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Originally Posted by j&j
Rich - Thanks so much for the info. If heard that sand casting takes significantly longer to cool and temper the plate, which makes it even stronger than the V-Pro casting. It makes sense to only use sand casting on much lower production, much higher quality and priced pianos like the CF line. When you’re paying as much for a piano as my first three houses individually cost, you only want the finest casting and materials used. Thanks again!


There is so much mis-information about cast iron plates and their manufacture by piano people that this is a welcome conversation. I have had a long conversation with an engineer whose job it was to get the sand cast plates made at Kally to work well with the pianos made at the New York factory. We spent time together because he stopped in Philadelphia to see our operation and to see people here that he knew from Steinway.

I also wanted to give the best information possible on this response j&j, so I took some time and called Del Fandrich, who graciously answered my call while he was out taking a hike with his family. We had a wonderful conversation and, of course, he has designed and built pianos using both methods and has a tremendous amount of experience to draw from. Between the two of us here are the facts as we know them:

Sand casting in general is very versatile. It has a low set up cost. It is the easiest process to modify. True sand cast plates DO take a little longer to cure, but not much longer then V-pro plates. After all, iron must dry and cure and that chemical process does not change somehow during the process. However, because sand cast are less accurate they need a lot more labor to clean them up to be acceptable to use in a piano. After all, who wants a plate with blemishes or rough patches on them?

There are other down sides to sand casting. They have low strength (relative to other processes), because of the surface finish accuracy is poorer, defects ar unavoidable, and post processing is necessary - always.

A few things that Del contributed that I was unaware of:

1) Young Chang used both V-pro and sand cast plates and they never made any distinction in the alloy that they used between the two. As far as Del is concerned there is no chemical difference necessary between the two processes. I had always been told that there were chemical differences between the 2 processes. Del confirmed that this is not true and the only people in our industry who say that have no direct knowledge to draw from and are only repeating what someone else said.

2) While Del was at Baldwin, they ordered a set of plates that were sand cast (they wanted another source besides Wickham, who is now out of business) and they ordered a set that were made using the V-Pro process. There were no differences in the performance of the pianos that could be traced to the plates.

3) Del has done research into other industries that use iron casting and he has found that these industries make no distinction between these methods of casting. They generally use the same alloys for both methods.

In my experience (and Del's), the only makers who insist that there is an advantage musically to a sand cast plate are the manufacturers who do not, or cannot use them.

Also, Del suspects that sand casting is ideal when a company is building a small number of a particular model, like a concert grand piano or some other limited production model. Cost is always a factor, and setting up a V-Pro production would be very expensive and would not be a good choice to only make a few pianos.

That is my (and Del's) two cents,


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Originally Posted by Zed Gong


Side note: It was a pleasure getting to know Rich during the Yamaha training session, I loved picking his brain on this stuff.


Zed,

You too. I love the way that you reflect and then ask such poignant and well thought out questions. That will keep you in good stead no matter where your future leads you, sir.


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To confirm (and expand on) what Rich wrote:

First, I'm not an engineer. I'm a designer with some knowledge of engineering that I have picked up/studied along the way. Having said that, I've spent quite a bit of time in iron casting foundries and have picked up a few tidbits of useful information during that time.

Vacuum casting ("V-Pro" is a marketing term) was developed to increase the speed and accuracy of gray iron casting. Basically a very fine sand is used with no binders -- it is just loose sand -- that is held in place by a plastic film that held in place via a vacuum. This film is vaporized when molten iron is poured into the mold. It is fast and efficient. The sand can be reused with no cleaning required. This is production line stuff.

But, just as there are many different types of vacuum casting processes, there are also many different ways to cast gray iron. "Green" (i.e., wet) sand casting is one of them. But even the name "green-sand" casting leaves a lot of wiggle room. What is used as a binder? Clay (the traditional binder)? Or some other binder that ventures into the "no-bake" process? I have not been in the O.S. Kelly foundry for some time but I doubt their current casting processes bear much resemblance to those used in the 1980s.

One of the problems with green-sand castings has been surface finish. These have been mostly alleviated by using different binders (to hold the sand together) and using finer sand. I've seen some sand castings that have pretty good surface finish.

If you're really a fanatic about this stuff, there is a PDF download available at
https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=11&ved=2ahUKEwjn3oHdovnjAhXZFjQIHcrNAYwQFjAKegQICRAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fmaterialrulz.weebly.com%2Fuploads%2F7%2F9%2F5%2F1%2F795167%2Fbinder_mcm_02.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0e_JCwcFJX4WZnSLJbUMUa
that has quite a bit of information about gray iron casting.

As Rich pointed out, back when I was looking into these things, we were comparing pianos of the same design, but using string frames of the two different casting processes, I was unable to trace any difference in tone performance directly to the string frame. In other words, there were significant differences in soundboard construction, overall piano assembly, hammers, etc., that would more than explain any differences in the tone produced by the instrument.

At this point, and until definitively proven otherwise, I remain unconvinced that there is any discernible acoustical difference to be heard with otherwise identical string frames.


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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Originally Posted by Zed Gong


Side note: It was a pleasure getting to know Rich during the Yamaha training session, I loved picking his brain on this stuff.


Zed,

You too. I love the way that you reflect and then ask such poignant and well thought out questions. That will keep you in good stead no matter where your future leads you, sir.

Thank you Rich, that means a lot.
I hope that our paths will cross again soon!


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I worked with manufacturing systems in my first years after college, and my first consulting gigs were in manufacturing companies. I love manufacturing. I've been in countless factories, from Atlanta to Zurich.

My understanding is consistent with what Rich and Del are saying: the most significant rationale for choosing one over the other is simply the tradeoffs associated with setup costs. Vacuum casting has higher setup costs, but spread over larger production runs the cost per unit can decrease enough to make it worthwhile. It's more efficient because it tends to produce less waste and generally fewer defects, among other things (read more here: https://thelibraryofmanufacturing.com/vacuum_mold_casting.html).


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Del, I think you've posted about steel plates in prototypes in the past. If you're still out there, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Iron was pretty common by the late 19th century, whereas steel was relatively new and developing, so I suspect that piano plates are iron essentially because iron was common place and relatively easy initially, steel hadn't yet come into its own, and tradition has kept them iron.

If I remember correctly, you said that steel plates worked find in prototypes, and had none of the side-effects that people worry about (sympathetic vibrations, etc). Is that right?


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The plates that I have examined that were V-pro seemed much harder than most of the wet-sand ones I have examined. It is difficult to track down with absolute certainty how various plates are made as the marketing people will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear.

But I can tell how hard it is by attempting to cut some area with a file. The feel/sound of hard metal is much like rubbing two files together and the file is quickly dulled. The harder plates show a definite tendency to wear strings out in the V-bar section. But some wet-sand castings have the V-bar hardened so they will have the same problem.

The hard V-bars exacerbate Longitudinal mode issues, have more falseness to the tone, don't tune as well because the string doesn't slide as well over the harder iron, and break more strings over time.

Factories don't see this as well because they very seldom follow a piano over time to see what happens when it is in long time service.


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None of the vacuum-cast string frames that I am aware of any "harder" (overall) than their sand-cast counterparts. That would require a change in metallurgy and would make subsequent machining -- trimming, drilling, etc. -- more difficult.

I have no idea whether or not some manufacturers harden their V-bars subsequent to casting. They might. It was a thing back some years. After all, if Steinway did it, it must be right. Right?


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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I'd love to put one of these on my piano as an ornament. I don't like ornaments generally, but this is lovely. I'd also like one of those action models, but they're very expensive.

Yes I have always wanted one of those action models.

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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT

Factories don't see this as well because they very seldom follow a piano over time to see what happens when it is in long time service.


Ed,

I have to disagree with this statement. I have been a dealer for a number of manufacturers over the years. My company has been a regional, and even a national warranty center. Every one of the major manufacturers I worked with sought out field information and feedback from us. They wanted to know about issues that happened over time. They also had internal technical staff in their factory that maintained instruments in active duty, so they had some awareness.

I seem to remember that you were once a staff tech. for a Steinway dealership. Didn't they have interest in this type of feedback?

Now, there are a few entry level manufacturers over the years who did not seem that concerned with this part of the business, but this is not a general truth.

My 2 cents,


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Del,
Some plates are harder than others. My understanding is differing cast iron alloy has much less to do with this than cooling rate. When cast iron cools faster the carbon forms a more diamond like shape than graphite like shape.

My experience filing and drilling castings is extensive, the hardness differences are real.

Steinway is not the only company that "fiddles" around with case hardening V-bars. Kawai has done it in the past. And every Yamaha that I have tested the V-bar on, (and the newest one would be over ten years old), had hard V-bars. Same for Young Chang.

Rich, I worked as Head Steinway Tech for Sherman Clay Seattle for 16 years. I saw very little interest from any of the manufacturers represented at Sherman Clay in long term durability beyond the warranty period.


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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT


Rich, I worked as Head Steinway Tech for Sherman Clay Seattle for 16 years. I saw very little interest from any of the manufacturers represented at Sherman Clay in long term durability beyond the warranty period.


I am so sorry about that Ed. That is not my experience, but I don't make a living servicing pianos. I only get involved when there is a problem beyond the normal scope of every day issues but, we are asked by our manufacturers to provide feedback regularly.

Cheers!


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I can report from over forty years of service experience on pianos that I have rebuilt and/or tone-regulated that the single most important factor for longevity of service in a piano is the weight of the hammers. Lighter hammers wear at a far slower rate than heavier ones. If set up properly, they actually improve in tone quality over the long term, not getting ugly bright.

The second most important longevity factor is the shape and hardness of the V-bar.


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Are there pictures of a V bar on a piano iron frame.Upright and grand? It would be nice to know what this is and how it affects the strings according to what Ed is talking about ?

Last edited by Lady Bird; 08/12/19 12:04 PM. Reason: Extra word
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If I knew how to upload photos, I could do that. I am loathe to try new tricks on the computer because of many life lessons learned that taught me keeping things simple is best.

The V-bar on a vertical piano is a feature of the casting. It forms the string termination point closest to the tuning pin area. The pressure bar is between it and the tuning pins.

On a grand it is under the capo bar so it can't be seen well. The capo bar is the casting feature that is at a roughly 90 degree line to the strings nearest the tuning pins. It also forms the string termination point.


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Just to help Ed, here are some pictures:
[Linked Image]

This picture shows the strings passing under the capo d'astro, the V-bar is the under side of this:

[Linked Image]

And here is somebody resurfacing the V-bar in a way that gives Ed nightmares because it just rounds it off rather than making a "V" profile! Sorry Ed!

[Linked Image]

Sorry, I couldn't find any good pictures of the V-bar itself.

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Thanks Ed and Ando,
It adds a bit more to my understanding.,I am sure others as
well.

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