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What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
#1559026 11/16/10 02:43 PM
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Recently acquired an 1887 Steinway A at an estate sale. Just noticed this weekend that "435" is written next to the tuning pins of A4. Does this mean it should be tuned to A=435 or would A=440 be OK? I would have thought A=440 was pretty much standard by then.

Paul.

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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1559044 11/16/10 03:11 PM
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There are no scaling differences between most models of Steinway made in 1887 and those made now, so either pitch will work.


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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1559078 11/16/10 04:20 PM
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The ISO was 1936 I believe.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1559441 11/17/10 05:56 AM
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Originally Posted by pyropaul
Just noticed this weekend that "435" is written next to the tuning pins of A4. Does this mean it should be tuned to A=435 or would A=440 be OK? I would have thought A=440 was pretty much standard by then.


This most probably means that any tuner in the past has set A4 to 435 Hz.

You should feel free to adjust at 440 HZ, 442 or even 445 - if necessary.. If the A is working alone I personally would let it work @ 435 Hz. Sound will be a little bit warmer.

Imagine: this A is one of the ever first series of "rim" Steinways, the rim (glued leafs, instead of three parts cases) invented or first produced 1878, 9 yrs before. Rims on a fixture in those ancient days were built in 2 parts, inner small rim and outer high rim glued separately, as the inner rim combined with the outer rim was invented in the 1920ies. (could be named "L-shape" rim?)

So this super old A will in any way be of a warmer, "not-so-shrill"-type compared with modern ones. (...and no, I don't say that A grands were shrill, it is gradual..) The higher you pull, the shriller sound will be. ..the less warmer. And I (personally) like warm grand sounds.. But this Steinway A is not mine. ;-) The higher you pull, the higher is a risk of cracks in the bridges, potential strings breakage (only a matter if strings might be of old materials). The risk of the pinblock getting "weak" - but it is tiny, gradual only.

Iso standard A4 set in 1936 to 440 Hz does NOT mean that elder instrument were not allowed to produce 440 or 445 or 448 Hz...

But, is that necessary?

(Electronic tuning device - being able to show 440 Hz only - would be a bad reason of pulling the instrument higher..)

Under any circumstances it should be avoided to pull it now to 445 Hz, then - drop the tension down to 435, then again pull it up..

My concert grand (ten years older, built 1877) was once set to 442 Hz. It had got a new pinblock, new tuning pins and a whole set of new strings. It has kept it's super warm sound. I bought it with this tension. I didn't see a reason to change. But if I would have been the first to set base tension then I would have ordered 440 Hz.

If the A might have still it's first pinblock (I don't think so) and it's first strings... I personally would propose to let it stay at 435 Hz max.


Pls excuse any bad english.

Centennial D Sept 1877

Working on Berceuse op.57
Nocturnes op. 9-1,3 15-1,2,3 27-2 32-1,2
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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1559816 11/17/10 09:06 PM
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@BDB - thanks for the info about the scaling being the same.

@BerndAB - I presume it's not the original pinblock and strings. The estate sale agent I bought it through didn't know too much except that it had been with the late owner for 47 years. It plays well with that warm tone you describe and the hammers,from what I can see, have very little wear on them, certainly not 123 year's worth! It had been maintained reasonably well in-tune with A4 being about 438Hz - though it's hard to know if it had been tuned to 435 or 440 as the season has just changed. Moving it 70 miles and letting it acclimatize to its new surroundings didn't appear to change the tuning at all, maybe slightly, but it was as playable post-move as it was when I first saw it. It will get moved again in the spring (when the endless renovation I've been working on has finally completed the room it will go in) so I'll have a more thorough evaluation then, plus have the keyboard regulated.

The late owner's family thought it hailed from the 1920s due to the "modern" looking bleached mahogany casework but the serial number definitely puts in in the 1887/8 era. I won't have it tuned any higher than 440 - I was just intrigued to see "435" written next to the A4 tuning pins.

What would be clues that the pinblock and strings are not original?

Paul.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560322 11/18/10 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by pyropaul

What would be clues that the pinblock and strings are not original?


..uhhh.. ;-) that's hard for me to estimate..

I am engineer, and to my knowledge the modern string materials changed. If the strings would be very rusty and/or the bass strings carry no copper wire but iron wire - then chances would be that the strings migth be original super old ones.. very very rare. Will be extremely seldom found in the USA.., my estimation.

The other chance would be to compare the material analysis of your normal steel wire strings (tenor or treble) with a known super old material. As the wire suppliers make big secrets about their steel alloy addings this checking would have to be done with "black box approach" methods - cut out enough material, then do (electro)chemical analysis, mass spectrometry, atomar spectrometry - in comparison: your string material to be compared with known real old piano wire.

You always have to have a knowledge which elements you search in steel: chrome, nickel, vanadium.. plus plus, I don't know, et cetera.

To do this would demand the laboratory capacities of a university or a big steel/iron casting plant AND a laboratory analyst/ metallurgist who is interested in this very job and has good ideas to do such a "black box approach" - speculating.

Here in Germany I would dare to do this, related to the laboratory approach. I know min. two men whom I could ask for such a favour. But I would still need a probe of known super old piano wire.., to be able to compare.

<thinking about a doctorate thesis "steel materials for piano wire - changing through the centuries..">

= = =

The question regarding "pinblock an old one"?

Carbon C14 method.. cut out an edge and put it in the "testing tube".. <duck & cover>...

Last edited by BerndAB; 11/18/10 06:19 PM. Reason: typing errors

Pls excuse any bad english.

Centennial D Sept 1877

Working on Berceuse op.57
Nocturnes op. 9-1,3 15-1,2,3 27-2 32-1,2
Going Home (Mark Knopfler)
Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560330 11/18/10 06:40 PM
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The written notation on your piano certainly meant, to the person who wrote it: "I tuned this piano to 435 on purpose". It doesn't necessarily mean anything else, though of course it could. It may even have been done merely to keep it in tune with some other instrument (such as an organ that it may have shared space with).


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560340 11/18/10 07:02 PM
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You can see if strings and pinblocks have been replaced. It takes experience to know what to look for.


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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
BerndAB #1560357 11/18/10 08:00 PM
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Originally Posted by BerndAB
Originally Posted by pyropaul

What would be clues that the pinblock and strings are not original?


..uhhh.. ;-) that's hard for me to estimate..

I am engineer, and to my knowledge the modern string materials changed. If the strings would be very rusty and/or the bass strings carry no copper wire but iron wire - then chances would be that the strings migth be original super old ones.. very very rare. Will be extremely seldom found in the USA.., my estimation.


The bass strings are definitely wound with copper, judging by the colour. None of the non-wound strings are rusted, but they are all dark, as would be expected if they were replaced over 47 years ago.

For the C14 dating of the pinblock, wouldn't that just date the tree itself the wood came from, rather then when it was made into a pinblock? I don't think I'll remove any pieces but hopefully get an expert to look at some point when the piano comes to its final home.

Paul.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
david_a #1560359 11/18/10 08:02 PM
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Originally Posted by david_a
The written notation on your piano certainly meant, to the person who wrote it: "I tuned this piano to 435 on purpose". It doesn't necessarily mean anything else, though of course it could. It may even have been done merely to keep it in tune with some other instrument (such as an organ that it may have shared space with).


Ah, that might be it! The place where I bought the piano was also selling an 1880s Harmonium. I would have loved to have bought that as well (they were offering it for a bargain price) but don't have the space. It had an interesting "transposing" keyboard that allowed one to slide it left to right by a couple of semitones. They also had an upright piano with the same mechanism - both had "extra" keys at each end of the keyboard that were hidden.

Paul.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560365 11/18/10 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by pyropaul

They also had an upright piano with the same mechanism - both had "extra" keys at each end of the keyboard that were hidden.
Paul.


Like this one….
http://picasaweb.google.com/silverwoodpianos/HeintzmanCoTransposingPiano#

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560367 11/18/10 08:18 PM
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If all of the bass strings are wound with copper, they have probably been replaced. Early Steinways used both steel and copper wound strings.


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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
Silverwood Pianos #1560396 11/18/10 09:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Silverwood Pianos
Originally Posted by pyropaul

They also had an upright piano with the same mechanism - both had "extra" keys at each end of the keyboard that were hidden.
Paul.


Like this one….
http://picasaweb.google.com/silverwoodpianos/HeintzmanCoTransposingPiano#


That's exactly the one! I guess it was a boon for accompanists who couldn't mentally transpose for singers whose range was limited!

Paul.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
BerndAB #1560458 11/18/10 11:34 PM
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Originally Posted by BerndAB

..uhhh.. ;-) that's hard for me to estimate..

I am engineer, and to my knowledge.....

Carbon C14 method.. cut out an edge and put it in the "testing tube".. <duck & cover>...


Bernd, with all respect, for someone with as limited a knowledge of pianos as you have (remember you are posting on a Piano Tuner-Technicians Forum), you really throw out a lot of BS. Duck and cover is good advice, I suggest you take it.

Sorry for being so blunt. The pressure just builds up and then it becomes hard to handle.

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
Supply #1560618 11/19/10 09:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Supply
Originally Posted by BerndAB

..uhhh.. ;-) that's hard for me to estimate..

I am engineer, and to my knowledge.....

Carbon C14 method.. cut out an edge and put it in the "testing tube".. <duck & cover>...


Bernd, with all respect, for someone with as limited a knowledge of pianos as you have (remember you are posting on a Piano Tuner-Technicians Forum), you really throw out a lot of BS. Duck and cover is good advice, I suggest you take it.

Sorry for being so blunt. The pressure just builds up and then it becomes hard to handle.


I give him "amusing". 'Overly wordy, but amusing.


David L. Jenson
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Jenson's Piano Service
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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560665 11/19/10 10:25 AM
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Non-piano tech speaking here smile.

There is some evidence that music in the 1800s used to be tuned largely to around A=432. This was actually regulated by Verdi and made into Italian law for opera. It is my understanding that tuning did vary quite a bit, however, in other countries (thus Verdi saw the need to state that his operas should be done at A=432). If the person playing the piano is to accompany classical singers, the lower tuning makes a huge difference. So, that is something to consider. I prefer the warmer sound the lower tuning provides as well, but that's a personal preference.


private piano/voice teacher FT

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Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1560686 11/19/10 11:01 AM
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My mistake on the 1936 ISO. The international Standards took up the 1939 recommendation for A440 known as concert pitch in 1955 and then re-affirmed in 1975.

A link for the history of A440 ….go down to the section on 19th and 29th century standards…..actually the whole thing is interesting reading.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1561404 11/20/10 08:05 PM
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Between (approximately) 1870 and 1885 many Bluthner pianos (including my own) were marked "Pariser Stimmung" or "Tiefe Stimmung"; in other words, "Paris Tuning" or "Low Tuning". I have never learnt definitively what this means, but my understanding is that these pianos were intended to be tuned to A435, in accordance with the French law of 1859 fixing the A above middle C at 435 Hz.

Why there should have been such a demand at this period for Bluthners set to A435, I have no idea.

Did Steinway or other piano makers of that era do anything similar? I have never heard that they did. On the other hand if there was a demand for A435 Bluthners, why should there not have been a similar demand for A435 Steinways?

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
David-G #1565413 11/27/10 08:30 PM
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At the time this piano were built, or shortly thereafter, Steinway employed two different pitch levels, as far as I understand, to be used on one and the same piano. There were no differences of scaling to accomodate the substantial change in tension when tuning to these pitch levels which may say something, whatever it is, for the current frenzy of "rescaling".
The first level was called "soft" pitch and A=440; the second was called "hard" pitch and A was tuned to 457. At the factory in the 80's I was told that the forks for the standards were still there. I did not see them but have every confidence in the ability of the person who gave me this information to be accurate.
The fact that the OP's piano had the mark 435 on the plate only indicates a subsequent change, for whatever reason, in the pitch of the instrument, which has little to do with the design characteristics and is only reflective of a local decision by some tuner, informed or not. Probably the piano had reached the point of significant string breakage, if not, perhaps the tuner preferred not to pitch raise it. There are numerous reason why this decision could be taken, but, they have nothing to do with the factory standard for pitch.
The problem with pitch in the 19th century was a slow, tenacious rise in the levels.
Regards, Robin Hufford, RPT

Re: What is/was correct concert pitch for 1887 Steinway?
pyropaul #1566892 11/30/10 06:50 AM
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Yes, 457 was a standard concert pitch in some major cities of the world as evidenced by the number of 'high pitch' wind instruments that still turn up in secondhand stores.
An interesting story from the history of the Royal Albert Hall 'proms' series that are broadcast during the summer on some American PBS stations. The finances were donated to start this series in 1895 by a singer/impressario and his throat doctor on condition that the pitch standard be lowered from 457 to 439 with their acompanying co-efficients of temperature. No mean expense to supply all new wind instruments and having the pitch of the Queens Hall organ lowered nearly 1/3rd of a whole step. Casual conversations with those whose knowledge of this exceeds mine leads me to believe that an authentic version of Gilbert and Sullivan operas should be performed at 454-7, so prevalent was this high pitch. It persisted in the British Brass Band movement until as late as 1963 when Boosey and Hawkes ceased making high pitch instruments. It would appear that the pianos would have had to be tuned to this higher pitch also for some concerts.


Amanda Reckonwith
Concert & Recording tuner-tech, London, England.
"in theory, practice and theory are the same thing. In practice, they're not." - Lawrence P. 'Yogi' Berra.



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