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When I see videos of Honky Tonk pianos - is the sound due to deliberately tuning it a bit "off" to recreate what a piano would sound like in an old-time saloon environment where it wouldn't get much maintenance or are there actually specifics related to the way they're made?

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It’s usually the result of a longtime neglect of tuning.


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It is a combination of tuning and hardening of the hammers. Sometimes there is a rail which drops cloth with metal pieces between the hammer strike point and the string.


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I think it depends on one's definition of the term(s) "Honky Tonk". I agree with Retsacnal that the term usually (but not always) refers to an out-of-tune piano, and sometimes way out of tune. I also agree with BDB that the sound can be deliberately created on an acoustic piano, for whatever reason.

I also know that the old saloon pianos of the old west, or where ever, were rarely tuned or maintained, and, hence, the "saloon sound" or "Honky Tonk" sound developed. You rarely (or ever?) hear an old saloon piano that is not out-of-tune to some degree in the western movies.

Also, I've learned that the old upright piano "saloon sound" can be quite popular with some listeners; or, at least in the movies of the old west. smile

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If you want to try this for yourself, get an ordinary upright and push drawing-pins into the striking point of each of the hammers; this will give you the metallic tone of 'honky-tonk'. It is recommended that you not try this on your aunt's Bechstein, particularly if you hope to be remembered in her will.

The tuning is a different matter. The piano needs to be sufficiently well in tune that what is played on it is recognisable but sufficiently out of tune to sound as though it might have been sitting in the corner of a bar in El Paso for a few years, unplayed and undisturbed, apart from the odd bullet or thrown bottle.

Ideally the top door, bottom door and fall should be removed so as to improve - if that is the mot juste - the projection of the instrument.

The pianist Winifred Atwell used to play in this style and I believe that she travelled with a tuner whose job was to de-tune every instrument that she played, although this may be appophrical.


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Originally Posted by brassplyer
When I see videos of Honky Tonk pianos - is the sound due to deliberately tuning it a bit "off" to recreate what a piano would sound like in an old-time saloon environment where it wouldn't get much maintenance or are there actually specifics related to the way they're made?

I've done a deliberate honky tonk tuning on a western movie set (Melanie Griffith and Gabriel Byrne).

There's (as far as I know anyway) two types.

1. Piano is somewhat correctly tuned, then one or two strings detuned roughly similar but not identical amounts. I've done that.

2. The tuner has creative license to mold a honky tonk sound, per the directors vision. I've not done that, but have known LA tuners who have.

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Check out the ‘tack piano’.


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Out of tune unisons.

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I believe the reason for a "Honky Tonk" sound is pure volume. They didn't have amps back then.


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Honkey Tonk is a characteristic of the tone quality. As someone else mentioned, they take longer than any other piano to make. Let it sit for 10 years and don't touch it. There's your honkey tonk!

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Originally Posted by Ticklethedawn
Honkey Tonk is a characteristic of the tone quality. As someone else mentioned, they take longer than any other piano to make. Let it sit for 10 years and don't touch it. There's your honkey tonk!

+1 thumb

And, it has to be an upright piano. Never heard of a Honky Tonk grand piano, although they (grand piano) may sound like one. smile


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Originally Posted by Rickster
Originally Posted by Ticklethedawn
Honkey Tonk is a characteristic of the tone quality. As someone else mentioned, they take longer than any other piano to make. Let it sit for 10 years and don't touch it. There's your honkey tonk!

+1 thumb

And, it has to be an upright piano. Never heard of a Honky Tonk grand piano, although they (grand piano) may sound like one. smile


Rick


Maybe Grands were not classified as ‘honkey-honks’ because they were too big to fit in saloons ?


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In all etymological seriousness...

Originally referred to lower class drinking establishments of the late 1800s/early 1900s, which usually had lowbrow entertainment and rowdy music (and occasionally a brothel).

"I'm goin' to the honkytonk honey, don't wait up, and no, I ain't gonna see the girls."

From there, a genre of music *called* honkytonk arose, related somewhat to ragtime, with divergent country western and African-American offshoots evolving in their respective geographic areas.

So, the piano playing said "honkytonk music" in said "honkytonk establishments" was literally and by default, "the honkytonk piano".

Finally, an association among the general public arose between those pianos, which were always very poorly maintained and very rarely tuned, and ANY upright (no grands were ever in any honkytonk) that *sounded* very poorly maintained and rarely tuned.

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It is sometimes interesting trying some used upright that have not been tune 10, 15 or 20 years on CL.Some are completely atonal, some have developed a honky tonk sound but maintained a certain level of "intuness."One not tuned in 20years was in tune enough to play sections of pieces.It still had some of its original tonal character even though the hammers were only striking 2 out of three strings.There was however a rather odd dead B in the tenor.
I once tried a digital piano which had "Honky Tonk" as one of the choices you could play.So I think honky tonk can be a style as well.


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