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#2707510 - 01/22/18 03:34 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Originally Posted by Colin Dunn

It seems these no-name concert grands are somewhat rare. But what I find disconcerting is that discerning piano critics don't review these particular instruments. That would settle the question about whether it's just a scaled-up consumer-level baby grand, or if these companies actually lavish better materials and more attention on these models.

I want to see reviews of pianos the way audiophile magazines review stereo gear. Use the best and most expensive as a "reference," then compare the piano being reviewed against that baseline. Go into details about how the action compares to a Steinway, how the tone compares to Bösendorfer, how the quality of construction compares to Mason & Hamlin, etc. Don't just say it's low-rated consumer junk unless it truly is. But that assessment needs to come from reviewing a piano in-depth, not just making sweeping generalizations based on brand name rankings, country of origin, etc.


It's probably hard to review something that is rare. The product has to be available to a reviewer to make an assessment of it. If the piano is only available in say China and not readily available in the US or Europe it might be impossible for critics to critique these pianos. The snob-appeal brands make many instruments so it's not hard to find one to review. I've read a lot of information on many piano brands across the spectrum, and I don't recall any being called low-rated consumer junk. In fact, I find that many reviewers seem to value the brands with less "snob appeal" very favorably when considering the price point, acknowledging that many of the pianos built in Korea, Indonesia, and China have come a long way in quality from where they started.

Do you have some specific models of no-name concert grands that you'd like more information on? You might get some information here on PW from individuals who have experience with them if you started another thread naming the specific pianos.

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#2707519 - 01/22/18 03:57 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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I went back through this thread. These are the non-snobby concert grands that came up:

Vintage Knabe 9' (this was a good brand but went out of business and the name got sold to Asian concerns)
Vintage Chickering 9' (similar story as Knabe)
Baldwin SD10 (a good brand but reputation suffered due to corner-cutting in the '70s and later)

* These three would represent what most on this forum would consider a good choice for a concert grand buyer on a tight budget.

Albert Weber AG-275 (a Young Chang product)
Pearl River GP-275
George Steck 9'2" (279.4cm) (Sejung?)

I Googled for reviews of these three as I searched for the new concert grand with the lowest MSRP and street price. I didn't find a detailed review of any of the current-production Chinese/Korean ones. Just the "Piano Book" type rankings placing these brands in the lower tiers.


Colin Dunn
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#2707528 - 01/22/18 04:33 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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The only modern Geo Steck pianos that I tried were under 6 feet, because that's what the distributors and dealers were promoting. I played both Sejung and Moutrie-manufactured ones. Like many emerging piano makers that export to our market, it seems they reached proficiency with their vertical pianos sooner than they did with their grands in terms of satisfactory musical performance attributes.

The Piano Buyer doesn't review entry level concert grands because we tend to focus on what shoppers for home-oriented instruments are interested in, and the sales data you can read in the Music Trades is pretty clear: people are most interested in small grands, digitals, and midsized verticals. The economy-priced makers don't build many concert grands, their dealers have little interest in tying up floor inventory with them, and institutions (who are the primary consumers of concert grand pianos) aren't that interested because they have no track record for performance or durability. With such low production numbers and/or changes in ownership and distribution, it has happened that getting items like replacement case parts can be difficult or impossible both during and after the warranty period. The combination of all these factors tend to make for a piano with a low resale value that is difficult to resell, before we've even said much about how the pianos perform. Every big piano will a modern design will have a big, visceral low bass register, but not all of them will have smooth transitions or balance, good sustain in the "killer" octave, good tone quality at all dynamic levels, actions that were built with great materials and precision, or just being subject to enough final "prep" work to show their full capability in the first place. In one of the ads you linked, the shop is offering to rip out a brand new action and replace it with a different, higher performing one, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the initial build quality!


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#2707538 - 01/22/18 04:57 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Quote

The Piano Buyer doesn't review entry level concert grands because we tend to focus on what shoppers for home-oriented instruments are interested in, and the sales data you can read in the Music Trades is pretty clear: people are most interested in small grands, digitals, and midsized verticals. The economy-priced makers don't build many concert grands, their dealers have little interest in tying up floor inventory with them, and institutions (who are the primary consumers of concert grand pianos) aren't that interested because they have no track record for performance or durability. With such low production numbers and/or changes in ownership and distribution, it has happened that getting items like replacement case parts can be difficult or impossible both during and after the warranty period.


Interesting. I have noticed that small grands sometimes have higher resale value than ones in the 6'-7' range. People want a "nice baby grand" in their living room. And that is comparing within a brand or between equals, not my crazy Tier 1 vs. Tier 7 comparisons.

I guess I really am an odd duck. One of a handful of people in the world who wants an "entry-level" concert grand. I would throw a mattress under the piano and sleep there before settling for an overpriced vertical.

I am surprised people want mid-sized uprights. If I only had space for a vertical piano, I would go digital because then I would be playing samples from a 9' Yamaha CFIII or Steinway D instead of a 42-46" upright. The upright action is also not as good as the grand action (with few exceptions, all very expensive). Also, uprights seem to have poor resale value these days. I'm beginning to think vertical acoustic pianos are obsolete. The future is digital at the low end, grand at the high end.

It would be a hassle if there are issues with parts availability. I thought most piano parts that require maintenance were fairly generic. Strings, hammers, and action parts can all be replaced with only a few companies supplying all piano makers in the world. What parts tend to be more unique to a specific brand/model of piano? Things like hardware for operation of the fallboard? Legs? Casters? Music desk? The lid prop stick? Something else I haven't thought of?

"Low resale value" is music to my ears, because I'm never the first buyer ... I'm the second or third. The guy who pays far less than the piano should be worth. smile Maybe in 10-20 years I will pick up one of those Steck concerts for $2,500. smile

What is the "killer" octave? Any advice on how to evaluate its sustain when trying out pianos?

The tragedy here is that these business/economic factors mean that people who may want a concert grand in their home don't get that option. Outside the expensive coastal cities, living spaces are more generous and a dedicated hobbyist can have room for a 7' to 9' grand piano. But obviously, these sales data mean the market does not cater to dedicated hobbyists, but rather people living in small spaces.


Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 4 days
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#2707555 - 01/22/18 06:21 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Originally Posted by Colin Dunn
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Colin: You seem to think that just because a piano is big the bigness will compensate for the other short comings of some of the very lowest rated consumer pianos. I don't think this is true.


I know "bigness" doesn't always compensate for other shortcomings. I overall preferred a friend's 5'8" Mason & Hamlin to my own piano (a rebuilt Starr that is 7'11"). However, I do have a general bigger-is-better mentality for grand pianos because in the price range that I can afford (think 4 figures, not 5-6), that yields the biggest upgrade in sound quality.
Bigger is better only has meaning everything else being equal as your comparison with a Mason A and your piano illustrates. I think bigness usually doesn't compensate for other shortcomings. And, knowing Masons, it may be true that the 5'8" Mason even has a better bass than your much bigger piano.
Originally Posted by Colin Dunn
Who else, besides me, would want a no-name 9-footer? I immediately think that many working pianists or piano teachers would want one (as long as it plays well and is not just a big "furniture" piece). Most pianists and piano teachers are not wealthy, more like barely middle-class. I can see them spending $25K to get a concert grand where all the money went into building a piano, rather than paying multiples of the price for a status symbol.
Most people, including teachers, don't want a 9' piano in their home because of its physical size and possible volume problems. While it's true that for some makes ones pays extra for its status, the article I linked you to earlier about high end pianos explains what these pianos have that other pianos don't have. Of course, as with any commodity, one should not assume that a piano that costs twice as much is "twice as good". My guess is that many piano teachers on a limited budget would choose a piano that is mid range in quality and mid range in size.

Concert grands by lower quality makers are not reviewed because so few private individuals buy concert grands of any size. That's why the Piano Buyer does not review concert grands. People looking to buy concert grands are usually buying for a performance space where the potential power of that size piano is desirable.Those buyers are not usually on a very limited budget.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/22/18 06:37 PM.
#2707561 - 01/22/18 06:38 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

Bigger is better only has meaning everything else being equal as your comparison with a Mason A and your piano illustrates. I think bigness usually doesn't compensate for other shortcomings. And, knowing Masons, it may be true that the 5'8" Mason even has a better bass than your much bigger piano.


Actually, I would give the edge on bass to the Starr. The Mason was better for action responsiveness and tone quality for the midrange and treble.
Yet, it didn't make me totally regret buying the piano I did. The Mason was far more expensive. It showed me some of what you get when you go up in cost, but it didn't cause an existential crisis for me.

I had a piano teacher when I was about 11-12 years old who had a 9' concert grand in his 12x15 living room. It took up the entire wall and visually dominated the room. My mother thought that was too much piano for the room. I liked the sound of his piano but thought the action was stiff. But I was practicing on a Kimball spinet at home, not getting used to the action of a "real" concert grand piano. Also, I did not know at the time, but heavy action is not necessarily related to the size of the piano. A concert grand can be set up with light action.

I don't remember the brand. I think it was either a Steinway or a Baldwin. This was before the Asian invasion of the piano market.


Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 4 days
Organizer, Denver Area Piano Group (https://www.meetup.com/Denver-Area-Piano-Group/)

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#2707563 - 01/22/18 06:40 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Originally Posted by Colin Dunn
I went back through this thread. These are the non-snobby concert grands that came up:

Vintage Knabe 9' (this was a good brand but went out of business and the name got sold to Asian concerns)
Vintage Chickering 9' (similar story as Knabe)
Baldwin SD10 (a good brand but reputation suffered due to corner-cutting in the '70s and later)


Yes, and there are lots of them in the used/rebuilt market 50 - 100 years old. Their prices are low because the supply is high and the demand is low. It makes no sense for new makers to try to compete in that space.


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#2707608 - Yesterday at 12:26 AM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Rickster]  
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Quote
It seems to me that some manufacturing concepts and methods in any mass production assembly process is similar, whether pianos or automobiles. If you want to know, I worked at a General Motors assembly plant for 13 years back when I was younger. Hence, my comments about the assembly process and how things can go wrong that affects many units, whether pianos or automobiles. Again, I was speaking in generalities and similarities to basic manufacturing processes.


I had been intending to weigh in on the original topic, but thought I'd comment here first. (And hope that throwing an additional "Keith" into the mix won't add to the confusion.) shocked smile

This is an assumption that I encounter often in my DIY piano repair consultation which is often with bright people who tend to be engineers or competent "shade-tree mechanics". What people have difficulty understanding is that the variability of piano manufacture is somewhat intrinsic and not just a result of poor manufacturing process. And, the process is different from most manufacturing standards of today. Let me explain ...

1) Piano building is done to a performance standard rather than to any kind of metric. Measurements are nice but the desired result is performance, so adjustments are made to achieve a level of performance -- both tonal and key response. Measurements help get "in the zone" but qualitative judgement rather than static specification achieves the bullseye of the target. Almost all other manufacturing is done by metrics or specifications. If components are made to a given tolerance, the item should perform as expected if it is just assembled correctly. This is not so in the piano making world. One place this is explicitly stated is in the regulating manuals supplied by manufacturers of which Steinway is only one. They state that measurements are supplied as a guide only and that correct performance will require variation from printed specs according to informed and experienced judgement.

2)Therein lies one of the problems. Factory workers are not (at least for the most part and perhaps not at all--depending on the factory) highly skilled piano technicians. Their job is to take a bunch of parts and turn it into a reasonably functioning instrument but when deviation from specification is required they may not have the diagnostic capability or technical knowledge to do what is best. In fact, the variability happening within the factory may not even be on their radar. They get it close most of the time perhaps but never perfect all the time.

3) Additionally, variability is intrinsic because wood is a variable material. At the deepest and most essential level, that includes the soundboard -- from which everything else depends. As we all know, each piece of wood is different from any other. It's strength and rate of moisture absorbtion (to name two variables) will vary from one piece to another -- even from the same tree and certainly from a different tree. So then, the crown of a completed board will vary. Since the crown varies, the plate location will vary (or other adaptations will be made -- or, perhaps, none). In any event, there are consequences...
If the plate height varies, then regulating specifications will have to be adjusted accordingly. And so on ....
But it's not just the soundboard. No indeed. It's every piece of wood which was perhaps cut square yesterday but today the humidity is different and each of these square pieces are now not square. And, the variation is not consistent because wood angle is not consistent, either. Ideal may be for vertical grain orientation but actually the grain in any given piece may be 80º, 60º, or even 45º -- or any number in between, each deforming to slightly different trapezoids even though they were cut at 90º with superb accuracy and consistency on the day they were milled. And never mind additional factors like the fact that drill bits will "follow" grain patterns in wood -- again which is different on each single piece.

This relates to another comment about the pianos that Steinway's C&A department gets. They are able to cherry-pick the instruments where everything is coming together right as--in effect-- their "raw material". Then, as highly competent piano technicians, they proceed to function as "internal rebuilders/customizers" within the factory setting and turn consistently turn these instruments into pianos that are desired by the top level performers in the world. But even there, you have variability -- as one pianist will select one for it's particular response and voice while another top pianist will select another.

So, should we be astonished that pianos vary so much? No, we should be astonished that so many are assembled into functional instruments with a good number standing at the apex of their particular company's design standard.


Keith Akins, RPT
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#2707617 - Yesterday at 01:24 AM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Insightful, and well said!


I M A G I N A T I O N is more important than knowledge -Albert Einstein
#2707793 - Yesterday at 02:03 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: kpembrook]  
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Originally Posted by kpembrook

1) Piano building is done to a performance standard rather than to any kind of metric. Measurements are nice but the desired result is performance, so adjustments are made to achieve a level of performance -- both tonal and key response. Measurements help get "in the zone" but qualitative judgement rather than static specification achieves the bullseye of the target. Almost all other manufacturing is done by metrics or specifications. If components are made to a given tolerance, the item should perform as expected if it is just assembled correctly. This is not so in the piano making world. One place this is explicitly stated is in the regulating manuals supplied by manufacturers of which Steinway is only one. They state that measurements are supplied as a guide only and that correct performance will require variation from printed specs according to informed and experienced judgement.

Following on with your comment about parts not being equal and congruent and behaving differently, it's interesting to note that the David Stanwood route (PTD) is all about taking account of these differences to achieve a desired uniformity of touch and response across all 88 keys. I think any sensible engineer or "shade-tree mechanic" would understand that well enough if pointed out. Using modern materials (ie not just wood and felt) has had a fairly checkered career, and now that we've got very reliable alternatives that aren't prone to changes of humidity and temperature in the WNG offerings, I wonder if we can't expect those makers who use them to turn out a better level of consistency out of the factory gates.

I believe that Standwood spent 4 days with NY Steinway some years ago, and while they admired his handiwork, they felt unable to implement it in the factory. (This may be apocryphal).


Still trying to play the piano properly ...
#2707808 - Yesterday at 02:58 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Fareham]  
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Originally Posted by Fareham
Originally Posted by kpembrook

1) Piano building is done to a performance standard rather than to any kind of metric. Measurements are nice but the desired result is performance, so adjustments are made to achieve a level of performance -- both tonal and key response. Measurements help get "in the zone" but qualitative judgement rather than static specification achieves the bullseye of the target. Almost all other manufacturing is done by metrics or specifications. If components are made to a given tolerance, the item should perform as expected if it is just assembled correctly. This is not so in the piano making world. One place this is explicitly stated is in the regulating manuals supplied by manufacturers of which Steinway is only one. They state that measurements are supplied as a guide only and that correct performance will require variation from printed specs according to informed and experienced judgement.

Following on with your comment about parts not being equal and congruent and behaving differently, it's interesting to note that the David Stanwood route (PTD) is all about taking account of these differences to achieve a desired uniformity of touch and response across all 88 keys. I think any sensible engineer or "shade-tree mechanic" would understand that well enough if pointed out. Using modern materials (ie not just wood and felt) has had a fairly checkered career, and now that we've got very reliable alternatives that aren't prone to changes of humidity and temperature in the WNG offerings, I wonder if we can't expect those makers who use them to turn out a better level of consistency out of the factory gates.

I believe that Standwood spent 4 days with NY Steinway some years ago, and while they admired his handiwork, they felt unable to implement it in the factory. (This may be apocryphal).



Certainly, moving away from wooden action parts is a big step. (I no longer use them in my work). However, we are still some way from getting away from wooden soundboards at this point.

Regarding the Stanwood procedure ....
Stanwood is to be credited with bringing touch resistance issues to the attention of a wide scope of piano technicians and users. However, there are some serious and glaring errors in the Stanwood approach as patented. One difficulty with any static approach is that it cannot reliably predict dynamic response. Hence, some people with that procedure are elated and others not so much. It's probably good that S&S didn't bite.


Keith Akins, RPT
Piano Technologist
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair
Editor Emeritus, Piano Technicians Journal
#2707810 - Yesterday at 03:01 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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OK, I looked up the "killer octave" as I had not heard of it until this thread.
Link: http://jackspiano.blogspot.com/2011/07/piano-killer-octave.html

It is the range of notes approximately keys #55-70, or F5 to F6.
The highest F on the keyboard is F7.
So this range is about 2-1/2 octaves below the highest C.

Off to play those notes on my pianos and see how they compare...I've never really been unhappy about those notes though.


Colin Dunn
2018 Sight-Reading Challenge Longest Winning Streak: 4 days
Organizer, Denver Area Piano Group (https://www.meetup.com/Denver-Area-Piano-Group/)

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#2707852 - Yesterday at 05:18 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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For me, it’s the 5th and 6th octaves— the elusive combination of long sustain (slow decay), diversity of tone color through the dynamic spectrum, adequate power to match the rest of the instrument, along with a minimum of objectionable noises from the front duplex (or hammer mating or voicing issues) that make individual notes “stick out” compared with their neighbors.

Most of the lesser pianos I play have a few, or all of these problems. The better ones might have only 1 of the problems on that list. Almost none at any price are perfect in this regard, though I’ve become more picky about this as my technician’s skill set (and ears) have developed.


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#2707889 - Yesterday at 07:27 PM Re: In praise of big pianos with no snob appeal [Re: Colin Dunn]  
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Originally Posted by terminaldegree
For me, it’s the 5th and 6th octaves— the elusive combination of long sustain (slow decay), diversity of tone color through the dynamic spectrum, adequate power to match the rest of the instrument, along with a minimum of objectionable noises from the front duplex (or hammer mating or voicing issues) that make individual notes “stick out” compared with their neighbors.

This describes the upper (killer) octaves on my Yamaha C7 to the tee...

Bright, but not too bright; loud, but not too loud; boisterous, but not too boisterous, stand outish, but not too stand outish. In fact, I just played it a few minutes ago, and had a ball! I was practicing up a bit for a performance tomorrow afternoon. I'll be playing the piano for a United Way fund raiser event at the community college where I work. I honestly didn't think I could actually play a piano very well, and still think that; but they keep inviting me back. Maybe they just like my smile. smile

But, yea, I like that killer octave too.

Rick


Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel
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