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Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts #1818229
01/04/12 07:55 AM
01/04/12 07:55 AM
Joined: Apr 2008
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In considering the wood piano parts versus the composite piano parts issue due to a discussion thereon in another thread, I emailed a well reputed cutsom piano rebuilder and consultant to various piano manufacturers on the matter and he had the following to say,

"I’m afraid I don’t have much of an opinion on these issues. I continue to use Renner parts almost exclusively. I have received a set of WNG composite parts to try but haven’t done so. I don’t really see a problem with them however. Kawai has used them with success. Sorry I can’t offer more."

Now I know that he is not the final word on the matter, but knowing that he is one authority in the field of piano design and custom rebuilding I appreciate his answer.

Futher more in considering that maybe a small group of piano tuners/rebuilders and a handful of piano manufacturers are promoting/proposing/using composite parts as compares to the majority of small and large piano manufacturers and rebuilders still using wooden parts in their actions I think that many of the statements made for composite piano parts are not convincing or evidence for a superior product.

The issues of Cost, cost and quality of material, cost and quality/ability/apptitude of labour doing the work and operating the equipment, cost of and lack of equipment and the ever increasing pressure for the "instant" and the "need to have" all factor in. Never mind the labour relations issue!

Mass production has it's advantages and disadvantages but surely the competition and the name of the game demands bigger, better, faster and cheaper and this leaves much to be desired and room for improvement. So we have the custom rebuilder and designer in all fields.

I do not have anything against advancement in piano manufacture and piano technology and am always open to what others, who have authority in the particular area and discussion, have to say, however, I stand to the old sure wisdom too, of, Time will tell.

Best wishes for the new year,

Regards,






Numbered
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Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1818250
01/04/12 08:56 AM
01/04/12 08:56 AM
Joined: Oct 2006
Posts: 2,632
Strong, Maine
David Jenson Offline
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David Jenson  Offline
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Strong, Maine
Time will tell, and the market will decide.


David L. Jenson
Tuning - Repairs - Refurbishing
Jenson's Piano Service
-----
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1818313
01/04/12 11:20 AM
01/04/12 11:20 AM
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Yes. Agreed.

Thank you David.



Numbered
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1818578
01/04/12 07:00 PM
01/04/12 07:00 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 39
Sacramento, CA, USA
Cecil Ramirez Offline
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Posts: 39
Sacramento, CA, USA
I read Mark Davis' post in this thread , which pretty much states his preference for wood piano parts. If Mr. Davis has worked with WNG composite parts and is speaking as one of the people he stated "who have authority in the particular area and discussion", then I respect his first-hand opinion on the topic.

That being said, my discussion with Bruce Clark yielded a more passionate response and pointed statement about the WNG parts. He wanted me to share this statement with the readers of the Piano Tech forum:

"It is interesting that there are still among us those who consider wood, as an engineering material, superior to composites. But then I suppose there are those who would prefer the bi-plane of 1915 to a modern 787 from Boeing.

"We all know that action parts made from wood have problems.

"First, wood is hygroscopic. That is, wood changes dimension as its EMC (Equilibrium Moisture Content) changes. EMC, in any piece of wood, changes as the relative humidity in the surrounding environment changes. Action parts are machined to very tight tolerances. For a part that needs to be machined accurately in order to work this is not good. Incidentally, wool, the primary constituent of cloth bushings, is also hygroscopic.

"We have all experienced the phenomena that touch weight gets heavier in the summer and lighter in the winter. This is because pinning friction goes up when parts and bushings swell in the higher humidity of the summer. Other piano manufacturers tell me that when they ship a piano to, say Dubai, the centers all get loose and need to be repined.

"None of this instability resulting from the materials is considered desirable.

"Early on, we sent our parts to a European manufacturer to be tested. Their first test was to immerse our parts in water. The dunk test if you will. We all know what the result would be in wood parts with cloth bushings. The WNG parts showed no discernible difference.

"Second, from tree to tree, from stick to stick, wood is widely variable. Even a small amount of thinking will tell you why. One tree is on the north side of the hill (not much light). Another on the south side. One gets more water than the other. Another, the soil has better nutrients. And, of course, the genetics vary from tree to tree. For all of these reasons, wood is not a uniform material. Quoted properties for wood, as an engineering material, are all averages. To the unwary this disguises the variation.

"At WNG, our testing has taught us way more about wooden parts then we knew as piano makers before we started. Initially, we were seeking to base line the wooden parts in order to know how our composite parts compared. What we learned startled us.

"We were quite surprised to learn that the fame attached to the name of the maker is not predictive of quality or functionality. Also, we started to come to an understanding of just how variable wood really is. With wooden shanks and flanges variations in strength correspond to variations in tonal response. Inside any given set of wooden shanks there will, on average, be about two shanks that are almost as strong as our composite shanks. At the other extreme, there will be some number that are as floppy as a noodle.

"Our composite shanks have about 2% the variation that wooden shanks have. This translates to easier voicing and better control for the pianist. After all, who wants to modify the effort used on every key to deal with differing shank strengths.

"An important aspect to tone is that the hammer be rigidly controlled when it hits the string. If you watch high speed video, (we paid a lab to shoot pictures of our actions at 7,000 frames a second) you will see that our composite shanks control the hammer much better than corresponding wooden shanks. We even did this with samples of floppy shanks and samples of strong shanks.

"Wood is really only strong in the quarter sawn axis. In the flat sawn axis it is less strong though prone to cupping. In the short grain axis you can break the piece with your hands as it is quite weak.

"Much of the design of a wooden action part comes from this reality. The vertical balancier post in a repetition is a perfect example. If the grain were running the same direction as the repetition base below it the parts would break.

"Because of the fact that our parts are strong in all axis, we have been able to design parts not possible to make with wood. You might have noticed that our repetition looks a bit different than the typical wooden part. We have engineered the WNG repetition so that the moment of inertia has been reduced by moving mass closer to the center of rotation. We have integrated the metal spoon into the repetition base.

"In short, we have designed a better part because we have used the superior material properties of our composite materials.

"Often people refer to “cheap plastic parts”. They are not cheap. Wood is the cheap part, not the composite. When you take everything into account, there has never been a composite part that was cheaper than wood. The only reason for making parts from a composite is to make them better.

"So what do we mean by "better"? "Better" means the problems of wood have been largely solved. Below are examples of the benefits of WNG composite parts.

1. WNG parts are, for all practical purposes, non hygroscopic.
2. WNG hard bushings are more durable than cloth while being immune to the vicissitudes of mother nature.
3. There are features designed in for the rebuilder that cannot be done in wood.
4. More power (that you supply when playing) is delivered to the string.
5. Better control because of superior strength and uniformity.
6. Less maintenance. Lubricants not required on the jack and balancier, flange screws do not need to be tightened on a yearly basis, touch does not change with the weather, much less repining, better wear with synthetic buckskin etc.

"If you do not find these examples compelling then you are being willfully blind."


- - -

We at Mason & Hamlin believe in the superior performance of the WNG composite actions and we're willing to back up that belief by putting WNG actions in our new pianos. It's our hope that more piano rebuilders will work with WNG composite action parts for the first time in 2012. We believe the performance of the parts will speak for itself.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous new year.


Cecil Ramirez
National Sales Manager
Mason & Hamlin
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1818820
01/05/12 12:20 AM
01/05/12 12:20 AM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 1,645
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Dave Stahl Offline
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Just my 2 cents....

I have yet to work with WN and G parts, but I really look forward to doing so, especially after seeing them at the ptg conference in CA last year. Apparently, because of a new and undisclosed bushing material, you can leave them out in a rainstorm overnight and they will still function in the morning.

I HAVE worked on thousands of Kawai pianos with composite parts, as well as their ABS forbears. I like the consistency and strength of both materials. They are really easy to work with, and very difficult to break...:-)



Promote Harmony in the Universe...Tune your piano!

Dave Stahl, RPT
Piano Technician's Guild
San Jose, CA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAniw3m7L2I
http://dstahlpiano.net
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819017
01/05/12 12:09 PM
01/05/12 12:09 PM
Joined: Apr 2008
Posts: 728
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I will restate something that I said in my first post, I am not against innovation and progess and it certainly sounds like Mason and Hamlin, Kawai and WNG are innovativating.

However, I still would like to hear what the facts and arguments are from those who still use wood for their action parts instead of composite, though I might not get that on this forum.

With regard to piano action design, I submit the following written by a piano designer, which is certainly thought provoking and informative, "“In theory, if it were possible to remove all of the action’s felt and leather cushions and all of the elasticity from the various wood components of the action making each part completely rigid, it should be possible to significantly increase the potential output sound pressure level of any given piano. Alas, while “art [may be] uncompromising . . . life is full of compromises.“
We must be always aware of introducing possible side effects that may be undesirable. We can certainly increase the power output of the piano, but it may well become unplayable as a result.
As we make the action components stiffer and less yielding, the shock load felt by the rapidly moving human finger striking the key to initiate movement becomes greater. Some pianists are more sensitive to this effect than others but all are affected to some degree. It is entirely possible to make an action so stif that it can become difficult - even painful - to play for extended periods of time. As a part of my study into action dynamics I made a key for my model that was - for all practical purposes – perfectly rigid. Never mind how. I replaced the key balance punching with one of a very rigid material. I replaced the wippen capstan felt with a wood spacer of similar contour and thickness and replaced the standard knuckle with one of the same size but made of hard maple with only a thin, very firm leather covering. I reinforced the hammer shank by laminating strips of carbon fiber ribbon to the top and bottom surfaces to increase its rigidity. I even replaced the action center bushing felt with an unyielding filled Teflon@ material. With all of the modifications in place I had indeed managed to increase the hammer velocity by a considerable amount. Unfortunately, it also didn’t take very many hard blows to set up a very definite tingle in the ends of one’s finger tips. It would not have been possible to play an actual piano with this action for more than a few minutes at a time without some painful side effects.
Obviously, not everything mentioned above will affect an action’s energy transfer ratio to the same extent. In nearly all actions, for example, the greatest losses occur within the keys themselves while a good laminated maple or beech action rail may bend hardly at all even under the hardest of blows. So, with the above caveat in mind, let’s take a look at the various points of action compliance and then consider what, if anything, we can do about them. We’ll begin with the key and work our way through to the hammer:
Action performance was considerably improved by stiffening the keys in this piano."

Regards,






Last edited by Mark Davis; 01/05/12 01:11 PM.

Numbered
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819077
01/05/12 01:43 PM
01/05/12 01:43 PM
Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 1,883
Massachusetts
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Roy123 Offline
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Joined: Sep 2004
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Massachusetts
Originally Posted by Mark Davis
I will restate something that I said in my first post, I am not against innovation and progess and it certainly sounds like Mason and Hamlin, Kawai and WNG are innovativating.

However, I still would like to hear what the facts and arguments are from those who still use wood for their action parts instead of composite, though I might not get that on this forum.

With regard to piano action design, I submit the following written by a piano designer, which is certainly thought provoking and informative, "“In theory, if it were possible to remove all of the action’s felt and leather cushions and all of the elasticity from the various wood components of the action making each part completely rigid, it should be possible to significantly increase the potential output sound pressure level of any given piano. Alas, while “art [may be] uncompromising . . . life is full of compromises.“
We must be always aware of introducing possible side effects that may be undesirable. We can certainly increase the power output of the piano, but it may well become unplayable as a result.
As we make the action components stiffer and less yielding, the shock load felt by the rapidly moving human finger striking the key to initiate movement becomes greater. Some pianists are more sensitive to this effect than others but all are affected to some degree. It is entirely possible to make an action so stif that it can become difficult - even painful - to play for extended periods of time. As a part of my study into action dynamics I made a key for my model that was - for all practical purposes – perfectly rigid. Never mind how. I replaced the key balance punching with one of a very rigid material. I replaced the wippen capstan felt with a wood spacer of similar contour and thickness and replaced the standard knuckle with one of the same size but made of hard maple with only a thin, very firm leather covering. I reinforced the hammer shank by laminating strips of carbon fiber ribbon to the top and bottom surfaces to increase its rigidity. I even replaced the action center bushing felt with an unyielding filled Teflon@ material. With all of the modifications in place I had indeed managed to increase the hammer velocity by a considerable amount. Unfortunately, it also didn’t take very many hard blows to set up a very definite tingle in the ends of one’s finger tips. It would not have been possible to play an actual piano with this action for more than a few minutes at a time without some painful side effects.
Obviously, not everything mentioned above will affect an action’s energy transfer ratio to the same extent. In nearly all actions, for example, the greatest losses occur within the keys themselves while a good laminated maple or beech action rail may bend hardly at all even under the hardest of blows. So, with the above caveat in mind, let’s take a look at the various points of action compliance and then consider what, if anything, we can do about them. We’ll begin with the key and work our way through to the hammer:
Action performance was considerably improved by stiffening the keys in this piano."


Composite parts can be designed with any desired level of stiffness. Given the uniformity and strength of composites, they could almost surely be made less stiff than wooden parts if that were desirable.

Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819108
01/05/12 02:50 PM
01/05/12 02:50 PM
Joined: Apr 2008
Posts: 728
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Here is another interesting bit of information with regards to wood. I think it was written in about 1997.

"The strength and structure of woods

Most of us, if we were to give the subject any thought at all, would think of an engineering material as being a “man made product “. A plastic, for example, or a material that had at least been highly processed and shaped by man such as steel, iron or some metal alloy. Wood, however, is one of the most commonly used engineering materials - certainly the one with the longest history in the engineering affairs of man - and is a natural maternal that is still used pretty much as it’s found in nature. Carefully dried, sorted, selected and cut to be sure, but still it is used basically as it comes from the tree. (OK, I know man is fusing a lot with wood fiber these days. But, for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll ignore most MDF, particle board, flake board, etc. products as being unsuitable for the acoustical structure of a piano.). A lot of mythology and misinformation has been handed down over the years regarding wood; how wood sounds - “tone” wood, etc. -and how it functions in the piano. But, even with all of the mysticism and legend stripped away, we are still left with one of the ,most fascinating and remarkable engineering, materials known even to “modern”man. There are available today a number of excellent sources for accurate, in-depth information about the composition and structural properties of wood. Two of the best are Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley and The Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, Agriculture Handbook No. 72, Rev. 198’7, prepared by the US. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory. Understanding Wood, especially, should be a part of every serious technician’s library...

Included in a sidebar is a glossary of terms that should be useful in understanding upcoming articles. The physical structure of wood resembles - and, in engineering terms, acts like- a fiber-reinforced, laminated composite material. Indeed, if it were a man-made material we would call it a fiber-reinforced plastic..."

Fazioli has the following to say on their website, "Our actions are made to our own FAZIOLI specifications by the most reputable specialists in the field...The hammer shanks onto which the hammer heads are attached, are made from hornbeam which is known for its strength and flexibility."

I stand to correction, Renner is the reputable specialist that Fazioli is speaking of in the above statement, and Renner does not manufacture composite parts.

An interesting statement by Fazioli with regard to wooden hammer shanks!





Numbered
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819245
01/05/12 06:39 PM
01/05/12 06:39 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 39
Sacramento, CA, USA
Cecil Ramirez Offline
Full Member
Cecil Ramirez  Offline
Full Member

Joined: May 2001
Posts: 39
Sacramento, CA, USA
Forwarding a reply from Bruce Clark...

"I would agree that there are times and places for wooden action parts. One obvious example would be a historical piano. If it is a museum level restoration that you seek then wooden parts could make sense. Modern wooden replacement parts are not authentic replacements in an old action just because they are wood. Most likely parts that are really like the original will need to be custom made. If this is what you want likely you will be making the parts yourself. If you wish to use wood in this scenario, because it is at least closer to the original then composites, by all means, be my guest. The best use of wood is to return the piano to its 19th century form.

"For most of us, a piano is not a historical object but rather a musical instrument. If, at the end of the day, it is an instrument you desire, then how the piano plays matters more than historical authenticity. If your goal is a responsive instrument, a musical instrument, get a WNG composite action. Composites play better than wood.

"In the previous post by Mark Davis, an example is given, where everything in the action is made hard and rigid in pursuit of some irrational idea of efficiency. In an academic kind of way this may be interesting to illustrate a point; however, an action built in this fashion it is not a reasonable piano action. I must say, it would certainly be noisy with no pads. I don’t doubt that Mr. Davis would not want to play such a monstrosity. I wouldn’t either and neither would anyone else.
Presumably this example is given as an oblique criticism of the WNG composite action. However, a WNG composite action is in no way similar to this example. We use cloth on the bottom of the heel. We use buckskin (synthetic) and felt on the knuckles. We use cloth and paper punchings under the keys. And we use a hammer fabricated with felt on a wooden molding in the traditional style.

"WNG has not re-invented the piano action. WNG has improved the piano action and it is better in just about every way. At the design level, the challenge was to create an action that the pianist would perceive as better. The example given is ridiculous to the extreme.

"The two largest problems with is that wood is hygroscopic and wood is not uniform it its strength and mass. No amount of wonder with the “fabulous historical” material can get past these facts. Composites solve both problems along with others.

"Pianists generally like our actions. We have even had a music department convert two Hamburg D's to composite actions. Interestingly, because more rigid shanks allow the pianist to get more power from the piano, pianists tend to perceive our actions as lighter, not stiffer. When you get more power from an action, the pianist compensates by exerting less effort. More than anything else, pianists perceive the amount of effort they must exert to achieve the desired volume. A less efficient action, at the same touch weight and mass, will feel heavier than a more efficient action. Assuming the rest of the system is not ridiculous.

"WNG actions outperform the standard wood-cloth piano action. WNG actions have a considerable edge in reliability during weather changes and WNG actions require less maintenance. For these reasons it should come as no surprise that WNG actions are being used in more than 70 universities’s across the United States. As previously mentioned, a number of concert instruments have been converted to WNG composite actions. This happens because the music faculty likes the effect, much to the displeasure of a certain rather famous piano company.

"WNG has invested heavily in testing. We know that pianists generally like our action. We know our actions are more durable. We know our actions are far more stable than the traditional piano action. We know this because we have run the tests required to find out these things.

"In some quarters the tendency exists to make grand assertions with no evidence what so ever to back them up. When challenged, the assertions are often reiterated more loudly. In this case the person is simply not open to the evidence. Willfully blind.

"We just wish others would perform the same tests that we have. Those who do will reach the same conclusions. WNG actions are better piano actions."



Cecil Ramirez
National Sales Manager
Mason & Hamlin
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Cecil Ramirez] #1819257
01/05/12 07:06 PM
01/05/12 07:06 PM
Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,414
Qubec, Canada
accordeur Offline
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accordeur  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,414
Qubec, Canada
Originally Posted by Cecil Ramirez
Forwarding a reply from Bruce Clark...

"I would agree that there are times and places for wooden action parts. One obvious example would be a historical piano. If it is a museum level restoration that you seek then wooden parts could make sense. Modern wooden replacement parts are not authentic replacements in an old action just because they are wood. Most likely parts that are really like the original will need to be custom made. If this is what you want likely you will be making the parts yourself. If you wish to use wood in this scenario, because it is at least closer to the original then composites, by all means, be my guest. The best use of wood is to return the piano to its 19th century form.

"For most of us, a piano is not a historical object but rather a musical instrument. If, at the end of the day, it is an instrument you desire, then how the piano plays matters more than historical authenticity. If your goal is a responsive instrument, a musical instrument, get a WNG composite action. Composites play better than wood.

"In the previous post by Mark Davis, an example is given, where everything in the action is made hard and rigid in pursuit of some irrational idea of efficiency. In an academic kind of way this may be interesting to illustrate a point; however, an action built in this fashion it is not a reasonable piano action. I must say, it would certainly be noisy with no pads. I don’t doubt that Mr. Davis would not want to play such a monstrosity. I wouldn’t either and neither would anyone else.
Presumably this example is given as an oblique criticism of the WNG composite action. However, a WNG composite action is in no way similar to this example. We use cloth on the bottom of the heel. We use buckskin (synthetic) and felt on the knuckles. We use cloth and paper punchings under the keys. And we use a hammer fabricated with felt on a wooden molding in the traditional style.

"WNG has not re-invented the piano action. WNG has improved the piano action and it is better in just about every way. At the design level, the challenge was to create an action that the pianist would perceive as better. The example given is ridiculous to the extreme.

"The two largest problems with is that wood is hygroscopic and wood is not uniform it its strength and mass. No amount of wonder with the “fabulous historical” material can get past these facts. Composites solve both problems along with others.

"Pianists generally like our actions. We have even had a music department convert two Hamburg D's to composite actions. Interestingly, because more rigid shanks allow the pianist to get more power from the piano, pianists tend to perceive our actions as lighter, not stiffer. When you get more power from an action, the pianist compensates by exerting less effort. More than anything else, pianists perceive the amount of effort they must exert to achieve the desired volume. A less efficient action, at the same touch weight and mass, will feel heavier than a more efficient action. Assuming the rest of the system is not ridiculous.

"WNG actions outperform the standard wood-cloth piano action. WNG actions have a considerable edge in reliability during weather changes and WNG actions require less maintenance. For these reasons it should come as no surprise that WNG actions are being used in more than 70 universities’s across the United States. As previously mentioned, a number of concert instruments have been converted to WNG composite actions. This happens because the music faculty likes the effect, much to the displeasure of a certain rather famous piano company.

"WNG has invested heavily in testing. We know that pianists generally like our action. We know our actions are more durable. We know our actions are far more stable than the traditional piano action. We know this because we have run the tests required to find out these things.

"In some quarters the tendency exists to make grand assertions with no evidence what so ever to back them up. When challenged, the assertions are often reiterated more loudly. In this case the person is simply not open to the evidence. Willfully blind.

"We just wish others would perform the same tests that we have. Those who do will reach the same conclusions. WNG actions are better piano actions."



Mr. Ramirez,

Your posts could seem like advertising. I don't mind at all, they are also very informative.

I have never even held a composite WNG part in my hands. But I am certainly looking forward to it.

I have worked with Kawai and Yamaha, who have used composites for years.

This is just my opinion, but I think composite actions are the way to go in the future.

Action manufacturers will be, if not already, copying your research.

That is a good thing, the performance of pianos continues to evolve.

Happy New Year!


Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819276
01/05/12 07:49 PM
01/05/12 07:49 PM
Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 5,531
Olympia, Washington
D
Del Offline
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Del  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 5,531
Olympia, Washington
Originally Posted by Mark Davis
I will restate something that I said in my first post, I am not against innovation and progess and it certainly sounds like Mason and Hamlin, Kawai and WNG are innovativating.

However, I still would like to hear what the facts and arguments are from those who still use wood for their action parts instead of composite, though I might not get that on this forum.

With regard to piano action design, I submit the following written by a piano designer, which is certainly thought provoking and informative,
Quote
In theory, if it were possible to remove all of the action’s felt and leather cushions and all of the elasticity from the various wood components of the action making each part completely rigid, it should be possible to significantly increase the potential output sound pressure level of any given piano. Alas, while “art [may be] uncompromising . . . life is full of compromises.
We must be always aware of introducing possible side effects that may be undesirable. We can certainly increase the power output of the piano, but it may well become unplayable as a result.
As we make the action components stiffer and less yielding, the shock load felt by the rapidly moving human finger striking the key to initiate movement becomes greater. Some pianists are more sensitive to this effect than others but all are affected to some degree. It is entirely possible to make an action so stif that it can become difficult - even painful - to play for extended periods of time. As a part of my study into action dynamics I made a key for my model that was - for all practical purposes – perfectly rigid. Never mind how. I replaced the key balance punching with one of a very rigid material. I replaced the wippen capstan felt with a wood spacer of similar contour and thickness and replaced the standard knuckle with one of the same size but made of hard maple with only a thin, very firm leather covering. I reinforced the hammer shank by laminating strips of carbon fiber ribbon to the top and bottom surfaces to increase its rigidity. I even replaced the action center bushing felt with an unyielding filled Teflon@ material. With all of the modifications in place I had indeed managed to increase the hammer velocity by a considerable amount. Unfortunately, it also didn’t take very many hard blows to set up a very definite tingle in the ends of one’s finger tips. It would not have been possible to play an actual piano with this action for more than a few minutes at a time without some painful side effects.
Obviously, not everything mentioned above will affect an action’s energy transfer ratio to the same extent. In nearly all actions, for example, the greatest losses occur within the keys themselves while a good laminated maple or beech action rail may bend hardly at all even under the hardest of blows. So, with the above caveat in mind, let’s take a look at the various points of action compliance and then consider what, if anything, we can do about them. We’ll begin with the key and work our way through to the hammer:
Action performance was considerably improved by stiffening the keys in this piano."


Please, if you’re going to quote at length something I’ve written years back, you should really provide attribution and enough source information so the reader can go back and review the whole context of what was written. Especially if it is used to support a position with which I do not concur.

In the experiment described above I went to extremes that would never be encountered in the real world. It is often thus with experimental work. You test the extremes to better understand the normal and the practical.

Taken as a whole I found that the most problematic part of the overall action assembly in terms of transfer efficiency was, by far, the key lever and its support. The hammershank assembly was next and the wippen assembly was well down the list. The modern manufacturers using composite action components have focused on the wippen (both Kawai and WN&G) and the hammershank (WN&G).

I have not conducted any controlled experiments comparing either the Kawai wippen or the WN&G wippen with a wood wippen but I doubt there would be any appreciable differences that could be directly traced to the stiffness of the material; either composite or wood. The energy path from the capstan block to the tip of the jack is too direct and the stiffness of the components—of each material—is close enough. There might be some small difference in the case of the WN&G wippen due to the differences in the compliance of the bushings but I suspect it would be nominal. I can’t see it being enough to make the key touch and feel difficult or painful for the pianist.

There will be a larger difference in energy transfer efficiency through the hammershanks. The stiffness of the carbon fiber tube is greater than that of the wood shank. That added stiffness is enough—probably—to increase the transfer efficiency of the action moderately. It also cuts down on the side-to-side wobble of the hammer in its path from rest to the strings. This is, I think, a good thing. Again, I can’t see it being a problem for the pianist.

There seems to be a perception that whenever fiber stiffeners are added to a plastic material the composite suddenly becomes perfectly rigid. This is not the case. The stiffness of the composite is controllable by the type of plastic used and by the type, diameter, length, quantity and orientation of the fiber involved. The ultimate stiffness of the material can range from barely stiffer than the pure plastic material to extremely stiff. Everything is a tradeoff and everything is controllable. In the case of the carbon fiber tube used in the WN&G action the stiffness of the shank can be—and is—controlled by varying the diameter of the carbon tube. To be sure it is some stiffer than its wood hammershank counterpart but not enough to cause the pianist any pain.

In another post you quote another passage from one of my early writings (this one taken from an article dealing primarily with piano soundboards and, again, without attribution):
Quote
”Most of us, if we were to give the subject any thought at all, would think of an engineering material as being a “man-made product.“ A plastic, for example, or a material that had at least been highly processed and shaped by man such as steel, iron or some metal alloy. Wood, however, is one of the most commonly used engineering materials—certainly the one with the longest history in the engineering affairs of man—and is a natural maternal that is still used pretty much as it’s found in nature. Carefully dried, sorted, selected and cut to be sure, but still it is used basically as it comes from the tree. (OK, I know man is fussing a lot with wood fiber these days. But, for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll ignore most MDF, particle board, flake board, etc. products as being unsuitable for the acoustical structure of a piano.).

A lot of mythology and misinformation has been handed down over the years regarding wood; how wood sounds—“tone” wood, etc.—and how it functions in the piano. But, even with all of the mysticism and legend stripped away, we are still left with one of the ,most fascinating and remarkable engineering, materials known even to “modern”man. There are available today a number of excellent sources for accurate, in-depth information about the composition and structural properties of wood. Two of the best are Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley and The Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, Agriculture Handbook No. 72, Rev. 198’7, prepared by the US. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory. Understanding Wood, especially, should be a part of every serious technician’s library...”


[Included in a sidebar is a glossary of terms that should be useful in understanding upcoming articles]: “The physical structure of wood resembles—and, in engineering terms, acts like—a fiber-reinforced, laminated composite material. Indeed, if it were a man-made material we would call it a fiber-reinforced plastic...”


If wood were a man-made material we would call it a fiber-reinforced plastic made with rather poor quality control mechanisms in place. This is one of the most significant advantages of the plastic piano action—regardless the specific materials or processes used—both their mass and their component stiffness are far more consistent, part to part, than is possible with wood components. As well, their long-term stability—as proven by Kawai’s experience—is inherently better than can be achieved with wood (or any other natural material).

Piano actions made of wood and piano actions made of composite materials can be made to perform to very high standards. Despite the fact that Kawai’s composite actions have been performing admirably for something over forty years many of us still treat the advent of composites used in piano actions as some kind of scary new thing. We’re worried about performance in spite of the fact that there are now many pianos out there with composite actions serving in concert settings where performance is the primary requirement for a piano action. We worry about longevity in spite of Kawai’s forty-year history and track record. We worry about “repairability” in a hundred years yet think nothing of tossing an obsolete and worn out set of 100-year-old Steinway (or whatever) wippens because it is more cost-effective to replace them with new parts.

Who knows if piano action components made of plastic composites will ever completely replace those made of wood? At this stage of the game it is impossible to see that far into the future. I do know that plastic composites as a class have enough inherent strengths even in their present state of development that it is no longer possible to say that piano actions made of wood are in any significant way superior. It is my belief that if piano actions made of plastic composites do not become the dominate action of choice in what we call “production pianos” it will not be due either to their performance or their longevity and stability.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819279
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Bruce, with regard to your two responses thus far, there is much in them of value. With regard to your misinterpreting (or possibly misunderstanding) certain things that I have said, your sarcasm, WILLFULL belittling and condescending remarks that are spotted throughout them, I do take exception too.

Now as to me writing what I have written on this forum with regard to wood piano parts as compared to composite, all I have tried to do is to promote discussion on the subject, where as you seem to be taking exception. I question this? I did not even ask or expect M&H and WNG to enter into the discussion. This you chose for yourself or maybe Cecil chose it for you.

With regard to the information that you have posted on this forum I will certainly keep it to think about and will seek to find out what other high end piano manufacturers, piano designers, consultants and rebuilders have to say on the matter and once I fully understand and am convinced I will be the more informed and be able to use this to my advantage in rebuilding.

Thank you,


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Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819280
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I have nothing against composite parts in a newbuild. I've even once asked a friend with patents for mass production of carbon nanotubes to consider making me a soundboard. (His price was north of awful.) I just like my instruments to remain as designed. But I'd welcome the potential virtues of even a more radical implementation. (Why stop at taking on water in action if you could eliminate it in the soundboard also?) I like machines made of wood, wool, leather and brass (don't get me started on my counter-cultural insurgent respect for brass). I'd also like composites. But only as a cohesive whole, not a hybrid. The fine old voices of wood and wool IS an instrument. Changing the materials doesn't make it more or less so, of an "instrument" or "voice". Plenty of charm in all of them.

Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819301
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Thank you very much Del. Very informative and helpful. What you have written is along the lines of what I am looking for, without meaning to misrepresent things or you.

You wrote the following,

"Please, if you’re going to quote at length something I’ve written years back, you should really provide attribution and enough source information so the reader can go back and review the whole context of what was written. Especially if it is used to support a position with which I do not concur."

I apologise for not providing attribution. This was not intentional but out of uncertainty/ignorance in this regard as to what I should do.

With regard to me pasteing your example of a piano action part that is taken to it's extreme and uncompromising state, I agree that I did not provide enough source information. I apologise for this. And I apologise for making it seem in any way that you support a postion with which you do not concur. This was not intentional.

Once again my sincere apologies and many thanks,

Regards,

Last edited by Mark Davis; 01/05/12 08:44 PM. Reason: no editing done, sorry!

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Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Del] #1819308
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Originally Posted by Del
The stiffness of the carbon fiber tube is greater than that of the wood shank. That added stiffness is enough—probably—to increase the transfer efficiency of the action moderately.


If this is true, it's interesting that WN&G's recent marketing materials seem to avoid this claim (at least when I last looked at them in any detail six months back). They have a high-frame-rate video of hard blows using their composite shanks and high-quality wood shanks, along with some lower-quality wood shanks. Their claim is that their composites offer an advantage in consistency, since it's clear from the footage that the low-quality wood shank is less stiff, while the high-quality wood shank is comparable with the stiffness of the WN&G shank.

Maybe you've done independent testing, but from the videos, the amount of bending on the high-quality wood shanks is, even on repeated viewing, not noticeably any more than with the (good) composite shanks, as far as I could tell.


charlessamuellang.com
Semi-pro pianist and piano technician
Tuesdays 5-8:30 at Vince's West Sacramento, California
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: charleslang] #1819327
01/05/12 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by charleslang
Originally Posted by Del
The stiffness of the carbon fiber tube is greater than that of the wood shank. That added stiffness is enough—probably—to increase the transfer efficiency of the action moderately.


If this is true, it's interesting that WN&G's recent marketing materials seem to avoid this claim (at least when I last looked at them in any detail six months back). They have a high-frame-rate video of hard blows using their composite shanks and high-quality wood shanks, along with some lower-quality wood shanks. Their claim is that their composites offer an advantage in consistency, since it's clear from the footage that the low-quality wood shank is less stiff, while the high-quality wood shank is comparable with the stiffness of the WN&G shank.

Maybe you've done independent testing, but from the videos, the amount of bending on the high-quality wood shanks is, even on repeated viewing, not noticeably any more than with the (good) composite shanks, as far as I could tell.

No, I have not done any specific comparison tests between wood shanks and tubular carbon fiber shanks. I’m going strictly by feel; the tubular carbon fiber shanks I have on hand certainly do “feel” stiffer than their Renner “hornbeam” counterparts. When I try to bend both types of hammershanks the wood shanks bend more easily than do the tubular carbon fiber shanks. The tubular carbon fiber shanks are also some lighter than their Renner “hornbeam” counterparts. As well, the tubular carbon fiber hammershanks are more consistent in both stiffness and mass throughout the set.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Del] #1819335
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Originally Posted by Del

No, I have not done any specific comparison tests between wood shanks and tubular carbon fiber shanks. I’m going strictly by feel; the tubular carbon fiber shanks I have on hand certainly do “feel” stiffer than their Renner “hornbeam” counterparts. When I try to bend both types of hammershanks the wood shanks bend more easily than do the tubular carbon fiber shanks. The tubular carbon fiber shanks are also some lighter than their Renner “hornbeam” counterparts. As well, the tubular carbon fiber hammershanks are more consistent in both stiffness and mass throughout the set.

ddf


I was able to find the video I referenced:

WN&G Video

One possibility is that the composite material is stiffer but the differences in shape between the composite and wooden shanks negate that difference, since wooden shanks are usually fatter in the middle (whether octagonal or square or whatever), while composite ones are round from end to end.

Since WN&G shanks are so light, I wonder how an action would feel if one used CA glue to attach a second shank segment directly on top of a set of existing WN&G shanks (nearly but not quite as long as the original shanks, with CA glue along the entire length of contact). This would deliver the stiffness of two tubes on top of one another -- an arrangement that would be extraordinarily stiff.

One possibility is that it would increase noise. But it might be an interesting test, especially considering how much even the best shanks bend as seen in the video.


charlessamuellang.com
Semi-pro pianist and piano technician
Tuesdays 5-8:30 at Vince's West Sacramento, California
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: charleslang] #1819360
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Originally Posted by charleslang
One possibility is that the composite material is stiffer but the differences in shape between the composite and wooden shanks negate that difference, since wooden shanks are usually fatter in the middle (whether octagonal or square or whatever), while composite ones are round from end to end.

The video speaks of “ideal wood shanks.” A purely unscientific test—i.e., my going through a set of wooden shanks I happen to have on hand—tells me there are very few “ideal” shanks in this set. Most of them are considerably more flexible than the WN&G shanks I also happen to have on hand.


Quote
Since WN&G shanks are so light, I wonder how an action would feel if one used CA glue to attach a second shank segment directly on top of a set of existing WN&G shanks (nearly but not quite as long as the original shanks, with CA glue along the entire length of contact). This would deliver the stiffness of two tubes on top of one another -- an arrangement that would be extraordinarily stiff.

One possibility is that it would increase noise. But it might be an interesting test, especially considering how much even the best shanks bend as seen in the video.

Surely it would be easier to simply use a larger carbon fiber tube.

Personally, I don’t think absolute stiffness is all that much of an issue as long as it is consistent. The problem with wood is that it is not all that consistent and this is what the video illustrates. Sorting by appearance or by weight is not enough to ensure consistency in stiffness. A machine test could be set up to measure and sort, placing the stiffer shanks down toward the bass where the hammers are heavier. I’ve thought about this from time to time but have never been willing to invest the time and effort—not to mention money—to develop such a test station. It gets complicated: what are we to do? sort by weight first and then by stiffness? or by stiffness first and then by mass? And then toss in action center friction?

Currently I’m sold on the efficacy of composite materials for both wippens and hammershanks; less so on the solid bushings. Admittedly I don’t have that much experience with the solid bushing parts but I wonder about transmitted noise. The felt bushings do, it seems, absorb a certain amount of noise energy that would otherwise be transmitted to the action rails and into the air. I’m willing to be convinced—and I’ll be trying the solid bushing parts Real Soon Now—but for my type of relatively low-tensioned piano using relatively light hammers I do wonder. (I should mention, however, that I have no reservations about their longevity.) I do rather wish WN&G would give us the option of either felt or solid bushing.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Del] #1819366
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Originally Posted by Del
Originally Posted by charleslang


One possibility is that it would increase noise. But it might be an interesting test, especially considering how much even the best shanks bend as seen in the video.

Surely it would be easier to simply use a larger carbon fiber tube.



Maybe that's right -- fair enough. I was thinking that it would be easier to do the test by gluing on the extra tube because of the radius already formed in the 'base' component of the WN&G shanks (the part into which the composite tube is glued). And, the tube might have to be very thick in order to get the equivalent vertical stiffness of two tubes -- maybe too thick to make it practical to bore the hammer.

The hope would be to test the effects on touch and tone of the limits of stiffness. In the video it's apparent that the striking area of the hammer actually moves as it strikes -- due to the flexing of the shank.


charlessamuellang.com
Semi-pro pianist and piano technician
Tuesdays 5-8:30 at Vince's West Sacramento, California
Re: Wood piano parts as compared to composite piano parts [Re: Numbered] #1819368
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The true test will be a teenager pounding away with string breaking force. Wonder if the strings will break faster? Or which can ultimately get louder or project better.


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
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