Posts tagged agraffe
This is the most frequent misnomer in the piano biz. True story. On a daily basis people come into my shop and whisper to me “Do you know that i have an upright grand at home?” I think they’re hoping my eyes will pop out of my head in amazement at such a rare and wonderful find – that we’ve truly discovered the queen’s jewels! Sadly… i’m a skeptic at heart…. possibly even cynical. Y’see… the term “upright grand” was started in the 1920’s as a sales feature. When you lifted the lid on some pianos there was this embossed slogan “Grand piano in upright form”. This got bantered about so much so that it became a coined phrase – the “upright grand”. And customers would then feel proud about their acquisition of a piano they thought was so much more grandiose than any other upright piano. So what exactly were they referring to? Well… size is one thing. Very tall old upright pianos (usually about 55 inches in height) have similar string length and soundboard area as about 5’8″ – 6’1″ grand pianos. That said, a tall upright WILL deliver similar depth of tone as some grand pianos, granted. But the bigger difference that started all of this is a small little piece that was usually only found on grand pianos called an agraffe. Agraffe is a french word that means ‘staple’. In fact… check out the picture of my box of staples from my desk drawer. See that? It says agrafes (missing an F for some reason…) Agraffes on grand pianos ‘staple’ the exact position of the string to the cast iron in a piano. It sets the left-right position spacing of the strings and also the ‘downbearing’ of the string (how much pressure the string is placing on the bridge). Because agraffes are usually found on grands, some manufacturers who put them on upright pianos started calling their verticals upright grands. Most don’t know of this crazy little factoid but that’s in my mind the true meaning of the term. Ok wait… it gets better… recently someone came in and told me they had a “Concert Upright Baby Grand!” Oh for heaven sakes… from the sublime to the ridiculous!
Duplexing just sounds complex. Complex means it’s complicated. Complicated must mean that you’re somehow smart. And so… (follow the trail) knowing about duplexing means you’re smart. Ha ha. If you’re ever at one of those hors d’oeuvres-type parties and everyone’s dressed in tuxedos and ballroom gowns, you’re going to want to have something to say when they ask your professional opinion about the piano. My advice? Nod… add a few “mmm-hmmmms” and say “Ahhh… Duplexing”…hee hee. Ok enough of my jesting…
So what exactly is duplexing anyway?? Created by the late great Mr. Steinway himself in 1872, it was designed as an ‘added ring’ to pianos – giving more resonance to the tone. How is this accomplished? Glad you asked. Any piano string has what is called ‘speaking length’. This is the live portion of the string which resonates freely when a note is played on the piano. The speaking length starts just past the tuning pins on a part called an agraffe (or capo d’astro… ok i’ll define those some other time) and ends on the bridge. Past the bridge, the string is then wrapped around some sort of termination pin. The tone past the bridge was traditionally considered ‘dead’ tone. But Steinway thought “what happened if we kept this part of the piano ‘live’ or ringing in harmonicity with the instrument”? And so the duplex system was born. Think of it as duple time… duple by definition means ‘double’. So duplexing then is a double ringing part on the piano. How did Steinway make this contraption? He rigged another ‘bridge’ just before the termination point. One that was made out of a series of bars. In fact, if you want to test out the duplexing on your piano (if you have it), simply look past the bridge (which is easy to see on a grand piano) and you’ll spot the parts that are called “Aliquots” (another great party word after you’ve used duplex). You can test how live the duplex is on your piano by simply strumming that portion. An aliquot on a piano is a bar shown in the pictures here. By definition it means “fractional part”. Stands to reason… since we’re adding a fraction of the sound to the tone. In Latin, it simply means “several” or “a few”. Steinway’s thinking was to add either an octave or 5th to the existing tone, making it fuller and richer sounding.
Having said all that… some people just don’t like the extra ring. Solution? Simply cordon off the strings with what is called ‘understringing braid’. (I know i know… too many new words this time around). In the tech world, it’s simply called understringing – anything touching the strings will stop the extra tone and so if you have a technician ‘block’ the tone by adding understringing, it will alter the added ring on a piano. By the way, one experiment i did about 5 years was change the proximity of the understringing with the bridge. It changes perceived tone considerably.