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Sound with the una corda pedal depressed #2801111
01/12/19 06:04 AM
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If I correctly understand what my tech told me, the una corda pedal can be set up two different ways. (This post refers only to when the UC is completely depressed although I understand some pianists employ half pedal with the UC.)

I have a question about the sound when using the UC depending on how it is set up. In the first way the action moves far enough to the right so that (where there are, for example, three strings/note) only two strings strike the hammer but they strike the hammer in the deep grooves formed by playing without the UC. In the second way, the action moves to the right a different amount(less?) so the two strings hit the hammer in the softer, less compressed felt between the deep grooves formed by playing without the UC. I don't remember if he said the choice for the UC set up is done in the factory and can't be changed or if the UC could be adjusted by a tech to work whichever way the pianist wants.

I would guess that in the first way the sound mostly just gets softer but the tonal quality doesn't change that much. In the second way, I would guess that not only does the tone get softer but the timbre changes a lot more since the strings are striking the less compressed felt in the hammer.

Is my description of the sound with the two different UC set ups correct?

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Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801113
01/12/19 06:44 AM
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An interesting question.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801125
01/12/19 07:21 AM
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From what I understand, the setup is such that one string ends up just at the edge of the hammer. At least, that would "disable" that string and do its name justice. But I can't remember where I got that.

I think the idea of the soft pedal is foremost a change in sound quality, not so much absolute amplitude. If you would shift exactly 1 string distance, your sound would probably hardly change unless that de-activated string would be out of tune or something.

So I guess that what you want is that the strings hit the softer, less used felt.

Also, of someone would use that pedal as "practice pedal", then that felt might in fact even be harder than without pedal and give almost the opposite effect.

In my experience, the effect of this pedal is very unreliable, it rarely gives the sound change that I can use in my pieces, so I usually avoid it.


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Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: wouter79] #2801131
01/12/19 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by wouter79
From what I understand, the setup is such that one string ends up just at the edge of the hammer. At least, that would "disable" that string and do its name justice. But I can't remember where I got that.
There are two different set ups depending on how far from the edge of the hammer the non sounding string is.

Originally Posted by wouter79
I think the idea of the soft pedal is foremost a change in sound quality, not so much absolute amplitude. If you would shift exactly 1 string distance, your sound would probably hardly change unless that de-activated string would be out of tune or something.
If you shift one string distance so that two strings hit in the deep hammer grooves than the sound should be softer since the hammer is hitting only two strings. I don't think the tuning of the deactivated string would matter since it's not being struck.
Originally Posted by wouter79
In my experience, the effect of this pedal is very unreliable, it rarely gives the sound change that I can use in my pieces, so I usually avoid it.
I think most of the time that means the UC is not well regulated.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801134
01/12/19 08:06 AM
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I prefer the sound of the una corda when the hammer only strikes two strings as it has a very distinct sound. When striking all three strings using a softer part of the hammer, it's usually just a softer and duller version of the "normal" sound of the piano. I think it's much less interesting.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: johnstaf] #2801135
01/12/19 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I prefer the sound of the una corda when the hammer only strikes two strings as it has a very distinct sound. When striking all three strings using a softer part of the hammer, it's usually just a softer and duller version of the "normal" sound of the piano. I think it's much less interesting.
Unless I misunderstood what my tech said, I think the UC set up always has only two strings being struck by the hammer for the trichords. Hoping a tech can verify this.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801139
01/12/19 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

Originally Posted by wouter79
I think the idea of the soft pedal is foremost a change in sound quality, not so much absolute amplitude. If you would shift exactly 1 string distance, your sound would probably hardly change unless that de-activated string would be out of tune or something.
If you shift one string distance so that two strings hit in the deep hammer grooves than the sound should be softer since the hammer is hitting only two strings. I don't think the tuning of the deactivated string would matter since it's not being struck.


Do the math, a quick guess : 2 instead of 3 strings will make something like 3dB difference, which is nothing compared to the total pianos dynamic range. As I said I believe it's mainly about changing the sound quality.

Of course the tuning and string difference matters for the sound color, if the deactivated is slightly out of tune or otherwise different from the other two (bit stiffer string for instance), disabling it will change the harmonics of the sound. This effect alone might give the impression of a warmer or more muffled sound.


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Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801140
01/12/19 08:24 AM
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Too late to edit...

I was playing a Bechstein grand during the week that a really soft sounding UC. The less prominent attack, from the softer striking surface, made some pieces sound like mush. The opening of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, where the sustain pedal is held for long stretches, needs a clear attack on each note, and didn't sound good on this piano at all. A small Steinway grand that I also played sounded much nicer, as the UC sound still had a very clear attack, but with the timbral change you get from only striking two strings.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801141
01/12/19 08:26 AM
01/12/19 08:26 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I don't remember if he said the choice for the UC set up is done in the factory and can't be changed or if the UC could be adjusted by a tech to work whichever way the pianist wants.



The Una Corda pedal can be set up to travel more or to travel less. Either way, when depressed, the hammers will strike the strings with softer felt that is not compacted as much. This is the key. Remember that in the portion of the piano that has 2 strings and in the bass where there is only 1 string the hammer is always striking the same number of strings.

Independent of whether or not it is traveling enough to strike only 2 of the three strings in the treble, hammers can be voiced to accentuate the difference and make it more than just a volume difference.

I hope that helps,


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Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801142
01/12/19 08:35 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by johnstaf
I prefer the sound of the una corda when the hammer only strikes two strings as it has a very distinct sound. When striking all three strings using a softer part of the hammer, it's usually just a softer and duller version of the "normal" sound of the piano. I think it's much less interesting.
Unless I misunderstood what my tech said, I think the UC set up always has only two strings being struck by the hammer for the trichords. Hoping a tech can verify this.


It's not uncommon to set it up so that all three strings are still struck.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801145
01/12/19 08:46 AM
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Maybe a piano technicians or dealer on this forum could offer opinion and factory set-up preferences they’ve come across.

The understanding I have of the una corda is that in striking two rather than three strings we create a phase difference. That’s because three strings stand a better chance of being slightly out of tune than two. And the unisons do drift on a piano. The drift effects timbre a lot.

But, in addition, two string, are probably are going to have a less complex waveform than three. If only because only two strings rather than three are interacting. So there’s less to cause phase differences between rather than among the strings.

What I don’t know anything about is if the hammers are adjusted to move so that they slot into the grooves that develop with normal time over use. My understanding is that when the hammer move slightly to the side a different part of the felt is strikes the strings. That different part of the felt will probably have been used less than the non-uc felt. If used less, than my guess is it’s slightly harder. So timbre brightens a bit but because only two rather than three strings sound there’s that difference that then comes into play.

There’s also an interest effect I’ve notice when slowly leftting the damper down onto the string. When we do it slow enough we can hear the string(s) begin to buzz (best to do it with one note, I think, to really hear it) as the damper touches the string with more and more pressure.. I think everyone’s experienced that ....

But do the same thing with the una corda pedal and, at least on my piano, that buzzing effect, is greater than it is with three strings. And raising and lowering the dampers by minute amounts creates greater timbral differences than happen when raising in lowering the dampers on three strings. But, to experiment with this, the dampers have to move VERY slowly towards the strings to make the strings buzz. Just letting up completely on the key and letting the dampers do their normal work won’t create a subtle buzz.

And there are those places on the piano (low bass, contra-bass, THE BOTTOM OF THE PIANO) with only one string, There’s the part of the register leading into the very low tenor wherewhere there are two strings and then notes on the rest of the piano have three strings.

I’d be very grateful if a technician or dealer would explain from their professsional point of view the interactions between hammer felts, grooved and ungrooved (are there really two ways to set up the uc?), number of strings and register (how the una corda interacts with (differently, I assume) one, two, and three strings. And then there’s that issue of phase and tuning that goes along with two strings bring struck rather than three.

I know this is all wonky technical stuff so thanks in advance for answers from technicians or dealers or those with detailed knowledge of how pianos work. As you can read from what I wrote, I have my understandings and theories. But knowledge only comes from asking someone who knows more than we do?

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801151
01/12/19 09:03 AM
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If tech responses are looked for, then better post this in the tech forum


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Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: Rich Galassini] #2801152
01/12/19 09:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I don't remember if he said the choice for the UC set up is done in the factory and can't be changed or if the UC could be adjusted by a tech to work whichever way the pianist wants.



The Una Corda pedal can be set up to travel more or to travel less. Either way, when depressed, the hammers will strike the strings with softer felt that is not compacted as much. This is the key. Remember that in the portion of the piano that has 2 strings and in the bass where there is only 1 string the hammer is always striking the same number of strings.


I hope that helps,
So, if I understand you correctly, did I apparently misunderstand/misremember what my tech(who I'm sure understands how the UC works)when I thought he said that the UC could be set up so two strings strike in the already deeper grooves?(I'm only talking about the trichords in my question.)

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/12/19 09:08 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801158
01/12/19 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I don't remember if he said the choice for the UC set up is done in the factory and can't be changed or if the UC could be adjusted by a tech to work whichever way the pianist wants.



The Una Corda pedal can be set up to travel more or to travel less. Either way, when depressed, the hammers will strike the strings with softer felt that is not compacted as much. This is the key. Remember that in the portion of the piano that has 2 strings and in the bass where there is only 1 string the hammer is always striking the same number of strings.


I hope that helps,
So, if I understand you correctly, did I apparently misunderstand/misremember what my tech(who I'm sure understands how the UC works)when I thought he said that the UC could be set up so two strings strike in the already deeper grooves?(I'm only talking about the trichords in my question.)


Action travel is determined by a stop screw. You can have it move as much or as little as you like. You can even have the hammer strike one of the strings of the next note up if you want. eek The limit probably varies from piano to piano though...

Last edited by johnstaf; 01/12/19 09:33 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801160
01/12/19 09:36 AM
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My una corda is adjusted so only two strings are struck in the trichords. I use lab grade mic's and calibrated equipment for testing.

I recorded D5 and D6 individually with and without una corda. In both cases the sustain was significantly longer with the una corda, and the total power (over 10 sec sample) of each struck unison set was within about 1dB of each other (even though the trichord attack was louder).

In the case of una corda D5, one second after the intial attack, the fundamental became prominant and remained so throughout the decay.

The unstruck string couples out of phase with the struck strings to increase the horizontal motion of the strings, increasing the sustain.

Normally the hammer is positioned so that the leftmost string is near the left edge of the hammer. Pressing the una corda pedal shifts the hammer strike position to the right and does not strike the leftmost string. The amount of shift can be adjusted to ensure that the hammer strikes the remaining two strings between the indented portion of the hammer, resulting in a sligtly more random strike vector, or can be adjusted to strike in the remaining indents, assuming that the strings have been precisely evenly spaced.

Not all technicians or piano manufacturers recommend this technique. To those who use it, the value is obvious. Tone is controlled by hammer resilience, not by a 'soft pedal'. A reduction in hammer strike noise and initial attack intensity, and lack of dampening of any partials of the unstruck string all add to the enhanced quality of tone.

The increase in sustain is enhanced by an increased initial horizontal vector, though the phase coupling due to the bridge will occur no matter what, as long as the leftmost string is unstruck so that it only vibrates sympathetically. This is the Blüthner fourth string Aliquot trick.

The orginal una corda was a lever that moved the hammers so that only a single string was struck, enabling tuning without mutes, a very clever idea.

Last edited by prout; 01/12/19 09:37 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801166
01/12/19 09:58 AM
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There are a lot of misapprehensions about the effect of una corda. I hope my explanation above provides a little clarity. Probably not, so here is a précis:

If you strike three strings or two strings with the same hammer force, you will impart the same energy to the strings, just divided differently.

The unstruck string still vibrates sypathetically and completely changes the decay characteristics of the tone.

Whether or not the hammer strikes the two strings in the indents will affect the partial excitation and therefore the tone.


Last edited by prout; 01/12/19 09:58 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801171
01/12/19 10:18 AM
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While out of tune strings obviously have a phase difference, that is not why the una corda works the way it does. Perfectly in tune strings can be excited in any phase relation desired.

Coupled string locking, which can occur after the initial hammer attack, allows very closely tuned strings to lock into exact pitch.

Last edited by prout; 01/12/19 10:22 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801179
01/12/19 10:49 AM
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I agree with Prout, and several of the posts here that there is a definite tonal difference between an una corda shift that still strikes all 3 strings but not in the worn grooves and a uc shift that is greater and only strikes the center and right string (with the left vibrating sympathetically). You can test which your pedal has been regulated to by muting out the center and right string, depressing the uc pedal and hearing if any sound remains. I have found on most pianos that the pedal regultaion is such that all 3 strings are still struck, but not in the grooves. For me this maybe a softer sound but not the full tonal effect I desire of uc pedal use.

On my Estonia I adjusted the uc shift as far right as it would go (almost up to C7 hitting the right cheek block). I was still slightly striking the left string, so I put a very small, shallow bevel on the left side all the tricord hammers which meant now with uc and 2 strings muted I get no sound (hammer mass reduction was negliable). The uc effect with full uc pedal depressed now is very noticeable and I still have the opinion of only depressing the pedal partway for just a softer sound.

Last edited by Sanfrancisco; 01/12/19 10:55 AM.
Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801191
01/12/19 11:17 AM
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correction: ...almost up to C7 should read C8.

Re: Sound with the una corda pedal depressed [Re: pianoloverus] #2801214
01/12/19 12:22 PM
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Prout, Sanfrancisco and Mark Polishook are on the right track.

Many contemporary piano makers are using hammers so wide and with such dense felt that the shift pedal cannot be set to reliably clear one string and not have the hammers hit the next higher note. (This is one of the reasons I state that some modern piano makers do not know what they are doing. They actually do not understand how the piano is supposed to function as a musical instrument.)

The dense felt issue causes a "twang" when the edge of the hammer is still striking the third string and is set into a much more horizontal vibration that brings the string into contact with the side of the hammer ever so slightly.

These makers must set the shift so the hammers only move far enough to strike the hammer on the less grooved surface. This is only a "half-shift" position. A properly regulated shift pedal offers half-shift and full-shift for two tone color differences. But if the hammers are wrong, you are stuck with the half-shift only.

But as Mark noted, a full shift brings a complicationg issue with using the damper pedal. Since on full shift all the struck unisons vibrating contain one string 180 degrees out of phase, when you slowly release the damp pedal as the string begin to contact the dampers an "oinking" sound is produced. This is because you have "twice" as many hits between the strings and the felts. If the piano has the softest damper felts possible this is greatly reduced. Old M&H's had felt like this and slow damper release with full shift was very forgiving. But those felts are easily damaged by careless tuners and others. Pianists must in general avoid slow damper pedal release with full shift.

Multiple unison strings can "communicate" with each other when they vibrate. This "communication" is usually refered to as coupling in the physics world. Because they are linked via a moveable structure, (the bridge), the motion of one affects the motion of the other. They will try to link up and move together when the forces they carry are strong enough. This is why properly trained tone regulators go to great pains to get the hammer striking all unison strings at the same instant. This puts the unison strings in the same phase when the hammer strikes. When the unisons are precisely phased the piano sounds warmer, richer, fuller, has more sustain, (Too our musical ears when in fact it is less, but this is another story) and tunes better.

A full shift clear of one string takes advantage of the change in coupling between the three strings at the bridge. The unstruck string doesn't start to vibrate until the first half wave from the two struck strings reaches the bridge. (Well the longitudinal mode has already arrived so some bridge motion is imparted but we are going to ignore that here). The unstruck string starts moving in the opposite direction to the struck strings. (This is referred to in physics as 180 degrees phase difference.) The 180 degree out of phase string "robs" some of the hammer impact from the struck strings and this reduces the perceived impact sound. After hammer strike, the unstruck string now vibrating along with the two struck strings reduces the rate of unison coupling and this extends the decay envelope.


Last edited by Ed McMorrow, RPT; 01/12/19 12:25 PM. Reason: typos again

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