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The Steinway Secret? #271927
03/11/08 12:55 AM
03/11/08 12:55 AM
Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 916
Jacksonville, Florida
J
Jim Volk Offline OP
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Jim Volk  Offline OP
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Jacksonville, Florida
In another thread, Del Fandrich recently made a comment about the possiblity of using steel rather than cast iron in the manufacture of a piano's plate (i.e., the heavy, gold-colored metal frame mounted above the soundboard that helps bear the tension of the strings).

Del noted that "The obvious advantage of steel, of course, is strength. For a given weight a steel plate can be considerably stronger than its cast, gray iron counterpart. As well, since steel does not have the high damping factor inherent in gray iron a piano using a steel plate will generally have a longer sustain time."

This brings to mind a question raised by Tom Denker of WI on his website ( www.denkerpiano.com ). Tom suggests that what primarily contributes to the characteristic "Steinway sound" is this very thing:

"If you ask any piano expert what the harp is made of they would say cast iron...Then why do very old Steinways say 'cast steel plate' on the casting itself? Cast steel is not cast iron and I believe this is the secret of why Steinways always have a 'sweet' tone.

"Cast iron with its brittleness gives other pianos a harsh edge to the tone. The steel would have to be heat treated to give it rigidity but this process could be one more way they tailor the sound. Is it a coincidence that they are the only company that makes there own castings?"

Is this just a wild theory--or does anyone know if there might be an element of truth to it?


Jim Volk
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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271928
03/11/08 09:10 AM
03/11/08 09:10 AM
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As far as I can tell from their website Steinway plates are made from cast iron.

Re: The Steinway Secret? #271929
03/11/08 10:01 AM
03/11/08 10:01 AM
Joined: Jan 2007
Posts: 365
München, Germany
mjs Offline
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The high damping factor of grey cast iron (which isn't exactly easy to produce well, especially considering the size of a piano plate - welding steel beams together would certainly be easier) is one of the reasons why it is used - if the plate would be vibrating uninhibited it would make for some cacophony. Generally speaking, the one acoustically dead part on a piano should be the plate. The goal when casting the plate is to get the material to cool off as quickly as possible to get a fine granular structure (rather than large crystallites) which contributes to the high damping factor (and isotropy of the material).

Certainly, other high quality grands which are in the same league as Steinways, do not have a "harsh edge on the tone".

I would opt for wild theory (or marketing spin).


Steingraeber D-232 # 45 777
Neupert Telemann harpsichord
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271930
03/11/08 11:30 AM
03/11/08 11:30 AM
Joined: Apr 2005
Posts: 3,546
US
sophial Offline
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sounds more like wild theory. I don't think I've ever heard Steinway make this argument.

Re: The Steinway Secret? #271931
03/11/08 11:33 AM
03/11/08 11:33 AM
Joined: Apr 2006
Posts: 3,745
Vancouver B.C. Canada
Rod Verhnjak Offline
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Vancouver B.C. Canada
Wild theory.


Verhnjak Pianos
Specializing in the Restoration, Refinishing & Maintenance
of Fine Heirloom Pianos

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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271932
03/11/08 11:52 AM
03/11/08 11:52 AM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 129
Salt Lake City, Utah
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Brian Bennett Offline
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Posts: 129
Salt Lake City, Utah
Any such secret would have been out a long time ago.

Plutonium has optimal density, tensle strength and thermal expansion propeties. Maybe that's their secret!

My bet is on Marketingium. Strategic use of this precious resource could convince anyone that their piano is the best.


Schimmel 213 NWS, Yamaha MOTIF XS8, Roland RDX700, Roland Jupiter 6, Akai S3000XL sampler (just for fun)
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271933
03/11/08 12:11 PM
03/11/08 12:11 PM
Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 121
Northern California, USA
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wruess Offline
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Northern California, USA
Quote
and I believe this is the secret of why Steinways always have a 'sweet' tone.
Uhhh, this is very much a matter of opinion, especially the 'always' and 'sweet' parts.

Quote
Certainly, other high quality grands which are in the same league as Steinways, do not have a "harsh edge on the tone".
There are several 'high quality' grands that are way out of Steinway's league, and they don't sound harsh, they sound wounderful.


There....that should start some kind of riot.

Re: The Steinway Secret? #271934
03/11/08 12:20 PM
03/11/08 12:20 PM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 312
Seattle, Washington
S
Secondo Offline
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Seattle, Washington
Quote
the one acoustically dead part on a piano should be the plate
That is exactly what a rebuilder told me recently. He said that you do not want the plate (or the frame for that matter also) to have any sound and that is why the plate is sand cast. He said what makes a difference is the scale design and that some pianos being built now using the older original scale designs sound very much like the older American pianos. True or not true?


Baldwin SF-10 320152, Marshall & Wendell, Steinway B
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271935
03/11/08 12:31 PM
03/11/08 12:31 PM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 312
Seattle, Washington
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Secondo Offline
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Seattle, Washington
Quote
the one acoustically dead part on a piano should be the plate
That is exactly what a rebuilder told me recently. He said that you do not want the plate (or the frame for that matter also) to have any sound and that is why the plate is sand cast. He said what makes a difference is the scale design and that some pianos being built now using the older original scale designs sound very much like the older American pianos. True or not true?


Baldwin SF-10 320152, Marshall & Wendell, Steinway B
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271936
03/11/08 12:31 PM
03/11/08 12:31 PM
Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 2,941
Florida
LisztAddict Offline
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Florida
Quote
Originally posted by Brian Bennett:
My bet is on Marketingium.
Is that 110th element after Meitnerium (109)? laugh

Re: The Steinway Secret? #271937
03/11/08 12:33 PM
03/11/08 12:33 PM
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 160
Indiana
lovebach Offline
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Indiana
Jim,

I personally think that the plate has a lot to do with the sound. In the recent thread entitled, "Is it safe to fall in love with this piano?" I discuss this with Doogs.

I really don't know the science behind this, nor am I claiming that my point of view is correct. It's just something that I noticed when I was trying out pianos last year. I really believe that what keeps Yamaha "bright" is the plate--This because it literally rings with every single note. I know of one other person on this thread who can hear this on a Yamaha other than myself. An old Steinway is "sweet" to my ears to. Not all of them, but a lot. I think that the plate design probably has something to do with the tone as well as indirectly the sustain (based on my limited knowlege of how shape and contour of a soundboard is and how that relates to the shape and contour of a plate).

Thanks for noticing too!

Oh, and here's the link to the thread that I was referring to in the first paragraph entitled, "Is it safe to fall in love with this piano?":

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/1/21410.html


lovebach
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271938
03/11/08 12:45 PM
03/11/08 12:45 PM
Joined: Oct 2006
Posts: 1,645
An Indiana University
U S A P T Offline
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Posts: 1,645
An Indiana University
Personally, I don't think the plate is the secret.

I can't say that anyone has walked into my living room and said "Oh my God you have a Steinway. They are so awesome. They have the best plates."

They gawk because a Steinway equates with artistic and social prominence, discriminating taste, musical acheivement, limited availability, high cost of acquisition, prestige, reliability, choice of world-famous artists, schools and competitions; high resale value and the American dream.

Some day people will realize that the reason the piano is dwindling in importance in this world is because a piano is a feeling, not a product. Hence, it's components have nothing to do with its success.

Just my 2 cents worth.


Full-Time Music/Entrepreneurship Major: (Why not compose music AND businesses?)
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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271939
03/11/08 01:08 PM
03/11/08 01:08 PM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 615
Columbus, GA
S
S. Phillips Offline
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S. Phillips  Offline
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Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 615
Columbus, GA
Plates are either sand cast or vacuum cast. They are cast iron. Sand cast plates tend to have less possibility of additional ringing because they cool slower. V cast plates sometimes have a ring that is audible. That is why better instrument makers stick to sand cast. The plate is not the secret of Steinway. The Steinway sound is the result of a balance of the materials used, both the quantity and quality. It is the scale design which includes the type of materials, thickness of the soundboard, rim, plate, placement of bridges, etc.

There really aren't many secrets in the piano industry. It is not the same as a Stradivarius violin that was made in the 17th Century and has not been able to be duplicated since, spawning centuries of speculation about what single element is responsible for the sound.

Steinway and other builders have made thousands of pianos of quality and are not really hiding any details from anyone. Many rebuilders in fact know exactly how to rebuild a quality piano. The plate theory also falls apart when you consider that when piano tone starts to deteriorate the one thing that is not affected by much of anything is the plate. The hammers, strings, soundboard and bridges are much more responsible for tone.


Sally Phillips
Owner/ Technician
Piano Perfect, LLC
Steinway & Sons Pianos
Columbus, GA
New Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos
www.steinwaypiano.com
Acoustic Piano Technical Consultant - Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer
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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271940
03/11/08 01:17 PM
03/11/08 01:17 PM
Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 158
San Jose / Bay Area / Gilroy ...
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Scott McBain Offline
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San Jose / Bay Area / Gilroy ...
I agree with verhjnak.

A wild Theory.


A McBain-Carnes Piano Company - Since the 1920's
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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271941
03/11/08 01:33 PM
03/11/08 01:33 PM
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 659
Northeast
K
Kenny Blankenship Offline
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Northeast
The Steinway Secret;

Marketing Man, Marketing...


Kenny Blankenship
Selling anything anyone will buy as the "Walmartizisation of the industry continues. (Still making a fair living and still having clients like me)
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271942
03/11/08 01:37 PM
03/11/08 01:37 PM
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 26,895
Oakland
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BDB Offline
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If you want to test this theory, compare a Steinway with a Steinway cast steel plate with one without.


Semipro Tech
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271943
03/11/08 01:53 PM
03/11/08 01:53 PM
Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 158
San Jose / Bay Area / Gilroy ...
S
Scott McBain Offline
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Posts: 158
San Jose / Bay Area / Gilroy ...
I agree with Kenny!

I was going to say that!


A McBain-Carnes Piano Company - Since the 1920's
391 South Winchester Blvd San Jose, California
Purveyor for: Shigeru Kawai, Kawai, Walter Pianos
Preowned: Yamaha/Steinway (408)248-9200
www.sanjosepianostore.com
Re: The Steinway Secret? #271944
03/11/08 04:34 PM
03/11/08 04:34 PM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 852
San Francisco
P
Peter Sumner- Piano Technician Offline
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Posts: 852
San Francisco
Has anyone considered the low-tension scale design and a hard rock maple rim.....and the soundboard being man-handled into the piano with a very snug fit....
I'm sure the plate has a positive effect...but it is the combination of many factors including those magical hammers that give the technician a great starting point in tone building towards that special sound....
The key is also in the prep....
By stating that's it's all marketing is an insult towards the many who have purchased an S & S piano....are folks that easy to fool...
Maybe I should re think that last comment....after all we have George Bush as president :-)


Peter Sumner
Concert Piano Technician


Re: The Steinway Secret? #271945
03/11/08 05:29 PM
03/11/08 05:29 PM
Joined: Feb 2006
Posts: 1,290
Toronto
Starting Over Offline
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Toronto
Nah! None of those things make any difference.
Anyone can build a piano. smokin

It's all just marketing.

Not.


Buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it.
Will Rogers

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Re: The Steinway Secret? #271946
03/11/08 07:10 PM
03/11/08 07:10 PM
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 647
Los Angeles/Burbank
Glenn Treibitz Offline
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Los Angeles/Burbank
Kenny said it, Scott 2nds it and I 3rd it.


Glenn Treibitz

Hollywood Piano Co. - Est.1928
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