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Hammer suggestions: modern board
#1978520 10/25/12 01:33 PM
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Let's pretend for a minute.

Let's pretend I have a new, high quality Chinese 5'7" or so grand with a modern (as opposed to traditional) soundboard. And lets pretend the piano sounds and feels quite good, not just to me but to many others as well. This imaginary piano has chinese made hammers that use high quality brand name felt and everything works quite well, of course assuming proper prep.

Now, let's pretend I, like a lot of piano people, am interested in seeing if even more might be brought out by a different set of hammers. More what, you say? I don't know, maybe nothing, and then again, maybe something. Maybe more of an oak nose with currant undertones ... who knows!

So, with that scenario and assuming I don't have buckets of money to spend on ordering hammers and shanks from a variety of vendors, what are some hammer brand suggestions you who are experienced with the fantastically wide variety of quality hammers available today might suggest. Yes, I'm talking about hammers from Ray Negron, and Serge Harel and Melanie Brooks, among others. Hopefully Del will read this as well.

To me the primary operative traits include the modern soundboard, solid beech bridges and duplex scaling.

Thanks in advance


Last edited by BoseEric; 10/25/12 01:34 PM.
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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1978700 10/25/12 10:19 PM
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I have been doing exactly this kind of thing-- upgrading new pianos using premium components. The results have made the owners of Boston, Kawai, Baldwin, Yamaha and Steinway pianos ecstatic. One comment from a customer with a new Kawai RX-6 that was recently upgraded . . . "Now I don't have to get a Bosendorfer!"

The specifics of each upgrade varies -- whether with Wapin or other bridge mods, premium bass strings, various WN&G components, soundboard jiggery of one sort or another, rescaling, etc. -- but one element is consistently part of each upgrade: premium high-energy hammers -- whether Cadenza or Classical West. The improvement is not subtle.

Probably the best "bang for the buck" for you would be new premium high-energy hammers with WN&G shanks/flanges. The scale is probably not bad. But production hammers just don't cut it -- no matter whose felt is in them.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to send a PM.


Keith Akins, RPT
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Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1978746 10/26/12 01:05 AM
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By modern do you mean rib crowned, decreasing radius ribs, fairly flexible and lightly loaded? With a redesigned (from traditional) sound board with a cutoff bar and perhaps a floated bass? If so, you need something cold pressed and reasonable light, certainly nothing dense. Depending on the sound you want and the SB characteristics, either Bacon,Wurzen or Weickert felt on a Ronsen hammers or perhaps Isaac hammers, though I'm much more familiar working with Ronsen so can't really recommend what I don't normally use.

I agree with Keith an the WNG shanks in any case.

I'm not sure why you included Beech bridges or duplex scaling as either necessary or desirable. I see no advantage in beech over other hardwood (ie.maple) and I have no love of duplex scaling where the desired/designed result/purpose is to produce some specific harmonic content. Perhaps you could elucidate on your reasoning?

Last edited by Dale Fox; 10/26/12 01:12 AM.

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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1978762 10/26/12 02:45 AM
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If by modern you mean multi laminated board, I am afraid hammer change will not make so large improvment.

About rib crowned, I believe that Fazioli have not rib crowned boards, for instance, so it may not be an absolutely "modern" option ...

Do some Chinese build grands have a floating bass soundboard, or are only Föester present this feature ?


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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979591 10/28/12 08:03 AM
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Thanks for the response.

By modern I mean laminated. Laminated has negative connotations that are not in keeping with the modern day quality and advantages.

I have been philosophically opposed to WNG shanks. I believe that shank flex is critical to tone color. A number of technicians whom I respect use them, so I'm keeping an open mind. But I do believe there is an avenue of tonal control at a high playing level that is lost. I'm assuming the primary tonal advantage is power?

I included the bridge material and scaling because it is in the current design. I want to explore options that don't change the basic design and are relatively easy to install.

There are not floating bass designs coming from China that I am aware of. I know the Forster design and admire it greatly.

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979605 10/28/12 09:07 AM
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hi I have similar "philosophy" but also keep an open mind/ear.

shank flex is also part of the design when we link that with the kind of rake angle find in differnt pianos (or different sections of one piano)

trying to have a theoretical 90 deg at impact (without shank flex) is part of the rake angle choice, but due to the flex and oscillations of the head, the final impact at moderate speed may differ than what exists on the sketch, unless very rigid shanks are used.

The wood is also filtering the impact tone and the plate "ping" , hence that "tuning" of the shanks once the heads are glued (on a good grand one can hear a real xylophone showing how well the shanks have been selected, then scraped to produce an even resonance

I admit this to be far less important than the elasticity of the shank... The instrument have anyway its own limitation in terms of dynamics, so if the idea is to have all the tone immediately, indeed whatever works will be OK, but I believe we are loosing day after day some parameters of the tone that I rarely hear in modern pianos, particularly the less expensive ones ...


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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979664 10/28/12 12:17 PM
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I have been philosophically opposed to WNG shanks. I believe that shank flex is critical to tone color. A number of technicians whom I respect use them, so I'm keeping an open mind. But I do believe there is an avenue of tonal control at a high playing level that is lost. I'm assuming the primary tonal advantage is power?


Flex is the cause of latency which is a delay in return of power and establishes an ultimate ceiling on available power. Imagine a "hammershank" made of a flat metal spring: You would get keystroke completed before the hammer arrived at the string. In fact, on a hard blow the key would be bottomed out before the hammer left its starting position. We all recognize this latency (or saturation - to use a popular but incorrect term) is bad in the long keys of a grand -- where it is common to have the key bottom out before the hammer leaves its rest. Why do we think it is good to introduce more latency in the system by having the hammershanks flex also?

Now imagine that the flex or springiness of the hammershank varies from note to note. That is actually the reality. Wood shanks vary in their flexibility from note to note, introducing an erratic variability that can't really be dealt with by regulation and voicing -- although we attempt to do the best we can.

Just look at the grain on any set of hammershanks and note their variability. Why would anyone suppose that different grain would give the same response?

There was another whole thread about shank centerpin bushings relation to greater tonal clarity. Synthetic materials provide greater rigidity which means clearer tone and at the same time, lower friction.

Piano technology is a reality-based activity. Philosophy just doesn't cut it. I invite you to experience the reality of what the WN&G parts do by trying them for yourself -- or trying someone else's installation.

After one trial of the WN&G shanks/flanges, I determined I would never again use wood. Now, after multiple installations, I see that initial decision validated multiple times. There is no aspect in which wood is superior to the synthetic components.


Keith Akins, RPT
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Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979675 10/28/12 12:31 PM
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Wood is organic, beautiful, and resonant. Plastic is....well, it's plastic.


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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
Loren D #1979697 10/28/12 01:53 PM
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What about when wood isn't organic, beautiful, or resonant? Anyway, since we're talking about using wood for shanks, do you want it to be resonant?


Zeno Wood, Piano Technician
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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979698 10/28/12 01:53 PM
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If Renner was of the opinion that composite shanks and parts were an improvement they would be using them in the actions they build and have been building since 1882.

Renner, the company, and what they build, represent a typical example of the German precision engineering industry as it is acknowledged throughout the world.

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979703 10/28/12 02:10 PM
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Flex is the cause of latency which is a delay in return of power and establishes an ultimate ceiling on available power.


I find it odd that so many people complain about pianos being too loud, and yet some technicians still think that they need to get more power out of them.


Semipro Tech
Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979732 10/28/12 03:14 PM
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You're sounding a little dogmatic, Keith, which especially in an election year makes me nervous.

The inherent variability in materials is what makes pianos so special and unique. You could build a piano entirely out of materials with no variability but I am quite sure the results would be unsatisfactory.

A shank flexes under a hard blow, changing the strikepoint slightly. I know from experience that some pianists are aware of this tonal variation and use it intentionally, others more intuitively. Some pianos are great, some are average, some are awful. It is good to make awful ones better, but sometimes the baby can indeed be thrown out with the bathwater. Power is not the only desirable characteristic in piano tone.

I have some slight experience with WNG. I have no problem with any of it, except the concept of a completely stiff shank.

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979744 10/28/12 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by BoseEric
...A shank flexes under a hard blow, changing the strikepoint slightly. I know from experience that some pianists are aware of this tonal variation and use it intentionally, others more intuitively. ...
Yes, shanks flex. However, there are divergent opinions as to which direction they are flexing at point of hammer impact. Obviously, the shank first bends down under the head's inertia. This would move the strike point further from the agraffe. Another opinion maintains that after the initial bending, by the time the hammer head reaches the string, the the shank has sprung back other way (up) and the hammer now contacts the string in a point which is closer top the agraffe.

Any definitive answer on that?

Can anyone give a link to high speed video of a grand action under a heavy blow?


JG
Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
Zeno Wood #1979756 10/28/12 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Zeno Wood
What about when wood isn't organic, beautiful, or resonant? Anyway, since we're talking about using wood for shanks, do you want it to be resonant?


Why not? The beauty of playing an acoustic piano is that the sound comes from the entire instrument.


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Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
Supply #1979800 10/28/12 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Supply

Can anyone give a link to high speed video of a grand action under a heavy blow?


WNG has a high speed vid of a wooden and composite shank on its technicians' website.

https://www.wessellnickelandgross.com/index.php/documentation

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979819 10/28/12 06:57 PM
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Originally Posted by BoseEric
You're sounding a little dogmatic, Keith, which especially in an election year makes me nervous.

The inherent variability in materials is what makes pianos so special and unique. You could build a piano entirely out of materials with no variability but I am quite sure the results would be unsatisfactory.

A shank flexes under a hard blow, changing the strikepoint slightly. I know from experience that some pianists are aware of this tonal variation and use it intentionally, others more intuitively. Some pianos are great, some are average, some are awful. It is good to make awful ones better, but sometimes the baby can indeed be thrown out with the bathwater. Power is not the only desirable characteristic in piano tone.

I have some slight experience with WNG. I have no problem with any of it, except the concept of a completely stiff shank.


I can assure I'm not running for office. laugh

Flex does exist in the carbon fiber shanks. It is just less and what there is, is more consistent.
Despite the opinions of some musicians to the contrary, it is not possible for musicians to use flex of wooden shanks in a predictable basis because it is erratic and unpredictable from note to note.

Speaking of erratic flex, one thing you notice is the difference in string marks on a hammer mounted to a CF shank. It's like a laser cut. On a conventional shank, string cuts are what I call "shadowed" -- that is, not clearly defined and always wider than the diameter of the string. This is due to the fact (seen in slo-mo video) that hammers on wooden shanks not only "whip" back and forth but also side to side in a complex variety of oscillations. No one looking at those kinds of videos can say it is a good thing. Especially when there is so much effort expended to locate the striking point of the hammer.

I like the idea of "natural" for soundboard and other tone producing elements. Although my violinist wife has heard good sounding carbon fiber violins and cellos, and I have heard pianos with cf boards, I remain skeptical. At least, I haven't heard anything I consider ready for prime time.

But the piano action is a machine, pure and simple. As such, there really is no debate about how to achieve efficiency and consistency note to note over time and through climate cycles. There is nothing specific about wood that commends its use in meeting the design criteria of an action machine except that it has been the least-bad of what had traditionally been available. There are now materials which meet the criteria of an action designer more completely.


Keith Akins, RPT
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Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
editor emeritus of Piano Technicians Journal
Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979851 10/28/12 08:46 PM
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I have seen hammers in old pianos where the string grooves are 3/16" deep or more, and the hammers always hit in the same spot. If they did not, the felt between the grooves would get pushed over, and the note would sound much different. You can have enough accuracy with wooden parts.

I think that if you lined up 10 pianos identical except that half had wooden parts and the other half had some other material, there is very little chance that someone listening to them could hear the difference.


Semipro Tech
Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
BoseEric #1979880 10/28/12 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by BoseEric
Let's pretend for a minute.

Let's pretend I have a new, high quality Chinese 5'7" or so grand with a modern (as opposed to traditional) soundboard. And lets pretend the piano sounds and feels quite good, not just to me but to many others as well. This imaginary piano has chinese made hammers that use high quality brand name felt and everything works quite well, of course assuming proper prep.

Now, let's pretend I, like a lot of piano people, am interested in seeing if even more might be brought out by a different set of hammers. More what, you say? I don't know, maybe nothing, and then again, maybe something. Maybe more of an oak nose with currant undertones ... who knows!

So, with that scenario and assuming I don't have buckets of money to spend on ordering hammers and shanks from a variety of vendors, what are some hammer brand suggestions you who are experienced with the fantastically wide variety of quality hammers available today might suggest. Yes, I'm talking about hammers from Ray Negron, and Serge Harel and Melanie Brooks, among others. Hopefully Del will read this as well.

To me the primary operative traits include the modern soundboard, solid beech bridges and duplex scaling.

Thanks in advance



Thank you for asking this exact question because I had been thinking about asking the exact same thing.

I am by no means an accomplished player and my Hailun 198 is more than enough for me but I certainly wouldn't be averse to exploring the option of investing in some exceptional hammers if I think it will make a big difference with the piano.

I've come to accept that I will probably never splurge on a +7 ft piano but I am very open into seeing how much better I can make my piano sound, if possible.

I'm not sure what a full set of hammers could set me back but I'm single with no kids (only birds) so I do have the ability to splurge on frivolous things on occasion if I so choose.

I will be following this thread closely.

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
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Originally Posted by BDB

I think that if you lined up 10 pianos identical except that half had wooden parts and the other half had some other material, there is very little chance that someone listening to them could hear the difference.


Maybe. But I can always tell when I play one.

Re: Hammer suggestions: modern board
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Originally Posted by BDB
I have seen hammers in old pianos where the string grooves are 3/16" deep or more, and the hammers always hit in the same spot. If they did not, the felt between the grooves would get pushed over, and the note would sound much different. You can have enough accuracy with wooden parts.

I think that if you lined up 10 pianos identical except that half had wooden parts and the other half had some other material, there is very little chance that someone listening to them could hear the difference.


No, if you go back and measure those grooves, you WILL find that they are wider than the diameter of the strings. They will NOT have the same appearance as if they had WN&G shanks.

Experience trumps thinking. I have been working on pianos almost 50 years now and have learned to be very critical of "new ideas" although in principle I welcome them. But when I have something verified by experience I have to change my thinking.

In the case of the WNG shanks and flanges (also capstans) I have experienced in multiple instances their superior performance and my customers notice, too. I am putting synthetic parts on new pianos and there is clearly a difference. Many university techs are using them and won't go back.

We had an interesting event at a recent meeting of our PTG chapter. It was hosted by the local S&S dealer and he was asking about a model "M" he was having rebuilt. As long as people were there together, he asked whether he should use the wooden shanks or the CF. It was an unprepared, off the cuff question with no coaching or beforehand preparation. All seven of the members present independently indicated they would install WN&G parts on the piano in question. This is the level of acceptance that is happening with people with direct experience.


Keith Akins, RPT
Piano Technologist
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
editor emeritus of Piano Technicians Journal
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