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Square pianos.
#2397685 03/13/15 07:05 PM
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I'm curious as to why the square piano (aka "square grand") became obsolete at the end of the 19th century.

There still seem to be a lot of them floating around in various states of disrepair. Somewhat disconcertingly, even YouTube videos of "restored" square pianos feature pianos that are out of tune (not just tuned to A=415, but not in tune at that pitch).

Maybe because they are older and rarer than uprights, they seem more fascinating. Yet with many tuner/techs not working on them anymore, likely very impractical to actually own.

Though if I won the lottery jackpot and could find someone who works on these things, I kind of wish I had one…


Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 21 days
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Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2397690 03/13/15 07:27 PM
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I've heard that the way that these are built are actually very inconvenient and even more dangerous for technicians to work on. Something about their dimensions requires the technician to lean all the way across just to tune them I've heard. Or they could tune it as a two person event..

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2397720 03/13/15 09:17 PM
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I saw a listing for a Chickering square grand on Craigs list in Kansas somewhere for $1.00. (this past week).

There are multiple issues with square grands. Any parts which need repaired will have to be hand made. The design makes the treble notes harder to play than the bass notes.

They are usually without the modern cast iron frame. The pins are often oblong heads instead of the more modern pins.

They don't hold pitch as well since they are not as heavily built.

I did have one for a while that was playable. It was not a famous brand, and was more of a curiosity than anything else.

I don't want to discourage you from buying one or owning one. Just don't expect it to be the piano you play much. Plan on playing simple slow pieces, and tuning it frequently. You will learn how to make repairs also.


Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2397723 03/13/15 09:33 PM
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Square pianos appeared in the late eighteenth century. Up until about 1820 they were of very light construction compared with modern pianos, with low-tension strings and no iron frame. They were most elegant pieces of Georgian furniture, and were the common domestic instrument before uprights were invented. They would have been well known to the characters of Jane Austen.

I have a Broadwood square piano of 1804 and it is completely delightful. See this thread.

From about 1820 and on through the 19th century square pianos developed in a similar way to grands, with heavier construction, higher tension strings and eventually (I believe) iron frames. It is I think these later instruments that are often regarded with disdain by present-day piano technicians.

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2397838 03/14/15 09:17 AM
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I ask what type piano the owner has that I am going to tune.

If it is a square grand I take my wife with me. She plays the notes and chords I want and I stand on the other side of the piano tuning it. No hard leaning and not laying over the strings.

They can be a challenge to work on if any parts are broken or needing repair, but I tackle them just like I would any other piano.

I do charge a higher fee for tuning the square since I carry a helper with me.



Tuning and repairing pianos since 1981 in Ranger, Tx. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Roys-Piano-Service/173273022711505
Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398309 03/15/15 08:03 AM
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There are lots of problems with squares, the biggest being that the keys are of uneven lengths. While I guess there are some nice examples out there, most were pretty cheaply made, especially that actions. Hard to tune, hard to service, hard to play...what's not to love?

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398334 03/15/15 09:45 AM
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Anyone interested in square pianos would do well to look at Friends of Square Pianos and Square Piano Tech, which both have a wealth of pictures and information.

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398346 03/15/15 10:31 AM
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The owner said about it 's foto is name "virginal" (desk piano) which was made the first half of the 18th century. The owner allowed to photograph it's. Presumably it was made in Estonia, Tartu. Nothing more is known about it. I think this is a very old model primogenitor of all modern hammer-string piano
rxd wrote and I'm agree with Him:
In western countries, this would be called a square piano. This one looks to be early 19c.

The construction can be very similar. If it were a virginals or virginal piano, whatever that implies, it would have jacks, which carry the plectra, projecting above the strings.

This one has hammers, the tips of which are plainly visible in some shots.

The background music is played on a modern piano. No square piano could ever sound that way.

https://youtu.be/mkdcTV5YA04

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398655 03/16/15 01:18 AM
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Every self-respecting, 19th-century, southern mansion has a suh-SKWAY-uh piano in the (front) parlor!

When I was a little boy visiting house museums, the tour guides would let players try out these instruments during tour lulls. Always an interesting experience imagining what they sounding like before the soundboards lost crown.

My piano tech services one in a residence that he says still holds tune with tight pins.



WhoDwaldi
Howard (by Kawai) 5' 10"
Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398899 03/16/15 03:28 PM
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Were the Steinway and Chickering square pianos as poorly regarded as the others from the late 19th century? Given how expensive all modern Steinways are, I'm surprised that their squares haven't seen a revival. And 1920s vintage Chickering grands are well-regarded (though often in need of restoration).


Last edited by Colin Dunn; 03/16/15 03:30 PM.

Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 21 days
Organizer, Denver Area Piano Group (https://www.meetup.com/Denver-Area-Piano-Group/)

Starr Artist Grand
Kimball 6750
Schafer & Sons SS-69
Samick SG-225
Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2398907 03/16/15 03:53 PM
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There is a picture of Bernstein and his wife playing duo music in their Park Ave. home on what appears to be two square pianos placed back-to-back.

https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/leonard4.jpg

Interesting that they would have found this acceptable for "recreational" playing.


I have seen books on English country houses gush over the Steinway square in the drawing room. Some things never change. ;-)


WhoDwaldi
Howard (by Kawai) 5' 10"
Re: Square pianos.
WhoDwaldi #2398956 03/16/15 05:33 PM
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I think the pianos in the Bernstein picture are "spinet grand" pianos, not squares. The 19th century square piano design was much wider than the keyboard area. Perhaps the rarest type of piano of all!


Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 21 days
Organizer, Denver Area Piano Group (https://www.meetup.com/Denver-Area-Piano-Group/)

Starr Artist Grand
Kimball 6750
Schafer & Sons SS-69
Samick SG-225
Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2399101 03/17/15 12:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Colin Dunn
... Given how expensive all modern Steinways are, I'm surprised that their squares haven't seen a revival.



Greetings-
Do you think it will sell at this price?
http://denver.craigslist.org/atq/4887288145.html

The thing is, I have seen reproductions of ads from these very companies suggesting that they are obsolete and should be upgraded.

I think an old item will see a revival if they are fundamentally good, I cannot speak to whether these were good or not.

best wishes-


phacke

Steinway YM (1933)
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J. S. Bach, Toccata (G minor) BWV 915
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Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2399340 03/17/15 04:11 PM
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If we're getting historical, I think I would rather have a clavichord or harpsichord. Mature, stable designs with few compromises or surprises.

Re: Square pianos.
Colin Dunn #2399360 03/17/15 05:03 PM
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I don't think that Steinway square in Denver will sell for anything near $34K, unless fully restored and with a special historical pedigree. I saw that ad a week ago (though that wasn't what prompted my post on this topic).

There are several Steinway squares on the 'bay for a few thousand dollars, and a couple Chickerings around $1,000-$2,000. Of course, moving such a beast and restoring it would add significantly to the cost. But I think most anyone who has a $30K budget for a piano wouldn't buy an antique like one of these.

To get historical keyboard sounds, I had thought about purchasing PianoTeq 5, as they have a lot of models of harpsichords, clavichords, and fortepianos here: https://www.pianoteq.com/free_stuff

Too bad they didn't find a restored square to sample / model as well.



Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 21 days
Organizer, Denver Area Piano Group (https://www.meetup.com/Denver-Area-Piano-Group/)

Starr Artist Grand
Kimball 6750
Schafer & Sons SS-69
Samick SG-225

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