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Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
#2986438 06/01/20 03:38 AM
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Hello everyone,

I'm considering buying a Steinway Model B piano.

My teacher has an Hamburg Steinway piano, but he said that in recent years, the action of Steinway NY pianos became "lightning fast".

I have never played on a Steinway NY piano, only Hamburg ones, so I don't know if this has merit.

Do you know if this has any merit? Can this be a reason to prefer the Steinway NY over the Hamburg ones?

I know there is a saying that one should be able to play good on any piano, but I am no concert pianist, and if I can get myself a piano which will be easier to play on, I think it's a plus.

Thanks so much!

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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986516 06/01/20 08:11 AM
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Are you in North America? If not I wouldn’t bother trying to get a NY example unless that sound profile is what you are after. I doubt if anyone ever complained about a new Hamburg action. I have a NY B, and the action is very good and even. But I also have a skilled tech who got it there as I played it in and maintains it. Generally it is known that Hamburg B have (especially in times past) been more consistent. In 2017 when I picked my Ny B from about 6 examples, there was definitely variability among them. Enjoy the process! For what it’s worth I am very satisfied with my B.

Last edited by dhull100; 06/01/20 08:12 AM.
Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986525 06/01/20 08:35 AM
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Hopefully Sally will see this thread and chime in, as she regularly works on Hamburg and NY model D pianos of the same generation and does a lot of action service for concert and recording work with these pianos. I believe she wrote an article comparing the two pianos in detail. Ah, I found it on her store’s site:

https://pianoperfectllc.com/blog/2016/10/24/steinway-sons-a-tonal-journey

My impression as a pianist is that NY Steinway has made some significant improvements to their actions in the last 10-12 years. From what I’ve been told by knowledgeable people, it’s some combination of better regulation at the factory, the use of better felt, and that the company has invested more in the equipment that makes the action parts and its maintenance (for example, knives used in cutting action parts). Repetition, playability, control, noise, and maintenance of regulation (after initial break-in) seem quite good.

More recently it has been my observation that they’re going for a rather light feeling action, to the point where I don’t like it as much from a control standpoint. Because there are a myriad of factors that contribute to the pianist’s perception of an action being heavy or light, I don’t know the cause, but I am seeing it enough that it seems to be intentional.


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986567 06/01/20 10:35 AM
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Hamburg moved the location of the knuckle/roller on the hammer shank farther out on the shank. This reduces the leverage the action has over the hammer. The reason it was moved is hammers have been getting heavier and with the long-time standard knuckle position the inertia feel of the action becomes too heavy.

NY followed suit in about 1984.

One could say that all Hamburgs from about 196? and NY Steinway grands from 1984 are all Steinwas. It is much better to do the trimming and shaping work to reduce the hammer weight and keep the higher leverage. That is the tradition that built much of Steinway's greatness. This makes for a much more dynamic action configuration. And a longer lasting action as well.


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986640 06/01/20 01:30 PM
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Do you live in America and are you trying to source a new piano or a used one? If you're talking about new pianos and you live in America you're really better to get a NY Steinway and have it serviced to your liking by a good technician.

There is a difference between the two pianos in terms of tone because of the voicing, and the soundboards are slightly different. I'm not sure if the rims are still different or if they've unified that.

Honestly though, for me, all talk of specification can complicate the issue. It's good for pianists to know about our instruments but equally we can end up getting bogged down and then not listening to the advice of a specially trained technician.

More than the speed of the action, there is a different tonal profile. The New York piano is regarded as fuller sounding, and it distorts sooner. There is more of an emphasis on the bass of the American pianos, and in America that kind of heavy bass growl is seen as desirable (which don't get me wrong: I love it, but I find it hard to get my playing to suit it). In Europe it's less about projection and power although the Hamburg Steinway has power of course, and it's more about clarity. The bass on the Hamburg B is quite a bit less projecting than it is on the New York - and laying my cards on the table again - I *don't know* if this is because of the way the piano is voiced, the way the soundboard and down bearing is set up, or the rim, or a combination of all factors. Sally Phillips really understands the difference between the American and German pianos and she has a good article on it on her website that Terminaldegree has posted the link for.

I like Steinway pianos a lot but you have to be careful when buying them used, because often the lower priced ones are in bad condition, and some of the higher priced ones haven't been very well cared for either, or they've been badly rebuilt. There are good deals out there.

Ed makes a good point about the changes in the Steinway action over the years. I know of a Steinway model B in Aberdeen Scotland that was made in the 1890s. It's an 85-note model, and it's all original. The piano is in desperate need of restoration BUT it still has its original action which is light and fast. Ok it has lost a lot of precision, but this is one piano I'd love to buy and find a way to preserve and improve that original touch, whether that was through a new action or restoration of the old one. That's a Hamburg piano in Scotland but in the 1890s it didn't make much of a difference whether it was NY or Hamburg because I think Hamburg at that time was only an assembly plant and the parts came in from America.

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986672 06/01/20 02:57 PM
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Hi everyone and thank you for the detailed and helping answers.

I'm looking to buy a new B. I'm from Israel, and the Steinway dealer here only brings Hamburg pianos. All conservatories and concert halls have Hamburg instruments.

It's possible to get a NY piano, but it's much more expensive, so I'd do so only if there's a very good reason to.

Thanks again for all the insights!

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986694 06/01/20 03:30 PM
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Can you play faster than a NY or Hamburg Steinway action? If not, does it matter?


Currently working towards "Twinkle twinkle little star"
Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
PhilipInChina #2986727 06/01/20 04:19 PM
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Originally Posted by PhilipInChina
Can you play faster than a NY or Hamburg Steinway action? If not, does it matter?

+1


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986790 06/01/20 06:44 PM
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Alright well if you're in Israel, and the dealer gets in Hamburgs only, the chances are the technicians will also be comfortable with only Hamburgs. Since Martha Argerich regularly plays Hamburgs in public and can play lightening fast on them, I don't think anyone on this forum will have a problem with a Hamburg over an NY!

In London the NY is usually a bit cheaper than the Hamburg, not by much, but a little less and so it's a little surprising to me that the NY is more expensive in Israel. It'll be to do with currency and tariffs and all sorts of things.

The Hamburg Steinway is incredibly expensive in the USA, the price list for the Hamburg on Piano Buyer is not accurate actually, and (I think they mention this) it doesn't take into account import, import duty, and a generous dollop of extra that Steinways in New York seem to dollop on top of them. They can be as much as 30 percent more expensive.

Congratulations on the new piano when it comes. I wish I was at a station in life where I could buy a new Steinway! Well done!

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Joseph Fleetwood #2986806 06/01/20 07:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
Alright well if you're in Israel, and the dealer gets in Hamburgs only, the chances are the technicians will also be comfortable with only Hamburgs. Since Martha Argerich regularly plays Hamburgs in public and can play lightening fast on them, I don't think anyone on this forum will have a problem with a Hamburg over an NY!

In London the NY is usually a bit cheaper than the Hamburg, not by much, but a little less and so it's a little surprising to me that the NY is more expensive in Israel. It'll be to do with currency and tariffs and all sorts of things.

The Hamburg Steinway is incredibly expensive in the USA, the price list for the Hamburg on Piano Buyer is not accurate actually, and (I think they mention this) it doesn't take into account import, import duty, and a generous dollop of extra that Steinways in New York seem to dollop on top of them. They can be as much as 30 percent more expensive.

Congratulations on the new piano when it comes. I wish I was at a station in life where I could buy a new Steinway! Well done!
Well I hope for one day Joe ,that you shall !

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986813 06/01/20 07:43 PM
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Is "faster" the same as "lighter"? If yes, I don't think lighter is necessarily better as it can be easy to lose control if the action feels too light. If no, what does "faster" mean and what design elements make an action faster?

How can one measure if an action is faster or lighter? From everything I've read, I don't think the touch weight is a good measure of how light an action feels because it doesn't inertia into account.

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986832 06/01/20 08:48 PM
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Greetings,
"Faster" is probably an attempt to describe how something feels, as virtually any modern piano, properly regulated, will repeat as fast as a ordinary human can move those keys,( 12 times a second). There are few pianists that can achieve that sort of speed without using both hands on the note. There are some passages in Gaspard de Nuit, (Ravel), which ask for that sort of response, but by and large, it isn't the sort of thing to go out and judge pianos with.

Using a variable speed, mechanical playing machine, one can record how "fast" a key will play, but even then, certain dimensions have to be specified, such as, how far the key must come back up before the jack resets, and how far from the string the hammer begins (blow). The repetition speed is determined by how far the key has to return to reset the jack, and how fast it moves getting there. Setting the back-check to check the hammer extremely high will increase the repetition speed of a note, but you may not have much power with such a short blow. Normal is 1/2" from the string for maximum expected repetition speed and power.

The spring's function is to accelerate the key when the finger releases it from checking. Increasing the strength of the repetition spring only gives improvement up to a certain limit, and beyond that limit,(which is usually as strong as it will go without producing a discernible "kick" in the key), will not increase the key's return speed. Overly strong springs will contribute to increased resistance at escapement and the need for greater "drop" distance to prevent the hammer from bouncing off the string when released from check. Reducing the amount of aftertouch will speed things up, as there is less dead space to cover in the key's return, but there are limits to how little aftertouch one is comfortable with, as well as the need for some margin of error in the mechanism. There are compromises EVERYWHERE in a piano action.
Regards,

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
PhilipInChina #2986845 06/01/20 09:49 PM
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The point about the benefits of having higher leverage and lighter hammers is it makes soft playing easier. This is because escapement takes less of the key motion to complete, and lighter hammers will return from the string quicker, both of which comprise the elements of escapement.

The lighter hammers and higher leverage allow a slightly higher key speed at pianissimo playing. This makes all the difference when one wants to play soft and fast. Actions set up this way can also have higher static touch weight which helps support the hand/arm weight when playing softly.

Josef Hofmann the pianist/engineer wrote about the need for the action to have enough resistance to support the relaxed hand/arm during soft playing. This REDUCES muscle tension which is the enemy of pianists.


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986951 06/02/20 09:08 AM
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Fandrich and Rhodes came out with an action inertia measuring system a few years ago, and it clearly shows that a light hammer is not the critical element for a fast action. Friction and geometry are. They created an inertia scale and you can manipulate the action ratio to target your desired inertia target. Eliminating unnecessary friction is a first priority in any action work. There are several points in an action that slide against each other and often the wrong lubricant is used on these points or they are out of alignment. I've removed up to 7 grams of downweight with a lubricant alone.

Removing excess weight from a hammer is totally unnecessary and its COSTLY. Just by removing friction with lubricants and manipulating the action ratio properly very fast actions can be attained. I just completed a Baldwin R with Renner Blue Point Hammers. A 49 was 8.2 grams "heavy". Recently a pianist came in my shop and played the fastest arpeggios i have ever seen up and down the whole keyboard for about two hours. I see no reason to burden a consumer with the extra cost of a not accepted non-standard approach.

-chris


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Chernobieff Piano #2986968 06/02/20 09:55 AM
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Your description of "Removing excess weight from a hammer". Proves my point if even you describe the state of affairs as hammers having "excess weight".

The first tone regulation class I ever attended was given by Fred Drasche the Head Tone Regulator at Steinway NY. The first two sentences out of his mouth were: "The hammer has to get away from the string" and "The voicer puts the tone in the hammer with the shape".

This is sufficient evidence to deny your assertion that shaping hammers to remove excess weight is a "not accepted non standard approach."

Christofori's first pianos had the lightest hammer ever.


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Chernobieff Piano #2986969 06/02/20 10:01 AM
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[quote=Chernobieff Piano]<snip> a light hammer is not the critical element for a fast action. Friction and geometry are.

The "speed" of an action, ( as defined by how many repetitions a note will make in a given amount of time), is dependent on how fast the jack resets under the knuckle, after escaping, to propel it upwards again. This, in turn, depends on how fast the key rises and how far it must rise to allow the jack back under the knuckle. The speed of the jack's movement is rarely a factor, since it is faster than the speed of the key, so virtually any reasonable pinning on the jack will not be a problem. Excessive key friction, via the bushings, will kill repetition speed quicker than anything other than low checking.

The key's return speed is dependent on the spring and the mass of the key. The spring powers the key's return, (hammers do not rise on their own from their check position in fast repetition), so anything that requires less spring will work to slow the action down. This is why firmer hammer shank and repetition lever pinning can increase the repetition speed, because it allows a stronger spring without associated hammer bobbling at drop or distracting recoil felt by the pianist. However, the distance the hammer checks from the string is the most influential component of repetition speed. The farther it checks from the string, the farther the key must be allowed to rise before another note can be played. The pianist's technique can overcome a certain amount of this, but getting the finger to rise farther, at speed, can certainly be demanding. Horowitz's piano, towards the end of his career, checked about 3/8" from the string, but the hammers were so hard and light, he didn't lack for "power", making up for it with well-controlled, (usually), loudness.

>> I just completed a Baldwin R with Renner Blue Point Hammers. A 49 was 8.2 grams "heavy". Recently a pianist came in my shop and played the fastest arpeggios i have ever seen up and down the whole keyboard for about two hours.>>


Fast arpeggios indicate a fast pianist, not necessarily a fast action. 64th notes on the same key are a different kettle of fish than getting from one end of the keyboard to another.
Regards,

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2986981 06/02/20 10:58 AM
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A quote given by an instructor during a class is not evidence.

If a concert pianist can play some of the most complicated pieces in the literature with no problems on a well put together standard action. I see no reason to add the extra COST of a non accepted protocol. There are plenty of videos of pianist' performing complicated pieces even on upright pianos. I just watched a video of Alkans Barbosa on a standard Yamaha grand. If any piece proves that the extra cost of an idealistic milestone is unnecessary, that one sure does.

When people complain about heavy actions its mostly because of poor maintenance, or a rebuilder using the wrong parts the action wasn't designed for, or something else simple like that. Not because the industry as a whole is ignoring the use of a light hammer protocol.

-chris


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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Ed McMorrow, RPT #2987002 06/02/20 12:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
Christofori's first pianos had the lightest hammer ever.


Well, in all fairness, his pianos were built as light as harpsichords and had very low tension. I don't know that one of his hammers would do a lot of crowd-thrilling at Carnegie Hall if put in a modern concert grand and asked to play a Rocky III...

That said, I have seen far, far, more unenjoyable pianos because the hammers were too heavy than too light.

regards,

Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2987003 06/02/20 12:15 PM
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I’m not a Steinway owner but everything I read says the Hamburgs are slightly better than NYs. No offense to Steinway NY meant. Here in the US, Hamburgs are more expensive. If I was buying a new Steinway B and the Hamburgs are actually less expensive in your area, I’d probably try all the Hamburgs to get the best sound and a good action. With proper regulation a Hamburg B should easily become lighting quick. In some of the better grands I’ve played, the action wasn’t overly light but buttery smooth. The Bösendorfer 214VC, the Yamaha CF4, and the Estonia all had incredible smoothness. I’m sure new Hamburg Bs, if they are not already super smooth from the factory, can be regulated to that point at the dealer. Congratulations on being able to buy a new Steinway B.

Oh, and by the way, I can only dream of buying a new NY S&S B. Both Steinway factories build pianos way above and beyond my league, so please don’t yell at me for saying Hamburgs are rated a bit better. smile

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Re: Steinway NY action faster than Steinway Hamburg?
Light124 #2987069 06/02/20 03:06 PM
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Hamburgs are rated better, and that's because of quality control issues in the NY factory in the past. A lot of these issues have been addressed and eliminated, so there is a much more uniform approach to the building of the instruments now resulting in what many people are saying is a higher quality output from New York.

In general I prefer the Hamburg tonal profile to the New York one. The New York one I find a bit loud and whining, but to some people that sound is full bodied and colourful. The accelerated action for me takes a little bit of getting used to. For pianists brought up on it, it feels like it's lightening fast and facilitates runs etc, and for pianists not brought up on it, it feels a bit lacking in support until they get used to it. Honestly I haven't found it to be a major advantage over the standard Hamburg action, but you know some people swear by it. I never really play that fast, I used to but I kind of decided about 5 or so years ago that I liked the sound of taking things a bit easier.

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