Posts tagged Bosendorfer
Blah! The title of this sounds to most as exciting as watching paint dry. Operative words being “to most”… to me however this is one of the more interesting charts i’ve seen in a long time. Back in 2005, published by Europiano, Juan Más Cabré wrote this article showing the differing string tensions over the last few hundred years. Everything i know about string tension i learned as a child with a bread pan and rubberbands. Hahaaa… i used to make musical instruments when i was a kid. What fascinated me though was the thickness of the rubber band and the sound that would happen at a certain pitch. This is exactly what’s going on in pianos. The graph shows the earliest of pianos from Cristofori (in 1726). That string tension is little more than that of a harpsichord. It became evident that a stronger frame would be neccessary to implement higher tension. With higher tension comes more singing tone. Next on the list is Silbermann who asked Bach for some input. Silbermann contributed the damper device (similar to a damper pedal) to the piano. Shortly thereafter in the Classical era (Beethoven’s time) more and more iron was added to the wooden frame so as to boost the string tension – again with more singing, sustaining sound and also more resonance and power. Enter the famed Steinway and Bosendorfer. Interesting to note is that “more is not always better”. There have been pianos that have had higher string tensions (as in Ibach) but manufacturers decide what sound is pleasing. This is part of the backbone of ‘scale’ – the trade secrets of piano makers. Length of string, thickness of wire and tension of string all add to the sound. To get a mini idea of this, play around with a bread pan. It really is a fascinating exercise in string tension. And after that… just make some fresh bread. Nothing beats music and food together
I was asked to tune a piano recently that i had restored about 10 years ago. What struck me as i sat there tuning was the quality of this instrument from yesteryear. More than that, from turn of the century… ok i guess we need to qualify that right? hahaaa… from the turn of the 20th century, great piano design was well under way. In fact, some of these piano designs are still revered and respected and are from a time known to many as the ‘golden era’. Although i agree with many that there are SOME pianos from 100 years ago that were brilliant, there were many many more that were just coming of age. The highest level of pianos however – the Bechsteins, the Bluthners, the Steinways, Bosendorfers… the list goes on where pianos were made to such a high degree of craftsmanship that they became manufacturers by royal appointment… I find those pianos are very musical indeed.
The problem i have though is that many say “Oh nothing beats my grandmother’s old piano”… did they just refer to this old beat up, worn out piano as the apex, the very pinnacle of piano design? I must go on record by relating a saying that a wise old piano technician once told me when i first entered the business. He said:
“Glen, there are two myths in the piano world: Older is good. And newer is better”. Sounds paradoxical but it’s true… i’ve played old pianos most of which are just mediocre. I’ve also played brand new pianos that you would think are brilliant and are sub-standard. The moral of the story: quality in manufacturing and design still create beautiful music but you need to wade through the myriads of pianos to search for the gems. If you had the chance to play this old C. Bechstein, it would without a doubt confirm that some will remain memorable.
In part one of this series we looked at the very FIRST art case made by Steinway. Oh sure there have been many MANY other manufacturers before and after 1856. That was just a small story introducing the concept of “art case” – if you weren’t familiar with the term. Now we’re going to look at a few examples of modern art case pianos. To begin with, i thot i’d introduce a recent photo of a piano named Grotrian – high end, beautiful and such a classic art case. To me an art case is all about proportions – note how the cabriole legs (double curved 18th century type) give a certain elegance to the design. The music rack is embellished with scroll work. Repeated again under the keyboard. Even the side rims are notched and accented with motifs. Though i prefer satin art case instruments, this one has been high polished. In England, they’re called ‘bright’ finishes. Check out these other examples of art case: a few vintage Steinways – one with ornate carvings, the other with detailed inlays. While some would call these garish, if you’re a woodworker of any kind, you’ll appreciate if nothing else, the labour that went into the meticulous detail.
And finally, some modern day examples of art case – Bosendorfer designed by Audi. Steinway’s year 2000 “Rhapsody in Blue” limited edition (commemorating George Gershwin). And one of my all time favorites, Schimmel’s Pegasus. Click on the picture to see the enlarged photos.
Ok so there’s some homework attached to today’s post – it’s a TED talk -if you haven’t yet seen TED tv you should… FABULOUS encouraging and often humorous talks to feed the soul. Anyway, i watched this post some time ago about a guy building a toaster from scratch. Click on it (above). So it’s about a guy who decides he wants to build a toaster, gather the necessary components of iron, copper, mica and plastic to form his toaster. ANYWAY… the reason i mention this is because i once thought to myself… “i wonder how i would go about building a piano from scratch”. Think about the cast iron frame alone – let alone the grand rim, the pressure fit soundboard, the 3000+ action parts, the strings, the hammers… The piano manufacturing process is the evolution of about 200 years of tinkering and design to the point where we have it today. Seguay.
I had the privilege of speaking with the CEO of Pearl River/Ritmuller piano company this year. He said that they have about 1.3 MILLION… that’s capital M as in Million square feet of manufacturing space (2.8 million of land!) Annual productions run nearly 100,000 pianos. So… think realistically about the fact that it might take many months to produce one mediocre piano by yourself. Pearl River is putting out – completed pianos 800 PER DAY. 800 completed, tuned, regulated, finished, polished pianos PER DAY. Now this brings about one other point – Productivity necessitates efficiency. Did you catch that? The more you create of one product, the more efficient the manufacturing becomes. If i made one piano, it might take me a few years. Two pianos… let’s just double up every stage of the manufacturing and build twos of everything. Thirty per year, you need a small team to accomplish this. (Approximate numbers) 450 per year – as in Bosendorfer – roughly 37 per month… that takes some thought as to efficiency. Steinway – around 5000 pianos – 400 per month. See where this is going? Now when you get to 90,000-100,000 pianos annually you have two options. You hire an incredibly large work force of people with many inconsistencies or you did what Pearl River did and bring in VERY expensive machines to streamline the process. This is where my radar perks up. If you can maintain and supply for consistent sales at nearly 100,000 instruments annually, then by reason, should not their refinement in manufacturing tolerances also become very acute? Productivity lends itself to efficiency because you CANNOT manufacture that many pianos without being consistent time and again. Before you have the audacity to wipe off a brand of pianos without thinking through what it is they accomplish in a year, better make sure you know that of which you speak. At 100,000 pianos a year, 800 per day, they’ve hired some of the best in designers in the world (Lothar Thomma). At a staff of nearly 4000 employees, this piano company will soon be (if not already) one of the largest forces in piano manufacturing the world has ever known. If that were not enough, Pearl River/Ritmuller is one of (i believe) only 2 piano companies in China to receive the highly accredited ISO (International Organization for Standardization) stamp of approval. Check out the promo video below… now THAT’S impressive!
Dip refers to the distance the key travels downward. So from the very top of the keystroke to the felt cushion at the bottom, the dip is the distance between the two. Why talk about dip? All pianos should have the same distance right? You would think that this is standardized but it’s not. And believe it or not, 1 millimetre makes a HUGE difference in dip. OK so there are some basic guidelines that piano makers follow. Historically 3/8 of an inch was the standard. This is just shy of 10 millimetres ~ 9.55 to be exact. Personally i tend to lean towards just a hair past 10. Bosendorfer publishes 10.2. Yamaha and Kawai are in the vicinity of about 10.0 to 10.5. I find that ‘shallow’ pianos – ones with under 9.5mm and ‘deep’ pianos – more than 11mm are ones that stand out. And what happens if this is adjusted too deep or shallow? Well, too deep and the keystroke feels a bit like an army tank. Quite often i’ve heard it said that the piano feels ‘clunky’ or heavy. This stands to reason because of the amount of travel your fingers are doing. It requires a lot of effort to play a deep keyboard. Too shallow and you may experience lack of power or a feeling that you’re hitting a wall. Because the benchmark is closer to 10 these days, a 9.5 or shorter dip results in feeling somehow confined.
So better than spinach or artichoke dip, a good key dip results in tasty playing.