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Estonia Pianos
Estonia Pianos
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#3108522 04/20/21 07:52 PM
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mbd Offline OP
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I’m playing again after a number of years of absence. I have only ever owned basic uprights pianos. I have been searching to buy a quality grand piano. I have read many of the useful posts with helpful advice. Thanks!

I have now played many different new and pre-owned pianos. I’m not an advanced player but I was shocked at the differences between all the different pianos.

I had narrowed the choice down to the Yamaha C3X and the Boston GP193. I then tried an Estonia L190 at my local piano dealer. It is pre-owned, two years old and immaculate. I loved the L190, the action and tone I thought was outstanding and better than Yamaha. It also looked like a very high quality instrument. I was able to play it back to back with a new C3X. I thought I had found my piano.

I then had one issue. While playing a couple of classical pieces some of the bass notes just didn’t sound right. I’m not sure what I was hearing but they didn’t seem to have that full “bass” tone.

Upon further investigating and playing individual notes on the Estonia and other pianos the Estonia has less “long bass strings” notes. This is difficult to explain but the changeover from the “upper strings” to the “lower strings” on the frame occurs on the Estonia about seven semitones lower than other pianos.

When I individually played these notes on other pianos that used upper strings for these seven notes you could hear the “full” bass tone. Even the shorter 5’3” pianos seemed better. To my ears the Estonia lacked the full bass tone on these notes.

When I asked the salesman about this he did show me that these notes were still using two thick bass strings but there were on the lower frame.

I loved this piano. The notes sounded fine but just lacked that depth on those notes. Has anyone heard of this before? Could this be a problem with this particular piano? Any thoughts.

Thank you.

Last edited by mbd; 04/20/21 07:53 PM.
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Hello mbd,

You've jumped into the complex world of piano design and tried to make arrive at simple conclusions on a complex topic. I can safely say that your conclusions are incorrect, but that does not dismiss your feelings about the tone.

Regarding the designs: the bass/tenor break happens where the bass bridge (upper strings) switches to the treble bridge (lower strings).

20 note bass vs. 26 note bass. Those are popular sizes in grands but not the only bass note lengths. The location of the break may vary within a brand (Estonia L168 is 26 note bass, L190 is 20, I forget on the L210, L225 is 22 note bass...FWIW, Steinway S,M,O are 26 note bass but the A and larger Steinway models are 20 note bass. I mention the Steinway A at 188cm because it's about the same size as the Estonia L90). Yamaha models C3, C5, C6 have 26 bass, but I don't recall about larger models like the C7 or CFX.

In conclusion, it is certainly possible that the Estonia wasn't your flavor for the tone it offers in that region, however, it is equally reasonable that you ask about voicing in that region. In my experience, when you like almost everything about a piano, ask about the region or individual notes that gives you pause. Voicing around the bass/tenor break requires extra attention on all pianos. The bass/tenor break on the L190 is well above average if reasonably voiced. Not being well voiced across the break is by far the more likely cause of what you describe.

You should also go back to the other pianos your tried and try the bass/tenor break on them. The easiest test, of course, is to play chromatic scales starting about a fifth below to a fifth above and listen for the change and how pronounced it is. It will be in different locations, but every maker (straight bridges aside) has to deal with this design challenge.

Good luck in your search!


Sam Bennett
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Baldwin BP190 has 25 bass strings before the tenor break.

Last edited by TBell; 04/20/21 11:38 PM. Reason: edit
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My Estonia L190 has a full and resounding bass so I would ask my tech to check it out. Perhaps something is wrong with the bass transition on that particular Estonia.


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Although they don’t sound the same to my ears, there seem to be some cursory similarities in the L190 string scale and that of the square tail S&S A(2). I don’t know how close they actually are in terms of exact wire gauges or soundboard design, and in the interest of fairness there are a number of pianos at this size that look a lot like a Steinway A under the lid.

I’ve played several L190s and thought they were fairly balanced in the bass, though a super powerful low bass is not the first thing I associate with the model.


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Thanks for the replies.

I did play the chromatic scale around the bass/tenor break on the L190 and on a couple of other pianos. On all the pianos that I tried I could hear the change over from that mellow, bass tone to a “regular” piano tone. It just occurred sooner on the L190. The tone of the L190 after the break was still very good. It just changed the bass sound of certain pieces of music that used those notes.

Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you. Are you saying you can “voice” the piano to eliminate this tonal change at the break point between the upper and lower strings?

I have read a lot on the forums about voicing a piano. What exactly is done to the piano when it is voiced? Is it just changing the hammers?

I really loved the L190 and it would be great if this can be fixed.

mbd

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Originally Posted by mbd
Thanks for the replies.

I did play the chromatic scale around the bass/tenor break on the L190 and on a couple of other pianos. On all the pianos that I tried I could hear the change over from that mellow, bass tone to a “regular” piano tone. It just occurred sooner on the L190. The tone of the L190 after the break was still very good. It just changed the bass sound of certain pieces of music that used those notes.

Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you. Are you saying you can “voice” the piano to eliminate this tonal change at the break point between the upper and lower strings?

I have read a lot on the forums about voicing a piano. What exactly is done to the piano when it is voiced? Is it just changing the hammers?

I really loved the L190 and it would be great if this can be fixed.

mbd

You can voice and regulate to improve the tonal change at the break, but it is unlikely to make it disappear on any instrument, especially when one is focusing on it with a slow chromatic scale. The real question is do you like the overall piano, with its imperfections, sufficiently in the context of playing actual music. All pianos have imperfections.
However, definitely bring this concern up with the dealer and see if they agree and can/are willing to do something about it.

When our clients let us know their concerns in the buying process it is incredibly helpful and we appreciate it greatly.

I can tell you as an Estonia dealer, some of their pianos have more power in the bass than others and even among the same model. We regularly address this as part of our approach to prep and generally get excellent results.

BTW, this is far from unique to Estonia. Pretty much every new piano needs some extra attention in one area or another for the more discriminating pianist.


Keith D Kerman
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A big part of voicing is note-to-note evenness and to smooth transitions between registers. Eliminate is probably not a fair expectation, but to get more of the "growl" associated with the low bass across the break is certainly reasonable.

This is a very quick recording I made of the break on a new L190.
Estonia L190 bass/tenor break

There is some familial design of the L190 with the Steinway A, but no way to track the origins of the designs. There was so much development and intermingling of US factory workers during the development of the current Steinway A design, that it may be rooted in any of a dozen influential makers of the time (~1890's). There is at least a link between Ernst Hiis, one of the key developers of the old Estonia designs, from years where he worked at Steinway in Hamburg, at a time when Hamburg was making the A2 (current A design), but I don't know the origin history of the L190 from far before the Laul era to know if it was an inspiration of the early form.

The L190 design has very intentionally developed its own voice and design, having become a peer with Steinway, but I would not be surprised if the bass bridge still retained similar measurables found in many 20 note bass designs.


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Piano technicians and rebuilders regularly voice the upper bass - low tenor to try to "break the break". Sometimes one can go a long way to smoothing that transition. Other times it is better but still audible.

It can also be addressed in the scaling/rescaling of the instrument to gain some improvements. This may involve changes in wire diameter in the plain wire, or sometimes adding wound strings in the lowest tenor. In the wound strings, the scale designer plays with wire diameters of the core and the diameter of the wraps to find the best sizes and blend of the two.

This is also an area where hybrid stringing has become another tool. Hybrid stringing uses wire types of several breaking strengths. The low tenor area of most pianos is one where the breaking percentages dip lower and lower as one descends the scale to the break. Stephen Paulello makes this wire. B27 on a 1916 Steinway O has a practical breaking load percent of 33.76 with 18 gauge wire. If one retains the 18 gauge of wire, but substitutes Paulello wire of Type 1, the PBL% rises to 50.40. There is a very audible improvement with that substitution because there is a goldilocks zone of breaking percentage for piano wire where it sounds its best. The original wire PBL% is too low, while the Type 1 is just right.

My normal plan would be to rescale the bass substituting wire types where advantageous along with changes to the core and wraps sizes, rescale the plain wire, and blend at the break. This would be followed by voicing as needed. The combination of the three things takes you a long way and can make the break disappear.


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Sam, I assume you are talking about the transition for monochords to bichords and that blending. If you want more growl in the monochords, reducing the core size can bring more of that, even with traditional Mapes or Roslau wire. Appropriately substituting Paulello Type O wire will allow you to gain more. You will have to skillfully work with the wire sizes and wraps to blend the transition and carry some of that growl into the bichords.

I have a Steinway O in my shop that exhibits the best of these qualities that I have yet heard in a piano of this size. I have used bass strings with Nickel plated soft iron wraps on several pianos prior. On Stephen Paulello's recommendation, I used NPSI for the bichords, while the monochord wraps were nickel plated bronze. Got growl? Different sound from copper, but wow. Dark and warm, but very focused pitch center. A wonderful complement to the rest of the piano also.

That 190 size certainly is a sweet spot for a mid-sized piano. The A-3 surely has left its legacy.


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Originally Posted by Keith D Kerman
You can voice and regulate to improve the tonal change at the break, but it is unlikely to make it disappear on any instrument, especially when one is focusing on it with a slow chromatic scale. The real question is do you like the overall piano, with its imperfections, sufficiently in the context of playing actual music.
This is exactly the same explanation my tech gave me about the break and the best way to think about it IMO.

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Originally Posted by WilliamTruitt
That 190 size certainly is a sweet spot for a mid-sized piano. The A-3 surely has left its legacy.

I don’t know the science behind it but that’s the description I think best describes 190 centimeters for piano size.


J & J
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