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Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? #2750893
07/12/18 01:12 AM
07/12/18 01:12 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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SLT16  Offline OP
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Hi all,

I have a 1927 Winter & Co. Player piano. I have restored it myself, and replaced all felts, cloths, rebuilt the air motor, re-covered the bellows and the tracker etc. I am very satisfied with the final outcome, and it works like a charm. I have kept the hammers and the strings original, as they have been replaced some 40 - 50 years ago; thus, they were in good condition and didn't need replacement. Overall, the player has a lovely tone BUT the bass hammers are way too quiet, and it leaves me clueless of what i can do in order to make the sound more vivid and richer. The treble section is perfectly fine, but the bass hammers have sort of a quiet *thump* noise when they hit the string. It leads me to believe this has something to do with the hammers being very quiet. I've heard other similar player pianos, and their bass section sounds very loud and has a very vivid and rich sound. However, this isn't the case with mine. Being a 54" tall piano, i'd expect it to have a rich sound, but apparently that's not the case. The bass is so soft on this piano, to the point where you can barely even hear it over the treble. I've reshaped the hammers, and it has certainly rejuvenated the sound, but has not made a large difference to the bass hammers. Perhaps voicing the bass hammers would fix this? Or would i need a new set of hammers? I'd like to hear your opinions!

I also currently own a 48"ish Bechstein Model 8 upright piano. Although the Bechstein has shorter bass strings, the sound is much louder and richer than on the player. This leaves me quite baffled, as i'd expect a much taller piano to have a richer and louder sound.

Any ideas of what sort of work i might have to do in order to get the bass back to sounding good? I will appreciate any ideas and opinions.

Thank you.

Stepan.

P.S. Here is the comparison video i made, comparing the bass of the Bechstein and the Winter player piano. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfxgqnRFyoY

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Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750913
07/12/18 05:50 AM
07/12/18 05:50 AM
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Posts: 1,442
Scotland
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David Boyce Offline
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In the video clip on YouTube, I'm not hearing the Winter & Co bass strings as being significantly quiet. I think it's just that they are tonally different from the bass of the Bechstein.


If all of the bas strings sound VERY quiet, one must suspect a problem with a detached bass bridge - but that's not the case here.

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750914
07/12/18 05:52 AM
07/12/18 05:52 AM
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Scotland
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David Boyce Offline
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It may be that you could get a bit more 'bite' to the bass by ironing the hammers, or using lacquer.

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: David Boyce] #2750918
07/12/18 07:37 AM
07/12/18 07:37 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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SLT16  Offline OP
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Thanks for your suggestion, David.

I know in the video the sound quality wasn't very good, but in person, the Bechstein sounds much louder and has more 'bite' as you call it. I haven't thought of ironing the hammers - so ill definitely try that.

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Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750924
07/12/18 08:36 AM
07/12/18 08:36 AM
Joined: May 2003
Posts: 1,793
Tennessee
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Ed Foote Offline
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Greetings,
You have 90 year old bass strings, so don't automatically assume it is the hammers....

Lift the dampers and pluck the strings on both pianos. Do you hear the same sound? If you have dead bass strings, nothing you do to the hammer will give you what you want. If the strings produce a rich sound, then, you might want to strengthen the hammers by doping. There are a variety of ways to do this, so go cautiously.
Regards,

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: Ed Foote] #2750929
07/12/18 09:16 AM
07/12/18 09:16 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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Hi Ed,

The strings have been replaced sometime in the 70s. By inspection and testing, I confirmed that they are not dead. How would you propose i dope the hammers? Some people say to use shellac - 5 parts denatured alcohol, 1 parts shellac refined flakes, mix that, and brush it onto the hammers and let them dry. I am not sure of this method, as i have never tested it. What do you propose be the best method?

Hope to hear from you soon,

Stepan.

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750934
07/12/18 10:22 AM
07/12/18 10:22 AM
Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 5,830
Bradford County, PA
UnrightTooner Offline
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Stepan, looking at the video makes me wonder about the upper termination of the bass strings. I see there is a sub-plate bolted to the main plate. The upper termination, is it wooden? Some old uprights were made that way, instead of metal. If it is wood, you cannot expect much more from it.


Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?
Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750954
07/12/18 12:09 PM
07/12/18 12:09 PM
Joined: May 2003
Posts: 1,793
Tennessee
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Ed Foote Offline
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Tennessee
Originally Posted by SLT16
Hi Ed,
How would you propose i dope the hammers? Some people say to use shellac - 5 parts denatured alcohol, 1 parts shellac refined flakes, mix that, and brush it onto the hammers and let them dry. I am not sure of this method, as i have never tested it. What do you propose be the best method?

Stepan.


Greetings,
There is no, one, best method, as hammers vary as much as musicians' expectations. What I have been asked to do in Nashville recording studios is NOT what I have been asked to do in homes or the concert stage. The studios like a tone that is about the same brilliance at all levels, so it can be recorded with one setting. This is too narrow a tonal range for the acoustic player. The classical players like a tone that is malleable, i.e. mellow at pp and brilliant at FF. Jazz players like what classical players like, but with an emphasis on the brilliant edge being easy to achieve. Some of the vocalists and instrumentalists that use their pianos for accompaniment want it voiced way down....

The ideal hammer is traditionally considered to be one that offers a wide range of tone, depending on force of play , and that range is matched to the pianist. In this sense, my elderly customers often prefer a brighter piano that helps overcome aging ears as well as arthritic hands. They will give up some mellowness, (which they can't hear) for ease of play. The young turks at the university have the muscle to achieve brilliance from a marshmallow, if needed, and want the hammer to start from a softer place, as it makes it easier to control on pp playing. To do this requires a rock hard core at the center of the hammer, and a graduated lessening of density to the crown. The harder you play, the deeper the influence. Getting there depends on how the hammer was made. In this case, I would assume the old hammers were made with cold-pressed felt of lower density than today's normal.

So, how to achieve all these different results? If too soft, I can soak a hammer from the top down and get something the studios like. (I have seen a Steinway factory worker squirting so much doping mix that it was running off the tails of the hammers). I can put a drop or two on the crown of the concert hammer and while raising the "bottom" and perhaps erasing the most "velvet" soft tone at pp, it will add a tonal edge to all levels of play. This will be temporary. If the hammer is soft everywhere, I can re-inforce the shoulders with a solid soaking , using dilute lacquer in thinner to lacquer ratios between 4:1 and 7:1. Soaking the shoulder of the hammer at 3:00 and 9:00 o'clock positions could perhaps bolster the upper part of the hammer to change the tone. If the hammers have been deep-needled, they may be beyond recovery, but if you can still feel a hard core, you may have some hope.

I have, on old hammers of suspect provenance, begun with approx. 2-3 teaspoons of 6:1 dope, using lacquer and acetone, right on top of the hammer. A day later, it can be voiced with needles, or addition of pure acetone to move some of the hardener away from the crown. This doesn't create the flexibility in the hammer that is needed for the ideal, but it will restore some brilliance. I wouldn't worry about ruining these hammers, with all the work that has been done elsewhere in the piano, new felt is already justified.
Regards,

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: Ed Foote] #2750960
07/12/18 12:22 PM
07/12/18 12:22 PM
Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 469
Rockville, MD
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Originally Posted by SLT16
Hi Ed,
How would you propose i dope the hammers? Some people say to use shellac - 5 parts denatured alcohol, 1 parts shellac refined flakes, mix that, and brush it onto the hammers and let them dry. I am not sure of this method, as i have never tested it. What do you propose be the best method?

Stepan.


====SNIP====

Originally Posted by Ed Foote
The ideal hammer is traditionally considered to be one that offers a wide range of tone, depending on force of play , and that range is matched to the pianist. In this sense, my elderly customers often prefer a brighter piano that helps overcome aging ears as well as arthritic hands. They will give up some mellowness, (which they can't hear) for ease of play. The young turks at the university have the muscle to achieve brilliance from a marshmallow, if needed, and want the hammer to start from a softer place, as it makes it easier to control on pp playing. To do this requires a rock hard core at the center of the hammer, and a graduated lessening of density to the crown. The harder you play, the deeper the influence. Getting there depends on how the hammer was made. In this case, I would assume the old hammers were made with cold-pressed felt of lower density than today's normal.
====SNIP====


Ed - thank you for all you write. I will print your reply and keep it in my "Useful Tech Tips" binder. If I interpret your words which I italicized and bolded above correctly, you have made the case for "hard hammers to be softened with needles" most eloquently. I know they make hammers differently than they used to, but when I look at the videos of people making Steinways (in New York) "back in the day", I see the voicer jabbing and stabbing... Maybe those hammers were lighter than what was, until most recently, used in modern NYC Steinways. By my observation of the videos, they were certainly harder.

Thanks again.


Andrew Kraus, Pianist
Educated Amateur Tuner/Technician
Rockville, MD USA
www.AndrewKraus.com
www.YouTube.com/RockvillePianoGuy
Twitter at @IAmAPianist

1929 Steinert 6'10" (Close copy of New York S&S "B")
Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2750981
07/12/18 01:51 PM
07/12/18 01:51 PM
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Scotland
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David Boyce Offline
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I forgot to mention that before ironing or doping or whatever, you should inspect the hammers to see if they could do with filing. Do they have deep-ish grooves in them? Careful reshaping and then a bit of ironing might make a substantial difference.

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: David Boyce] #2751155
07/13/18 04:47 AM
07/13/18 04:47 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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David,

I have reshaped the hammers very carefully, and that has certainly made a difference - especially in the higher octaves. To start off, the hammers weren't that deeply grooved in the first place, because they have been replaced some time in the 70s, and the piano hasn't been played very often at all. So the shaping was only very minor. Now that i've done the reshaping, would you suggest to iron the hammers? Some people regard the ironing as a substantial improvement to the tone, yet some disregard this process at all and say it has no use. What's your opinion?

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2751160
07/13/18 05:25 AM
07/13/18 05:25 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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P.S. this is a recording of my Winter. It might be to some people's liking, but the bass is too soft and too mellow in my opinion. However, apart from the bottom 2 octaves of the bass, i quite like the overall tone of the piano.

Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml5pMB6VSjg

Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2751174
07/13/18 07:48 AM
07/13/18 07:48 AM
Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 5,830
Bradford County, PA
UnrightTooner Offline
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Originally Posted by SLT16
P.S. this is a recording of my Winter. It might be to some people's liking, but the bass is too soft and too mellow in my opinion. However, apart from the bottom 2 octaves of the bass, i quite like the overall tone of the piano.

Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml5pMB6VSjg



Is the upper termination of the bass strings wood? It looks like it to me. I've seen it before and the bass will be dull.


Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
Who taught the first chicken how to peck?
Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: UnrightTooner] #2751363
07/14/18 01:37 AM
07/14/18 01:37 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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UnrightTooner,

I thought of the same thing for the moment - but that does not appear to be the case with this piano.

As for the strings, they obviously have a negative effect on the sound as they are around 50 years old, but i am now nearly certain its the hammers. Reason being, i have reshaped them and have not voiced them, nor iron them - ever. Obviously, the hammers need to be voiced after a reshaping, so that is probably the issue, as i am pretty sure the hammers haven't ever even been voiced before on this piano. I'm hoping that ironing and voicing them will fix the sound. Also, i have checked the bridges and they are perfectly intact and sturdy, which further leads me to believe that the strings - although very old- are in an alright condition.

Last edited by SLT16; 07/14/18 01:43 AM.
Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: SLT16] #2751381
07/14/18 04:06 AM
07/14/18 04:06 AM
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WilliamTruitt Offline
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SLT16, there may be other factors not yet mentioned by you or the respondents.

Did you regulate (adjust) the action? If so, what did you adjust?

I would also look closely at the bass bridge again for splitting at the pins and glue joint failure/delaminations. Your piano likely has a bridge apron, so the joint between the apron and the root, and the apron to the bridge body itself should be examined. If the bridge is capped, examine those glue joints also. Look and see if the apron has split.

It is also possible that you have a tired and dead board - one that has lost its crown and bearing. That's my vote.

Too often, player pianos are operated at high volumes, so the wear and tear on the strings and action can be considerable. The supply house replacement hammers from that era were not always that great, nor was the skill of the player restorers, who were often deficient in the area of action rebuilding, regulation, and voicing.

The other technicians who have commented here I know to be very competent and skilled. That said, there is no substitute for the presence of an experienced piano technician or rebuilder at your home. The right person will be able to tell you what is going on in short order. Have you considered calling someone?

What part of the country are you located in?

Will Truitt


fine grand piano custom rebuilding, piano technician and tuner
Re: Very quiet bass hammers. Any ideas? [Re: WilliamTruitt] #2751409
07/14/18 08:05 AM
07/14/18 08:05 AM
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SLT16 Offline OP
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William,

I did indeed regulated the action. This included: hammer let off, lost motion and damper liftoff. That is probably not all, but that's what I've had the time to do thus far.

I will surely inspect the bass bridge one more time; even more intricately than the last time i did. I will also definitely call a technician to my home sometime soon, so they can give me the full prognosis.

I am located in Queensland, Australia. Around the Brisbane area. There are many technicians/tuners here, so finding an experienced technician will be no trouble.


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