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Hi - I'm not a piano technician, but a musician hoping it's ok for me to ask a question in this forum

I recently had my hammers replaced on my old piano - the hammers were custom made since it was a model that was no longer standard.

Once they were replaced the touch went from light to heavy. I'm a bit surprised that there would be a drastic difference in the touch and would expect to be warned (since I'm not a technician)

I asked the tech shouldn't the hammers be the same weight as the other light hammers, and was told that there are always weight differences in hammers and these just came back heavier for some reason. But these were custom made based on my piano's hammers - shouldn't the weight be duplicated?

thanks for any insight you have to offer

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Yes, there are weight differences, but there are also lead weights in the keys that are the counter-balance. Both the hammer weight and opposing key lead weights can be manipulated to get a proper touchweight. Usually when i rebuild for a client, I ask them questions, one of which is what kind of action do you like, light, medium or heavy? Or, Soft or bright tone? etc. Doesn't sound like you and the Tech were on the same page.

Can you post a picture of the custom hammers? I'm curious. Or tell us what make they are? And what piano?

-chris


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Hi Chris -
ah ok so the weight differences will be different even if custom built - I don't know the type of hammers unfortunately - it's a Baldwin model A from 1927 or 8 (I know what you're thinking but it still sounds really good in spite of the age, which is why I chose to upgrade the hammers).

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When you said custom hammers, i was thinking you were going to say a square grand or some obscure instrument. Being that its a modern Baldwin grand piano, there is no good reason other than poor craftsmanship, that the hammers can't be replaced, and it not be left with a nice light smooth velvety touch like you want. And voiced properly too.
-chris

Last edited by Chernobieff Piano; 02/25/21 01:23 AM.

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It sounds good to me - the voicing will take place in a month but the drastic difference in touch is frightening - I have a lot of anxiety about this but I'll get it worked out.

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There are any number of things that were done that could affect the touch. If the piano had not be regulated in a long time, it will feel different after it is regulated. The hammers are not likely to be exact duplicates, because the felt was cut a bit differently, and the tails were shaped a bit differently. If the shanks were replaced, they may be a little different. The glue may not be fully dried, and have extra moisture in them, and the wood and felt may not be as dry as the old hammers. The voicing will affect how it feels, as well.

Custom hammers are not that custom. They still need to fit into the press when they are made, which dictates a lot. Custom hammers usually only extends to the boring, as much of the rest of the hammer shaping is done after they have been fitted to the piano.


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Call up the tech who replaced the hammers. He will know the maker.

As BDB has said, there are many things that affect the touch when hammers are replaced.

Hammers are most often replaced when they are worn down considerably. This means there is less felt on the hammers than they had in 1927 and will weigh less. The original hammers would have been cold-pressed and lighter than most modern replacement hammers. Depending on the make of hammer, the replacement set can be much heavier. Given that the action ratio might be in the neighborhood of 5 to 1, one gram difference at the hammer translates to a 5 gram difference at the keyboard to you as the player.

It is important that you have said the differences in touch are frightening. Trust your instincts here. The voicing does affect how it feels to you, if the hammers are too soft, you will likely work harder to get the tone you want.

A lot of this boils down to the level of experience of the technician with hammer replacement. If they came back heavier "for some reason", that means he does not know why and he should. If he got a heavy hammer and replaced the shanks with what was there originally in terms of the knuckle to center pin distance, the result can be an underpowered action where the downweights can balloon upward 10 to 20 grams. That can put them into the agony range.

The technician can exert a lot of control over the weight of the hammer. This begins with the selection of a hammer that can approximate the original in weight, and is followed by tapering the sides of the hammer full length, the amount of coving in the tail, and sometimes the removal of felt in the shaping of the hammer. The hammer maker can do a lot of shaping at the request of the technician after the hammer comes out of the press, who can then do still more as needed.

My read-between-the-lines is that the tech is not very experienced and does not know why he has created these problems. He may not be the one who will have to solve them for you.


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As well stated above, there are numerous reasons for the increase. The big question is how much of this increase is normal and unavoidable, and how much MIGHT (repeat MIGHT) be due to tech inexperience or nondisclosure.

Not everyone is a great communicator. Possibly this is part of the problem. You got used to the touch of the piano (presumably for many years) with worn - worn out hammers, loose key bushings, poor regulation, etc. I'm guessing you have no idea what it was like straight out of the factory in 1927. Your brain and body have gotten used to "an old pair of shoes". Now the new shoes "just don't feel the same". You understand what I'm saying.

As others here have expressed, it is good for the tech and client to have discussion about what to expect beforehand. New hammers are ALWAYS heavier than the old, dried, worn hammers being replaced. But how much? Good question, and one that cannot be answered here without much more information. If you did not know that ahead of time then your assumption is that things should be "the same...only better". You did not get prepared for: "There WILL be a significant increase in the touchweight (feel) of the action as a result of this procedure".

What can now be done? Cannot solve that with out further information. Specific data and photos can help, but don't expect any of us to be able to diagnose this accurately from afar. We may be able to give some guidance but it's really tough doing things "blind". I suspect you already know that though. 😁

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Hi everyone -

First these are really fantastic responses and have been giving me exactly the information I've been looking for. Much appreciated.

I'm deliberately trying not to be too specific in case the tech will read this and feel as I'm undermining before giving them a chance - that's not the spirit of my post I'm just looking for as much information as I can so that I can get this fixed correctly.

What I've learned is:
The hammers likely will be heavier (for the many reasons mentioned above)
If there was to be an unavoidable touch difference this should have been communicated to me. (The sound to be expected was talked about and there were no surprises there but it never occurred to me to ask if the touch would change as well)
But the most important thing that I think I'm hearing is that this should be fixable through various techniques. (However, the tech communicated to me that it can be lightened a little bit but not a lot since the hammers are heavier. Hence the source of my anxiety wink

Also, for background I do want to mention that I have played maybe 300 different pianos at this point so, although I am aware I may have prejudicial biases for the old deteriorated touch the piano previously had , I do have a very good idea of what is a heavy vs. light touch. I've never thought about the technical details which is typical of many performers but I can definitely say the touch difference is drastic - I'm no longer able to play whisper soft as I was before - it's either loud or less loud. Or put another way, it's always strong, never light. The heavy action does cover up my blemishes (the piano will even out the note volumes regardless of how precisely I play), but some character is lost when I can't add say, some whisper soft notes inside of a medium-loud chord.

Last edited by John j; 02/25/21 12:20 PM.
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When I replace hammers in a piano, especially a piano from the early 20th century or older, I need to evaluate a number of factors:

1. Can I source hammers that will be of the same weight class as the original hammers? In a number of cases, I have not been able to do this through my most often used piano parts suppliers. I am thinking of the moment of Schaff, Pianotek, and here in Canada, Pianophile. A number of technicians, most notably Ed McMorrow and David Love, have identified sources for hammers in a lighter weight class.

2. Of the potential hammer types I am considering, are there sets that I can "pare down" enough to be useful? There are limits to how much you can pare down a hammer. Spurlock's grand hammer installation guide outlines where weight can be removed successfully from a hammer. I am sure there are other sources of useful information in these vein. The hammers can be fully tapered, but if you taper them too much, you lose checking security. A bit of felt can be removed in terms of strike point and shoulder sanding, but the integrity of the hammer for voicing purposes risks being compromised. The most aggressive weight reduction I have done left the walnut hammer moldings looking like drift wood, and the tails ended up fragile and subject to breakage.

3. How high am I willing to go in terms of balance weight? Stanwood has proposed that the normal range stretches from about 30 grams to about 45 grams, but there are knowledgeable people on this list that have found satisfying configurations where the balance weight goes at least as high as 50 grams. As far as I can determine, this is usually combined with using very light hammers, thus reducing inertia in the action enough that the increased balance weight becomes a non-issue. On the other hand, a number of manufacturers of new pianos, it appears, are putting out pianos with higher balance weights, without the use of light hammers. I'm not sure what to make of this.

r. Given available hammer choices, can I add enough weight to the front of the key to achieve a balance weight acceptable to me and the users I am serving without exceeding suggested front weight ceilings? (This essentially works out to setting a limit on inertia.) Gravagne recently published a suggested guideline in a Piano Technicians Journal series, and David Stanwood has had one available for several years. I have Stanwood's at hand as I write. Front weight ceiling ranges from 41.3 grams at note 1 to 3.7 grams at note 88.

4. If the above investigations do not lead me to a workable strategy, what options am I willing to consider for adjusting the action ratio? Up until last year, the only option I was pursuing was changing the balance point of the key by clipping punchings. This is a useful method, and I was able in a number of cases to set up actions with pleasing results. During the past year, for the first time, I changed out hammer shanks in order to have a different knuckle position, and moved capstans to give the leverage scenario I was looking for. In both of these scenarios, I was happy with the results.

I the last year, I have worked through these approaches with four different pianos.

The 1925 Gerhard Heintzman had a crazy amount of lead in the sharps, but not in the naturals. The hammers were very light. Required bore distance on the hammers was longer than I could accommodate without starting with raw hammers. I ended up changing out the hammer shanks for some with a modern knuckle position, choosing walnut moldings (Abel hammers from Pianophile) and paring them down until they looked like driftwood, and moving the capstans by 3 millimeters. I think I also used clipped balance rail punchings on the sharps to move key ratio closer to that of the naturals. My impression is that the project has been successful, but I, to date, lack feedback from "real pianists" given the current accessibility restrictions.

The Aeolian era Mason and Hamlin CC was also loaded up with lead in the keys. I ended up removing about 2 pounds worth. The original wippens had very long heel surfaces, which made moving capstans an option. I ended up moving the capstans a crazy amount -- 7mm in the bass to 2mm in the treble. I did nothing adventurous in reducing hammer weight, since this is a concert instrument. Feedback from users thus far has been positive.

The 1965 Baldwin L was done when my perspective on Stanwood's acceptable range of balance weights was overly narrow. In a number of presentations he as made, he speaks of aiming for about 38 grams, but on rereading his manual from "The Touch Designer's Tool Kit", I see that up to 45 grams is, from his perspective, in the normal range. If I had been thinking along these lines, I might not have moved the capstans, but, as it turned out, I did. Results have been well received. Again, I was not trying (and did not need) to be heroic in trying to reduce hammer weight.

The 1988 Yamaha CF came into my care with very worn hammers. Even with "that much" felt missing, balance weight was what I would consider to be excessive, and front weight in the bass was higher than the recommended ceiling. I adjusted the front weight to the Stanwood ceiling, chose the Stanwood Top Medium strike weight profile (his suggested minimum weight for a concert instrument) and ended up with balance weight averaging out to 40 grams. No other monkeying around proved necessary. This project is still underway. The action is in the piano with a first regulation completed. I am awaiting user input.

I very much appreciate the opportunity this list is giving me to learn and consider different perspectives to this whole area of endeavor. Thank you all for weighing in on previous conversations.

Last edited by Floyd G; 02/25/21 12:30 PM.

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Hi Floyd. You're an encyclopedia of information as always. With all the moving of action ratios you've done, have you tried WNG parts? Do you find their adjustable action parts to make such adjustments easier?


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Hi Emery. I came into my university position eight and a half years ago to a fairly well stocked pantry. Several sets of grand shanks, several sets of hammers, two sets of wippens that had been pulled from our concert grands in action rebuilds, and so forth. I ended up throwing the original wippens back into both concert grands, to the advantage of both pianos. So I have a couple of newer wippen sets on hand, including a set of Tokiwa miracle wips -- a pretty flexible and adaptable product.

In my career as a piano technician, I have had occasion to purchase hammers, knuckles and backchecks, but I have yet to purchase my first set of grand hammer shanks or wippens. Go figure! In the current scenario, I have more time than money, so that is not about to change soon.

No, I have not had occasion to use WNG parts, but it strikes me that their adaptability is a great thing.


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Johnj, When you hit the key hard is there enough bark in the bass and ping in the treble? Do the keys feel like they won't follow your fingers?


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Hi Ed McMorrow -

For bark and ping, fairly mellow - but I was expecting that and I don't mind this - to me it has enough - also we're going to voice a month from now when we retune so I add a little ping in places if needed - but tone wise I really love the new sound (the old hammers were SHOT and should have been replaced decades ago, so you can imagine how harsh and uneven it must have sounded).

For "follow my fingers" I'm not sure exactly what is meant by that - I can say the touch is very even (more even than before), just heavy. So if I play a scale from top to bottom each note sounds the same volume level. If I try to play a staccato chord however, it feels like there's a little bit of a delay do to the heaviness of the keys.

I'm feeling a whole lot better about this as I play it also - it doesn't have to get back to exactly where it was if it's too difficult to do this - but it absolutely has to be lightened up - on a scale of 1 to 10 (lightest to heaviest), my old touch was maybe a 3 to 4 and now it's perhaps a 7 to 8 - so it's a big difference - I think if I could get it to a 5 I'd be happy I think.

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John, did your tech regulate the piano after replacing the hammers?


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Hi Emery -
I believe he did regulate - I would need to ask to be 100% sure though

I just got done playing it again - I think I'm minimizing just how heavy it got as I'm getting more comfortable with it - on a scale from 1 to 10 again - I think a 3 to 3.5 was the original, and not its somewhere between 8.5 and 9

It really has to come down there's no way around this

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OK. Because if your piano hadn't been properly regulated before, the old lighter hammers may have felt ok because they were light, whereas heavier hammers would exacerbate an out-of-regulation action. Even with heavy hammers, you should be able to play pp. I wonder if your letoff is too wide, and/or your new hammers improperly voiced? I'd get a good tuning and regulation done first before assessing the final result of the new hammers. Reducing the hammer blow distance a bit may also help, and you might want to ask about using cut punchings on the balance rail. That is a cheap fix that can also lighten the action feel.

Last edited by Emery Wang; 02/28/21 03:39 PM.

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Hi Emery - thanks I'm going to utilize this advice - I'll be speaking with the tech in a few days.

as far as playing soft, e.g., a very slow trill or maybe just a mordent can be fairly soft (maybe pp, but not ppp). A fast trill can only be mf and up, I can't do a light trill quickly the notes won't play.

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Hi all...

What about boring through the molding to reduce the weight of the hammers? I feel like reducing hammer weight is the ONLY thing that is going to work with a difference this drastic.

I confirmed that the hammers put in were heavier than the originals, a choice that had been made to get a bolder sound.

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I just this week treated an extremely heavy action by shaping the hammers. They were WAY too big and I had to remove gobs of felt. However, in conjunction with some needed regulation, things are pretty normal right now. Incidentally, the area where touchweight was HIGHEST was in an area where the jacks had been adjusted way too far forward (toward the keys). Getting that right helped too.

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