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#3149133 08/23/21 08:07 PM
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A few months ago I had a solution applied to the hammers on my my rebuilt Steinway. They are untreated hammers direct from Steinway . I’m concerned because the technician who did the work applied a considerable amount directly to the strike points . He told me that the mixed solution he used and the method of applying it the way he did was recommended by Steinway.( I think it was part Key top and possibly lacquer?) is this method commonly practiced on Steinway hammers ?

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The answer really is "it depends". Traditionally, lacquer (diluted in various concentrations) is used. But I doubt the parts dept would send a pre-diluted preparation. This is usually left up to the user to mix.

Typically, after hanging hammers, they would get filed once, twice, or more times before deciding to apply chemicals (however SS has some pretty standard procedures in the factory). But decisions should be made based on what the piano needs. Strike point preparation is usually pretty thin.

What does it sound like now?

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

Last edited by P W Grey; 08/23/21 10:33 PM.

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When it comes to Steinway it gets unnecessarily complicated. They may say untreated, but they treat them anyways I've been told. But, they are a little on the soft side at first and need to be treated. IMO, keytop solution is the worst choice. Its like the bull in the china shop of voicing materials. Steinway uses Warlock Lacquer which is high quality. But I prefer B-72/alcohol as an even better option.

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The technique he used is I believe from Franz Mohr. I keytop dissolved in 8 oz of acetone and often diluted from there. It's a mild hardener and was used on Horowitz's piano and many others. It is applied to the strike point.

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Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
The technique he used is I believe from Franz Mohr. I keytop dissolved in 8 oz of acetone and often diluted from there. It's a mild hardener and was used on Horowitz's piano and many others. It is applied to the strike point.

I have watched Franz Mohr prepare Horowitz' Steinway for one his latest recitals and he has not used any lacquer at all during the four hours I spent with him. During that time he also told me that he was very unhappy with Horowitz' decision to have the piano prepared with lots of lacquer during his last orchestral appearances. He said it made him cry to listen to this harsh, metallic and unpleasant sound that did nothing to improve the balance with the orchestra.

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In my experience, applying a lot of lacquer to the strike point of Steinway hammers in otherwise good shape is not going to produce good tone. I like to use one of the Steinway’s where I teach as an example:

The technician (before I was there) rebuilt the action and did otherwise good work, but he did no hardening of the Steinway hammers and there was almost no dynamic range. The faculty disliked it and one of them asked me to come in and evaluate. I said what I thought it needed but didn’t know what was done. When I did start teaching there two years later I checked it out and it was obvious the technician only applied some hardener to the strike point. The tone was glassy and bright and it still lacked dynamic range (and this is a CD Steinway). I applied a lacquer solution to the shoulders, had a couple of needling sessions, and the dynamic range reappeared and the tone much improved.

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Wurdack lacquer is used by SS on their cases (or at least used to). I am not sure if they use the same stuff in the hammers, as it is a hot-lacquer formulation that goes on thick and has a very high solids content.

I would suspect a lacquer with a much less solids content (like 12%) would be more suitable and controllable.

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OE1FEU #3149675 08/25/21 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by OE1FEU
Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
The technique he used is I believe from Franz Mohr. I keytop dissolved in 8 oz of acetone and often diluted from there. It's a mild hardener and was used on Horowitz's piano and many others. It is applied to the strike point.

I have watched Franz Mohr prepare Horowitz' Steinway for one his latest recitals and he has not used any lacquer at all during the four hours I spent with him. During that time he also told me that he was very unhappy with Horowitz' decision to have the piano prepared with lots of lacquer during his last orchestral appearances. He said it made him cry to listen to this harsh, metallic and unpleasant sound that did nothing to improve the balance with the orchestra.

He didn't use lacquer, that's why

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There is so much that we don't know about this situation except this:

I mean no disrespect to the OP, but clients almost always misunderstand, misinterpret, exaggerate, or distort what we, as technicians, do or say. That being said...

My answer to the original post is "yes". Almost always new Steinway hammers are going to need some lacquer. Sometimes it is necessary to completely saturate the entire hammer, sometimes you just add some to the strike point, sometimes the shoulders. Every technician has their own approach to this work.

I agree with Chris Chernobieff that B72 plastic dissolved in alcohol is a beautiful and friendly alternative to lacquer + lacquer thinner or acetone. For PTG members there is a very good webinar on its use by my colleague Ken Eschete in the "PTG Academy" section of myptg.org

Ken also has a link to a free version of the class on his website: https://bentsidearts.com/classes/b72miniclass/
Anyone interested in voicing should check it out!

In regards to the lacquer sold by Steinway parts department: Recently they did start offering it for sale pre-mixed.

[Linked Image]

But, ultimately, how do you like the sound of your piano? It sounds like you don't have complete trust in your tech. Just like with doctors, it doesn't hurt to get a second opinion (other than a little to your wallet). In my experience, it is a minority of piano technicians that earnestly pursue voicing. I had a new Steinway B client this past week and the tone was crap: Hammers seemed to have too much lacquer in them, strings were not properly leveled, and the hammers were not even close to being fitted to the strings.

Interestingly the tuning (which is what he called me for) was not too shabby. With a couple of hours of work the piano was transformed, but it took some serious effort.

You may be able to find a good voicer by looking for a referral from the top piano teachers in your area, or through a Steinway dealer, or a college with a serious music department.

Good luck!


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@Ryan - THANK YOU for the informative post. Much useful and interesting information. Regarding your new Steinway B client - I wonder how old that client's piano is. Reason I ask is that I'm told that the newest, latest and greatest Steinway hammers are harder than ones from say, a decade ago, and would require less? different? treatment.

And while I'm on new Steinways (sorry to be a little off original topic), has anyone noticed if there is more, the same, or less variation from individual piano to piano within a model type? I was wondering about this because of their new automation for soundboard installation.

Thanks again for your post.


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I do recall that he premixed the solution and saying it was a lighter solution than others. On second thought I think it was acetone not lacquer . I was hoping for a better tone quality in upper hammers but instead they became very bright and glassy . I’m no longer using the technician but my current tuner who also does voicing is concerned about hardness of the hammers. He plans on really needling them on next tuning . Thanks for the help

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He did mix it himself but unfortunately didn’t elaborate on the contents too much . It’s a vintage B with a powerful bass section that was drowning out the higher treble. My hope was for a more powerful and better tone . It’s too bright now but hopefully my current tech will be able to needle it down so it’s pleasing to the ear . Thanks for the comments

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Originally Posted by Radrvader
He did mix it himself but unfortunately didn’t elaborate on the contents too much . It’s a vintage B with a powerful bass section that was drowning out the higher treble. My hope was for a more powerful and better tone . It’s too bright now but hopefully my current tech will be able to needle it down so it’s pleasing to the ear . Thanks for the comments

I also have a vintage (1886) Steinway B and a brand new set of Hamburg Steinway (Renner) hammers was installed in 2012, supposedly "pre-voiced". They were hard as concrete and very unpleasant to listen to. The piano wasn't used after those new hammers went in and I only started working on fixing a lot in this piano, both in the action and the acoustic assembly in late 2017.In due course the hammers were checked for any chemical residue, of which there was none, and then started voicing with deep needling by three different concert technicians. The last one took four hours of needling and finally gave this piano the character I had always hoped it would have. It has an incredible dynamic range, a massive bass section and its pp is simply amazing. Last voicing dates back to December, so soon it's time for some minor adjustments, but not more.

Those hammers have never seen any lacquer or other chemical hardener, just pure plain old filing and needling after mating hammers and strings. I am pretty happy with the result, even though the piece still needs quite some practice...


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Hamburg hammers are different from New York hammers, and must be treated differently.


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Originally Posted by BDB
Hamburg hammers are different from New York hammers, and must be treated differently.

This is a New York Steinway. By 1886 the Hamburg factory was just an assembly station for instruments manufactured in the US. In fact, my cast iron plate has a decal that says "From the depots of Steinway New York". The soundboard is made from Appalachian Red Spruce, the bridges are made from American boxwood. OP has a vintage B, which sounds like pre-1915 - and it would obviously fare very well with hammers like the ones I have.

Apart from the fact that plastic and organic solutions based lacquer is an invention of the later 20th century. Strictly speaking, using modern New York Steinway hammers on a vintage Steinway is a perversion in itself and I'd say that my hammers and their treatment are a lot closer to vintage Steinway than all the chemical based hammer treatments.

Did you even listen to the recording of this 135 year old instrument?

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What hammers your piano had 135 years ago is irrelevant. I was talking about what it has now.

I listened to the recording. It sounds like a recording of a piano.


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My approach is always as a conservationist and following what the factory did. Putting modern German parts on a short key high ratio early B distorts the results. I've corrected these jobs by lowering the mass of the hammers, moving and changing capstans and altering key ratio with half punchings. That piano had 10 to 11 gram hammers at note 1 when new and now has probably 14 or 15 gram hammers. At a normal ratio action that is a lot of added mass to the action and too much inertia, making pianissimo difficult if not impossible. Those are short keys and don't perform well with modern heavy hammers.

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Originally Posted by BDB
What hammers your piano had 135 years ago is irrelevant. I was talking about what it has now.

I listened to the recording. It sounds like a recording of a piano.

Really help- and insightful comment!

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People post recordings of pianos that are supposed to sound exceptional. Except for those which are exceptionally bad, there seems to be nothing to distinguish them from other pianos. Whether that is the piano or the recording I cannot say. In the best cases, there is nothing particularly bad about them, even in the recordings of pianos I have posted.

I am glad that you like your piano, but I do not find anything about the recording that is exceptional. As I stated above, that is a good thing.


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Originally Posted by BDB
I am glad that you like your piano, but I do not find anything about the recording that is exceptional. As I stated above, that is a good thing.

I also think that's a good thing.

I also think that you obviously must know about at least one recording of a similar piano that is really exceptional. I want to listen to this recording and know about all of it terms of hammers, bridges, soundboard, restoration history.

Until then I think you're full of cow excrement.

Prove me wrong, please.

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