Posts tagged kawai

Spinach Dip… Artichoke Dip… Piano Key Dip?

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.

If These Walls Could Speak

Grand in an 'anechoic' chamber (no echo)

Piano in 'anechoic' chamber (no echo)

Well… in  fact, the walls DO speak.  They make up a significant part of what we hear when we play the piano.  Let me give you some examples: I moved this HUGE grand piano – a Kawai 7’6″ piano to a church once for a special event, a concert.  The piano sounded fantastic in my store.  When we moved it on location, the tone was nearly lost.  The poor acoustics of this gym-come-church completely lost all sense of presense and volume.  Example 2, a customer asked me to come and look at his piano placement in his new house.  The room designated for the grand was only slightly larger than the grand (another 7’6″ Yamaha).  It was deafening in the room.  So out of these two examples, what changed?  The pianos didn’t.  They were still the same instruments.  The rooms however made the difference of the world.  In the first case, the church had 30 foot high ceilings and hard tile floor.  The tone seemed to evaporate.  The closeness of the ceiling and walls play an integral part to perceived tone.  In the second case, not only the distance, but surface material also changes tone considerably.  Glass and plaster walls with hardwood floors sound incredibly different than drapes and thick carpet.  The harder the material, the more the soundwaves bounce off the walls and we hear an echo.  The general rule of thumb is the more porous the material, the more the sound will be absorbed rather than reflected.  My oldest son did a science fair project on the stealth bomber.  What was fascinating was that much of the materials of the bomber are made to absorb radar waves and not reflect.  So what is the perfect material? That becomes a subjective thing.  I will tell you what i find pleasing however:  Natural wood always sounds great.  Note: shiny floors are covered with many layers of finish and so what you’re hearing is actually the ‘finish’ and not the wood underneath.  Porous concrete is also nice.  At our University, the music recital hall which holds 300ish people is made from plain concrete and wood.  Now if you paint that surface, it no longer is concrete you’re ‘listening’ to but rather paint which is very bright.  Painted concrete and plain porous concrete are incredibly different.  Generally, i also find that 10 or 11 foot ceilings are nicer to listen to rather than 8 foot ceiling when it comes to larger grands (larger than 6’1″).  As well, pianos need to ‘breathe’ a little.  So if you have a more open floor plan, i find that the reflections are more complimentary.  Oh and one last thing – personally i like the sound of grand pianos facing a corner.  There is a beautiful and natural reflection of tone.  So next time you sit at a piano and you love the tone, take note also to the surroundings as well.

The Eye of the Beholder…

hammers2Quite a number of years ago a friend of mine watched a show on TV about beauty.  What was interesting to note was that they took a number of pictures (i hate to say it…sorry i’m not sexist but…) pictures of women of all different shapes, colours, kinds and sizes and showed them to different cultures asking “Point out the most beautiful”.  The statistics were interesting… that regardless of culture there is a general sense of ‘beauty’.  And before you get your nickers in a knot, let me just say that in North America, they’ve manipulated that concept to the NINES! to the point of disgusting.  It’s created a weird box that women are somehow supposed to fit into – regardless of the fact that most do NOT.


I was tuning a piano this morning – thinking of the concept of beauty in tone; how 8 out of 10 of my customers listen for a similar type of tone.  I was contemplating what the ‘averages’ were in piano sound – that if you were to play a number of pianos, what most people would find pleasing.  Ok follow the rabbit trail here… i was then thinking about connecting a spectrograph (an electronic device that displays a breakdown of frequencies) to pianos that are considered ‘beautiful’ and analysing the correlations of tone.  (i know, i know…piano tuning is boring…lol… i have such thoughts when i’m tuning for better part of 2 hours…lol).  So after the tone is ‘visible’, then look at the physical makeup of the piano – the felt, the strings, the make and model etc and try and reverse engineer the formula.  Why?  Well, there’s this thing called VOICING.  Voicing is the art of manipulating the piano hammers in such a way as to enhance frequencies or remove unwanted frequencies.  When i was young, i thot that each piano company had a certain tone.  Yamaha had a tone, Baldwin had a tone, Kawai had a tone, Steinway had a tone… etc… and to a degree, that concept is true.  But what MANY people don’t know is that the tone can be altered almost up to 50%.  What that means is that you can have an extremely mellow sounding Yamaha – which typically is a brassy bright instrument.  Through voicing, you can change the way the fibres of the hammer strike the string.  Once this is accomplished, pianos can go from very mediocre to dazzling!

Well… my time is up.  I’ll write another blog about voicing some time…promise.  And there you’ll understand the basics how-to’s of the process of voicing.

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