the sound in the middle range of the treble is always quite harsh and not convincing. I'm afraid of having this section restrung. Everyhing is mere guesswork. The bass and the higher treble is no real problem. It is difficult to differentiate between piano and forte. My fingers get easily tired when playing, though the weight is far less than standard. The overall volume of the treble is still too big and one slips too easily into a harsh forte. I would prefer a volume more similar to a fortepiano.
I would not say that this experiment is a failure. It indicates the direction in which I would like to go and the features my ideal piano should have. I pause here and have a think what next to do.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 07:59 AM

Quote:
We want to be touched by a piano, not shocked. That's why a piano should 'speak' and not 'shout'.


you've just touched on one of the major differences between musical aesthetics of the 1800's as opposed to post-20th century aesthetic.

music interpreted as speech as opposed to shouting..

initially the big divide was between the american-made shouters (including Steinway which was considered an american design I believe) and the european made talkers.

the shouters won the match... but who wants to have someone shouting in their private home all the time I wonder..

(this applies to playing style of old as well)
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 04:01 PM

Originally Posted By: acortot
I think that once people get accustomed to the low-tension sound they will want to buy the pianos, even if they are not as loud.

the decay of a low-tension piano is more interesting to the ear. Hammers can be lighter, therefore making the action quicker and more sensitive. The soundboard can be made thinner and speaks quicker.

the difficulty with lower tensions is that the soundboard has to work ideally... you need to know what you are doing.
Fortunately, Del does know.

His design for the Charles Walter 190 moved in the lower tension direction and his design for their 175 added the thinner soundboard element.

Even more impressive, IMO, is his persuading Young Chang CEO B. J. Park to move in the lower tension direction. This represents a sea change at YC and gives that company the potential for marketing a distinctive tonal palette.

Change entails risk. YC would be wise to focus on dealer quality and education rather than dealer quantity, especially for their Albert Weber brand - that being the one whose tensions Del reduced the most.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 04:29 PM

Originally Posted By: schwammerl
Quote:
If they make it through the system intact the new Weber (by Young Chang) should be at least one small step in this direction.


Quote:
I wasn't talking about the Albert Weber or YC grands. I was talking about my own instrument. And I won't have dealers to worry about....


So Del,

The Webers you were talking about are even not near your personal ideal?

If that is the case consumers will not have to worry in a foreseeable future about that practical concern,...... unfortunately?

schwammerl.


I’m not quite sure where you found that conclusion in what I wrote, but….

Just as there are many piano buyers there are also many “ideals.” The piano I am building represents my own ideal without regard to its marketability or its broad appeal to a wide variety of buyers. Just as the designers of something like the Ferrari don’t have to worry overly much about how practical their ideal automobile might be as the only car in the garage of a family with three kids and the weekend shopping to contend with.

In designing—or in this case, redesigning—a product line for a piano maker with an already established market niche I think it would be unwise to completely ignore that existing market. In my opinion it is probably better to nudge the market along in the direction you want it to go rather than hit it with a sledgehammer.

In my work with Young Chang I have attempted to give the company an updated product line that is smoother, better balanced and improved in most every way. More specifically I have separated the tone performance of the Young Chang and the Weber brands so that each will appeal to folks with somewhat different musical tastes. One of those brands—the Weber—should appeal to a market segment that has, in my opinion, been some underserved. They will have a warmer, more dynamic sound than is commonly found in the inexpensive grands of today. I’m hopeful that their sales history will demonstrate that this is a musically and commercially viable direction in which to go.

With my own piano I could care less about appealing to a mass market. I can afford to go in directions—and take both design and materials chances—that would almost certainly not be acceptable in a mass-market piano. The hard reality is that folks shopping for inexpensive pianos have to go through dealers and dealers are brutal on anything that hints of even evolutionary design let alone the occasional revolutionary idea or concept. Folks looking for the unusual very limited production piano are more willing to take a chance. And they do not have to go through that competitive dealer who will be doing his/her best to trash the design, construction, materials, look, feel, sound, name, reputation and even the smell of any remotely competitive piano. In other words, I can do whatever I personally want to do with my own pianos. If someone else likes what I’ve done enough to buy one, well, that’s great. If not, well, there are always the more common traditional pianos around.

ddf
Posted by: Norbert

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 05:35 PM

Quote:
The hard reality is that folks shopping for inexpensive pianos have to go through dealers and dealers are brutal on anything that hints of even evolutionary design let alone the occasional revolutionary idea or concept.


With all respect, this is not completely true - at least not anymore.

During NAAM, I met several other dealers who are are very much planning to build a niche of excellence for themselves.

This will perhaps involve putting a "dream team" of those pianos together that clearly cut through the middle.

Mediocricity is increasingly for those who wish to continue dwelling in it.

By picking and choosing the very best models from several makers all at once, and at same time refusing to stock those 'cheapy' type models traditionally made by them as well, a new generation of pianos is upon us.

This reinforces the claim I have made for long time namely that *brand name* by itslef will be perhaps a lesser concern in future with the true excellence of built and musical performance of each individual piano becoming more important.

Perhaps the piano market is finally following society as a whole - becoming a bit more "multi-cultural" in nature....

Norbert wink
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/24/10 07:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Del
In designing — or in this case, redesigning — a product line for a piano maker with an already established market niche I think it would be unwise to completely ignore that existing market.

In my work with Young Chang I have attempted to give the company an updated product line that is smoother, better balanced and improved in most every way. More specifically I have separated the tone performance of the Young Chang and the Weber brands so that each will appeal to folks with somewhat different musical tastes. The Weber should appeal to a market segment that has, in my opinion, been some underserved. They will have a warmer, more dynamic sound than is commonly found in the inexpensive grands of today.


IMO the most important aspect of selling the Albert Webers will be dealer selection and education. Encouraging dealers to have a dedicated auditioning area would be particularly helpful. Let's face it, even a lower tensioned modern piano will have all the power ever needed for playing at home. Give people an opportunity to experience the potential of a warmer piano with a broad dynamic range, and the Albert Webers should sell well.

Originally Posted By: Del
With my own piano I could care less about appealing to a mass market. I can afford to go in directions — and take both design and materials chances — that would almost certainly not be acceptable in a mass-market piano. The hard reality is that folks shopping for inexpensive pianos have to go through dealers and dealers are brutal on anything that hints of even evolutionary design let alone the occasional revolutionary idea or concept.


Because people who want to alert others to the opportunity for experiencing a unique tonal palette will not be able to suggest visiting their local dealers, high quality recordings on your site would, IMO, be a very good idea. (The one you made of that Knabe was good.) Are there any schools up your way which teach recording? If there are, the students will be eager for a professional credit and have access to equipment.

Please consider including popular music among the selections. I haven't forgotten your preference for the Classical repertoire, but that repertoire is neither played nor preferred by all. A fundamental principle of instruction is to begin by providing opportunities for students to immediately engage with the subject. You're a teacher.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/25/10 07:23 PM

Originally Posted By: Puck01
Thanks for the positive response. By the way, the modern key dip was not changed at all. The 'feel' of playing changes though, because of the super-light hammers.

What you say about the lid up is entirely true. You want to hear the details when the hammers strike the strings. That's the nicest thing about a grand piano. The Yamaha A-149cm model has this disadvantage: The music stand is fixed in the front of the piano. On other grands, I used to shift the music stand far back into the piano, so that my ears got the sound from the treble hammers directly from under the music stand. The shifting music stand is one of the great developments which make a lot of sense to me.

However, the big volume is always a problem on modern grands. After playing for half an hour I usually have enough and my ears are ringing. I would love to have a, say, maximally 180 cm grand piano (with a lower volume, the piano does not have to be so very long to sound nice, and think of the people who live in apartments with narrow staircases), very low-tension strings, tiny hammers and a somewhat historical sound ideal, but still a modern piano. The price should not exceed $20 000, but this seems to be an absolute dream. People like Del are an inspiration. I am convinced, there really IS a market for such a grand piano. Design one model of a grand piano, that can be manufactured with a consistent quality, at a relatively low price, even in the US or in Europe, a grand piano that is supported by pianists, piano teachers and music-lovers alike, say some kind of soft-spoken Yamaha/Steinway, about 180cm, and at a price of say $20 000, then you will have a success story.

Well, the $20,000 part is certainly a dream. Getting the price down to that level pretty much dictates manufacture in China or Indonesia or some such location. It also dictates a reasonably high rate of production. It would be some trick to convince an volume manufacturer to tool up to build what they would see as a speculative and esoteric (i.e., outside of the norm that they are used to) in any kind of volume.

It would be an untested market and piano makers have not shown themselves to be exactly daring when it comes to testing new markets.


Quote:
What was said about the ability to have a large piano range as opposed to fortissimo is very true. In my opinion, a piano should rather have a voice like a human being. A piano should have an identity, like a person, rather than an orchestra or a hellish machine. We want to be touched by a piano, not shocked. That's why a piano should 'speak' and not 'shout'.

Generally when I discuss this subject with pianists who already possess what I consider to be excessively hard-sounding pianos is that their pianos do have good range. They can play loud and soft. The difference, as I see it, is that all pianos can be played loud and less loud. That is, they can be played at reduced volume levels when the keys are not struck as hard. But there is a difference between “less loud” and “soft.” It is the volume and timbral change between loud and soft that I am after.


Quote:
Now here is my problem with the piano I have been working on: After a few days of playing and about one and a half hours per session, I come to the following conclusion: The action is not ideal for this type of hammer. The key is on a rather long way down for such a light hammer. Maybe this could be better regulated by a piano technician. However, the sound in the middle range of the treble is always quite harsh and not convincing. I'm afraid of having this section restrung. Everything is mere guesswork. The bass and the higher treble is no real problem. It is difficult to differentiate between piano and forte. My fingers get easily tired when playing, though the weight is far less than standard. The overall volume of the treble is still too big and one slips too easily into a harsh forte. I would prefer a volume more similar to a fortepiano.
I would not say that this experiment is a failure. It indicates the direction in which I would like to go and the features my ideal piano should have. I pause here and have a think what next to do.

If you can find a technician who is familiar with modifying action ratios you can probably have this modified to suit. This is a very predictable result of the changes you’ve made to your action. It will take a bit of measuring and calculating but it shouldn’t be too difficult to relocate the key capstan and the wippen capstan block to come up with an overall action ratio that will give you a reduced key travel and a better action feel.

Revising the stringing scale would take a certain amount of preliminary trial and error work to come up with a scheme that would work with the original soundboard. It would be some easier coming up with a complete scale and soundboard combination if the soundboard could be thinned out and re-ribbed to cut down on the weight and stiffness some. But even with the original board it should be possible to tone it down some.

Don’t give up. What you are doing is, at the least, interesting. And in the end you should end up with an instrument you actually enjoy playing.

ddf
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/25/10 07:36 PM

Originally Posted By: Norbert
Quote:
The hard reality is that folks shopping for inexpensive pianos have to go through dealers and dealers are brutal on anything that hints of even evolutionary design let alone the occasional revolutionary idea or concept.


With all respect, this is not completely true - at least not anymore.

During NAAM, I met several other dealers who are are very much planning to build a niche of excellence for themselves.

This will perhaps involve putting a "dream team" of those pianos together that clearly cut through the middle.

Mediocricity is increasingly for those who wish to continue dwelling in it.

By picking and choosing the very best models from several makers all at once, and at same time refusing to stock those 'cheapy' type models traditionally made by them as well, a new generation of pianos is upon us.

This reinforces the claim I have made for long time namely that *brand name* by itslef will be perhaps a lesser concern in future with the true excellence of built and musical performance of each individual piano becoming more important.

Perhaps the piano market is finally following society as a whole - becoming a bit more "multi-cultural" in nature....

Norbert wink


I'd like to think you're right, but experience tells me otherwise.

Competitive dealers still trash Kawai’s “plastic” actions, not for performance reasons but because they use “plastic.” And we all know plastic is bad.

Competitive dealers will continue to trash the “features” found in some competitive pianos simply because they are different from those in the pianos he/she sells.

Dealers still trash the idea of laminated soundboards even though the piano containing it (located at a competitor’s store, of course) might well sound better than the piano on their own floor.

Sadly, not all piano buyers can play the piano well enough to make an informed decision on the piano voice they will come to prefer over time. And it is this inability that the dealer I describe is still quite willing to exploit.

I’d love to see the general marketplace evolve beyond this. But I doubt it will do so any time soon. I agree that there will be a few enlightened dealers selling in the way you describe—there always have been—but I don’t see the mainstream dealerships becoming that enlightened any time soon. At least not until market pressures force them to do so. And until that happens piano manufacturers will rightly (in terms of their business survival) continue to be reluctant to introduce new ideas, materials and technologies. Even though that reluctance may well lead to collapse for many.

ddf
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/27/10 10:15 AM

Thank you, Del, for giving me courage. Today, at lunch time, a local piano technician came at short-notice to do one and a half hours of basic regulation on my piano. First he levelled out the hammer line, then he changed the release point. The release of the hammers was to early, it happened at about 1 cm from the strings instead of 2 mm. In a Yamaha grand piano, the let-off buttons are screwed on a wooden batten, one batten per section. This batten can be unscrewed and raised, if a new type of hammer is installed in the piano. After that, the seperate release-buttons can be fine-tuned to set the release point correctly at 2 mm distance from the strings. In the bass, the distance can be slightly more.

This intervention basically solved my problem. Playing is now absolutely satisfying. The new hamers just need getting used to a little, but it is a huge difference from the rough ride I got at first. I feel that this piano technician (Christof Bucherer) will be my most important reference in the future, because he is fast, straightforward, uncomplicated and efficient.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/27/10 10:51 AM

Answer to one of the replies: I did not like the square pianos I came across. Neither the sound nor the general feel. I am not really going for ramshackle antiques. I suppose I am too much of a spoilt child of the 21st century ;-)
Posted by: FogVilleLad

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/27/10 02:23 PM

Originally Posted By: Puck01
I feel that this piano technician (Christof Bucherer) will be my most important reference in the future, because he is fast, straightforward, uncomplicated and efficient.
Happiness is a good tech.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/27/10 02:50 PM

Originally Posted By: Puck01
This intervention basically solved my problem. Playing is now absolutely satisfying. The new hamers just need getting used to a little, but it is a huge difference from the rough ride I got at first. I feel that this piano technician (Christof Bucherer) will be my most important reference in the future, because he is fast, straightforward, uncomplicated and efficient.


Plus it doesn't sound like he thinks you are wacko! This could be his greatest asset considering that what you are after is a little out of the ordinary. There are a whole lot of folks out there in the piano world who are either frightened of, or antagonistic toward, anything other than the (modern) traditional norm.

Please keep us informed.

ddf
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 01/27/10 03:02 PM

very good,

please post some more audio

have you considered adding more leather in the bass section? it was normal to do so on fortepianos.

you will have to re-adjust letoff again, but it's a simple procedure
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/10/10 02:06 PM

Hi again

I have put some more recordings here, have just come home from work and usually I'm more musical in the morning ...
However, I felt like doing some recording:

_______________________________________________

http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/

beethoven_sontata_pathetique_first_movement_(only first part).wma

beethoven_sonata_pathetique_2nd_movement.wma

mozart_fantasie_c.wma

bach_wtc_1_prelude_20.wma

_________________________________________

Description of my latest "configuration" with reducing the blow distance a bit further. The above recordings are 'at full stick' (fully open grand piano) with this regulation, the microphone being at about 2m distance from the piano and on the level of the strings.
_________________________________________


I have tested layers of felt under the leather for the hammers, but nothing was as good as the three (or sometimes four) layers of chamois leather.

Only the tip of the hammerhead is waxed when the leather is already glued on the hammer core. Rub a white candle four to eight times up and down on each hammer tip and spread the wax evenly with your fingers. Too much wax ruins the voicing and makes the piano sound too hard and metallic. Rub the wax on every hammer. If you apply to much wax, you will have to replace the top leather. No wax makes the piano sound less articulate.

10 Regulating the action

Put the action rail into the grand piano, then pull it out half-way so that the hammers are in a line under the wrest plank. Watch out that the action rail does not fall out. The treble hammers may have to be more in when the bass hammers are regulated. Use a knitting needle of 1.5 mm diameter to screw out the capstans in the bass. The hammers should tighlty fit under the wrestplank, when the action is pulled out or pushed in. Leave about 0.5 mm room for them to move. The capstans of the treble hammers are screwed out so that they have 5 mm room to move under the wrestplank. Get a wooden batten (e.g. fir tree) which is 5 mm thick to help you measure the space beween hammers and wrestplank, when adjusting the capstans of the treble hammers.
Last, adjust the let-off. In a Yamaha grand piano, the let-off buttons are screwed on a wooden batten, one batten per section. This batten can be slightly unscrewed from the action rail, raised and screwed on tight again, if a new type of hammer is installed in the piano. After that, the separate let-off buttons can be adjusted with the knitting needle to set the let-off point (Auslösungspunkt in German) correctly at 1 mm distance from the strings.
_________________________________________________________

I did not put more layers of leather on the hammers in the bass for the following reason: I want the bass to stay as slim as possible. The bass is still very powerful, as you may hear on the recordings. However whith the light weight hammers, the bass remains more 'transparent', 'wiry', which is more suitable for the 18th and 19th century piano music than the bass we get on the modern piano.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/12/10 04:25 PM

Today I removed the 6mm thick plywood board I had added below the soundboard, closing off the under part of the piano to reduce the volume. The bass was stronger and even the treble a bit stronger, but I did not like the thumping noise from underneath the piano. So after some minutes, I closed the soundboard off again from below.

I realized that this plywood board was contributing a lot to the sound I like most. It also helps much in keeping the bass transparent and rather 'wiry'.

The plywood board is fastened to the rafters under the piano by driving in several screws in a row at both ends of the board. The screws are driven through two battens glued on to the board. The batens function as brackets, which press against the rafters of the piano when the screws are driven in. The screws are pressing against another moveable batten to protect the rafters from the screws, about like this: \\________// . Screws are driven through the moveable battens exactly at the points where the pressing screws attack, to protect the moveable battens themselves from being drilled through. This way, no marks are left on the piano. The plywood board is held in place only by pressure.

The sound can be a bit harsh at times, so from time to time I use the una corda (left) pedal to get a softer sound. Especially when I have played for a day on my digital piano only, I need some time adjusting to the different sound of my acoustic grand piano. Sometimes I play with the lid closed for a while. Usually after a few minutes, I open the lid of the piano.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/19/10 02:12 PM

Waxing the top layer of leather is not an ideal vocing procedure. I added a fourth layer of leather which I washed shortly with warm water before cutting and glueing. This makes the top layer harder and stronger. Of course, the leather has to dry after washing.

This is important especially for the top layer. I suggest using four layers of pre-washed, about 1.5 mm thick Chamois leather. Add an additional layer, if the sound of one note is too harsh. I would go a bit on the softer side of tone. After adding the top layer, play the piano for at least a week before hardening the top layer with starch paste water as a voicing procedure, if necessary. Playing the hammers will harden them too. To apply the starch paste water, use a brush or one finger. Protect keys and action before by inserting cardboard between the action and the hammers. Make sure the hammers are perfectly dry before inserting the action back in and playing the piano to test the sound. The procedure may be repeated serveral times. I did not test the voicing with starch paste water, however it makes sense, because the soft leather behaves very much like textiles. Starch is least aggressive and can be diluted by degrees with water. It is a totally natural substance.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/22/10 01:34 AM

The problem with several relatively loose layers of chamois leather is that the sound in the piano range is somehow muffled. Only in the forte range the sound is fully developed. I am talking about timbre, not only volume. With only two or three layers of chamois, the sound gets quite harsh after having played for a week, which compressed the chamois. One may easily slip unintentially into a harsh forte.

Rubber, on the other hand, cannot be compressed in the same way as chamois, however the rubber surface leads to an unappealing, metallic sound, which is too harsh. I am experimenting with just one layer of rubber band (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_band) and one layer of rather thick chamois leather, washed and dried before cutting. While the rubber has a consistent texture, the chamois has a nice surface which gives a note a nicer tone. The idea of combining both forces came to me just this morgning when I woke up. I have to go through more tests ...

The most difficult region in terms of voicing is the range from note 23 to 47 -- one and a half octaves below the middle C and half an octave above it. Below and above that range the voicing is usually fine with two to four layers of chamois.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/22/10 09:30 AM

funny you should mention the plywood, because old viennese pianos had a slab of wood underneath.. the case was sealed.

as far as the sound of the chamois, I would have left it soft, and perhaps pulled it a bit if it's too dull and thumpy.

water on leather is not a good idea IMO

as I mentioned before there should be more leather on the bass
Posted by: Semper Bösendorfer

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 02/24/10 12:34 AM

Found this totally absorbing thread only today - OZ time. Sorry for jumping back on the posts, but the early restorations of fortepianos, bear little resemblance to the later ones. Ditto for square pianos that can, if properly worked on, have a really sweet, sustaining tone. (Apologies to Larry Fine for his comments re Squares!)

Being a huge fan of fortepianos I am waiting eagerly to see how this **really** valuable thread develops.

All the very best from Warrandyte, Oz!
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/02/10 11:17 AM

My situation and approach can be summed up as follows:

- I bought the smallest Yamaha grand piano second-hand, because the price-performance ratio seemd OK.
- I liked the transition from treble to bass (on most Yamahas C1, C2, C3 I did not like it, too much like church-bells)
- At my home, the piano was far too booming (loud)
- After experimenting with reducing the blow distance I realised that this did not solve my problem. It just made playing the piano feel awkward. Only smaller and lighter hammers would really change the sound of the piano while at the same time letting almost intact the 'normal feel' of the action when playing.
- The leads in the bass keys had to go completely.
- I basically wanted to use the same hammer for every range of the piano. First, this makes things easier and second, it reduces the booming in the bass.
- I finally used one layer of rubber (cut rubber bands) and one layer of chamois, about 1.2 mm thick, with only the chamois being glued to the hammer head, and the chamois leather holding the rubber in place. The rubber is slightly bulging. The hammer behaves similarly to a badminton shuttle, both dynamic and braking the violence of the hammer blow on the string.
- The rubber itself would not create a nice sound, it needs the surface of the leather to be 'rounded off'.
- This is not a historical fortepiano, of course, and my aim was to tune down the violent bass. Therefore, there is no sense in using real historical hammers for fortepianos. I had to come up with a different design.
- I really wanted the look, feel and stability (tuning!) and the action of a modern grand piano. At the same time, I wanted a much lower volume, but still an articulate, clear sound, something akin to the fortepiano.
- The brilliance of a concert Steinway or Yamaha was never my goal, neither was a completely voiced down muffled sound.
- I wanted to keep everything as simple and low-cost as possible. I think I have reached my goal of getting a real modern grand piano with a beautiful and interesting tone that speaks to me.
- I have to continue playing the piano. The hammers should be completely stable after about two weeks of playing. The leather will have been compressed maximally, the rubber will not be compressed. If this type of hammer holds for three to five years of playing, before I have to replace the layers of rubber and leather, I consider this a success story.
The fitting took me about 10 hours of work, which is an acceptable bit of work say every 5 years.
- The spruce hammer heads should not have to be replaced. They most probably will not be damaged or worn down. They were varnished with glue to protect the surface.
Posted by: Del

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/02/10 12:16 PM

Thanks for the update. I appreciate your efforts to experiment and to report your results.

ddf
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/03/10 04:42 PM

Here some more pictures:

http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/

The rubber-and-chamois-coated hammerhead:

DrawingRubberAndChamoisCoatedHammerhead.jpg
RubberAndChamoisCoatedHammerheads1.jpg
RubberAndChamoisCoatedHammerheads2.jpg

The piece of rubber-band is about 3cm long. The lower part of it is dipped in glue, and so is about 1 cm of the chamois strip below. When gluing the chamois to the spruce hammerhead, the tip with the rubber-band is fixed with a clothespin, then the glue is put on the chamois leather and the chamois is then strung with a 40cm piece of string until the glue has set. I used some universal waterproof white glue.

The lower lid:

LowerLid1.jpg
LowerLid2.jpg

Tonight, I could increase the blow distance to something more close to the standard, to say about 4 cm. Even an increase of half a centimeter blow distance has great impact with this hammer design. The action is clearly rather designed for this blow distance. Accordingly, the feel in my fingers is much better than with a smaller blow distance.

I haven't been regulating more than the capstans, the let-off buttons and the drop screw, either.

The rubber coat acts like a shock absorber. The dynamics could be improved even more, both the piano and the forte ranges are now quite attractive. The volume is thinning out in the top ranges, very much like on a fortepiano. The bass is quite strong due to the long strings, which have much energy, but not overwhelmingly so. I am very pleased with it. smile

I have to wait till the next day to play more, because the house rules prohibit playing after 10 p.m. ...
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/08/10 01:16 AM

Hammers and sound are stable. I like the piano very much.
The sound has something rough and delicate at the same time. It reminds me of a human being, talking! It is very expressive. Unlike with a Steinway, the 'singing' does not come from the basic sound itself. This instrument has to be played muscially to get the sound singing. Mozart would have loved this, if he was stuck in this century. The singing of a Steinway can get in the way sometimes, especially if the singing is at a barking volume. But let's not generalize. What matters very much is the size of the room. My room is small.

The action is very responsive and subtle. The keys are really light in comparison to the standard Yamaha. It needs some getting used to, to reach its full potential, but once you're there, you would not like to miss it.

I have done some more research on the leather. As I understand, I put on a layer of sheep chamois over a layer of rubber. There is also deer chamois, slightly thicker (1.8 to 2 mm) and more consistent in texture, but also quite soft. I can get it from a different tannery some 50km from here. They import it from Austria, they said.
I will try this deer chamois out, when the current layer of sheep chamois is worn. So I'm not in a hurry while everything is still in good shape.

People are always asking for sound samples. I put some recordings on with my bad playing with the old configuration of the hammers (3 layers of chamois). The thing is that even with the best recording, you lose much of the real thing. It's best for a piano lover or technician to try this configuration out for themselves. A recording is only a bad picture.

The music stand on the smallest of Yamaha grands cannot be adjusted by sliding it in or out. It is fitted like on a Viennese piano or a Broadwood very much in front. In this way it shields the lovely direct sound from the hammers from my ears, which is not ideal. So I glued some 3mm red felt under the music stand. When playing, I open the lid at full stick and place the music stand on the cast iron frame, so I get the direct sound from the hammers in the mid-range.

It is the most amazing thing for me, to be able to play for hours without ever feeling the sound to be too much for my ears.
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/08/10 08:49 AM

next time you re-do the hammers you might want to round the tip of the hammer-core.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/16/10 05:15 PM

You are absoutely right! I already got tired of the rubber and sheep chamois hammer tips. After a while, the sound was not articulate enough.

I have tested the deer chamois from Austria, which is about 2mm thick, and superior to the sheep chamois. It is more resilient, more consistent, while still being rather smooth. My tests on the piano, with the same hammer in all ranges, were quite encouraging. And this only with one layer of deer chamois leather on top of a fir and beechwood core. The sound is improving more and more!

One problem was that the leather would be very strained at the edges, when I used only leather and not the bulging piece of rubber. A rounded surface is much more stable for leather.

First, the Viennese fortepianos had hardwood hammers with no leather at all, until the 1780s, when leather tips were introduced. The earlier fortepianos only had one or two layers of leather (1810s), but the hammer underneath was rounded and looked a bit like the tip of a mushroom:

http://hammerfluegel.net/viewer.php?albid=67&stage=3&imgid=958

I will glue two crescent shaped wedges of wood at both sides, at the tip of the hammerhead. With the hammerhead, the diameter of the circle top will be 12mm. I will fit the deer chamois on top of this 'mushroom tip'. I will test if stringing the leather on the hammer tip with nylon will be enough. It takes me too many hours, cleaning the glue and leather away, when I want to replace the top leather. I think, the leather will hold much better, because of this 'mushroom tip', even without any glue.

It will look something like this:

(|)
.|

I ordered crescent shaped battens from a joiner in my area of town, and I should get them this week. I will cut the 11mm wide pieces from it myself, either with a saw or with a kitchen knife.

In the future, replacing one layer of leather will take me about three hours instead of ten.
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/17/10 05:38 PM

Today, I got the battens in crescent profile from the joiner. He lent me a miter-box saw (Gehrungssäge), with the locking latch missing, but it could easily be fixed using a dowel.

I ordered both beechwood and firtree battens, but finally decided on the beechwood. Anyway, the difference in weight is next to nothing given the small mass of the pieces.

I fixed some metal and wood with vises (Schraubzwingen) to have exactly 11mm for the sawing width of the pieces. I fixed the miter-box saw to my kitchen table with vises (Schraubzwingen). After a few minutes I got the knack of it. I checked the sound again with one hammer, it seemd quite OK, very articulate this time. Tomorrow I will give the wood piceces a soft finish with sandpaper, then glue the pieces to to hammer tips.

The leather arrived by post. I will cut it in stripes during the next days ...
Posted by: acortot

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/17/10 06:48 PM

this is interesting.

I still think you need to put more leather on the bass, though.

the mass of the hammer core also counts, which is why hammers below the treble had these rounded parts you want to glue in.

every hammer is essentially a mallet.

some mallets are built small, some big, some have elastic sticks, others have thick metal sticks...every single element from the hammer-shank to the wood to the outer coverings has an influence.

drummers spend a long time choosing their sticks, which compared to piano hammer are quite identical, apart from size.

so..
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 03/28/10 05:39 AM

The sound with my new rounded hammers was still too loud, above all in the third octave in the higher treble it slipped very easily into a shrill note.

I had to experiment a lot with different configurations of hammers. Looking for a low-volume, nice, articualte, crisp AND still muscial sound out of a modern grand piano with about 70 kg tension on each string (!), I was having a hard time.

The only solutions I could think of was: Reduce the weight of the hammer even more, because I didn't want to lose the crips sound, which was due to the beech wood with only one layer of leather.

Effective solutions are simple and elegant. Now this here is my grand piano hammer version 6.0:

- Same hammer for every section. I insist on that. It does for the bass exactly what I want: lean, crisp, clear sound, while still full. Making the most of a short baby grand piano, way better thant bigger hammers. I have tested it several times.

- Hammer shank extensions from aluminium knitting needles, 2 mm diameter, inserted into the original maple hammer shank with the original knuckles etc.

- Hammer cores from beech wood, round batten, 1 cm in diameter, cut in 11 mm wide pieces. The aluminium knitting needle is inserted through a hole at the bottom of the hammer core.

I plan on not glueing, but wedging the knitting needle in the holes with nylon thread. Glue would be permanent. I want to be able to replace old cores in the future for repair work.

- The hammer cores are coverd with one layer of chamois deer leather, glued to the core at the ends.

- No backcheck tail is necessary on this hammer, because of its small weight. Saves even more material on the hammer.
(Remember that I have removed the leads in the piano keys!)

- The dynamics of this hammer is amazing. From a mere whisper to a real fortissimo everything is possible. Clear crisp sound, something between a modern piano and a fortepiano.

- Repetition is excellent. Regulation is quite easy, this system is very tolerant on regulation. Set let-off and drop and you're set.

- The hammer shanks can be adapted and regulated to every angle in each section simply by bending them.

Here are some pictures of the hammer:

http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/AluminiumHammerShank01.jpg
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/AluminiumHammerShank02.jpg
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/AluminiumHammerShank03.jpg
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano/AluminiumHammerShank04.jpg

I have to make all the hammers yet, using the old shafts with the knuckles. It has taken me quite some time and effort to come up with this really simple but efficient design ...
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 04/10/10 05:59 AM

I corrected the diameter of the knitting needle hammer shank to 2.5 mm. 2 mm is not stable enough, 2.5 mm aluminium is less wobbly. The knitting needle has to be bent without heating or it gets soft at the bend.

The ends of the knitting needles are filed to get a clean, plain cut. The hammer cores (the beechwood cylinders) are glued to the knitting needles. The glued part is quite resistent, but with plenty of force applied by turnig the beechwood cylinder round, the glue is broken and the hammer core can be detached for replacement.

The butt of the original hammer shank is drilled to stick in the aluminium shank extension. I have varnished the insided of the drilled hole with glue. The aluminium shank extension is not glued but only wedged into the the glue-varnished hole of the butt. The idea is to recylcle the parts of this hammer if they need to be replaced.

I'm still waiting for the rest of the knitting needles. In the meantime, I'm glueing the deer chamois leather on the beechwood cylinders. After some more tests, I have decided to use two layers of leather instead of only one and I turn the outside of the skin outside so it hits the strings. The sound is promising.

I have compared the sound of the new hammers against the original hammers. The piano was clearly designed for the original hammers. The sound has this rich and resonant character of the modern grand piano. However the hammer is too heavy and the sound too loud. My new hammer holds back the sound quite a bit, but the sound is still articulate and interesting. And it is not loud at all. Repetition is excellent and I can go from merely brushing against the strings to really hitting them, ppp to ff, relatively speaking. However, the ff is not much in common with the ff on the modern piano.

Picutres are here:
http://bildung.freepage.de/pinboard/piano
Posted by: James Senior

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 04/10/10 06:16 AM

Hi Puck01,

with your aluminium hammer arrangement, do you find that the strike point on the strings changes as you play louder? I'm thinking specifically in the high treble where the strike point is quite critical due to their short length - In my mind I can imagine the hammer shank flexing backwards as you play louder, increasing the distance between the hammer head and hammer shank axle.

I'd really love to hear some sound samples but I have not been able to download any of your previous links (pics yes but recordings no). Could you upload a vid on youtube?

Good luck with your project!
J
Posted by: Puck01

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 05/05/10 01:12 AM

This has been a difficult time. After a few days my ears adapted to the piano sound. It was less loud but still harsh and nasal into the bargain. Even with this smallest possible hammer. The strings and soundboard are clearly not designed for such a type of hammer. It sounded like the caricature of a piano.

I will not touch the strings because that is yet another adventure into the unknown.

It was an experiment. I was enthousiastic, obsessed even, but I am not anymore. This used up a lot of my energy.

It's a pity I haven't found my ideal piano.
Posted by: Peter_G_Moll

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 05/06/10 12:50 PM

Dear Puck01,

I have been following your pilgrimage with great interest; I hope you will continue it some day. I suffered a household injury to the small finger of my right hand five years ago: I can play but it won't tolerate anything heavy. So I wish to get a piano with light hammers like the historical instruments. I wonder if you could be so kind as to take two measurements on your piano?

I call the measurement weight-to-ppp: the weight it takes to depress middle C (c') and the C two octaves up (c''') just enough to make the note speak. This is the measure used by Mobbs in "A performer's comparative study of touchweight, ... in early grand pianos" (Galpin Soc. 54, 2001). My Boesendorfer acoustic (7' 4", 10 years old), has a weight-to-ppp of 85g at c' and 80 at c'''.

So I wonder if you could be so kind as to measure, on your piano, the weight-to-ppp at middle C (c') and the C two octaves above that (c''')? This would help me to know what reduction in weight would be achieved by following a similar process to yours (reducing the leads in the keys and lightening the hammers). I would be most grateful.

Yours sincerely,
Posted by: ClarkBattle

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 06/23/10 02:52 PM

>No backcheck tail is necessary on this hammer, because of its small weight. >Saves even more material on the hammer.

Are you not using the backchecks at all? Have you removed them? I am curious how effective the repetition is without them.
Posted by: David-G

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 12/14/10 03:35 AM

Puck01, how are things progressing with your most interesting project? We have not heard from you for awhile.
Posted by: Dave Horne

Re: A Modern Fortepiano - 12/14/10 05:29 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Can someone summarize what happened? smile


That struck me as funny. Thanks!