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Dead Steinway Octaves #2691387
11/22/17 10:47 PM
11/22/17 10:47 PM
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musicpassion Offline OP
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I've played a number of bad Steinways lately, and at least some of the shortcomings seem to fall into two categories:
1) Dead 5th and or 6th octaves. Short sustain, poor tone, little dynamic range. This ruins the whole piano.
2) Weak at the very top.

So my purpose in writing the thread is to actually ask the question: why? Is there something in the design of these pianos which make them prone to this problem? Is there something routinely bad in the manufacturing process? I'm specifically talking about Steinway Ds and Bs, and the ones I've recently encountered were manufactured in the last 20 years.

I don't want to bash Steinway. Many of the very finest pianos I've ever played have been NY Steinways.


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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691395
11/22/17 11:21 PM
11/22/17 11:21 PM
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Tennessee
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Ed Foote Offline
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Greetings,
The soundboards are usually the reason for the symptoms you describe. The fifth octave of a piano built like Steinway is the first place the board's deterioration shows itself. The soundboards are made to have an upward curve in them. This shape is created by drying an oversized, flat wooden, sheet of spruce in the shape of a soundboard until it has very little moisture in it, and then gluing ribs across the grain and allowing the board to swell up with the absorption of normal moisture. Since the ribs are only on one side, the panel bends them it swells, creating a tension in the structure. This bulge, or "crown" is then cut to fit in the case of the piano and glued down around the edges. When put under just the right amount of downward pressure( by the strings), it becomes very responsive to vibrations. This is what we are hearing when the strings vibrate.

With enough yearly cycles of drying and swelling with the weather, this "crown" begins to fall. The wood fibers give up the ghost and are crushed under the unrelenting pressure of the strings' downward force. As they crush, the crown disappears. As the soundboard goes flatter and flatter, the sound changes. A characteristic of a dead Steinway soundboard is a boomy bass and a shallow, short-sustain, treble. Rebuilders that are claiming some sort of authentic magic by rebuilding a 100 year old Steinway with the original board are, in my opinion, either mis-guided or trying to cover their tracks as they take the easy way out of "rebuilding". It is not uncommon for a dead board's lack of response in the 5 and 6th octave is be camouflaged by excessive brilliance, as the rebuilder has to harden the hammers so much to get any sound that there is no tonal range, just a jangly, thin, sound.
Regards,

Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: Ed Foote] #2691396
11/22/17 11:29 PM
11/22/17 11:29 PM
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Markarian Offline
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Greetings,
The soundboards are usually the reason for the symptoms you describe. The fifth octave of a piano built like Steinway is the first place the board's deterioration shows itself. The soundboards are made to have an upward curve in them. This shape is created by drying an oversized, flat wooden, sheet of spruce in the shape of a soundboard until it has very little moisture in it, and then gluing ribs across the grain and allowing the board to swell up with the absorption of normal moisture. Since the ribs are only on one side, the panel bends them it swells, creating a tension in the structure. This bulge, or "crown" is then cut to fit in the case of the piano and glued down around the edges. When put under just the right amount of downward pressure( by the strings), it becomes very responsive to vibrations. This is what we are hearing when the strings vibrate.

With enough yearly cycles of drying and swelling with the weather, this "crown" begins to fall. The wood fibers give up the ghost and are crushed under the unrelenting pressure of the strings' downward force. As they crush, the crown disappears. As the soundboard goes flatter and flatter, the sound changes. A characteristic of a dead Steinway soundboard is a boomy bass and a shallow, short-sustain, treble. Rebuilders that are claiming some sort of authentic magic by rebuilding a 100 year old Steinway with the original board are, in my opinion, either mis-guided or trying to cover their tracks as they take the easy way out of "rebuilding". It is not uncommon for a dead board's lack of response in the 5 and 6th octave is be camouflaged by excessive brilliance, as the rebuilder has to harden the hammers so much to get any sound that there is no tonal range, just a jangly, thin, sound.
Regards,


But it's alarming to think this problem would be that pronounced within the last 20 years. Musicpassion, have any of these pianos been since the big overhaul that started in 2009?


2012 NY Steinway Model B | Kawai MP11 | Nord Stage 3 Compact | Moog Sub 37 | Behringer DeepMind 12 | Sequential Circuits Prophet 6 | Korg Prologue
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691397
11/22/17 11:31 PM
11/22/17 11:31 PM
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Seattle, WA USA
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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With all due respect to Ed's description above. I have not found the soundboards to be an issue with Steinway D's and B's of the last 20 years.

The issue I have found significant to producing a full, clear singing treble are:
The shape of the capo bar being too round.
Too hard metal on the V-bar at the capo.
The striking point not properly established throughout the treble.
The quality of the bridge work and drilling of the casting poorly done with the result the strings are not properly aligned.
Casting quality issues causing the front duplex to be too close to a harmonic.
The pinning of the hammer flanges too loose and/or spongy
And the biggest one is; the hammers are too heavy!


In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible.
According to NASA, 93% of the earth like planets possible in the known universe have yet to be formed.
Contact: Ed@LightHammerpiano.com
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: Markarian] #2691398
11/22/17 11:51 PM
11/22/17 11:51 PM
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musicpassion Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Markarian
But it's alarming to think this problem would be that pronounced within the last 20 years. Musicpassion, have any of these pianos been since the big overhaul that started in 2009?
Yes, two of them. The other in the handful I'm thinking of are more 2000 - 2005. I'd have to check some serial numbers to get more specific.


Pianist and Piano Teacher
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: Ed Foote] #2691399
11/23/17 12:04 AM
11/23/17 12:04 AM
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musicpassion Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote

With enough yearly cycles of drying and swelling with the weather, this "crown" begins to fall.
Greetings Ed! I agree a failed board can produce these problems, but this is California climate and at least some Steinway boards thrive here for a very long time. For example there is a nice Steinway D at one of the locations where I often do accompanying work... it's from the 1940s.... original board, and it sounds stunning.

So could some of them really die in less than 20 years? This is what I find confusing. If it is the board, why aren't the Yamaha pianos suffering the same fate? For example in one of the church pianos where I play there is a very early C series (heavily used). It sounds great: long sustain, big dynamic contrast, even volume throughout the piano. It does need new hammers, but aside from that the piano is great.

To add to the picture, I mentioned one of the Steinways to my technician. It turned out he had tuned the piano for a while when it was new. He said it was terrible from the beginning. He's got good ears, and I trust his conclusion. Could it have been a bad board from the factory?


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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT] #2691403
11/23/17 12:14 AM
11/23/17 12:14 AM
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California, USA
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musicpassion Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
The issue I have found significant to producing a full, clear singing treble are:
The shape of the capo bar being too round.
Too hard metal on the V-bar at the capo.
So if the problem is in the capo bar, or the V-bar, is the piano forever doomed? Even if an excellent shop put a new soundboard in, the problem would persist?
Quote
The striking point not properly established throughout the treble.
In one example, I know the technician has tried working with the strike point and not been able to achieve any improvement.
Quote
And the biggest one is; the hammers are too heavy!
Well, maybe this one would be the easiest to fix. But these are modern Steinways, isn't the whole action geometry designed for the heavy hammer they are putting in? I've ready many of your posts about older pianos and understand your point about the older instruments. Besides the benefits in longetivity and dynamic control from a lighter hammer, I would think the piano ought to function properly with the parts being installed?


Pianist and Piano Teacher
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691419
11/23/17 03:57 AM
11/23/17 03:57 AM
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Glendale, Ca.
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Dave Ferris Offline
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Everything A OK here for # 571692 at 11 years, 6 months and 16 days. smile

Could use a tuning and some minor voicing but that's it.

I think it sounds and plays better then the D across town at the Bridge Recording. But they have a much nicer room for theirs.


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2005 NY Steinway D
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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691488
11/23/17 12:36 PM
11/23/17 12:36 PM
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Seattle, WA USA
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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Musicpassion, Treble tone is very influenced by hammer weight. The strings are moving so rapidly that heavy hammers can not rebound fast enough to let the strings vibrate. The inertia of the hammers up there is too high in every piano made. One can not make the hammers too light in the top two octaves.

The V-bar can be reshaped in-situ. One must remove the dampers and treble strings and use a file to reshape the bar. It is a backbreaking task in an assembled piano. Ever so easy in the shop, (or factory) with the plate upside down and air powered die grinders at ones disposal. Sometimes Steinway hardens the V-bar and this can be a disaster.

The strike point needs to be established at several points in the treble for best results. I have ratios I have derived from much study that allow me to place the proper strike point at sample hammers 68, 73, 78, 83, and 88.


In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible.
According to NASA, 93% of the earth like planets possible in the known universe have yet to be formed.
Contact: Ed@LightHammerpiano.com
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691504
11/23/17 01:16 PM
11/23/17 01:16 PM
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Rural UK
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Fareham Offline
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Allow me to chip in here. I'm currently working towards partial re-stringing and re-shaping the capo bar (and possibly beefing up the bridge pins) to solve this perennial Steinway problem, and hopefully within the next 6-9 months, will be back to let members know how it went with my 'D'. We had a long(ish) discussion about it here : http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2688295/re-filing-the-capo-bar.html#Post2688295

We also had another natter about soundboards as I was idly wondering where the crown goes. My conclusion from that (plus a load of private discussions with Phoenix's Richard Dain), is that most people (techs. included) don't really know how they work, and an awful lot of wrong-headed hot air is spouted about the subject.

That said, I'd certainly back up a lot of what Ed says.

I had a quick hunt to see how case hardening is done for cast iron, and as it uses some extremely nasty chemicals (mainly cyanides) to bump up the surface carbon content at viscious temperatures, I can't believe anyone would subject a casting the size of a 'D' or even a 'B' to that, without some very, very, very good reasons. If the 'V' (capo) bar is hardened, I should be interested to hear how it's done - perhaps a high carbon content capo bar is hot-welded into the casting as it cools.

I can certainly confirm that the 'sweet spot' for the hammer strike wanders on my piano by as much as 3.5mm. We moved the whole keybed in and out to get all the measurements we needed for all the sweet spots in the top 2 sections in about half an hour, and shifted the hammers up and down the shanks accordingly afterwards. It will be interesting to see how things turn out after re-shaping the capo and the addition of new hammers.


The English may not like music much, but they love the sound it makes ... Beecham
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT] #2691505
11/23/17 01:28 PM
11/23/17 01:28 PM
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Montreal
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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
[ ... ]Sometimes Steinway hardens the V-bar and this can be a disaster.



Ed, you often make this statement but I find it hard to believe. Steinway uses a single foundry for all their plates - why would some be randomly subjected to a different procedure? It's not trivial to case-harden part of a plate and I really find it hard to believe that they would do some but not others. Can you cite the process they use that confirms your assertion?

Paul.

Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691508
11/23/17 01:45 PM
11/23/17 01:45 PM
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Very few pianos are properly cared for. If a piano is subject to huge swings in humidity damage will occur. Too much humidity and the soundboard's fibers will compress and the damage is permanent, too little and the opposite occurs eventually leading to cracks. Note that Steinway suggests humidity be kept between 45-65%. This goes for any piano not just Steinway. Those who haven't had damage but allow the humidity swing from season to season will note the difference in sound from season to season. In winter the sound will be brighter and in summer more mellow with less clarity.

Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691509
11/23/17 01:46 PM
11/23/17 01:46 PM
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Just to chime in: I have found quite a few Steinways over here also have some problems around that area. It varies from piano to piano. Sometimes you can get a 40 or 50 year old B that has had a good life, and it still sings beautifully, all original. Sometimes you can find them in bad condition when they're only 20 years old.

Sometimes pianos that have been kept in institutions have problems: In the UK we don't tend to use air conditioning in the same way. What happens in many places is that during the summer months things are quite temperate, it doesn't get particularly hot, but it's usually quite humid. In the winter, all the institutions put their heating on, and sometimes that can be set way too high, so that inside it's in the high 20s and very very dry.

When it comes to soundboards, I don't know that much (I know about crown, I know what ribs are, I know about bearing, I don't know how it all works), but I know that failed crown causes a dead treble and a booming bass. I couldn't say for sure if in all the Steinways I've played with a dead treble (or dull treble) if the soundboard is the problem because usually these pianos are also quite worn out in other areas - flatter hammers, old strings, you get the picture.

Pianos are strange - two pianos of the same make and model can live a fairly similar life, and one will retain a beautiful sound for 80 years, and the other will die after 25 years or less. I've a thread on here about a D I played in a church that was only 5 years old at the time, and it sounded awful in the treble. Conversely, there is a D in the conservatoire in Glasgow that was bought new in 1986 and it's still rather beautiful after 31 years.

For what it's worth, I find B's to be a bit more unpredictable between pianos than other models.

Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: pyropaul] #2691524
11/23/17 03:49 PM
11/23/17 03:49 PM
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Seattle, WA USA
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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Pyropaul,
I too find it hard to believe. First of all no V-bar needs to be hardened. Soft gray iron shaped to a proper V-profile works wonderfully. The carbon is mostly in graphite form and this imparts a self lubricating quality to the metal. When you case-harden iron, the carbon converts to a more diamond like form and this is abrasive to the string when one tunes the piano.

My evidence is from testing the pianos. Most are so slightly hardened, (thank God), that filing the proper V-shape to the bar removes all the damaging material. You would have to check with Steinway to get an official description of the process.

All the Yamaha and Young Chang's that I have tested show too hard metal. And I don't think it is from a case hardening process. I think the plates are cast that way. So Steinway is not the only maker with these problems. Some Steinway's have the V-bar so hard that the only remedy is machine it off and install upside down agraffes in the capo. These pianos have awful trebles with massive false beats and bizarre whistles.


In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible.
According to NASA, 93% of the earth like planets possible in the known universe have yet to be formed.
Contact: Ed@LightHammerpiano.com
Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691675
11/24/17 10:51 AM
11/24/17 10:51 AM
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Have you known these pianos long?
Always eliminate the simpler possibilities first. Are you sure there isn’t someone in your area that is a little over-enthusiastic with needles or chemical hammer softeners and with their own ideas on how pianos should sound ? They tend to target strong toned pianos.


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


Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691701
11/24/17 12:46 PM
11/24/17 12:46 PM
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There are other techniques that often solve this common problem. While we always redress the V-bar any time we restring a piano, we look at several aspects of the execution to get the desired result and fullness of tone before voicing. And while it is common among Steinways, it is certainly not Steinway specific. We look to this problem on new, used & restored pianos going back more than 100 years.


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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691741
11/24/17 03:11 PM
11/24/17 03:11 PM
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Excessive downbearing can also add it's choking effect to all the above factors. It is not uncommon for Steinway to overdo it in this dept. A piano' s final voice is always a combination of several factors, not just one or two, as we rebuilders know all too well.

Pwg


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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: musicpassion] #2691806
11/24/17 08:24 PM
11/24/17 08:24 PM
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If this is truly a known problem, why isn't it addressed?

Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: pianoloverus] #2691842
11/25/17 01:46 AM
11/25/17 01:46 AM
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musicpassion Offline OP
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If this is truly a known problem, why isn't it addressed?
It certainly doesn't exist on every instrument. But how often it does happen, or if it has been addressed I don't know.

My own opinion is that many/most of the high end, hand made pianos (from Bosendorfer to Steinway and beyond) put a little too much weight on the individuality of each instrument. I think there are times the piano should be sent back down the factory line instead of concluding "that's just how this one sounds". Maybe it's too easy to hide behind "this just isn't the piano for you... try the other one... each one's different."


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Re: Dead Steinway Octaves [Re: rXd] #2691844
11/25/17 01:53 AM
11/25/17 01:53 AM
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musicpassion Offline OP
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Originally Posted by rXd
Have you known these pianos long?
Always eliminate the simpler possibilities first. Are you sure there isn’t someone in your area that is a little over-enthusiastic with needles or chemical hammer softeners and with their own ideas on how pianos should sound ? They tend to target strong toned pianos.
I've played pianos with soft hammers, and although it can be too difficult to play at full volume, I don't generally feel those soft hammers make a short sustain and dead tone compared to the rest of the piano. If anything, it seems to me that resilient felt tends to support better sustain, but that's just my guessing.

One of the pianos I have known a long time, and it is frustration with this piano that prompted my post. I've heard it voiced differently, as different artists come in with their requests. The problems have been steadfastly consistent through each voicing.


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