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Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
#2974597 05/03/20 08:42 PM
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I often hear people lament that today's pianos are not as well built as those from the "good old days" or the "golden era," which is typically designated as the late 19th century to the early 20th century. It could be anything from piano longevity, to parts longevity, to consistency of the make, to ease of being serviced, to tone and touch. But with the worldwide rise of piano's popularity and more Asian makes getting into making pianos, there has got to be some areas of improvement. I know this discussion will be very open ended, so I'd like to start off by asking where today's new American and European premium pianos fit into the continuum of "lowest point" to "highest point" of quality in piano craftsmanship.

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974605 05/03/20 09:17 PM
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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974607 05/03/20 09:21 PM
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One would really have to know by studying different era pianos with an unbiased opinion !
Some may be difficult to compare .,For example a modern Bechstein piano is a totally different piano from one made in 1910. If you have a restored 1910 Bechstein, does still sound like it did
then when it was new.How does it compair ? Who will judge ?
A Kawai piano from the 60's is a very different piano from the modern day Kawai pianos ,in tone
and touch.Which is better the 500 models to a similar sized GL or GX.
Well to me my old grand had a much better tone than many of the GL (more like the GX)
models of today for sure.I am not sure about the action. When it was new up to about 30 years
old it was very good.
After it's travels across the equator it needed frequent regulation !

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
Retsacnal #2974608 05/03/20 09:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
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Enjoying yourself Retsacnal, I think I need some of that popcorn.

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974614 05/03/20 09:31 PM
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I feel a sanctimonious lecture coming in 3...2...


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
Retsacnal #2974615 05/03/20 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
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I just have 1 thing to say and that is:

That’s a great gigantic emoji Retsacnal!


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974617 05/03/20 09:53 PM
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I love my golden-age M & H but I am sure there are those here that would say that it is not as good as a newer model. My response ‘c’est la vie’
And.... the end.

To me, this is pointless except maybe a discussion by the most knowledgeable and discriminating. I won’t argue.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974618 05/03/20 09:54 PM
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santimonious? Why, no, never.........who would ever be ?

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974626 05/03/20 11:00 PM
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Hehehe...

Well, everyone has their own opinions. And the answers are subjective anyway, at least without any sort of concrete criteria by which to measure. And even then...

And different companies hit their strides at different times.

Then there's today's compared to some other company's historical "best," which is also subjective. Plus add in domestic versus imports, and even that perspective changes depending on what country is "domestic" given each person's perspective.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974720 05/04/20 08:21 AM
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This is an interesting question. I started off thinking about scale design and then started thinking about other aspects including manufacturing and economic environment.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a piano's sound is the scale design. Scale design is where ambition meets practical limitations. Every piano is designed to hit a price point and very few are designed for the price is no object market. My point in bringing this up is because computer aided design didn't exist until perhaps 20 years ago much less in the golden era of pianos. Computer aided scale design allows piano makers to design an instrument with more consistent string tension across the scale. When that happens the timbre varies less. Is that better? It depends on your preference, some like a rich growl in the bass and bell like treble, but I have no idea if they are the product of the same string tension.

Then there's manufacturing, CNC machines can produce parts to a much greater accuracy than parts made by hand. No piano is entirely hand built, it just doesn't make sense. Yet there's also the aspect of knowledge base. In the past there were many more involved in piano manufacturing. What impact has contraction had on the industry? There are still places to learn about maintenance and rebuilding, but there are only 3 companies left in the US that actually make pianos here.

Ultimately, it comes down to company philosophy. Steinway has claimed to be the world's best for over a century, but in the last decade they have improved quality control and begun to standardize the manufacturing process between Hamburg and New York. There has been some consolidation in the industry in that period with successful Chinese firms buying an interest in some venerable European piano firms. Another example is Yamaha acquiring Bosendorfer. Has there been an exchange of intellectual property between the two? Almost certainly, but which has impacted the other more? I can't say.

I'm just bring up the questions that come to mind because I don't have the answers. I hope others do because now I'm curious. And of course the answer is there's no way to know because there's no way to compare new instruments of a century ago to new instruments today. Even a newly rebuilt instrument won't be the same as a new one made 100 years ago.

Last edited by Steve Chandler; 05/04/20 08:23 AM.

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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974735 05/04/20 09:22 AM
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Let's imagine pianoworld makes a lottery among its members and first prize it's a steinway b and they give you the option to choose a new one, or a golden era restored. If you win the lottery, what would you choose? Oh and you can't sell it in the next 50 years.

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974736 05/04/20 09:23 AM
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From what I've read the "Golden Age" for pianos refers more to the popularity and number of pianos produced than the quality of the pianos. This does not mean that some pianos from the GA weren't terrific.

To compare Golden Age pianos to their present day counterparts we would need to have perfectly rebuilt pianos using the parts and design of the GA pianos. I doubt many of these exist or are even possible to make. But even then any comparison would be a matter of personal preference.

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974761 05/04/20 10:28 AM
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I'll bite. The golden age one if I could choose my own restorer with an unlimited budget.

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
Ubu #2974768 05/04/20 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Ubu
Let's imagine pianoworld makes a lottery among its members and first prize it's a steinway b and they give you the option to choose a new one, or a golden era restored. If you win the lottery, what would you choose? Oh and you can't sell it in the next 50 years.

It's a straw man argument.

If you buy a new Steinway B, the vast majority of buyers are flown to the factory and make a selection in a room with roughly 6 of them, side by side, with a technician present to make adjustments on the spot. If you buy a rebuilt B, you're typically considering one piano, maybe two if it's a larger scale operation.

If you provided me an equal number of instruments from either camp, I'd simply select the best one. If I were advising a layperson, I'd suggest the same, but with a technician representing your interests there to verify all's well with the piano you're considering.

Every new piano isn't perfect or equally great. Every restored piano doesn't turn out the same, even when "top tier" rebuilders are doing the work. This is why I don't buy my personal pianos sight-unseen, or unfinished.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974777 05/04/20 11:06 AM
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I think the question can only be realistically answered in terms of the sound of the GA soundboard and case vs. today's. This is because the action parts, hammers, and strings of a GA piano can only be replaced with new parts available today so really aren't GA parts. Perhaps a company with the best means to try this is Mason & Hamlin. Grab a GA Mason and install the same strings, hammers, and WNG action they do on a new Mason and compare. Ideally this would be done on a GA Mason with original soundboard and case that is in good shape, but I don't know how many of these are left.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974782 05/04/20 11:34 AM
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I guess the questions to ask if the pianos today are better or worse than pianos of the "Golden Age" include:

1) Are you comparing workmanship? I guess an argument can be made that artisans back then may or may not have been focused more on quality and less constrained by deadlines and budgetary constraints.

2) Are you comparing materials? Were the materials used back then of superior quality than today's materials. For example, was there a better supply of quality spruce back then compared to today? Are there environmental factors in play here? Was the steel and copper used to make the strings of better quality. How about the felt?

3) Are you comparing design? You would think that modern pianos are designed better as the science of building pianos improved. I can't imagine taking a step back at least for this direction. Or is it piano manufacturers are more concerned with efficiency and production even in regards to hand built pianos?

4) Finally, what do you mean by "better". Are you comparing the tone of a well rebuilt high end piano with "golden age" properly matured wood to the tone of a new piano with relatively young wood. Wasn't this the design premise of the new SX series that Yamaha builds to recreate the sweeter tone of properly matured wood through the ARE process but combine that with modern technology and new components everywhere else so the owner doesn't have to worry about buying a rebuilt piano just to get that "golden age" tone?

Questions abound.

Last edited by Jethro; 05/04/20 11:36 AM.

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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974913 05/04/20 03:49 PM
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For US pianos, I would consider 1910 or 1911 to 1930 as the vintage golden age. I don’t find pre-1910 to be as good, other than primarily Mason & Hamlin, which were ahead of its time in the first decade of the 20th century. Late 19th century pianos never seem as good to me, perhaps just because of the age of the soundboards, but I think there were strides forward in quality up to the great depression, when the piano industry fell off a cliff. I would not say pianos from 1911-1930 are inherently better, but there is a vintage tone that is different from the modern tone. It is subjective which one prefers. I find the vintage tone more even and sonorous, but many pianists prefer the bell-like tone of a modern piano. Slow growing old growth spruce for soundboards had been fully logged in much of Northern Europe, giving American piano companies a competitive advantage at this period of time. Whereas premium builders in Europe could get the materials to produce fine pianos, even lesser brands could do so in N. America at the time.

Post-WW2 Steinways were also excellent until the company was bought by CBS in 1972 and quality went downhill in the opinion of some. After CBS sold it off, quality was again prioritized, but I think some believe that Steinways of the 1920’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s were superior to many later pianos, and some even may consider the Steinways of those years to be the greatest pianos of all time.

But vintage pianos of the 1920’s are near end of life. The age of the soundboard makes most of them poor candidates for rebuilds moving forward, and the market for the rebuilt instruments will not justify the cost of rebuilds for all but the most sought after makes and models.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
Steve Chandler #2974938 05/04/20 04:49 PM
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I wish I had the time (and a bottle of wine) to give a complete answer to this question. But I can give a quick summary.

First scale design has been mentioned and frankly, Pythagoras settled a lot of this question long before there were pianos.

Originally Posted by stevechandler
Scale design is where ambition meets practical limitations. Every piano is designed to hit a price point and very few are designed for the price is no object market. My point in bringing this up is because computer aided design didn't exist until perhaps 20 years ago much less in the golden era of pianos. Computer aided scale design allows piano makers to design an instrument with more consistent string tension across the scale. When that happens the timbre varies less. Is that better? It depends on your preference, some like a rich growl in the bass and bell like treble, but I have no idea if they are the product of the same string tension.

Actually, the piano that has a very consistent string tension (sometimes called a geometric design) can be quite boring. I have never liked one designed with this simple a scale. However, CAD (computer aided design) is VERY helpful when figuring how to best use a given design and can point out an issue that might otherwise go undetected. Some things that we went through using CAD when developing the Matchless Cunningham piano were support point adjustments and bridge placement.

Modern grand action designs appear to be highly standardized, but variations in leverages, mass, and alignment of parts make each piano feel slightly (or not so slightly) different. The length of keys, weight of hammers, key dip, etc. give the action a “flavor,” while the piano belly, string scaling, and
hammers provide acoustical feedback, boosting or diminishing the perceived effectiveness of the action. Even pianos of the same age and model can feel different. Again, action designs have changed little, if at all, since the golden age.

So what has changed? In my estimation, two things. 1) Materials available and chosen 2) Care and time spent on each and every detail during the process, particularly at the end of the process.

I have so much more to say, but not the time right now (and no bottle in front of me).

I hope others can chime in. I will join later.


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Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
Sweelinck #2974958 05/04/20 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
... but there is a vintage tone that is different from the modern tone. It is subjective which one prefers. I find the vintage tone more even and sonorous, but many pianists prefer the bell-like tone of a modern piano. ...

For me, this is the point. The difference between pianos of the "Golden Era" and modern instruments is not so much in terms of quality, but of tone.

This was clearly demonstrated to me a few years ago when I made a number of visits to the Blüthner showroom in London. I played a number of the instruments including the 7' 8" Model 2. They were beautiful pianos, but when I compared the tone to my own pre-Golden-Age Blüthner, the tone - particularly the treble tone - seemed brittle, glacial, cold. Whereas my own piano has a sparkly warmth to the treble.

In the showroom there were a number of "Golden Age" instruments which had had a full restoration. There is no doubt that on the whole I preferred these. I remember in particular a reception in the showroom after an evening recital. Mark Viner played No. 90763, a 6'2" Aliquot piano from about 1914. The tone was simply glorious. If I did not have a Blüthner already I would have coveted that piano much more than the modern ones.

At that time, in the showroom, there was a very special Model 1, which was used by Artur Pizarro for recitals and recordings. He clearly had similar feelings about the tone. Blüthner's chief concert technician Bruno Torrens had worked for years on this piano to develop a more "Golden Age" tone for Pizarro, and he had succeeded admirably. I was privileged to be able to play it; this piano was sheer delight.

The question I wonder is - do people really enjoy this brittle glacial tone? Why is it thought it thought to be attractive?

Re: Pianos today vs those from "the golden era"
iObsessed #2974964 05/04/20 06:09 PM
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David
Yes, many pianists like the tone that you consider ‘brittle and glacial’. They call it ‘clear or bell-like’.
Thank God we don’t all like the same piano tone or the piano would become unaffordable.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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