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So I'm sure there's a punchline in there somewhere. But I am really wondering, is there a Piano equivalent of a Stradivarius violin? It seems like once a Piano is broken in, it's basically all downhill from there.


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Try playing a Stradivarius with hammers and a Steinway with bows and see what happens crazy


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Well, there was a study done about five or so years ago, when several world class violinists were asked to blind test a selection of violins. Amongst the violins were some very old Strads and Guarneri, and some new violins. The violinists honestly had no idea which instruments they were playing, and it emerged that they all found the new instruments superior to the old ones.

The study went on to talk about how the cells in wood get crushed over time so it loses its ability to produce tone in the same way.

I think that because the violin isn't under as much tension as the piano, it takes longer for this to happen to a violin than it does for a piano. Secondly there are more moving parts on the piano - the hammers will likely wear out and go brittle before the soundboard needs so much as a new coat of varnish. Violinists are replacing their strings fairly often, and having their bow re-haired fairly often, which are all contributing factors.

Ultimately though, a violin does age in much the same way (generalisation - some pianos travel through time unscathed, as do some violins). Consider how many Strads there are that may actually have only one panel left of the original instrument.....


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Originally Posted by joe80

The study went on to talk about how the cells in wood get crushed over time so it loses its ability to produce tone in the same way.

I think that because the violin isn't under as much tension as the piano, it takes longer for this to happen to a violin than it does for a piano. Secondly there are more moving parts on the piano - the hammers will likely wear out and go brittle before the soundboard needs so much as a new coat of varnish. Violinists are replacing their strings fairly often, and having their bow re-haired fairly often, which are all contributing factors.


These are great points, Joe. There are differences of course. From the resonating point of view, a violin only has a couple hundred pounds of pressure on it from the strings and they have a hardwood neck to resist that. That is very little stress to deal with and the wood cells crushing may not happen much in this situation. Also the span of the panel is so small that is can be supported easily. A bass, for instance, cannot hold up like a violin for this reason (in part).

Contrast that to a grand piano with 18 tons (or more) of downbearing pressure on a huge panel that needs tremendous support (there is more wood in one long rib on a grand piano than in an entire panel of a violin). They simply have a shorter life span before needing rebuilding.

Also, as you mentioned, there is the difference in overall technology. A violin has no action wear, save for the violinists hands. B after 50 years or so you just get another violinist!


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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Originally Posted by joe80

The study went on to talk about how the cells in wood get crushed over time so it loses its ability to produce tone in the same way.

I think that because the violin isn't under as much tension as the piano, it takes longer for this to happen to a violin than it does for a piano. Secondly there are more moving parts on the piano - the hammers will likely wear out and go brittle before the soundboard needs so much as a new coat of varnish. Violinists are replacing their strings fairly often, and having their bow re-haired fairly often, which are all contributing factors.


These are great points, Joe. There are differences of course. From the resonating point of view, a violin only has a couple hundred pounds of pressure on it from the strings and they have a hardwood neck to resist that. That is very little stress to deal with and the wood cells crushing may not happen much in this situation. Also the span of the panel is so small that is can be supported easily. A bass, for instance, cannot hold up like a violin for this reason (in part).

Contrast that to a grand piano with 18 tons (or more) of downbearing pressure on a huge panel that needs tremendous support (there is more wood in one long rib on a grand piano than in an entire panel of a violin). They simply have a shorter life span before needing rebuilding.

Also, as you mentioned, there is the difference in overall technology. A violin has no action wear, save for the violinists hands. B after 50 years or so you just get another violinist!


Igrec says 18 tons of string tension and 1000lbs of downbearing

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They're often replaced well before 50 years of use Rich!

Although looking at some of the orchestras here in Scotland.....


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The idea that violins somehow improve with age is a myth that carries on thanks to some exceptionally good instruments that are now a couple of hundred years old. A violin maker once explained that if an old violin sounds really good now, it sounded even better when it was new. The only thing that instruments made of wood gain with age is stability, especially relevant for guitars where a warping neck can ruin an otherwise good instrument. Otherwise, the laws of nature and physics applies to anything made of wood.


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But then, there is the idea which I don't think is completely unfounded, that over the first few years - perhaps the first 20 years - of a piano's life, as long as it has been well looked after and properly maintained, and hasn't been subjected to too many swings in humidity, then it does improve. It kind of warms up a bit. I know that I've often played some premium pianos that are about 10 to 15 years old, or have been rebuilt that time ago, and they seem to be a bit more interesting to play, with more dynamic range, than when they were brand new. I know that of course, there is a decline period after that.

Mind you, these perceived changes in an instrument due to its maturation (sounds like a whisky...) could be down to many reasons. It could even be just that I preferred the sound of one particular piano over another, and that piano happened to be 20 years old.

I remember one particular Steinway D in the Conservatoire that must have been about 15 years old when I got there, was far warmer and far more beautiful than the new one. It was used for chamber music and song recitals, and solo recitals. The newer one, which was only 2 years old when I got there, was used for concertos and sometimes solo recitals if there was someone like Dmitri Alexeyev performing for BBC. The newer one had more clarity and more power, but wasn't necessarily more beautiful. These pianos were kept in pretty much perfect ambient conditions, and were maintained by Steinway. I don't know how many times the hammer heads had been replaced on the older one if at all. Yet, there's another Steinway D, close to where I live now in Dundee, it was made in 1984, and it sounds quite horrible these days. Very harsh.


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If a piano is made with the proper configurations of string terminations and tone regulation, it will wear very slowly and the tone will continue to improve as the hammers get work hardened.

If it is made like almost all new pianos today, it will get too bright rather quickly and the action will begin to fall apart after about ten years of steady use.

Violins have the "arch" carved into their top. Pianos have crown glued into their soundboards. This crown will go away over time depending on how steady the humidity remains and how well it was made.


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Violins get their strings replaced a lot more often than pianos. Well-maintained ones get their bridges, bass bars, soundposts, and fingerboards replaced from time to time, as well. Equivalent work on pianos costs a lot more, so it is not done on marginal instruments.

Just about all of the really old violins have been extensively rebuilt in order to make them modern instruments, similar to the way that old Flemish harpsichords were rebuilt into French harpsichords, so much that French harpsichord makers were making new harpsichords that were built like they were rebuilt Flemish instruments.


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Originally Posted by joe80

Mind you, these perceived changes in an instrument due to its maturation (sounds like a whisky...) could be down to many reasons.


Maybe it can be explained by the simple fact that an older piano has had more regulation and voicing compared to a new one.

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A similar, truly blind, taste test was done on cellos as well. One world class cellist playing the same handful of excerpts using an ABX pattern while makers and other skilled players graded the instruments. Two of the top three were modern. I seem to remember the winner being a Moes and Moes model. Yo Yo Ma also frequently chose to play his Moes and Moes over his golden age Strad--the Davidoff Strad formerly owned by Jacqueline DePres but that may very well may have been more of a choice based on program. The Davidoff at the time was set-up as a lower tension instrument for baroque repertoire.

A similar age fetish exists in guitars. One notable example is the large headstock , 3 bolt Micro-tilt neck, Stratocasters from the early 70's. These guitars were *considered* to be so bad that they all but killed the company along with the amps badly redesigned by CBS. Now these supposedly awful guitars are selling for well over what simple inflation would indicate--almost as much as brilliantly engineered and executed American Standard Models. So which is it? Were they not so bad after all or did the intervening 40 years heal them?

Don't get me started on the charlatans who get paid to do accelerated aging to instruments by hooking them up to vibrators and or placing them in front of speakers while sweeping through various frequencies.

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I'm going to add that I think a lot of what people perceive as beneficial breaking in or "settling" is one part the instrument itself changing voice and 4 parts the player learning the touch of the instrument be it a piano, guitar or nose flute.

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Originally Posted by KurtZ
A similar age fetish exists in guitars. One notable example is the large headstock , 3 bolt Micro-tilt neck, Stratocasters from the early 70's. These guitars were *considered* to be so bad that they all but killed the company along with the amps badly redesigned by CBS. Now these supposedly awful guitars are selling for well over what simple inflation would indicate--almost as much as brilliantly engineered and executed American Standard Models. So which is it? Were they not so bad after all or did the intervening 40 years heal them?

Nope, they were bad, I know I bought one. The neck was held on by three screws instead of four and as a result was not absolutely secure. The pickups were weak compared to other single coil pickups. An American Standard has always been a far superior instrument.

Now back to pianos.


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Originally Posted by KurtZ
A similar, truly blind, taste test was done on cellos as well. One world class cellist playing the same handful of excerpts using an ABX pattern while makers and other skilled players graded the instruments. Two of the top three were modern. I seem to remember the winner being a Moes and Moes model. Yo Yo Ma also frequently chose to play his Moes and Moes over his golden age Strad--the Davidoff Strad formerly owned by Jacqueline DePres but that may very well may have been more of a choice based on program. The Davidoff at the time was set-up as a lower tension instrument for baroque repertoire.

kurt


As a cellist, this intrigued me, as I hadn't heard of a similar test with cellos. I found this article that lists a number of comparison tests between old and new instruments.

http://www.violinist.com/blog/BormanViolins/201210/14040/



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Speaking of violins, I have a nice one made in West Germany. I don't recall the name brand, but the label inside has "Made in West Germany" in big letters. It sounds good to me.

My older brother recently gave me an old violin he found in the attic of a 100 year old farm house he and his wife purchased several years ago in Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. It doesn't have a name brand on it that I can see, but you can tell it is old. It needs the tuning pins, bridge, and the tail-piece that holds the non-speaking section of the strings. I hope to fix it up one day and play it. It looks to be a 3/4 size, where as my newer one is a full size. I think the blue-grass fiddlers prefer the 3/4 size violins to the full size ones; at least that is what I've been told from blue-grass fiddlers. smile

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I have a viola with a top made from very special Engelmann Spruce that grew at high altitude in Colorado. It rings, and rings, and rings.

(The wood is supplied by Simeon Chambers, who had a bunch of affordable instruments made in China [using said wood] to promote the wood, some years ago.)

http://www.rockymountaintonewood.com

Which begs the question: where are piano makers getting soundboard wood these days? An old criticism of Asian pianos was the quality of wood.


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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini


Contrast that to a grand piano with 18 tons (or more) of downbearing pressure on a huge panel that needs tremendous support (there is more wood in one long rib on a grand piano than in an entire panel of a violin). They simply have a shorter life span before needing rebuilding.


I think you are confusing string tension with downbearing.

Downbearing is on the order of 720 lbs to 1,100 lbs depending on the string angle at the bridge.

See page 48 here:
http://www.pianosinsideout.com/constbig.pdf




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Originally Posted by Groove On
But I am really wondering, is there a Piano equivalent of a Stradivarius violin?
No. There's not. Strads are worth far more than a piano, and they are older.
Quote
It seems like once a Piano is broken in, it's basically all downhill from there.
Not neccessarily. Some pianos don't seem to age well at all - but neither do some violins. I don't buy the theory that Strad wood magically becomes more musical as it ages. Pianos need maintanence, so do violins. The Strads I've seen have had significant maintenance, including alterations to the neck.


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Originally Posted by musicpassion
Originally Posted by Groove On
But I am really wondering, is there a Piano equivalent of a Stradivarius violin?
No. There's not. Strads are worth far more than a piano, and they are older.
Once upon a time when Steinway had won the Philly competition of pianomaking, a Hamburg based musical magazine gave the winning piano type, Steinway and Sons Centennial D concert grand, the surname "Die Stradivari der Klaviere".

..and no, at that time there were no Steinway making people in Hamburg, this started some four years later.

Regardless if it is true, I am extremely lucky to have had a "Piano Strad" here in our living room once cramming-in...

And regarding the price comparison violin vs. piano ... Have a look into the website of tenth Ave. Gallery of Louis K. Meisel. He tries to sell an 1876 rosewood grand (IMHO over-restored as it bears Vogelaugen-Ahorn / birds eye maple at the inner side) at an interesting price - for which you also might get a violin built by Stradivari. Not the most prominent and the ever best violin, but a real Strad.

I do think that I do know a little bit of this matter. I once had violin lessons being a lad. Once my teacher brought in his normal violin, played a concert piece - then he played this on another violin - same piece - and a sound power like a cannon. He had bought a real Guarneri violin from Cremona, at a price whcih also had been able to buy half a house. I will never forget in my whole life the overwhelming impression of such a BIG sound produced by such a tiny violin.

BTW you think that pianos are "end developped"? That there will be no further development in the field of "hammering strings by hammers with felts and let it's sound ring via a mono wooden membrane named soundboard" ? wink

I think this won't be right. There ARE chances for a better and also BIGGER piano sound - with no electronic-acoustic amplification but with some electronic help for "thick-heavy-hammers control" which cannot be controlled by human hands alone. For hammers that may weigh 300 grams, their control will need CNC control, mechanical amplification with UTMOST accuracy in controlling the travelling distances also, to strings three times thick, with summational tensions above 200 tons, and soundboards of ten meter lenght and three meter width, sitting under the roof of a concert venue, the pianist playing a CNC control piano, with or without strings, but main work for the acoustic impression is done CNC controlled, robotically controlled under the roof. hammers down to see them, strings above of them, soundboard above of all. The techniques all are available. It needs a man to do it.

So you are right, such sound cannons are not yet built. ... The Stradivari of piano sound will be built at any day coming.
wink And let me bet - it will do its job parted, one part on stage, the other part under the roof.

Or they decide to build two soundboards, bass coming from left, treble from right, from the roof, or from the walls.


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