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On brand new pianos, I have never noticed that the hammers have been tapered. The tails are all as wide as the rest of the hammer, and other than coving, the hammers all look square, beefy, and pretty much like stock hammers to me. Am I missing something? If not, and tapering and otherwise lightening the hammers are what is recommended when hanging new hammers, why don't hammers come this way on new pianos?

TIA.


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If hammer tapering was a good idea or had any positive benefits, piano makers would do it. They don’t for a reason. Hammers shouldn’t be tapered. Tapering hammer tails makes consistent checking more difficult and squaring hammers more difficult to see. It can also lead to some pinning issues. Basically, there are no positive benefits to tapering. It was a aftermarket process once done by technicians on excessively heavy hammers in an attempt to lighten them. The correct approach, for a piano maker, is it choose the weight of hammers they want from the beginning.

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Thanks piano411. Expect an earful from Ed McMorrow soon wink

Ps: how do you find the weight of hammers? When I look at hammer ordering sites, I see you can choose the felt weight. But, I don't see where they list the weight of the actual hammers. Plus, I understand hammers aren't evenly gradated in weight from bass to treble. Wouldn't you want to shave some weight off some hammers to create a smooth gradation of descending weight?

Last edited by Emery Wang; 11/17/20 09:18 PM.

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You won't be able to find the scale of the hammer weight from suppliers, as every set is different. That is something that you will have to do on your own by weighing the individual hammers.

Yes, I evenly graduate the weight off the sides by making parallel adjustments (not tapered). When you measure, you'll find the widths of the hammers from the suppliers are not consistent to begin with.

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Got it. But you mention buying hammers of the proper weight. How do you know how heavy various hammers are to begin with? I don't see hammer makers giving any data that let you know which of their sets are heavier, and which are lighter. Do you just call them up and ask?


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I would say the majority of manufacturers taper their hammers to some degree. Yamaha, Mason and Hamlin, Steinway and Beckstein just to name a few. I usually see non tapered hammers on actions that have wippen assist springs.

I use tapering along with other measures for weight control and I typically vary the tapering from bass to treble. Tapering improves the tone in the top register, it reduces overall inertia and is also used for clearance between hammers that are highly angled.

I see very little benefit from non tapered hammers.


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The tradition with piano makers regarding all components is to make the parts slightly oversize so they can be trimmed and fit to one another.

The "reason" new pianos rarely exhibit significant tapering of the hammers is simple: MONEY.

The first tone regulating class I took was given by Fred Drasche in 1973 at the PTG Convention in Portland OR. Fred was the Head Tone Regulator at NY Steinway.

The first two sentences out of his mouth were: "The hammer has got to get away from the string" and, "The voicer puts the tone in the hammer with the shape."

If I am explaining hammer function to an engineer I say, "The inertial properties of the hammer must be set in the proper relation to the periodicity of the string." And, "I find it fascinating that a skilled technician can learn what weight the hammers should be for a specific action by using their hands to feel the inertia. Tone regulators need to bring the weight of the oversize hammers down to where the key response becomes proper. Also, as you bring the hammer weight down, the tone becomes more open and less percussive, especially in the top three octaves."

For piano technicians I think it is useful to declaim, "The piano hammer is a damper".


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A piano manufacturer will order felt or hammers based on what they think is right for them. There are many different variable involved in the process of how the felt is compressed and how it is trimmed before it is put on the hammer moldings. There are lots of things going on in that process. But, I think you are asking about how you should decided what is best for you? Are you going to order a set of hammers to install?

Hammers are basically all too heavy. I would order the lightest hammers you could find. I don't think you could ever find hammers that are too light. Just ask the people you are ordering from for their lightest hammers. They will still be more than heavy enough. Basically, technicians just order hammers, and they get what they get.

If you are trying to replicate what you already have on your piano, then you need to measure each of your hammers on a gram scale and copy it. I guess, I not exactly sure what you are trying do to. Can you explain more? What are you trying to achieve?

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I have a couple of clients that their piano is played around the clock by numerous people. Following the recommended procedure in the light hammer book for tapering hammers the tails dug into the backchecks which later had to be replaced.

If the hammer is a damper, then a damper is a hammer too.

-chris


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Emery, hammer makers do not make their own felt. They get their felt in sheets from a very few suppliers and work their magic from there. In practice, hammer felt is a highly variable material, which is to say that it is all but impossible for them to say that a felt sheet of say 14 lbs. or 16 lbs. weighs that (and it is not intended to mean exactly that anyhow). Further, felt density (and therefore weight) can be quite variable within a sheet, and every sheet will be different. There is no magic bullet here.

Hammer makers do glue the felt onto the moldings and cut the hammers into individuals. There are a huge number of things that a hammer maker does to make the fine product they ship to us, be it manufacturer or rebuilder. What we get is always variable and it is up to us to make the accommodations.

From there, it is up to the technician or the voicer at the factory to build the desired tone. There is a lot of skill involved here in good work.

I fear that piano411 lives in a world of alternate facts. He is saying some things that by any factual reference are not true.

He has said that tapering hammers makes consistent checking more difficult That's a new one on me, in my 40 plus years of regulating back checks, both tapered and untapered. Why is it so difficult for you?

If it makes it more difficult for you to square hammers, I say buck up soldier. The rest of us somehow manage to square hammers as needed. It is part of the job.

Farenheit451 likes to throw bombs to see what the debris field will look like. He says in one sentence that there are no positive benefits to hammer tapering. As in none, ever. A strict interpretation of his wording means that no hammer will ever be improved by tapering (as in having some tangible benefit). He immediately contradicts himself in the next sentence by saying that some technicians in an aftermarket process taper excessively heavy hammers to lighten them. So I ask you, does tapering the sides of heavy hammers succeed in lightening them? You called tapering an aftermarket process, but piano makers have almost universally been tapering hammers for 150 years or more.

You say that the correct approach for a piano maker is to choose the weight of hammers they want at the beginning. They do, working closely with the felt manufacturers to have hammers that will approximate the weight of hammers that they want. Good makers then set a standard procedure of weight reduction that includes tapering to get them as close as possible to reference weights.

So you are correct in this statement, as far as it goes. Technicians can have a similar relationship with a hammer maker, I have a surprising level of customization from Ronsen, and I still get them as raw blanks from which to work my weight reduction and tone regulation.

You have neglected to mention the benefit that full side tapering offers to the technician regarding passing in the bass and tenor sections. If there is a generous enough spacing of the notes, that would not be needed. However, there are a multitude of pianos out there where the spacing is not so generous, and a combination of hammer width and side tapering make it workable, at the same time that doing so makes the hammers lighter.

Not all technicians "just order hammers". What exactly those technicians do is a story for another time.


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Thanks Chris, But you would have served your client better if you had advised them to call me about the backcheck issue. I do offer a very generous warranty.

Yes, the edges of hammer tails can get too sharp during the shaping process that they cut the backcheck. The edges need to be properly rounded or "broken" as woodworkers say. Then they don't cut and last way longer than if they had to catch heavier hammers.

The lighter hammers also check much better which give the pianists quicker control over the position and momentum of the hammer.


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Originally Posted by Chernobieff Piano
If the hammer is a damper, then a damper is a hammer too.

-chris

By your logic, all thumbs are fingers, therefore all fingers are thumbs. Great reasoning!

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Actually, dampers CAN be used as a form of hammer. Certain effects can be elucidated from the piano resembling a soft hammer by a pianist with experience.

There is more to dampers than simply stopping the strings from vibrating...but you need to know your stuff.


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Last edited by P W Grey; 11/18/20 12:50 PM.

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Originally Posted by Emery Wang
On brand new pianos, I have never noticed that the hammers have been tapered. The tails are all as wide as the rest of the hammer, and other than coving, the hammers all look square, beefy, and pretty much like stock hammers to me. Am I missing something?
Well, we have people saying that you didn’t see what you saw. I’m not sure what to do with that, because I’ve seen what apparently you didn’t see also.

I’m not sure exactly why tapering is such a trigger word. It sounds like different people are using the term differently. I mean to say that I don’t see piano makers tapering a 10mm hammer width to a 4mm point at the tail. Some technicians do that. I say, that is not a good idea (for reasons), and I don’t see any piano makers doing that. Obviously, a smaller surface area like that is going to be more difficult to get reliable checking throughout the dynamic ranges and will cut into and wear out the backchecks faster. I think that is why piano manufactures don’t do it. But they are cheap too, and cut corners all the time, so I don’t discount that either.

So, to answer the question that I think you asked, no one should need to taper a hammer. That is done as an aftermarket process to reduce weight. That’s why we don’t see piano manufactures taper to a 4mm point. They are able to get things within range earlier on in the process. Hammer weight does need to be evened out before installation. But, obviously, having 88 differently tapered hammer tails is not the way to do it.

Last edited by piano411; 11/18/20 01:26 PM.
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Thanks Peter who knew. LOL

Just for clarity, I think the hammer is a hammer and a damper is a damper. Silly right?

-chris


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Yes...very silly. 😅

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Piano 411, You have an internal inconsistency to your logic. You posit that piano makers don't taper their hammer because they hit a target weight, but then you say tapering is done as an after market procedure to solve heavy touch. Isn't it the manufacturers responsibility to establish proper feel to the action?

What are your first principles of tone and touch in a piano?


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No, what I am saying is that hammer weight should be dealt with earlier on in construction of the hammer. That is why OP hasn't noticed tapering on non-S&S new pianos.

All manufacturers should publish the target weights for each hammer in all of their models. None of them do, and that is a shame. The hammers scaling will directly reflect what the keyboard feels like to the pianist, so how the scale progresses throughout the keyboard, makes a big difference. Then, of coarse, there are tonal issues in the high end of the piano that are present when the hammers are too heavy. Finally there is a hammer shape or a surface area issue that deals primarily with the sound of the attack. I deal with hammers in that order.

I'm not saying that piano manufactures hit their target weights. Yes, I think it is their responsibility to establish the proper feel to the action before it is presented to the public. No, most of them don't.

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piano411, there are a number of technicians/rebuilders who as part of their process control hammer weight to a high level of precision. Many of us favor light hammers, particularly in the treble. But that is not a one size fits all approach - the amount of inertia that a pianist wants to feel is part of the consideration and that is a variable that the technician controls by the choice of hammer up front and how it is handled along the way to completion. If they target things properly, they give their customer a feel that they want, along with the tonal goals that will come from voicing.

A cooperative hammer maker is everything here, and can be a strong or weak link in the chain. Ray Negron of Ronsen Hammers is a great partner. Not only is the felt of top quality (he offers 4 different types), but he can adjust his processes along the way so as to get us close to the best starting point when we open the wrapping paper. He has a lot of control over the shape of the hammer felt after it is glued on the molding and he can modify how much felt is on the hammer as needed. On request he can make the hammer width greater or less than his standard. If one is seeking a very light hammer, then he can slice the hammers to a narrower measure. As a practical reality, the widths will vary some and therefore, the hammer weights will also. That can be cleaned up at my end by trimming with a straight cut at the table saw.

I start with an overlong raw blank whereby I will bore, taper, cove, curve, and shorten to give me a proper tail length after I custom bore the set. I weigh the entire set on a gram scale at the blank stage and set my parameters for target strike weights from 1 to 88. I choose a strike weight spline curve that will best fit the existing weight curve of the new set, and proceed from there. My sequence is bore, shorten, taper, cove, and then curve. I weigh at each step along the way and record in a spreadsheet.

For all that precision, there remains more inconsistency than is desired, as my goal is to control hammer weight to a tenth of a gram. Where the hammer weight needs to iincrease to follow the curve, increments of lead solder are added to the molding. To reduce, I will remove weight in the coving. I can stay on target in my graduation of .1 gram. I do all of this before I hang the hammers. I use the WNG shanks, which are so consistent in their shank strike weight that I do not need to go through the process of measuring strike weights as others do.

This is obviously labor intensive. I typically give a full day to the complete process. There are a number of us out there who do this sort of thing, but most technicians and rebuilders do not. The manufacturers, no way.

A noticeable tonal consistency is a byproduct of this process. It also affects how much lead we add to or take away from the keys. Since my prejudice is towards light hammers, I often find myself removing some lead from the keys, particularly if I have set up the action well by my choices of knuckle distance on the shank the location of the capstan heel, and the location of the capstan on the key. This allows us to more closely duplicate the very light hammer weights and key leading patterns of a hundred years ago. A lot of people really like those actions from those days of yore in Steinways. The modern Steinway action is a different animal.

We all owe a debt to David Stanwood for leading the way in these methods some 30 years ago.


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Piano manufacturers used to have more differences in the mechanical advantage of their actions. Some makers had higher leverage than others. Steinway typically was at the highest end of the leverage spectrum although they tried a few changes from time to time. A few deliberate, many seemingly not so. (Read sloppy manufacturing tolerances and Steinway is not alone here).

If you study the leverage and inertia issue you will find that higher leverage coupled with lowest inertia hammers will lead to the most robust performing and sounding instrument over time.

One of my axioms is: It is preferable to have leverage over mass.

Lower leverage actions must spend more of the key motion in escapement. Thus the pianist has less control and the hammer has less control over key return. Low leverage also means the regulation is less stable because a small amount of settling of keys and knuckles can lead to loss of aftertouch compared to a high leverage action.


I wrote a whole book about this back in the mid 1980's. (Note this was before Stanwood's exhaustive work on the subject started). I developed a tone regulation protocol I call LightHammer Tone Regulation. It uses the inertial feel at the key to determine the weight of the hammers. It does not use charts.


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