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Joined: Mar 2006
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Perhaps some of you may remember my last trip to tour German piano makers. I went again last week, this time without my traveling companion who, much to his regret, had school.

To give a quick recap of my philosophy, I do not see the worlds true high end makers as competitors. With the idea of "tonal diversity" firmly in mind, I think these makers support each other in trying to reach prospects who might otherwise have, from pure marketing exposure, a narrow idea of what represents true quality in the piano world.

These European makers have very specific, very individual tone that usually appeals in a very direct, individual way. If someone truly loves the sound of X, they probably won't be interested in Z. And this is a good thing, since there are many music styles and many approaches to interpretation. There should be, logically, many tonal options available to support this wonderful world of individuality.

Therefore I find it personally and professionally rewarding to learn as much as I can about these makers and they have all, so far, universally accepted my visits and my intentions.

So, this is another round. While distances in Europe are relatively small, gas is expensive and these trips are self funded, so I have to carefully control how I travel. This time I flew into Frankfurt and drove east to visit Förster first. Then, on my way to Gunzenhausen to visit Feurich, I practically drove by the front door of Steingraeber and could not resist the opportunity to revisit. Then the charming town of Gunzenhausen and on to Ludwigsburg to see my friend Andre Bolduc from Montreal teach a class in soundboard replacement.

I am in no way trying to represent any of these makers. This is intended to be a personal travelogue by a big fan and enthusiast. I tried to pay close attention during the tours and discussions, but I did grow up in the 70's so my memory may occasionally fail me. If I get something wrong, I would welcome being corrected by a representative of one of these makers.

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Looking forward to more trip details and pictures. Somehow I missed your thread about the previous trip and having just found it, enjoyed it very much.

Can you, in layman's terms, please explain the difference between cylindrical and spherical crowning(noticed this on your previous thread)?

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First 2 stops: tourist
I arrived in Frankfurt Sunday morning, went through efficient immigration and baggage, and loaded my Hertz rental car. Fortified by a McDonalds früstuck wrap (really great), I was on my way.

[Linked Image]

My first stop was the tiny hamlet of Mödlareuth, near the small city of Hof. The border between East and West Germany ran right through the middle of Mödlareuth, giving it the distinction of being "little Berlin". With the reunification of Germany, Modlareuth preserved parts of the wall and its fortifications as a reminder of what had been. I was very interested to see it since little of this remains in Germany.

In the photo above you can see that the wall ran right behind the still existing red and white barrier. Here you can walk various lines of fortifications, peer into the hidden machine gun nests and climb the guard tower, getting a visceral feel for what a very different world must have been like.

[Linked Image]


Sobered, but refreshed, I drove on to Dresden where I spent the night.

[Linked Image]

Monday I toured Dresden in the rain, again sobered by how little was left of what must have been one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The city was destroyed over the course of 2 days in February 1945 by the allies.

[Linked Image]

The historic Frauenkirche, above, was completely destroyed. The dark blocks were recovered from the wreckage.

This and decades of DDR domination leaves most of Dresden's glory to the imagination. You can get a glimpse of this past glory of Dresden and Saxony by visiting the Staatlich Kunstsammlungen museum. Here you will see a mindblowing collection of examples of artistry and craftsmanship in the form of jewels, figures and objects of art in a stunning variety of materials, including one whole room dedicated to objects made from turned ivory.

Again sobered and ready for pianos, I drove 1 hour further east to the city of Löbau.



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August Förster
Once in Löbau I met up with Bert Neidhardt who has been the US distributor for August Förster for something like 40 years. Löbau is deep inside what had been the DDR, or East Germany and has not, at least to my eyes, thrived under the DDR or reunification. But I have always admired the Forster piano and was really looking forward to visiting. I was not disappointed.

[Linked Image]

(new haircut, new jacket and I still look like a dork)

I was warmly received by Geschäftsführerin Annekatrin Förster and her father Wolfgang. These two represented an unbroken chain of family management going back 5 generations! Förster was nationalized during the existence of the DDR with Wolfgang serving as the public face of management. However now with the full reinstatement of family control, management has passed on to Annekatrin.

The Forster factory has been in continuous use since the founding of the company and positively exudes history. They were quite proud of their new gas fired boilers. As I understand it, as recently as 10 years ago they were still dealing with mountains of coal.

One can easily get the feeling of generations of craftspeople standing at this bass string lathe, looking out these windows.

[Linked Image]

The same goes for working at this bench. These are not scenarios carefully crafted by an ad agency. These scenes are part of what make Förster pianos what they are.

[Linked Image]



[Linked Image]

As with most true high end factories, you will see uprights being made along side grands. Same workers, same craftsmanship, different shape.

[Linked Image]

I have seen a number of Forster pianos in my day and had thought that I had examined them carefully, but I discovered a very unique construction trait. There is a section of the soundboard and inner rim that is built to vibrate somewhat seperately from the rest of the rim and soundboard.
[Linked Image]

There is a slot cut in the inner rim and the rim and soundboard are trimmed to not touch the outer rim, in essence vibrating as a somewhat separate structure. When I asked Wolfgang if this had a name, he thought for a minute and then said "no". I think it is very cool and should have a name something like the "Anachromatic Resonance Chamber". Maybe it didn't translate well because he didn't seem that impressed.

[Linked Image]

Förster also uses what they call a "double bridge" in the uprights. Blocks attached on the opposite side of the soundboard. This shot also shows the backpost construction; glued beech and spruce. This is the construction of the truss beams on the grands as well.

[Linked Image]

Much of the equipment exudes the same history as the building. Here is a well used and loved veneer press.

[Linked Image]

And here is the result.

[Linked Image]

Notice they veneer (matching) the inside of the case top. I forgot to check if they also matched the veneer on the inside of the bottom panel, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.




Last edited by BoseEric; 11/09/09 11:25 AM.
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Very interesting! Please show and tell us more. Having a Feurich and a Steingraeber,your post is especially personal to me. Thank you!





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Nice and interesting pictures (and words). It´s a little bit embarrassing that I as a German located in Germany did not so many such tours to the German factories. To be honest: I have only been to Steinway and Bechstein where I got a private guided tour and when I attended the school in Ludwigsburg our class went to Pfeiffer. But it´s my intention for the next year to visit some factories.

Gregor


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thank you so much for sharing. quite interesting for this landlocked apple. it's a shame so many European cities lost so much of their tradition and beauty.


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Originally Posted by apple*
thank you so much for sharing. quite interesting for this landlocked apple. it's a shame so many European cities lost so much of their tradition and beauty.


It's quite ironic that I always thought this statement applies more for American cities, including the New York City. (The Singer Building and Pennsylvania Station, for example)

Thank you for sharing, BoseEric. It's wonderful to see your posts.

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Very informative and interesting! Looking forward to the next instalment of your travelog!

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So wishing to do a tour like this myself.

I look forward to more pics and discussions.

Roberta/lilylady


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Ditto everyone else.

Really nice thread, Eric.

Please continue.


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Love the pictures and love your approach on what you said in your opening post.

Thanks


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Thanks for the encouragement. I'm editing the Steingraeber photos now.

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Steingraeber
Back to the bustling city of Bayreuth, which wears its illustrious musical heritage (both Wagner and Liszt are buried there) lightly.

Unlike some European makers, it's hard to miss Steingraeber, being just off Steingraeber Passage.
[Linked Image]

Let's see, isn't there a piano company around here someplace?

[Linked Image]

My street cred must be higher, and my timing was right because this time Udo Steingraeber took me around. You cannot imagine a more involved, knowledgable, enthusiastic proponent for the world of high end pianos and his in particular.

[Linked Image]

The Steingraeber factory also exudes history, being in continuous use for, well I forget the exact number, but a number of years.

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

Steingraeber places GREAT emphasis on the perfect mating between inner and outer rim. They go so far as to create the outer rim, using the exact inner rim that will be on the same piano, as a mold. Here 2 inner and outer rims are being created at the same time, numbered and matched forever.

[Linked Image]

There is a vast array of construction and design details that go into a Steingraeber and many of them have been adapted, modified, or dropped in recent history. This is an active, living breathing maker, not content to build historical artifacts. Here I must add that I found this trait in all the makers I visited, but Steingraeber is particularly active offering carbon fiber soundboards and the new phoenix bridge.

This piano has both

[Linked Image]

Let's digress for a moment and speak in gross generalizations about concepts of piano tone.

I have come to the conclusion, specifically reinforced by Udo Steingraeber, that there are fundamentally 2 approaches to piano tone; high rim tension and low rim tension. (don't bust my chops on theoritical details, remember this is gross generalization).

Low rim tension is characterized, IN MY OPINION, by Bosendorfer, Förster, and Blüthner, to name 3. These makers want no tension in the outer rim and to varying degrees want the rim to actually play an active role in tone production. These may be solid spruce like Bosendorfer, or layered like Bluthner, but they are not bent under great pressure when mating them with the piano. Again I'm open to correction, but Christian Blüthner himself described the layered/sectioned rim of a Blüthner as having "no tension".

This results, to use Udo Steingraebers analogy, in sound like water on a beach. The gentle waves break softly and evenly across a wide expanse. The result is a tone that emphasizes the fundamental, a more pure (not as in good vs bad) tone.

The alternative is high rim tension, characterized by Steingraeber, some other company whose name I forget, and others. Here a rim made of densely laminated material is bent, under great pressure, into shape. This rim may, when installed, actually squeeze the soundboard to some degree. The result is like a swimming pool, or as Udo says, a harbor. Here the water strikes the hard vertical surfaces of the sides and splashes back, maybe repeatedly. This results in a distinctly different tone that emphasizes higher harmonics.

Steingraeber is proudly a swimming pool piano. Wait, that doesn't sound quite right. What I mean to say is they look for a more powerful tone that emphasizes higher partials and their construction strives for that result.

Which brings me to a recurring theme of mine: isn't tonal diversity wonderful? You can find anything you want!

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I am truly enjoying your personal tour with beautiful pictures and comments. Thank you so much for sharing what I and perhaps others may never have been able to see. I sure am hoping there will be more from you in the future.
RDW


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Very interesting Eric. I love the look of the Steingraeber complex. It's like going back in time.I would like to pay a visit their in Spring.I would go now but living in Florida,i am afraid the weather would be too cold.Did you get a chance to see the Steingraeber historical house and the i believe they call it their opera house? If so do you have pictures? I would love to see them if you have any.Thanks for taking me and others on this fabulous voyage.I appreciate the hard work you are putting into this.Please keep it coming!


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Terry

I got a tour of the Steingraeber Haus on my previous trip, but did not take any photos. This time we stopped in briefly to see them returning the Liszt Steingraeber, carrying it up the 2 flights (no, not sliding it, carrying it!). It is filled with beautiful furniture and furnishings with the air of both a museum and the home an a very aristocratic, cultured family.
[Linked Image]

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Hi Eric,

It's fascinating to read this thread.

I'm wondering whether your observations on rim tension and sound production are, to some degree, transferable to uprights?

I don't know enough about piano building to gauge the technical validity of my question (a rim on an upright?) - what I'm getting at, is the means that various piano makers have at their disposal, to build their ideal sound into pianos, both grands and uprights, and whether a similar "beach" vs. "pool" approach exists in uprights.

Regards,
Mark


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Mark

To be honest, I have not investigated the various uprights made by these makers in any kind of detail.

There really is not a rim on an upright. There are 2 end panels, left and right, glued on the back frame. The back is completely open and all the cabinet pieces on the front are removable.

I know the Bosendorfer upright also has spruce end panels. However my intuition tells me that the cabinet pieces don't play much of a role in tone production on any upright.

Again, I welcome correction by any makers rep.

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Maybe I should clarify something. It is not only the rim construction that contributes to the sound being swimming pool or beach. There are a number of other steps that makers take to emphasize and develop the particular sound they are looking for. The rim construction and installation is just one of them.

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