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Posted By: Derick

Sustain: - 05/21/03 08:28 PM

Last year the topic of sustain on different pianos came up and a bunch of us were doing very unscientific test trying to determine the length of sustain on our pianos. One individual said that the A above middle C had "usable sustain" for over 20 seconds. I assumed "usable sustain" means that the note can still be heard at a soft, but still audible, volume.

I conducted tests on my piano, and came up with sustain in the 15 second range of "usable sustain" and I'd say I was really pushing what I'd consider "usuable".

My piano teacher has an old Steinway S. Last week she came over my house for the lesson since she enjoys playing my piano. As in the past, she made note of the tremendous sustain on the piano. (Just about every technician I've ever had has commented on the sustain of the piano - and how each note seems to "blossom" and hang in the air). I'm not sure what that means but, ok.

Last night I had a lesson, this time at my piano teachers house. I conducted my test on the same A and sure enough, the note had what I would call "usable" sustain for well over 20 seconds.

Am I misunderstanding what sustain is? Do you have any idea what sound "blossoming" means.

Posted By: curry

Re: Sustain: - 05/21/03 11:27 PM

Derrick,what they probably mean is the tonal envelope of the note from the time the hammer strikes the string will increase or peak before slowly dissapating in volume.Different makes all have a similar blossoming of tone,but some are quick,and some slow.The slow one in generic terms is the one which usually has a more pronounced sustain or dwell time smile (Steinway,Mason, Baldwin,Grotrian).
Posted By: jonathan_dup1

Re: Sustain: - 05/22/03 12:46 AM

Is there a way to increase sustain on a piano?
Posted By: Ralph

Re: Sustain: - 05/22/03 02:12 AM

A rebuilder should answer this, which I am not, but I'll give it a try. Short of repairing the downbearing, which is probably lacking in a piano without sustain, there are no other good ways. Lack of downbearing is uaually caused by loss of soundboard crown and lack of "pull" on the strings. Some of this can be increased by tighening the bolts which penetrate the soundboard. The best way is to replace the soundboard, bridges and bridge caps. I could be all wet, but most likely only partially wet since I just went through this process (and more).
Posted By: TomtheTuner

Re: Sustain: - 05/22/03 03:45 AM

One of the issues that a previous writer mentioned was " blossoming or hanging in the air"" I have noticed this, and i try to listen for it. If you play a massive tonal cluster ( (Elbow to elbow) and all the notes between as the right pedal is pressed, you get a huge roar out of the piano. As the tone begins to decrease , different tones or pitches begin to emerge form the cluster. They emerge and then fade away. Different pitches do this at different times so you get a really interesting decay on this huge tonal cluster. At a certain point the different pitehs fade away and you only hear the wide specttrun of the roar. AT THIS POINT SOMETHING MAGICAL EITHER HAPPENS OR DOSENT HAPPEN!!!!! the roar stops fading and begins to return. This returning of the sound marks the potential of a truely magical piano. This usually occurs at about 18 or so seconds into the decay. Try it. It's really cool. and you can tell if you have a good harp or a mearly adeguate one.
Posted By: Derick

Re: Sustain: - 05/22/03 12:52 PM

I tried what was suggested and hit all the notes I could with my forearms and hands - all the white notes between the highest C and the 2nd C on the piano. I noticed a slight upswing in the sound around 10 seconds into the process. The sound had trailed off quite a bit by 18 seconds and was almost non-existent by the 30-second mark.

My parent's upright sustains a note longer than does my 7'4" grand. As does my teacher's Steinway. Yet she claims it is the best piano she has ever played - granted, who knows what she's played and everything is relative. But, I've heard from just about every tech how fantastic the piano is. Yet the sustain seems to be much shorter than with other pianos.

Can someone play the A above middle C (all dampers up) and tell me how long it takes before the sustain drops off to where it is not longer "usable sustain"?

Is it possible that sustain isn't all that important in the sound of a piano? I do like the way my piano sounds quite a bit, but I'm concerned that the sustain isn't even close to what other people report (and what I've witnessed on other pianos).

Posted By: Rick Clark

Re: Sustain: - 05/22/03 02:16 PM

There is no simple answer to increasing sustain that will apply in every case.

And the issue of sustain has a psychoacoustic aspect, wherein it is sometmes more appropriate to speak in terms of *apparent* sustain. Voicing has a lot to do with apparent sustain.

If one is going to actually measure sustain, then one should use a certain standard. I would suggest an "ST60" approach, which would be the amount of time it takes for the note to drop 60 dB in volume. Otherwise, everyone is getting a different result because you are measuring differently.

Things that can affect sustain or apparent sustain:

1. Plate mass/composition 2. Rim mass/composition 3. Plate bolt tightness 4. Hardness of V bar (capo bar) IOW heat tempering. 5. Condition of soundboard wood as pertains to mechanical impedance 7.Design of piano including scale design. 8. Condition of bridges esp. as pertains to pins. 9. General precision of stringing, plate fitting, hammer-to-strings fit, and other craftsmanship issues. 10.Security of string termination. 11 Downbearing. 12. Probably some other stuff I'm not thinking of.

In a given piano, there may be a combination of issues above being out of whack-- mostly when they are old and sometimes when they are new but not really well prepped. And no matter how well rebuilt a piano is, the sound of an old sounboard has changed since it was new, no matter how nice it may look. The impedance of the wood changes over time, and with it ADS envelope shape (attack decay sustain). In a lot of old pianos you get a lot of apparent sustain, but the attack becomes odd sounding.


Rick Clark
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