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Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
#2963685 04/04/20 04:41 PM
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I’ve recently read a paper by Massimiliano di Mario about the type of hammer felt used during Chopin’s time. He has also posted a lot of videos on YouTube and I really like his idea and conclusions that the way Chopin’s piano sounded was with a very soft attack, like an “aeolian harp”, quiet and veiled, allowing for rhythmic freedom due to the lack of bright and sharp attacks. Apparently it’s a sound that won’t suit many types of music, especially later ones.

Anyway, I was wondering. From current piano manufacturers are there any grand and upright pianos that are made so they favor a soft and quiet sound and don’t necessarily try to be as dynamic and big as possible?

I also read that keydip on Chopin’s piano was 8mm which will further limit the dynamic range and the maximum volume.

If one is to find such a piano, should he look at (very) old pianos only?

Last edited by CyberGene; 04/04/20 04:44 PM.

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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963692 04/04/20 05:00 PM
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Well I play my U1 with the practice pedal engaged quite often - I love how it sounds and feels. The lowered volume makes some of the mechanical action noise more audible which I love - in some weird way this affects my physical sensation of the keys as well and I feel a greater sense of dynamic control.
Some of this is probably related to the base sound of the piano which I find is currently to crisp and metallic making soft playing more challenging than I’d like - I’ll try having it voiced when I can and see how I like it then.

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963700 04/04/20 05:28 PM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
I’ve recently read a paper by Massimiliano di Mario about the type of hammer felt used during Chopin’s time. He has also posted a lot of videos on YouTube and I really like his idea and conclusions that the way Chopin’s piano sounded was with a very soft attack, like an “aeolian harp”, quiet and veiled, allowing for rhythmic freedom due to the lack of bright and sharp attacks. Apparently it’s a sound that won’t suit many types of music, especially later ones.

Anyway, I was wondering. From current piano manufacturers are there any grand and upright pianos that are made so they favor a soft and quiet sound and don’t necessarily try to be as dynamic and big as possible?

I also read that keydip on Chopin’s piano was 8mm which will further limit the dynamic range and the maximum volume.

If one is to find such a piano, should he look at (very) old pianos only?


Interesting question. I think Morten’s suggestion would be the best bet. From what I’ve read but am no expert, is artists and audiences seem to prefer great dynamic range with a roaring bass. As I understand it now, if the hammers are very soft the piano sound becomes dull and muffled. Little clarity. I’ve also heard about aftermarket “practice mode” that can be installed. There are also string covers that might give you a naturally softer tone.


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963745 04/04/20 07:51 PM
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Steingraeber’s grands have a “Mozart pedal” that reduces the key dip.

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
Maestro Lennie #2963749 04/04/20 08:14 PM
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I believe that it reduces the hammer blow, rather than the key dip. The fourth pedal on the biggest Fazioli does that as well. So you can spend a ridiculous amount of money on a grand piano so it will play like an upright!


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963751 04/04/20 08:19 PM
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I think modern pianos usually sound much better than the ones from Chopin's time I've heard.

I don't think rhythmic freedom is related to whether or not the piano has a sharp attack.

The type or rhythmic freedom sometimes used in pianists in the late part of the 19th century has been out of favor for at least 70 years.

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963762 04/04/20 09:41 PM
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Most new pianos, if not all new pianos of modern design, wouldn't be able to function properly with the kind of hammers you're talking about. The whole piano has to be designed with a voice in mind, and going too far outside that voice parameter starts to give an unworkable sound. That's why for instance if you voice a Yamaha to be extremely mellow it will sound pretty dull and dead, and if you voice a Blüthner to be overly bright it will sound ugly and distorted. Some people love a dull sound without a clear attack. I like something in the middle, the attack to be developed enough for clarity but I don't like too much bite to the tone. But of course I'm not talking about anything like an 1840s Erard or Pleyel, which is an entirely different sound world.

If you really want that kind of sound your best bet is if you can afford it buy a period instrument and have it restored, or even buy a copy although that's getting into tier one price territory.

The last new pianos that I remember being sold with an exceptionally mellow tone to the point of being wooly sounding was Welmar. It took ages to play them in. That really soft voicing made them popular for two rather contrasting scenarios: domestic instruments where the player wanted an occasional piano to sound really douce and beautiful every time it was played, and music schools who wanted instruments that would take a long time to start sounding ugly given the pounding these pianos had to take. They were mainly upright pianos of about 110-120cm high, and they may have produced a 130 but I haven't seen one. There was a baby grand, a 6'3 grand and a 9'1 grand all based on the Blüthner designs but entirely made in England. The last time a 6'3 grand left the factory would have been in the early to mid 1980s and the last concert grand probably the 70s.

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
BDB #2963763 04/04/20 09:51 PM
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Originally Posted by BDB
I believe that it reduces the hammer blow, rather than the key dip. The fourth pedal on the biggest Fazioli does that as well. So you can spend a ridiculous amount of money on a grand piano so it will play like an upright!

https://www.steingraeber.de/en/innovationen/mozart-rail/
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-EH06hM8H5U

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963764 04/04/20 10:01 PM
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This kind of discussion tends to degrade into what is "good" sound, and what is appropriate for each composer's music. The problem is, we can always debate what we like or don't like - it won't really answer anything.

To the original question, pianos made with the sound of a mid 19th century would be very difficult to sell. Piano companies work hard to come up with instruments that are what the most people want to buy, because that is what keeps the company in business!

However, small scale piano makers do make historically accurate, or historically informed sometimes, instruments. Sometimes these are replicas of old designs, sometimes these are more modern designs that include some characteristics of older style instruments. These can be quite beautiful and are very enlightening to play!

Search 'fortepiano builder' on the internet. Or 'Pleyel replica' perhaps to see what might be available.

For the modern design with some historical characteristics, try searching Chris Maene piano or 'Barenboim Piano'


Don Mannino, MPA
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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963765 04/04/20 10:05 PM
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It occurred to me that another approach is to choose a piano without a very aggressive tone quality, and have it voiced extra soft. If the action is set up properly and the hammers are voiced warm and soft but still having some forte strength in the tone, you might have what you want without going to extreme costs.

A very good piano technician is the person who will be able to help you in this regard.


Don Mannino, MPA
Kawai America
Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963768 04/04/20 10:51 PM
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The pianos of Chopin's time not only had softer hammers, but they were lighter as well.

The vast majority of contemporary pianos have hammers significantly heavier and harder than any from Chopin's time or even from Rachmaninoff's time.

Lighter softer hammers enable configuring the action with higher leverage. Lighter hammers have considerably less inertia and this makes for less stressful playing on the fingers/hand/arm/shoulder.

Lighter hammers also wear slower and stay in voice much, much longer. In fact they can sound better after ten years of playing than when they were new.

It is simplest to think of the hammer as a type of "damper". The inertia of the hammer in proportion to the period of the string is the most significant determinant of hammer dwell on the string. Lighter hammers damp the string less.

I have considerable experience configuring actions with lighter, softer hammers like those used by Steinway, Chickering, Bechstein, Bosendorfer and many other makers in the 19th and early 20th century.


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963817 04/05/20 07:11 AM
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Thanks for all the answers. I'm not sure I can afford purchasing or maintaining a period piano, let alone ordering a custom one. I'm rather interested in modern (or not very old) pianos that are naturally lighter in touch and softer in sound. For instance, I think Yamaha upright pianos are rather bright. Kawai uprights are probably softer sounding and I like them. But if there are uprights with even softer tone and lighter/softer hammers that would be great.

Thanks for mentioning Blüthners, I know they are traditionally soft, velvety sounding grand pianos. I didn't know about Welmar, I will search for them, thanks for the suggestion!

I currently have a Yamaha N1X hybrid piano which has a real Yamaha grand piano action with optical sensors and digital sound. I also purchased an old Langer action from a grand-piano (probably 100-year old, only the action though, so I don't know what piano it's from) and put DIY electronics and sensors to turn it into a MIDI controller (check my signature below and YouTube for some demos) and I was quite surprised how good it feels after I restored it fully and regulated it myself. To some degree I like it more than the Yamaha action because it's lighter and easier to play, more nimble and with better repetition, since it doesn't have any counterweights and the entire actions and hammers are lighter. And then I recently played my mother in law's beaten upright piano (she's a piano teacher and kids bang on this upright all day long) but despite it having just a simple upright action I was amazed to realize it's SOOOO easy to play! It allows for even faster repetition than my grand piano actions despite lacking the fancy double-repetition levers and that was just amazing! It seems that if the hammers are light and the keys are not having very deep key-dip (that's my feeling about her upright piano although I haven't measured it to see if it's less than 10mm), the piano wiull naturally be playable and allow repetitions without needing complicated double-repetition lever. I started researching this topic and realized modern pianos are having too heavy hammers for higher tension strings to allow for louder sound and as a result the key-dip has increased, but the action also became sluggish and necessitated double-repetition levers, later counterweights were added... It's all kind of a dead spiral to me smile I think I will be OK with a quiet piano with a softer tone... Which is why I'm interested in piano manufacturers that don't try to make pianos for stadiums but rather a small, nimble and very playable home instrument with intimate character that won't even bother neighbours smile Well, I guess that's a causa perduta in a way...


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963842 04/05/20 10:15 AM
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There are many, many used spinnets for sale in Denmark because they were produced domestically - never played one but I’ve considered getting one because I’m in love with the form factor - they’re just so cute wink I wonder how these are made - strings are surely way shorter than standard uprights.

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
Morten Olsson #2963845 04/05/20 10:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Morten Olsson
There are many, many used spinnets for sale in Denmark because they were produced domestically - never played one but I’ve considered getting one because I’m in love with the form factor - they’re just so cute wink I wonder how these are made - strings are surely way shorter than standard uprights.

I think a similar short-scale piano was sampled by Nord (probably a Swedish piano though, maybe these were popular in Scandinavian countries?) and I find it sounding lovely! Besides, it’s probably a cute little instrument for a small living room like mine.


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963846 04/05/20 10:45 AM
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Estonia’s have/can have a lighter touch. My190 certainly does. To my ears the Estonia has more color, more “sweetness”, and a clear singing tone. It still has a great bass and dynamic range but it’s hard to explain exactly a sweeter voice than the C3. I really enjoyed playing “Hark the herald angels sing” because the Estonia sings. And using the una corda for a ppp is beautiful. More expensive than an upright. But you have to try it. I’ve recommended Estonia before but when the person tried it it was too light an action and it was much too bright. Two different people trying two Estonia’s have two completely different outcomes. When I first saw and played the Estonia I thought it was perfect. Whenever we come out of hibernation, I would suggest you find a dealer near you that carries Estonia’s and try one for yourself. Here in the US, Cunningham Piano carries Estonia and video’d a review. Just google Estonia L190 review and select the one by Cunningham piano. Go to the Estonia webpage. Best Wishes!


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963854 04/05/20 11:31 AM
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In general, smaller pianos have lighter hammers. Even though all the strings vibrate at the same frequencies, and I wrote a book on tone regulation for the piano industry back in 1986, the industry has and remains besotted to the notion that a larger piano with longer strings must have heavier hammers.

CyberGene, Your use of the term; "dead spiral" is so apt and I have often used it. Piano makers want to avoid spending much time tone regulating pianos because by the time you get to that step you have invested much money into the product already. So they keep trying to make hammers that "sound great" out of the box. This leads to stiffer felt, which increases density and weight, which calls for stronger wood in the moldings and stronger hammer felt gluing machines, which leads to more heat to form the felt into shape and dry the glue, which leads to too heavy, too hard hammers that with a bunch of needling may sound impressive enough to sell the piano. But after playing it for a couple of hundred hours will sound strident and the action will be getting self-destructively loose.

Not a winning value proposition to my mind.


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963862 04/05/20 11:56 AM
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Speaking of actions, one of the qualities of a “pianist’s piano” is the action is Incredibly smooth. Fast repetitions are nearly effortless. That quality in my humble opinion is more important than heaviness or light action. It’s a sign of a well designed action and great factory and great dealer prep with precise regulation. It makes playing an even greater pleasure.


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
CyberGene #2963974 04/05/20 06:23 PM
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The touch of the 100 ancient Bluthner grand I almost bought was very light and felt quite shallow as well. Loved the feel of that - probably should have just bought it but they do show up regularly pretty cheap in Denmark so I still may smile

Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
Ed McMorrow, RPT #2964117 04/06/20 10:26 AM
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Ed is there a way to get in contact with you or procure your book? Your email contact was returned and I have scoured the web to try and find a copy of the Educated Piano. Thanks!


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Re: Do they still make pianos with very soft hammers?
ANAY #2964131 04/06/20 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by ANAY
Ed is there a way to get in contact with you or procure your book? Your email contact was returned and I have scoured the web to try and find a copy of the Educated Piano. Thanks!


+1


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