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#1642597 - 03/16/11 10:57 PM Hammer Voicing w/Acetone  
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MCJanes Offline
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Does anyone use Acetone as a hammer hardener? I've used Laquer before, but have spoken with many technicians who prefer a few drops of Acetone.

I have an old piano I'd like to try it out on, but was wondering if it needs to be diluted with anything? One tech told me he dissolves a plastic keytop in it, but that's only for colour.

Any tips?

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#1642657 - 03/17/11 01:47 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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rysowers Offline
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Acetone and plastic keytop were popular in the 90's but has gone out of favor with most of the concert techs that I know. If it is used it is used in a very weak solution very sparingly. Acetone is often used as a solvent for nitrocellulose lacquer in various ratios 4:1 being a very strong solution (watch out!) and 7 to 10:1 being a less dramatic mix.

Acetone on its own will more likely soften the tone. I have used it this way after applying lacquer. It can take the hard edge off the tone.


Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net
#1642684 - 03/17/11 04:23 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Adding to Ryan's post, from a chemical perspective (disclaimer: I'm a qualified chemist, not piano technician):

Acetone in itself is only a solvent. After application, it will evaporate without any residue.

The solvent can either be used to transport something into the hammer felt, e.g. some dissolved lacquer or keytop material, or it can be used to transport or "wash" something that is already inside the hammer, e.g. a chemical hardener, out of the felt. The former would make the hammer harder, the latter would make it softer.

However, if there is currently nothing dissolved in the hammer felt, i.e. if the hammer has not been treated previously with some chemical, then the application of acetone would (most likely) not make much difference to the hammer - except, perhaps, if it's applied liberally, the acetone would wash out some of the residual lanolin from the wool, which I would expect to make the hammer less elastic.

One thing is pretty sure to me: dissolving a keytop is definitely not "only for colour". I wonder whether that tech seriously believes that, or whether he was trying to mislead the OP.


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#1642715 - 03/17/11 06:33 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Mark:

I can understand that the acetone may not change the wool's chemical properties after it evaporates, but couldn't it change it's physical properties? I could see it swelling up the hammer a little and then after evaporating leaving larger air spaces in the felt. What do you think?


Jeff Deutschle
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#1642754 - 03/17/11 07:52 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Jeff,

First off, before answering your question:

The terminology of "physical" vs. "chemical" is a bit misleading. Actually, as far as I can see, all of these so-called "chemical" techniques are actually physical, not chemical. As I understand it, the dissolved hardener (pyralin or what-have-you) impregnates the wool fibers and stiffens them - perhaps not unlike hair-spray (or hair-gel) stiffens hair: even tough you apply a chemical, there is no irreversible, chemical change to the hair - it is just stiffened by coating it with a stiff polymer.

Similarly, to my knowledge, there is no irreversible, chemical reaction between key-top plastic and wool fibers.

After reading about this in forums and books for close on two years, I think that technicians conveniently refer to these impregnation methods as "chemical", to distinguish them from "physical" methods such as needling, steaming, filing, etc., where no chemical is applied.

If any of these impregnation treatments were genuinely chemical, then a.f.a.i.k. they would not be reversible by washing the felt with acetone. The dissolved material would react chemically with the wool fibers, and stay stuck there.

The reports I've read that hammer hardener can (mostly) be washed out, show me that it's (mostly) a physical change, not a chemical one. (Compare hair-gel with hair-dye: gel is easily reversible by rinsing, but dyeing isn't.)

To get back to your question: if the "pure" acetone contains some residual water, then I think it would swell the hammer, yes. Just like an alcohol-water mix swells bushings. But if the acetone is really pure, I don't think so. This is, however, conjecture from a chemist's background knowledge. I've never tried this. The most I've ever treated a hammer was three careful jabs in the high shoulder with a three-needle tool and some sugar-coating close to the strike point with a single needle tool (which had the desired effect, but is wearing off after a few weeks) - so I reiterate that I'm not at all experienced with hammers.

Either way, before using acetone, be it with our without dissolved hardeners, I would advise to read the manufacturer's composition data of the acetone, to see whether it contains significant water, because "YMMV" (your mileage may vary).

Last edited by Mark R.; 03/17/11 07:54 AM. Reason: typo

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#1642775 - 03/17/11 08:47 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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OK, I see what you mean about all these treatments being physical: the chemical composition of the felt does not change.

But would water cause felt to swell and not acetone?


Jeff Deutschle
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Who taught the first chicken how to peck?
#1642801 - 03/17/11 09:40 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Water definitely swells felt (wool) fibers. About acetone, I'm not so sure, but to my knowledge (not experience), most solvents, including acetone, don't swell organic fibers such as felt/wool - at least not nearly as much as water swells them.

I hope that someone with actual experience can chime in at this point. My statements are becoming speculative, and I wouldn't want anyone ruining hammers because of this.


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#1642813 - 03/17/11 10:07 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Years ago I tried strait acetone. Any perception of change quickly worked itself out and the hammer was right back where it started. There are ways to give "interest" to a hammer with a lot less application than playing around with acetone. 25 to 30 years ago Acetone and key top was popular. I think everyone ran into the "Aging" of that application all at the same time and it's popularity diminished to all but esoteric needs.

I do use acetone to see how much lacquer is in a hammer. Too much lacquer kills the hammer in my opinion. From time to time I am asked to voice a little sparkle into the hammer that has obviously had a lot of work done to them. One drop of acetone in the right place will reveal the problem and that diagnostic tool can easily be undone.





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#1643452 - 03/18/11 08:25 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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I learned it from the Steinway factory and Franz Mohr, himself. I don't have the need for it very often but when I do, I still use it and it has always been very efficient and effective for me. I see no reason to use any other method. I bought a sandwich size bag of keytop granules from Pianotech when it first started in business sometime in the 80's, I think and I still have more than half of it left. It doesn't take much. I think that if people have had a bad experience with it, it may well have been that far too much was used.


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#1643613 - 03/18/11 02:35 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: rysowers]  
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Originally Posted by rysowers
Acetone and plastic keytop were popular in the 90's but has gone out of favor with most of the concert techs that I know. If it is used it is used in a very weak solution very sparingly. Acetone is often used as a solvent for nitrocellulose lacquer in various ratios 4:1 being a very strong solution (watch out!) and 7 to 10:1 being a less dramatic mix.

Acetone on its own will more likely soften the tone. I have used it this way after applying lacquer. It can take the hard edge off the tone.


Ryan,

what lacquer do you use for hammer hardening?


Patrick Wingren, RPT
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#1643747 - 03/18/11 06:50 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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During training at the Baldwin factory years ago, we used a very thick solution of keytop/acetone, applied from the side of the hammer just around the molding area only, to power up the piano. It worked really well. A drop or two of a very thin mixture on the strike point can be useful as well.

#1643750 - 03/18/11 06:55 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: pppat]  
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Mohawk makes a "water white" 19% solids that works well.

Any other "water white" nitrocellulose 19% solids would work equally well. Water white tends not to leave a stain in the felt.

Water white nitrocellulose is a bit of an oxymoron.

Solids will vary these days, EPA regulations are raising solids content.

You would keep that in mind as you are thinning.

Key top vs water white lacquer, really a personal choice.

If you want to use the lacquer and need quicker dry time, thin with strait acetone.

Key top and lacquer at this point are the same thing, both the solids that remain after the solvent evaporates.


"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
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#1643762 - 03/18/11 07:27 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Bill, Bob, Larry: thanks, this is good confirmation of my own reasoning on this subject.

Last edited by pppat; 03/18/11 07:28 PM.

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#1643763 - 03/18/11 07:31 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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It may seem strange to you, but I use little pieces of ping-pong balls of high quality solved in pure acetone making a thin mixture. I apply it in careful steps, wait to dry completely between them. This is the way one very good tech from the Petrof factory showed me many years ago. They also used to deal with the keytops there, and some other stuff as well.


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#1643770 - 03/18/11 07:51 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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I have a gallon of WW (which I assume means water white) Mohawk high solids clear lacquer. This is a lifetime supply for me. I'm not sure what the amount of solids are. It says VOC 77% reduced on the can, so perhaps it's 23% solids?

Does anyone know if lacquer has a shelf life?

Steinway sells voicing lacquer so you could contact the parts department.


Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net
#1643801 - 03/18/11 08:57 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: Larry Buck]  
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Originally Posted by Larry Buck

If you want to use the lacquer and need quicker dry time, thin with strait acetone.


I'm certainly not a chemist nor do I have any expertise in finishing materials. I only know about what I have heard over the years. What I recall hearing is that lacquer thinner is actually acetone but has a retardant in it to prevent it from evaporating too quickly in the finishing process. So, it makes sense in the hammer hardening technique to use pure acetone because the desire is to have it cure as quickly as possible.

Can anyone else confirm this?


Bill Bremmer RPT
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#1643828 - 03/18/11 09:47 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: Bill Bremmer RPT]  
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Bill, It is true.

For the purpose of a high quality finish on wood, higher quality lacquer thinners actually dry more slowly than their less expensive counterparts.

This helps prevent checking and let the finish gas properly. Lacquer tends to dry from it's surface down.





"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
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E. J. Buck & Sons
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#1643848 - 03/18/11 10:33 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Thanks, Larry.


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#1643857 - 03/18/11 10:57 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Lacquer thinner can be up to 70% acetone. The rest is mainly methyl and ethyl alcohol, toluene and ketones. The mixture will determine the evaporation rate. Some lacquer thinners evaporate quickly while others not so quickly. The common ingredient however is acetone.


BTW, plexiglass dissolved in acetone works great.


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#1643859 - 03/18/11 11:10 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: Ralph]  
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Ralph,

What ratio do you use of plexiglass to acetone? Or does it vary?


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#1643861 - 03/18/11 11:15 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Acetone is so volatile that ratios do not last for long. Like so much of our business, it is more of an art than a science.


Semipro Tech
#1643958 - 03/19/11 07:19 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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I still say chemicals should be a last resort after tuning, regulating, shaping, aligning, traveling, etc. Once you've got plastic in the hammers, it's in there for good. I've found that the need for chemicals is greatly reduced or (sometimes) even eliminated when the piano is put in good working order.


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#1644128 - 03/19/11 12:51 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
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Plexiglass is a polymer of methyl methacrylate ( PMMA ). I like a thin dilution of plexiglass in acetone. About one piece of plexi one inch wide by three inches long in a pint of acetone. You can test it by putting a drop on the back of your hand. A very thin residue skin should be left on your hand once the acetone evaporates. It almost looks like a very thin film of glue.

I think the plexi works differently than lacquer. The plexi seems to glue the fibers together while nitrocellulose lacquer and other "solids" (sanding sealer etc) actually fill in the spaces between the fibers and also act as a glue. The plexi is easier to voice down but doesn't build up the hammer like lacquer does. Typically people add lacquer to the low shoulders of the hammer and build it up slowly. With plexi, go right to the high shoulder (10 and 2 o'clock), or closer to the strike point, and let the fuild undermind and work its way under the felt of the strike point. You can see it by watching the side of the hammer as you apply with an eye dropper. As an aside, don't use a paint brush because the acetone with dissolve the paint on the handle of the paint brush and you'll stain the hammer. The results are much faster and more stable than lacquer. I think it actually takes several days to hear the final result with lacquer and in fact maybe longer than that. The lacquer continues to harden over several weeks and the voice will change throughout that time. Humidity also changes the sound of lacquer dramatically. That doesn't really happen with plexi. It's much more immediate (15 to 30 minutes) and far more stable. Go the Home Depot and buy the softest plexiglass you can find and that's it. There are some suppliers that sell plexiglass beads. I don't think there is anything special about those beads, but if you go with that, then I think it's a teaspoon of beads in a pint of acetone. I believe Ari Isaacs uses plexiglass on his hammers.


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#1644143 - 03/19/11 01:18 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: Loren D]  
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Originally Posted by Loren D
I still say chemicals should be a last resort after tuning, regulating, shaping, aligning, traveling, etc. Once you've got plastic in the hammers, it's in there for good. I've found that the need for chemicals is greatly reduced or (sometimes) even eliminated when the piano is put in good working order.


This is why my preferred method of voicing primarily new hammers that are just too soft even after other techniques have been tried is to use an ultra light solution right on the striking surface. It does not penetrate very far. It will provide the desired firmness and can immediately be adjusted with a single needle technique if necessary. Once the string wears through the hardened area, the original felt remains uncontaminated or changed in any way. It can be reshaped and otherwise voiced normally from that point on.

The only exception to this is are the highest treble hammers which often need to be very hard. They can be more thoroughly saturated but can still be needled if necessary. These methods were taught to me by the Steinway people. Whether or not they are still in common use, they have always worked for me, so I still continue to use them. I would say however, that I don't find a need to do it very often at all.

By the same token, although off topic for this thread but in response to your comments about chemicals, the use of alcohol and/or acetone for freeing up an action with gummy, sluggish action centers (such as with verdigris or some kind of inappropriate lubrication) is a preferred first attempt method over lubrication.

Once the alcohol (which contains water) has evaporated, it leaves no residue or contaminate of any kind. The action of the water in the solution serves to swell the surrounding wood, thereby compressing the cloth bushing. When the liquids have evaporated, the action center is free because of physical pressure having been applied to the cloth bushing and the gummy or sticky substances have also been broken down. This is often called a shrinking solution and is not the same as lubrication although it can be just as effective or even more so than lubrication.

This is not to say that there is no place for lubricants such as Protek which is specifically designed to break down verdigris. A highly resistant (thoroughly stuck) action can be remedied with a combination approach. If the shrinking solution is effective, it can be topped off, so to speak, with Protek which will keep the verdigris at bay and provide for reduction of friction over a longer term with the polymers which are left behind.

These techniques, of course are for old pianos of low value and are a way of providing efficient and cost effective service to the clients who have them. They can also work for finer pianos such as early 20th Century Steinways, both grand and vertical which often have problems with verdigris. Not everyone who has one of these instruments is prepared to immediately spring for a rebuilding. These techniques can be used until such time as the client is ready for rebuilding or, as in many cases, until they pass away and the piano is sold and gets rebuilt at that time.

Also, I often use a judicious amount of lubricant in the case of a new piano which has a few sluggish keys; the kind that sag when the damper pedal is used. This indicates a very marginal degree of too much friction and should be treated accordingly. Rather than crunching the wood of the key mortise with key easing pliers, I prefer to give the key bushing a shot of "wet lube" that I get from Schaff piano supply. I may also gently give the key some side pressure with my fingers or a flange spacing tool to compress the felt only without damaging the wood of the key mortise. The combination of a physical adjustment and the introduction of the friction reducing polymers solves the immediate problem. As the key bushing cloth wears naturally, the problem generally does not recur and is therefore a permanent solution to the problem.

Last edited by Bill Bremmer RPT; 03/19/11 01:52 PM. Reason: additional comments

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#1644258 - 03/19/11 05:30 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: BDB]  
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Originally Posted by BDB
Acetone is so volatile that ratios do not last for long. Like so much of our business, it is more of an art than a science.


... and this would be a good reason to use some kind of white plastic, like keytops or ping-pong balls or whatever. That way you can se how concentrated your mix is (thanks Bill for that suggestion earlier, it has worked well for me).


Patrick Wingren, RPT
Wingren Pianistik
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Concert Tuner at Schauman Hall, Jakobstad, Finland
Musician, arranger, composer

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#1644286 - 03/19/11 06:09 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: Loren D]  
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As a chemist, I feel to contribute my two cents and to a large extent agree with Loren.

There are two main potential concerns of using impregnating polymers:
1) If one uses some actual material, like key-tops, plexiglass beads, etc - there will be fillers and modifiers present (pigments, dyes, antioxidants, etc) that for the most part are hardly desirable to go into the hammers.
Especially in the case of key-tops, some manufactures could try different polymers (composition, modifiers) - for instance our tuner thinks that the key-tops are made of cellulose acetate.
2) Even in the case of pure polymers, for the very same composition, their most important characteristic for mechanical properties is their molecular weight (length of the polymer chains or the number of repeating monomer units -for instance the cellulose (the main component of the wood) is made of the repeating glucose fragments). As Ralph alluded - there are softer and harder Plexiglas batches.
Polymer molecular weight will affect the viscosity of the solution (perceived "thickness" for the same mass ratios) and therefore the depth of the solution penetration into the hammers and the hardness/stickiness of the resulting impregnating material - all of which should affect the hammers strongly.

#1644325 - 03/19/11 07:04 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 25,537
BDB Offline
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BDB  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 25,537
Oakland
I once mentioned that brass bocce balls come in two types, one that bounces, and another that does not. The type that does not bounce is filled with rubber bands and weights, which make it work like a dead blow hammer. A piano hammer that works that way will impart more energy to the string, as long as the hammer bounces off of it fast enough to keep it from damping the energy. A harder shell will help keep it from damping so much. So voicing is the art of balancing these two concerns, imparting energy to the string, and controlling the amount of damping from the hammer blow itself.


Semipro Tech
#1644686 - 03/20/11 11:57 AM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
Joined: Dec 2001
Posts: 1,651
Ralph Offline
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Ralph  Offline
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Posts: 1,651
Delaware (slower/lower)


Do or do not. There is no try.
#1644692 - 03/20/11 12:28 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 2,758
Gadzar Offline
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Gadzar  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 2,758
Mexico City
Yes, no needles, no lacker, no tuning, but no piano neither.

You can voice by pressing a button, yes; but even then it won't sound like a piano.



Rafael Melo
Piano Technician
rafaelmelo@afinacionpianos.com.mx

Serving Mexico City and suburbs.

http://www.afinacionpianos.com.mx
#1644695 - 03/20/11 12:31 PM Re: Hammer Voicing w/Acetone [Re: MCJanes]  
Joined: Apr 2007
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rysowers Offline
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rysowers  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 3,166
Olympia, WA
I like that voicing block the guy is using for battery voicing. I need to get/make one of those!


Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net
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