What Determines the Sound of a Piano?
Piano makers in various times and places have had differing aims, and have designed their pianos around these aims.
German makers have usually made pianos with a tone that is rich, warm, and full. Japanese pianos have an action design similar to German pianos, but have aimed at a simple, pure tone, well suited for jazz and pop. American pianos have a strong, full tone, recognisably different to the German sound. Grand pianos and tall upright pianos, with their longer strings, produce better tone, especially on the low notes. Taller upright pianos also have more ideal proportions in the working parts in the action, which facilitates a better touch.
The differences in the design features that contribute to the tone of a piano are not easily seen:
quality and shape of the soundboard and ribs,
position and design of the bridges,
layout and length of the strings, and where the strings change from one gauge to the next. (Scaling).
but there's more...
Of equal importance is the condition of the piano. Unless they have been well maintained, most second-hand pianos will not be playing or sounding their best. There are a number of piano parts that tend to wear fairly quickly, and these affect the tuning, tone and touch of the piano. Many of these can be re-built or restored. That's where I get involved. . . .
How is a Piano Restored?
Restore appropriate crown and down-bearing
Reattach loose ribs
Bridges make a significant contribution to the clarity and power of the piano.
Reattach/Replace bridge pins
Replace worn sets of felts. (worn felts compromise the relationships between parts)
Replace centrepins to achieve stability and ideal friction level.
Hammers make a huge contribution to the sound of the piano. I use only the highest quality German hammers (Abel or Renner). I also have techniques for adjusting existing hammers, which can often be misshapen, too hard or too soft.
Most pianos have tuning pins held firmly in a wooden pinblock. As the piano age the tuning pins become looser, and pianos doesn't stay in tune. I have techniques to keep them functioning for as long as possible, after which I can re-pin the piano, with slightly thicker pins. This usually allows the piano to be tuned accurately at concert pitch for about another 40 years.
Strings older than 100 years begin to sound harsh and brittle. When the piano is re-pinned it is also re-strung. This makes a wonderful improvement to the tone. I use the highest quality polished german piano wire, and custom made bass strings, modelled on the originals.
Keys / Keytops
Replace felts and cardboard punchings under the keys
Repair/replace, whiten, polish keytops. (Ivory, celluloid, plastic)
Cabinet and brass fittings
The cabinet, keys, and brass pedals, hinges and fittings are all important aspects of the presentation of the piano. Some of the techniques I can use to restore these include:
Replacing missing or damaged wood vaneer
Polishing modern polyester finishes
I can create a celeste rail for your piano. This is a strip of thin felt that half-dampens the notes. It's a lovely effect that was featured in some old pianos. It is different from the thick felt on the practice pedal in modern pianos. I can convert a practice pedal to a celeste pedal if desired.
I enjoy working with other artists to create special features on instruments. Some examples might be:
Re-create missing sconces (candelabras).
Create a feature stain-glass window in the front panel of the piano (As pictured, stained glass by Catherine Wheel).
Replace damaged or missing wood-turned details.
Renew painted details on the frame.
Create new painted coats or details.
Create new wood carved detail to a Piano.
I enjoy collaborating with some wonderful artists who can add unique features to your piano. They are able to consult with you on design ideas. These features include wood carving, wood turning, glass blowing, stained glass and brass features.
The beautiful stained glass is created by Catherine Wheel. To see her stunning work more closely please follow the link to her website:
Sometimes it is useful to modify a piano for a special purpose. I once modified a piano so it would play a minor third lower than written, but still retain its normal tone. This piano was used with a singer whose voice had become lower. It allowed him to sing in a key that suited his voice, without having to have all written music transposed for the accompanist.
Feel free to speak to me about any special ideas you would like to try.
I bought an upright piano from Lachlan. I have had it for about two weeks now and I am very happy with my purchase. The tone of the piano is exactly what I wanted, and it is tuned perfectly. I am particularly happy with the action and feel of the piano, I can be very specific with the volume of the sound. Lachlan delivered the piano and made sure it was installed properly which made things much easier. Thanks to Lachlan for supplying such a fine piano, if I ever need another, I'd purchase from him again.