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The search for a reliable upright piano
#3037272 10/19/20 08:16 AM
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Hey there, I was looking at buying a new upright and I thought it might be best to crowdsource some of my initial experiences and assumptions to see if I can converge on a better set of search parameters.

I live in a major metro area on the US East Coast. We have multiple dealers in the area. I am looking to spend ~$15k USD.

I was very interested in checking out the new Mason/Hamlin "Artist" series of their uprights.

Mainly for the value-proposition of a WNG action in a price that is competitive with a U1 / K300.

It seemed to me -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- that a WNG action will be more consistent over time, as well impervious to humidity. I thought that meant that "sticky keys" from high humidity, or loose action from low humidity would be mitigated through the Carbon Fiber / Fibreglass design. And that the keys would still regulated longer.

I asked a local Mason/Hamlin dealer if they had any floor models, and was told that they have terminated their relationship with MH because of repeated Quality Control issues with their pianos. Apparently, on multiple occasions, they had to "send back" the pianos that they were allocated. The salesperson went on to say that there was a common occurrence of the felt glue becoming undone on the hammer, but that that wasn't the only problem with those pianos.

Finally, the dealer said that he thought the CF action was an "interesting experiment", but one that wasn't really panning out. He also said that the benefits of the WNG were mostly marketing speak, and that it was a cost-cutting measure rather than a "true" technological innovation. He also implied that the actions themselves were injection-molded these days, rather than CNC'd....

I explained that my reasoning for wanting a WNG action was because I didn't want to be so precious and obsessive with regulating the RH of the environment that the piano will live in. So, I'd like to ~reduce~ the number of things that could be affected by humidity, and yet, still retain the acoustic nature of the instrument. He countered by mentioning that everything else (pin block, etc) would still be affected by humidity. I demurred on that point; mainly because the idea was to _reduce_ the number of things affected by humidity, not to make the whole piano impervious.

I realize "the truth" is probably somewhere between "cost-cutting measure that compromises the integrity of the instrument" on one hand, and, "best thing since sliced bread" on the other.

And so

I'd like to ask the general collective wisdom and experience of this forum:

1. What is the real story behind the WNG action here ? I have read all the threads on this forum with regard to WNG and CF actions. Is there any new information since then? I am inclined to believe that the WNG action is actually an innovation, rather than a cost-cutting strategy; but, it would be interesting to get a sense of that in real-world, less-than-ideal scenarios.

2. Are my concerns / assumptions about humidity and action behavior legitimate ? It's possible my entire premise is faulty; it would be nice to know so I can adjust accordingly. smile

I'd like to find an acoustic upright that is more reliable and consistent, rather than finicky and temperamental. Something that sounds good, but I dont have to be so precious and obsessive over environmental RH.

3. Does such an acoustic piano exist ?

Finally, I'd like to ask more generally about the occurrence of Quality Control issues in pianos.

4. Do dealers conduct a "last mile" QC on the piano before putting it on the floor ?

5. And if they do, what is the % of pianos that get returned ? How does that break out based on brand ?

It would be interesting to know that, I think.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037275 10/19/20 08:39 AM
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1. It is an innovation.
2. Your concerns are legitimate, but perhaps overstated. I don’t really notice much about poor action performance until the RH starts exceeding 70%, and the choice of action material isn’t going to solve what completely unstable or unsuitable humidity conditions do to the rest of the piano.
3. Sure. Find a piano that’s got an action, soundboard, bridges, keys, and pin block all made from advanced synthetics and you should be fine... smile
4. Depends on the dealer, and the extent of prep work varies. Also the willingness of certain manufacturers to make good on warranty repairs, instead of making the dealers “eat it” for their customers.
5. It happens, but you’re never going to know based on brand, because nobody’s been a dealer for literally every brand at the same time...and they would be extremely unlikely to share that info. It doesn’t happen often.

Are there any recently made used M&H model 50s or new/old stock around? They might be easier to find these days, and from the company’s flagship line. Finally, I feel that your initial premise is faulty, that decent quality new vertical pianos are unreliable. With reasonable care I’ve found almost none of them to be unreliable, save for needing an adjustment or two in the first year as parts break in.


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Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037290 10/19/20 09:03 AM
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Other than finding a used Model 50, for $15k you can easily purchase a new Kawai K-500 with the ABS carbon fiber Millennium III action - or possibly a recent model K-800 with the same action.

FYI - here's an old PW thread that might be of interest....

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2322838/1.html


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Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
terminaldegree #3037305 10/19/20 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by terminaldegree
1. It is an innovation.
2. Your concerns are legitimate, but perhaps overstated. I don’t really notice much about poor action performance until the RH starts exceeding 70%, and the choice of action material isn’t going to solve what completely unstable or unsuitable humidity conditions do to the rest of the piano.
3. Sure. Find a piano that’s got an action, soundboard, bridges, keys, and pin block all made from advanced synthetics and you should be fine... smile
4. Depends on the dealer, and the extent of prep work varies. Also the willingness of certain manufacturers to make good on warranty repairs, instead of making the dealers “eat it” for their customers.
5. It happens, but you’re never going to know based on brand, because nobody’s been a dealer for literally every brand at the same time...and they would be extremely unlikely to share that info. It doesn’t happen often.

Are there any recently made used M&H model 50s or new/old stock around? They might be easier to find these days, and from the company’s flagship line. Finally, I feel that your initial premise is faulty, that decent quality new vertical pianos are unreliable. With reasonable care I’ve found almost none of them to be unreliable, save for needing an adjustment or two in the first year as parts break in.

thumb +1

There’s different opinions concerning carbon fiber actions both in M&H and Kawai. I think the benefits of carbon fiber are only fully realized until the rest of the piano is no longer made with wood or felt. Wood and felt contract in cold and dry and expand with heat and humidity. Phoenix Pianos uses a CF soundboard.


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Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037307 10/19/20 09:42 AM
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I've heard nothing but good about WNG actions but, FWIW, I don't think most sticking keys are due to action problems - more often the keys and their bushings.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037346 10/19/20 11:16 AM
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I have a 105 year old Steinway upright and all the wood action parts are original and still good (it's the felt bushings and hammers that need attention). I don't think wood actions are a problem.

I would suggest spending your efforts finding the best sounding and playing piano you can within your budget. There are hundreds of possibilities.

Last edited by WBLynch; 10/19/20 11:17 AM.

-Bill L. - former tuner-technician
Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037383 10/19/20 12:34 PM
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The WNG & similar actions are innovative but I think your concern about carbon fiber vs. wooden action is over the top. The manufacturers would like you to believe that carbon fiber actions are better for the reasons you stated, but the fact is that wooden action parts have been used for hundreds of years on perhaps millions of pianos and most pianos today are still made of them - including the very best. Unless you buy a really low-end piano or one that has problems to begin with you should not experience sticky keys or loose actions when the weather changes.

IMHO you should be more concerned about protecting your piano's soundboard though some kind of RH control throughout the year, regardless of what piano you buy.

Last edited by Pianosearcher; 10/19/20 12:35 PM.
Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037404 10/19/20 01:27 PM
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A bit of semantics but it's not really what people traditionally call carbon fiber. Both WNG and Kawai specifically use the term "composite" and avoid calling their action parts "carbon fiber".

The exception is the shanks in WNG actions which look to be simple carbon fiber tubes.

In any case, it doesn't matter too much but I do kind of feel people calling these parts carbon fiber is not too different from people calling these parts plastic. It's not completely inaccurate either way but it's using terms that have different values associated with it. The material name doesn't really matter though, if the end result is still a stronger, lighter, more stable material than wood.

I do think of it as an innovation but I'm sure it also has cost cutting benefits for manufacturing. Like people have said, arguments for both camps are over exaggerated. Like with many things, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
Pianosearcher #3037424 10/19/20 02:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Pianosearcher
The WNG & similar actions are innovative but I think your concern about carbon fiber vs. wooden action is over the top. The manufacturers would like you to believe that carbon fiber actions are better for the reasons you stated, but the fact is that wooden action parts have been used for hundreds of years on perhaps millions of pianos and most pianos today are still made of them - including the very best. Unless you buy a really low-end piano or one that has problems to begin with you should not experience sticky keys or loose actions when the weather changes.

IMHO you should be more concerned about protecting your piano's soundboard though some kind of RH control throughout the year, regardless of what piano you buy.
I agree with all this. Unless you are very sensitive to minor changes in the action or cannot control humidity at all I don't think wood vs WNG should be a major criterion for choosing a piano.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
pianoloverus #3037456 10/19/20 04:08 PM
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Thank you all so much for taking the time to read through the post and reply. It was very helpful to me to have all of the different perspectives. I'm very grateful.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3037583 10/19/20 11:46 PM
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Plastic, composite, carbon fiber... it all is made from oil and it returns to oil. There aren’t any 100 year old petroleum based piano parts yet but there are plenty of 50-60 year old melted plastic piano actions. Only another 50 to 100 years will be needed to see how well these components hold up compared to wood.

No one can seriously claim at this point that wood is inferior.


-Bill L. - former tuner-technician
Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
WBLynch #3038313 10/22/20 12:50 PM
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Originally Posted by WBLynch
Plastic, composite, carbon fiber... it all is made from oil and it returns to oil. There aren’t any 100 year old petroleum based piano parts yet but there are plenty of 50-60 year old melted plastic piano actions. Only another 50 to 100 years will be needed to see how well these components hold up compared to wood.

No one can seriously claim at this point that wood is inferior.
I won't argue superiority since I have zero expertise, but it's perfectly possible to know how composites will hold up over 100+ years. Material science and engineering has methodology to simulate this with various environmental factors.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
offkey #3038319 10/22/20 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by offkey
I won't argue superiority since I have zero expertise, but it's perfectly possible to know how composites will hold up over 100+ years. Material science and engineering has methodology to simulate this with various environmental factors.

Blasphemy!!! Get out of here with your "science" voodoo.
Next you're probably gonna say that the earth isn't flat and isn't the center of the universe. Pfft.

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
offkey #3038332 10/22/20 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by offkey
I won't argue superiority since I have zero expertise, but it's perfectly possible to know how composites will hold up over 100+ years. Material science and engineering has methodology to simulate this with various environmental factors.

That may well be true. Only thing is that's what they said about plastic elbows and teflon bushings.

Last edited by tend to rush; 10/22/20 01:54 PM.
Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
rkzhao #3038334 10/22/20 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by rkzhao
Blasphemy!!! Get out of here with your "science" voodoo.
Next you're probably gonna say that the earth isn't flat and isn't the center of the universe. Pfft.

I'll believe whatever Bach thought on the subject smile

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
tend to rush #3038346 10/22/20 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by tend to rush
Originally Posted by offkey
I won't argue superiority since I have zero expertise, but it's perfectly possible to know how composites will hold up over 100+ years. Material science and engineering has methodology to simulate this with various environmental factors.

That may well be true. Only thing is that's what they said about plastic elbows and teflon bushings.

Greetings,
The Teflon bushings were great. It was their placement in wood that was the problem. As the wood changed due to humidity, it distorted the Teflon, causing lots of pinning problems.I once removed all the Teflon bushings from a steinway D we had on stage and soaked the wooden hammer shank bosses in a penetrating epoxy. I then replaced the Teflon back in and re-pinned them and never had another problem with them. Teflon allows greater stability with far less friction than cloth. Same with the WNG parts.

Nylon reinforced with glass fiber is not going to behave like plastic elbows, so there is little to compare there. The main asset to the composite WNG action parts, aside from their stability, is the bushings. The cloth bushings change with wear and weather, the hard polymer bushings in the WNG parts do not. I built a number of WNG actions at Vanderbilt's school of music, and after semesters of heavy use, I saw no wear in the practice rooms, it didn't appear that the bushings were changing, at all. This leads to very stable regulations.

As far as wood being the traditional material, I maintain that if Cristofori had had carbon fiber, he would never have used wood as an action material.
Regards,

Re: The search for a reliable upright piano
kitkatclubmc #3038407 10/22/20 05:18 PM
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I'd like to know if you're really an MC at the Kit Kat Club.


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