Posts tagged yamaha

Piano Scale Design

There are SO many differences in piano design.  “Well aren’t all pianos kinda the same?” you ask.  Not at ALL!!!! (I can’t emphatically add more stress to this point).  Yes pianos operate the same – they all have soundboards, strings, keys and actions.  Think about cars… BMW, Toyota, Honda, GM… they all drive but do they feel identical? Of course not.  Even within the same company there are huge differences between models.  Toyota makes (my beloved) Landcruiser but they also have made the Tercel (and trust me… i’ve owned both and there are few similarities).  Pianos, within the same company have different designs.  These designs are called “scales”.  When you play hundreds of pianos you will appreciate a good scale.  So what’s the difference between a good scale and a bad one?  Oooohhhh (rubbing hands together) where do we start? Hmmmm let’s start at strings: There are 2 types of strings on any piano – plain wire steel treble strings and copper wound bass strings.  In the steel wire treble strings, there are about 2 dozen sizes of wire (plus half sizes!) ranging from 0.029″ to about 0.059″ in thickness.  To look at them, they all kinda look the same but they are INCREDIBLY different.  So each note is matched in length and tightness to the pitch of the note.  Someone then decides “OK let’s use size 14.5 wire for that note on the piano”.  Now that’s part of the design – part of a decision to make a piano sound a certain way.  Now getting into the bass section… OMG! There are hundreds if not thousands of permutations on what could be used for the centre ‘core’ of the string but also the copper winding… how much mass, how long is the copper blah blah blah… there are HUGE choices to be made on JUST the strings alone.  Which reminds me… i should write a blog about great sounding bass strings… cuz trust me, not all strings are equal (far from it).  And believe it or not, there are different grades of steel wire as well – all factors that play into the overall sound of the instrument.  So that’s just one tiny tiny element of piano design… then you think about hammers – the quality, the weight, the placement… the action – the various types…. the frame, the soundboard, the quality of the wood… even the expertise of installation… the list goes on and on and on!!! Someone once told me “The piano requires the attention to a thousand details”.  I believed him… THAT’s scale design.

All this to say… i have found that there are 2 pianos that i tune that i REALLY REALLY enjoy.  One being the Yamaha C7 – it’s the 7 foot Yamaha grand.  The other is a Boston 6′ grand (designed by Steinway, manufactured by Kawai).  Both have SUCH smooth scales… meaning that the sound from one note to the next is like a string of pearls – matched in tone and timbre – fundamental and overtones.  Nothing beats a good scale.  Shout out to Steve in Metchosin who has me regularly tune his C7 and to Hillary and Lawrence on their choice of such a wonderful Boston.  Thanks… those pianos remind me of why i love to play.

How Much is My Piano Worth?

This is a quick and easy guide to price out what a piano is worth.  But before i get into that, let’s pretend for a moment that i know nothing about pianos… who knows… you, the reader might be in that situation.  Let’s say… i’m shopping for a houseboat (which i know nothing about BTW).  If i started my search, this would be my process:  I’d investigate new ones… I’d search for “BEST OF” makes and models, look at used ones, find out which ones hold value, which are most sought after and above that look at location and condition.  Pianos really are no different. There are about 4-5 parameters that i constantly bear in mind when evaluating instruments:

  1. Find out new value (if at all possible… many pianos have gone out of biz in the last 100 years…more on that later)
  2. Look online to find used comparisons
  3. This will determine what value retention is like
  4. Condition condition condition
  5. Location location location

So… case study #1  Let’s say you own a studio yamaha upright piano (pictured above).  Let’s say you own a model E108.  The new versions of those pianos locally sell for about $4000 CDN.  My rule of thumb is used pianos in mint condition sell for about half what a new one lists for.  Why? Well put the shoe on the other foot being a consumer.  Let’s say you want to buy a piano.  What would motivate you to buy used vs. new? If a new piano is $4000 and a used one is $3500… i’d usually buy the new one for a few more dollars and have warranty etc.  If the used one is $2200 (with no tax being a private sale) and a new one is $4000 plus tax (roughly $4400), the used savings are substantial enough to warrant buying used (at a cost savings of $2000 or more).  Finding out used comparisons… there are ones listed between $1800 and $3200… so you need to decide then what condition your piano is in.  Ask yourself “How close to new does my piano appear?”  Then examine again what other examples locally are selling for.  If yours is a MINT version of what you see locally… you may want to price it a bit higher.  Condition drastically affects piano value.  I’ve had beat up grands and excellent condition grands – same model and have a HUGE price disparity due to condition.  Look for evidence of condition – rust, cracks, chips, scratches.  Generally outside condition is often indicative of inside condition as well.  Finally… location.  I’m AMAZED at how pianos sell for different dollars in different locations.  It’s called supply/demand.  If the demand is higher, the price is according. Locally economic health also affects many used items. 

Case study #2… old piano… a Nordheimer (see below)… you can tell it’s old because of the fact that it looks like an antique.  It looks NOTHING like a new piano.  These are trickier to price in some ways. Some have had new parts, some have been refinished.  But the fact remains that most tall pianos (55 inch) that look kinda crusty are usually better part of 100 years old.  Now before you get all wound up about the fact that you’re holding on to an ‘antique’ artifact, let me dispell the myth that there are only 2 kinds of pianos: modern design and ‘early’ piano.  Early pianos ARE collectable and are specific models made between 1800 and about 1850 but even those aren’t necessarily valuable.   The ‘modern’ piano as we know it almost became standardized by the year 1900.   So… looking online… see the wide range of value? $100 – $3000!  Find some that look reasonably the same.  Quite quickly you’ll realise that value is more a product of supply/demand than condition.  Most old pianos these days are valued locally here at about $500-800.  “But… but… but… we put THOUSANDS into the resoration of our piano” you protest.  I hear ya… and i feel for ya… but refinishing, new parts will only bump up the price somewhat. 

Finally, bear in mind the name… with name is associated price.  Steinway for example fetches many times more than weird and obscure pianos REGARDLESS of quality.  Why? They’ve managed to stay on top of their game (let alone they’re still in business today).  Other names such as Yamaha, Kawai, Baldwin, Young Chang, Samick, Pearl River etc… are also household names.  These pianos will always have better value retention because of the name association.

OK OK OK one last note… if you’re STILL stuck, contact either a store or a technician. I field questions ALL the time about value and what people should price pianos at.  Good luck! And happy selling. Cheers!

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.

Where’s Waldo?

When i was younger there were these books called “Where’s Waldo?” They consisted of busy cartoons where you had to find this one character named Waldo. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those puzzles where they’ve changed 10 things in two different pictures and you have to find the differences but today’s post is something similar to that…. let me explain.

Last week 2 pianos came into my store – a C3 and a G3. For those who don’t know, both of these are famous Yamaha models of the same size – 6’1″ grand pianos. Both are spectacular. They made both of these models overlapping the manufacturing dates for almost 25 years! What is rare for me though is to have 2 within a few years of each other (namely 2) and to note the differences. I had preconceived ideas as to what those were but i was sadly mistaken. They are without question different designs (or in the piano world ‘scales’) but what are the detailed differences?

Yamaha G3 Rim

Yamaha C3 Rim

I took a few measurements and i must admit they’re very similar in many respects. First thing i did was a measurement of the gram weight of the hammers. Exactly the same although they ARE stamped differently – is their density slightly different? I then measured the keys for balance point – the same. I was told that G’s didn’t have duplexing but both of these were exactly the same. Crossover was the same. I also measured the bridges and they were slightly different but not hugely (a 5mm difference). The only 2 areas of change that are notable: one is a cosmetic difference – a beveled lid on the C whereas the G is plain. Second and by far the biggest difference – the rim on the C is wider in the tail. What this means is that there are more square inches of soundboard – giving more vibration/volume. Interesting.

Playing the two pianos – if you didn’t have a point of comparison it would be next to impossible to tell. The major difference though from the player’s point of view is that the C ‘breathes’ a bit more. It feels somehow fuller and the sound seems a touch more ‘distant’. The G feels ‘close’. The tone appears to be right in front of you.

So there you have a brief and short comparison. Yes, you could pull apart every joint, every angle, every string gauge but the long and the short of the matter is that they’re both wonderful playing and sounding instruments and the changes are negligible.

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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