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Posted By: Learux Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 05:32 PM
How hard of a task is this?

Can any competent tuner voice a piano?

Asking because my piano could use voicing but to me it sounds like it only needs it in the highest 3 octaves.

Is it common to only voice the treble section of a piano.

Thank you for your time and have a nice weekend
Posted By: terminaldegree Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 05:47 PM
There are widely varying levels of knowledge in this area among people who can service pianos.

For example, I would consider myself a lower-level technician when it comes to voicing. I have a limited number of tools and a limited amount of training in fairly conservative voicing techniques that are effective, up to a point. Most of the changes I know how to make aren't permanent, since most of the voicing techniques I've observed were by a concert technician, making small refinements to high-end concert pianos.

It is not unusual to voice a particular area of a piano, or even specific notes that are bothersome or not well-matched to their neighbors. Voicing things to be quieter or less bright is generally easier (and takes less skill) than voicing things to be louder or more bright.

It definitely helps if the technician understands what you like or don't like about the sound of your piano, and has the skills to reach the same end-goal.
At the highest levels of doing this work, I find that technicians who do a lot of concert service for high-level players/pianos, and who also listen to a lot of live piano concerts and recordings, and thirdly actually listen and translate what the client is requesting into a plan of action, tend to be the best at this work. On the flip side, sometimes to gain this level of experience, the technicians are also of an advanced age, where hearing certain frequencies can become problematic...

I have seen careless technicians ruin the tone of a piano (or more specifically, a set of hammers) with their voicing work. My biggest suggestion is to be present when this portion of the service is occurring, so you can hear what's happening in real time.
Posted By: prout Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 06:18 PM
I do some voicing on my own piano hammers. The first thing I learned was that, before starting any manipulation of hammers, assuming the hammer travel and mating to the strings is good, I have to evenly regulate the action to my own requirements, then I have to achieve the very best possible tuning, especially dead-on unisons, and then I can listen carefully to each note and try to even out the tone of individual notes.

Most of the time, tuning solves the issues of uneven tone.

Humidity changes cause a large change in upper partial intensity as well and can been deceiving.

Any voicing changes I make are intentionally temporary. Any major changes (reshaping hammers, major filing, deep needle penetration) I leave to my technician.
Posted By: Ed Foote Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 06:34 PM
Greetings,
Changing the density of a piece of compacted felt, how hard can that be???

Creating tone to meet a specific goal is an art that never stops being refined, from the beginner sticking a needle into a tin-can of a spinet to a veteran spending an hour on the bench doing shoulder work on a set of hammers before installing, there is a continual education there for any of us. There is no substitute for experience, since ultimately, the voicer is paying attention to not only the sound that results from their efforts, but also, to the tactile feel of the hammer as the needles are going in. The hands have to learn what they are feeling and correlate that to what their ears are telling them about what they are hearing. At the same time, becoming sensitized to not only how "bright" is bright, but how the tone changes with increasing force of play.

The normal goal is for the hammers to evenly respond to increasing force with increasing brilliance,(recording studios here in Nashville don't put as much emphasis on that as they do for all hammers to sound alike). In moving towards the goal, things like overall balance, starting and ending levels of brilliance, sustain, and volume are all competing for the tech's attention. Experience will relegate some of these to macros in the awareness, while the concentration may be on evening out the overall sound.

I believe the road is easy to begin, i.e. even the beginning tuner can usually find the worst sounding note on a piano and improve it with a needle stuck anywhere but into the crown. The single needle chopstick voicing tool should be right there beside the tuning fork, (does anyone use a fork anymore?). This will be a good beginning step to start acquiring the familiarity needed to be a "good" voicer. Reading, and study, of Andre Ooerebeek's
book, "The Voice of the Piano" is possibly the best foundation upon which to begin voicing. One doesn't have to immediately start doing foundation work or refining the pad to gain experience, but knowing what is going on in the hammer certainly helps provide an armature for experience to accumulate in a profitable way.
Regards,
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 06:39 PM
Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Greetings,
Changing the density of a piece of compacted felt, how hard can that be???

Creating tone to meet a specific goal is an art that never stops being refined, from the beginner sticking a needle into a tin-can of a spinet to a veteran spending an hour on the bench doing shoulder work on a set of hammers before installing, there is a continual education there for any of us. There is no substitute for experience, since ultimately, the voicer is paying attention to not only the sound that results from their efforts, but also, to the tactile feel of the hammer as the needles are going in. The hands have to learn what they are feeling and correlate that to what their ears are telling them about what they are hearing. At the same time, becoming sensitized to not only how "bright" is bright, but how the tone changes with increasing force of play.

The normal goal is for the hammers to evenly respond to increasing force with increasing brilliance,(recording studios here in Nashville don't put as much emphasis on that as they do for all hammers to sound alike). In moving towards the goal, things like overall balance, starting and ending levels of brilliance, sustain, and volume are all competing for the tech's attention. Experience will relegate some of these to macros in the awareness, while the concentration may be on evening out the overall sound.

I believe the road is easy to begin, i.e. even the beginning tuner can usually find the worst sounding note on a piano and improve it with a needle stuck anywhere but into the crown. The single needle chopstick voicing tool should be right there beside the tuning fork, (does anyone use a fork anymore?). This will be a good beginning step to start acquiring the familiarity needed to be a "good" voicer. Reading, and study, of Andre Ooerebeek's
book, "The Voice of the Piano" is possibly the best foundation upon which to begin voicing. One doesn't have to immediately start doing foundation work or refining the pad to gain experience, but knowing what is going on in the hammer certainly helps provide an armature for experience to accumulate in a profitable way.
Regards,


This entire post is pure gold.
Posted By: Emery Wang Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 06:47 PM
Have you read the "Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers" thread in this forum? It discusses using chemical voicing rather than needles, which is an option if you have the hard, "voice down" hammers rather than the softer "voice up" hammer type used in NY Steinways. Most pianos have the former.

The chemical voicing discussed in that thread uses fabric softener diluted in alcohol. I have used it on my Kawai and Petrof. It's easy and really mellows and warms up the tone, and knocks out any harshness. I have less experience using chemical solutions to brighten up the tone, but the thread also explains how to do that.

Depending on what you're trying to achieve, I like this type of voicing as it seems pretty non-destructive and is much faster and easier to do compared to traditional needle voicing. If you're a DIYer, this is a safer option than needling in my opinion.
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 08:23 PM
Thank you all for the replies.

I just would like him to take some brightness away from the higher octaves.
Posted By: OE1FEU Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 08:27 PM
When it comes to voicing a concert grand, "experience" usually translates to 70% of one's time wasted on "Trial and Error".

Most of this can be eliminated by hands on tuition by masters, constant supervision and immediate correction of errors before they become bad habits. That, and well trained ears with a love for a truly outrageously beautiful piano.
Posted By: Seeker Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 09:06 PM
Originally Posted by Learux
Thank you all for the replies.

I just would like him to take some brightness away from the higher octaves.

I would answer your original question in this way: "Yes, any competent tuner can voice a piano. However, not many can do it well".

This is not a knock against professional tuners and the tuning profession. As with many other things, it takes practice, what we used to call OJT, and some training, to build the skill to do any job well. I would say, of the things I can do which include most tuning and regulation tasks, string replacement, minor repairs and adjustment to the pedal trapworks, that voicing is the most difficult, because it is at some point, an art that goes beyond measurements. With needling it's not as simple as saying: insert 3 size whatever needles 3.625mm into the hammer, at a 42.5 degree angle, approximately .625 of the distance from the center of the crown to the middle of the shoulder, with a force of 3.725694 foot pounds. Think about it: this would require absolute uniformity in the resilience of the felt, the shape, etc. I suppose one could program a robot to do this work, at least on new pianos, but for a piano that's no longer at original spec due to wear, fuhgettaboutit.

Voicing, whether with needles, or chemicals, is NOT easy.

Yes, it should be possible for your technician, provided s/he has experience in voicing, to take some brightness away from the higher 8ves. Do ask about your tech's experience. It is, in my opinion, a fair question. Have they voiced a piano like yours? Etc.

Good luck.
Posted By: P W Grey Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 09:13 PM
If we were discussing ability to speak another language, the everyday tuner would be "conversant" in the language, whereas the true voicer would be one who understands all the nuances of the language and can speak it so well that you cannot tell he is not a native of the land. (Understanding and application of details).

Be careful who you ask to do this work. Things can go south quickly. Best to stick with procedures that are reversible (if necessary).

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 09:29 PM
Originally Posted by P W Grey
If we were discussing ability to speak another language, the everyday tuner would be "conversant" in the language, whereas the true voicer would be one who understands all the nuances of the language and can speak it so well that you cannot tell he is not a native of the land. (Understanding and application of details).

Be careful who you ask to do this work. Things can go south quickly. Best to stick with procedures that are reversible (if necessary).

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

Ha, good description! I resemble the former more than the latter.
On scary stuff at stake jobs I always referred it to a colleague.
But most lesser everyday voicing gigs did myself perfectly confident.
Only time I couldn't avoid voicing but wanted to, was voicing an SD10 for Earl Wild minutes before the concert started.
He was a native speaker in the sense you mean, I wasn't, and he saw that, but I was who he had on hand, and I hadn't screwed up the tuning, so he trusted I wouldn't screw up the voicing either.
No praise but no complaints either, so I guessed I passed?
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 10:03 PM
Is needling considered reversable? Not immediately but over time with regular playing?
Posted By: terminaldegree Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 10:54 PM
Yes, depending on where you do it, how deeply you do it, what sort of needle you use, and how much you do it (poking the hammer once or twice, or a dozen times?).
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 11:03 PM
Originally Posted by Learux
Is needling considered reversable? Not immediately but over time with regular playing?

If we're being very literal and technical about it, *nothing* done to a hammer is reversible.
Fibers broken by needles are broken forever.
Felt removed with sandpaper is gone forever.
Chemicals added to the felt are there forever.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that (within reason and within limits) the *results* of needling and juicing (as in what is heard) can be reversed, by doing even *MORE* irreversible stuff.
You see where this is going?
A highly expert voicer is going to generally do things that they know they have to skills tools and supplies to reverse if need be, and know that before they begin.
They'll check constantly to get reality checks comparing what they think they're doing, versus what they've actually done, and tweak and modify and pull back their approach and technique in real time as the job progresses.
A *SUPER* expert voicer can cut back on the reality checks, because they have enough experienced amassed to be confident that what they're doing, and going to do, is working, and will work.
An inexperienced voicer on the other hand, is going to be going too far, too fast, not catch on, and not have the knowledge or experience, and maybe even not have the tools etc, to reverse what they screwed up.
And with every too far one direction too far the other flounder, more of the felt is irreversibly changed, making the window of the ability of the felt to be changed at all, narrower and narrower, even to the point that the expert voicer may have challenges fixing it.
The less that is irreversibly done to the felt get the tone where desired, the better.
And as has been said, ALL regulation and tuning parameters HAVE TO BE OPTIMIZED FIRST.
(Unless it's a situation like an old upright or metallic spinet, where a few extra bucks voicing would be good for the client, then voicing on top of other problems is forgivable; the above comments are for good grands.)
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 11:15 PM
All makes a lot of sense, thank you all for your replies.

I learned some new things today.
Posted By: David Boyce Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 11:26 PM
Quote
Only time I couldn't avoid voicing but wanted to, was voicing an SD10 for Earl Wild minutes before the concert started.
He was a native speaker in the sense you mean, I wasn't, and he saw that, but I was who he had on hand, and I hadn't screwed up the tuning, so he trusted I wouldn't screw up the voicing either.
No praise but no complaints either, so I guessed I passed?

I bought Earl Wild's memoir "A Walk On the Wild Side" when it came out, and I am glad I did. It's a fascinating and hilarious read, not now in print, and secondhand copies go for a lot of money.
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/14/22 11:39 PM
Originally Posted by David Boyce
Quote
Only time I couldn't avoid voicing but wanted to, was voicing an SD10 for Earl Wild minutes before the concert started.
He was a native speaker in the sense you mean, I wasn't, and he saw that, but I was who he had on hand, and I hadn't screwed up the tuning, so he trusted I wouldn't screw up the voicing either.
No praise but no complaints either, so I guessed I passed?

I bought Earl Wild's memoir "A Walk On the Wild Side" when it came out, and I am glad I did. It's a fascinating and hilarious read, not now in print, and secondhand copies go for a lot of money.

!!!!!!!!!

https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/Se...amp;sortby=1&tn=walk%20side%20memoir
Posted By: P W Grey Re: Voicing a piano - 01/15/22 01:23 AM
Wow!

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Posted By: Scott Cole, RPT Re: Voicing a piano - 01/15/22 03:59 PM
I would look at the condition of the hammers first. Are they grooved? How long has it been since they were filed? I’ve often found that filing them can solve many tonal issues.
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/15/22 05:46 PM
Yes, all that work has been done, about three months ago a very good tech worked on it for 14 hours.

Full regulation and filing have all been done.
Posted By: Steve Jackson Re: Voicing a piano - 01/15/22 06:37 PM
Originally Posted by Learux
Yes, all that work has been done, about three months ago a very good tech worked on it for 14 hours.

Full regulation and filing have all been done.

Well, call that tech to set it up the way you want it.
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/15/22 08:19 PM
Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
Originally Posted by Learux
Yes, all that work has been done, about three months ago a very good tech worked on it for 14 hours.

Full regulation and filing have all been done.

Well, call that tech to set it up the way you want it.

Not that easy, the drive for him is too far to be my regular tech, besides I am happy with my tuner.
Posted By: Steve Jackson Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 05:09 AM
Originally Posted by Learux
Originally Posted by Steve Jackson
Originally Posted by Learux
Yes, all that work has been done, about three months ago a very good tech worked on it for 14 hours.

Full regulation and filing have all been done.

Well, call that tech to set it up the way you want it.

Not that easy, the drive for him is too far to be my regular tech, besides I am happy with my tuner.

I'd pay him his fee.
Posted By: RobAC Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 11:59 AM
My regular tech for some time did some voicing for me last year. He over-needled a few hammers. I think he may have some high frequency hearing loss, and I'm not sure if he knows it. He's had a long and very successful career, and tunes absolutely beautifully. A dear man, too.

I called in another highly-qualified tech to address the issue. Indeed, it's harder (pun sort of intended) to re-harden hammers that have been over-needled.

He didn't want to use chemicals as he might on a NY Steinway, so he did all sorts of things that I'm sure the techs here know about. It was fascinating to watch. By the time he left, that register was a lot more even, absolutely tons better. Thankfully, after playing for several more weeks, it sounds almost perfect.

I just learned to be careful. And I love my regular tech, and am not sure what to do. I'm happy to have him tune but don't want him doing any further voicing.
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 01:11 PM
Steve's advice is best. But if i were feeing parsimonious, I'd contact AF. Depending on what they and people here say, I think softening the hammers is the first thing to try. It worked for me.
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 03:16 PM
... feeling parsimonious, not unknown, ...
Posted By: Beemer Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 05:48 PM
Originally Posted by Emery Wang
Have you read the "Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers" thread in this forum? It discusses using chemical voicing rather than needles, which is an option if you have the hard, "voice down" hammers rather than the softer "voice up" hammer type used in NY Steinways. Most pianos have the former.

The chemical voicing discussed in that thread uses fabric softener diluted in alcohol. I have used it on my Kawai and Petrof. It's easy and really mellows and warms up the tone, and knocks out any harshness. I have less experience using chemical solutions to brighten up the tone, but the thread also explains how to do that.

Depending on what you're trying to achieve, I like this type of voicing as it seems pretty non-destructive and is much faster and easier to do compared to traditional needle voicing. If you're a DIYer, this is a safer option than needling in my opinion.
You have omitted to consider the pianos that do not use chemicals on their hammer felt.
Ian
Posted By: P W Grey Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 06:18 PM
Just to clarify something: All voicing techniques are inherently destructive to the construction of the hammers. Some though are far less and slow acting than others (basically "reversible" if necessary). However in context...PLAYING is also destructive to piano hammers, so there is a balance to be struck.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 06:31 PM
This thread is about voicing Premium Renner Blue hammers made from Wurzen felt. AF do not say they have treated them with chemicals so I imagine they are pure felt. Renner may say differently. Google for voicing the Renner hammer

Anyway I treated the hammers on my 1927 S&S (Stuttgart) successfully with White Wizard water based softener and manipulation some years ago. I posted about it here at the time.
Posted By: Rickster Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 06:31 PM
Originally Posted by RobAC
My regular tech for some time did some voicing for me last year. He over-needled a few hammers. I think he may have some high frequency hearing loss, and I'm not sure if he knows it. He's had a long and very successful career, and tunes absolutely beautifully. A dear man, too.

I called in another highly-qualified tech to address the issue. Indeed, it's harder (pun sort of intended) to re-harden hammers that have been over-needled.

He didn't want to use chemicals as he might on a NY Steinway, so he did all sorts of things that I'm sure the techs here know about. It was fascinating to watch. By the time he left, that register was a lot more even, absolutely tons better. Thankfully, after playing for several more weeks, it sounds almost perfect.

I just learned to be careful. And I love my regular tech, and am not sure what to do. I'm happy to have him tune but don't want him doing any further voicing.

I've done some hammer voicing on my own pianos. I wouldn't dare attempt it on someone else's piano. It's kind of like, if someone else scratches or dings our new vehicle it is really bad. If we scratch or ding our new vehicle, it is still bad, but not quite as bad as someone else doing the scratching and dinging. smile

As others have said, there is no substitute for experience, and making some mistakes. I've over-voiced a few hammers in the past, and I learned from it. As for over-needling, I think it depends entirely on how hard the hammers are to begin with. A rock-hard hammer is difficult to jab a voicing needle into, period. So, it's not as easy to over-needle a really hard hammer.

There has been a lot threads/post here about the use of certain chemicals in voicing. I've used the rubbing alcohol with some positive results and negative results and no results at all. I've used the plier-squeeze method on some really hard hammers with surprisingly good results.

Fortunately, I've never outright ruined a hammer, despite overdoing the voicing a time or two. I've found that an over-voiced, hard hammer, will eventually harden back up with lots of hard playing, and the hammer iron can help too. I've never used lacquer or other chemical hardeners. My experience has always been with overly bright/hard hammers and not to soft/mellow hammers.

All that said, my voicing skills are minimal at best, but I've had some positive results. I also agree that the reshaping alone, and a brush or two with a brass brush on the strike point will yield very good, temporary results.

My advice would be to find the best voicer money can buy and use them...

Rick
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 07:34 PM
Quote
the plier-squeeze method

Oh, the memories that phrase brings back!!!

All the sub-$100 value spinets with rock hard hammers... all the pleasantly shocked owners... all the blisters from squeezing those vise grips at weird angles...

smile
Posted By: Ed Foote Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 09:13 PM
Originally Posted by Rickster
As for over-needling, I think it depends entirely on how hard the hammers are to begin with. A rock-hard hammer is difficult to jab a voicing needle into, period. So, it's not as easy to over-needle a really hard hammer.
There has been a lot threads/post here about the use of certain chemicals in voicing. I've used the rubbing alcohol with some positive results and negative results and no results at all. I've used the plier-squeeze method on some really hard hammers with surprisingly good results.
Rick

I have broken needles and I have had a tendonitis inflammation caused by the hammering I thought would cure a set of rock hard hammers. I now question whether needles are the right tools for voicing these things. From what I have learned, production speeds of many imported brands required a lot of heat and pressure to make hammers, quality control wanted bright,white felt, and the resulting compacted mass of bleached and heated, lanolin-free, inflexible fibers yields far more readily and evenly to the whiff of steam than the spikes. Whereas needles function by relaxing tension and density, these hot rocks don't give them much to work on, and if the needles leave holes that won't close on their own, the hammer is not relaxing, just accepting some extra-hardened puncture wounds. Some shoulders have to be nearly destroyed to relax any of the hammer under the strike point when needling. Hmmm

I followed Roger Jolly's steam voicing protocol after seeing his class at the PTG Institute some years ago, and found a better answer to density reduction. Easy to ramp into the technique, laying damp strips of cotton sheet material, 1 inch wide and long enough to cover the hammers shoulders from end to end. I stay about 1/4 inch away the strike point when I do this. With some dampness in the cloth, a hot iron is passed from one end of the hammers to the other, (I start at the bottom). A pass should take no more than 6 seconds. Learning curve has a freebie to start (since if the cloth is dry, nothing happens...). A repetition or two with very slightly dampened cloth will give gradual, observable, results, and with practice, more moisture allows more efficient use of time. I soak the cloths and then squeeze them as tight as I can, I don't want anything wet enough to drip but with an iron set on "wool", there is a clear hiss as I pass it over the length. One caveat is that hard compressed hammers that have had serious needling attempts have been known to come completely apart following this treatment, so it pays to have an idea what's there to start. The steam makes the outer felt turn loose and if there is a lot of compression under it, it doesn't take much to make a big difference. For a budget-limited-need-to-do-something with a clanging, small grand, my cost/benefit considerations now auger for the vapor.

There are times I needle after the steam and find the erstwhile impenetrable shoulders to offer a much more compliant and complex combination of tension. Sometimes, I can even get a fairly consistent result!
regards,
Posted By: Rickster Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 09:29 PM
Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Originally Posted by Rickster
As for over-needling, I think it depends entirely on how hard the hammers are to begin with. A rock-hard hammer is difficult to jab a voicing needle into, period. So, it's not as easy to over-needle a really hard hammer.
There has been a lot threads/post here about the use of certain chemicals in voicing. I've used the rubbing alcohol with some positive results and negative results and no results at all. I've used the plier-squeeze method on some really hard hammers with surprisingly good results.
Rick

I have broken needles and I have had a tendonitis inflammation caused by the hammering I thought would cure a set of rock hard hammers. I now question whether needles are the right tools for voicing these things. From what I have learned, production speeds of many imported brands required a lot of heat and pressure to make hammers, quality control wanted bright,white felt, and the resulting compacted mass of bleached and heated, lanolin-free, inflexible fibers yields far more readily and evenly to the whiff of steam than the spikes. Whereas needles function by relaxing tension and density, these hot rocks don't give them much to work on, and if the needles leave holes that won't close on their own, the hammer is not relaxing, just accepting some extra-hardened puncture wounds. Some shoulders have to be nearly destroyed to relax any of the hammer under the strike point when needling. Hmmm

I followed Roger Jolly's steam voicing protocol after seeing his class at the PTG Institute some years ago, and found a better answer to density reduction. Easy to ramp into the technique, laying damp strips of cotton sheet material, 1 inch wide and long enough to cover the hammers shoulders from end to end. I stay about 1/4 inch away the strike point when I do this. With some dampness in the cloth, a hot iron is passed from one end of the hammers to the other, (I start at the bottom). A pass should take no more than 6 seconds. Learning curve has a freebie to start (since if the cloth is dry, nothing happens...). A repetition or two with very slightly dampened cloth will give gradual, observable, results, and with practice, more moisture allows more efficient use of time. I soak the cloths and then squeeze them as tight as I can, I don't want anything wet enough to drip but with an iron set on "wool", there is a clear hiss as I pass it over the length. One caveat is that hard compressed hammers that have had serious needling attempts have been known to come completely apart following this treatment, so it pays to have an idea what's there to start. The steam makes the outer felt turn loose and if there is a lot of compression under it, it doesn't take much to make a big difference. For a budget-limited-need-to-do-something with a clanging, small grand, my cost/benefit considerations now auger for the vapor.

There are times I needle after the steam and find the erstwhile impenetrable shoulders to offer a much more compliant and complex combination of tension. Sometimes, I can even get a fairly consistent result!
regards,

Thanks for the detailed and well written lesson on hammer voicing, Ed! I've read about the steam voicing method, but never really used it. I did, however, use steam to remove the old key bushings when I rebushed the keys on my Yamaha C7; it worked very well. That project turned out very good, although I had to do a little key easing on a few keys.

I have a lot of admiration for the voice of experience, for which there is no substitute. Thanks for sharing some of your vast experience here!

Rick
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 10:14 PM
Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Originally Posted by Rickster
As for over-needling, I think it depends entirely on how hard the hammers are to begin with. A rock-hard hammer is difficult to jab a voicing needle into, period. So, it's not as easy to over-needle a really hard hammer.
There has been a lot threads/post here about the use of certain chemicals in voicing. I've used the rubbing alcohol with some positive results and negative results and no results at all. I've used the plier-squeeze method on some really hard hammers with surprisingly good results.
Rick

I have broken needles and I have had a tendonitis inflammation caused by the hammering I thought would cure a set of rock hard hammers. I now question whether needles are the right tools for voicing these things. From what I have learned, production speeds of many imported brands required a lot of heat and pressure to make hammers, quality control wanted bright,white felt, and the resulting compacted mass of bleached and heated, lanolin-free, inflexible fibers yields far more readily and evenly to the whiff of steam than the spikes. Whereas needles function by relaxing tension and density, these hot rocks don't give them much to work on, and if the needles leave holes that won't close on their own, the hammer is not relaxing, just accepting some extra-hardened puncture wounds. Some shoulders have to be nearly destroyed to relax any of the hammer under the strike point when needling. Hmmm

I followed Roger Jolly's steam voicing protocol after seeing his class at the PTG Institute some years ago, and found a better answer to density reduction. Easy to ramp into the technique, laying damp strips of cotton sheet material, 1 inch wide and long enough to cover the hammers shoulders from end to end. I stay about 1/4 inch away the strike point when I do this. With some dampness in the cloth, a hot iron is passed from one end of the hammers to the other, (I start at the bottom). A pass should take no more than 6 seconds. Learning curve has a freebie to start (since if the cloth is dry, nothing happens...). A repetition or two with very slightly dampened cloth will give gradual, observable, results, and with practice, more moisture allows more efficient use of time. I soak the cloths and then squeeze them as tight as I can, I don't want anything wet enough to drip but with an iron set on "wool", there is a clear hiss as I pass it over the length. One caveat is that hard compressed hammers that have had serious needling attempts have been known to come completely apart following this treatment, so it pays to have an idea what's there to start. The steam makes the outer felt turn loose and if there is a lot of compression under it, it doesn't take much to make a big difference. For a budget-limited-need-to-do-something with a clanging, small grand, my cost/benefit considerations now auger for the vapor.

There are times I needle after the steam and find the erstwhile impenetrable shoulders to offer a much more compliant and complex combination of tension. Sometimes, I can even get a fairly consistent result!
regards,

I just learned a LOT, thanks!
Posted By: OE1FEU Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 11:03 PM
Originally Posted by Ed Foote
From what I have learned, production speeds of many imported brands required a lot of heat and pressure to make hammers, quality control wanted bright,white felt, and the resulting compacted mass of bleached and heated, lanolin-free, inflexible fibers yields far more readily and evenly to the whiff of steam than the spikes. Whereas needles function by relaxing tension and density, these hot rocks don't give them much to work on, and if the needles leave holes that won't close on their own, the hammer is not relaxing, just accepting some extra-hardened puncture wounds. Some shoulders have to be nearly destroyed to relax any of the hammer under the strike point when needling. Hmmm

Seems like you have different experience with hammers and their production process from what we have over here.

Lanolin and Keratin are the two components good hammers are made of and their consistence is defined by the production process of the raw material and its usage in the pressing technology that actually results in a set of hammers. The way you describe the hammers you are used to sounds different from what I know as standard products used for concert grands in European Steinways, Bösendorfers, Bechsteins, Faziolis as well as Kawais and Yamahas.

All of those hammers produced by Renner, Abel, Bechstein, Yamaha and Kawai give you a defined state where you can start voicing a piano according to the specific needs of the location and the pianist's wishes.

It's hard work, for sure, but the results speak for themselves. Once you know that deep needling gives you all the freedom of defining tension distribution within a hammer and transforming a piece of concrete into a resilient bounce ball that gives you the maximum dynamic range and flexibility in forming the tonal character of a piano, you don't want to go back to anything else. Destroying fibres is part of the process and of course it's irreversible, but doing so with a source material in a defined state gives you all you need to get the best out of a piano.

Lanolin is what makes fibres flexible; pouring chemistry in them to "soften" hammers just dissolves and removes Lanolin, leaving you with a set of hammers that will never have that "springy" cushion you want for maximum resilience. Apart from that, needles actually can build strength and tension when applied at the correct places. Deep needling the shoulders will compress the crown of a hammer without the stiffness of applying lacquer to the strike point of a hammer.
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 11:24 PM
@OE1FEU Your experience of fine pianos far exceeds mine but I do think you are going just a wee bit far in saying. 'pouring chemistry in them to "soften" hammers just dissolves and removes Lanolin'. The process I mentioned involved applying a surfactant paste to the felt. This enabled the scales on the wool fibres to slide back over each other, making hardened felt softer again. As far as I know, no lanolin was lost. Nothing was destroyed except the grooves in the hammers.

Do have any references to work on what removes lanolin and what does not?
Posted By: OE1FEU Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 11:29 PM
Originally Posted by Withindale
The process I mentioned involved applying a surfactant paste to the felt. This enabled the scales on the wool fibres to slide back over each other, making hardened felt softer again.

That's what Lanolin does as its job.

When it's there.
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/16/22 11:42 PM
As I understand it hammers get 'work hardened' with use so they produce a brighter sound. It appears the fibres entangle themselves as result of repeated impacts.

Does the lanolin in hammers disappear as a result of playing and sitting around in the between times?
Posted By: Ed Foote Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 12:02 AM
Originally Posted by OE1FEU
Seems like you have different experience with hammers and their production process from what we have over here.

Lanolin and Keratin are the two components good hammers are made of and their consistence is defined by the production process of the raw material and its usage in the pressing technology that actually results in a set of hammers. The way you describe the hammers you are used to sounds different from what I know as standard products used for concert grands in European Steinways, Bösendorfers, Bechsteins, Faziolis as well as Kawais and Yamahas.

I was speaking of hammers found on far less expensive pianos. Generic imported pianos rarely have the same hammers as Steinways, or Bosendorfers,etc. The traditional hammer can benefit from traditional techniques, (needles), but some of the modern, lesser lines have hammers that respond better to other ways of balancing the tension.
Hammers are made of felt, and natural felt will have lanolin on it (if anyone has handled sheep and their shearing will know this). Bleaching felt white will remove a great deal of this, and I see these brilliant marbles in more than a few budget pianos. Lanolin will also dry out over the years, old felt rugs will crack if you bend them, old felt hammers will often turn to dust under a sanding paddle. Losing elasticity is a normal age=related process, and old hammers will rarely be capable of voicing that will match new, resilient felt. However, steamed relaxation of the felt seems to create a longer lasting, and more controllable process than mechanically breaking up old fibers.
I use Ronsen Weickert felt in my rebuilds. It allows more range of voicing than any other I found. Abel naturals aren't bad, either, but Ray Negron does a beautiful job when he makes the sets to any spec I want.
Regards,
Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 04:26 AM
Since the OP is asking if the upper octaves can be voiced down, I would like to know if the objectionable treble tone is due to excessive "knock " sound at strike? Or is it too much high partial as the tone decays? or both together?
Posted By: David Boyce Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 12:47 PM
Quote
Hammers are made of felt, and natural felt will have lanolin on it (if anyone has handled sheep and their shearing will know this). Bleaching felt white will remove a great deal of this, and I see these brilliant marbles in more than a few budget pianos. Lanolin will also dry out over the years, old felt rugs will crack if you bend them, old felt hammers will often turn to dust under a sanding paddle. Losing elasticity is a normal age=related process, and old hammers will rarely be capable of voicing that will match new, resilient felt. However, steamed relaxation of the felt seems to create a longer lasting, and more controllable process than mechanically breaking up old fibers.

These are interesting thoughts. I find myself these days saying to people with 120 year old pianos "Half the components in a piano are made of wool, felted or woven. Imagine a 120 year old wool sweater - what state do you think it'll be in?....."

I'm heartened to see the mention of steam relaxation of hammer felt. I've had quite good success with this method, and it seems to last OK.
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 02:00 PM
Originally Posted by David Boyce
[quote]I find myself these days saying to people with 120 year old pianos "Half the components in a piano are made of wool, felted or woven. Imagine a 120 year old wool sweater - what state do you think it'll be in?....."

At the risk of seeming like an utter lunatic, I present 163 year old original factory Steinway hammers.

To even begin to detail everything that was done to them over a period of seven years would take a ridiculously long time.

They'd been barely played and were in mindbogglingly good condition.

From low A up to the mid treble they'd been covered with leather and the felt was quite literally untouched under them.

Shaped with up to a final 600 grit, only single needle voicing (as taught to me one on one by Fred Drasch of Steinway), and all juicing was with a special kind of Lexan plastic dissolved in acetone (which was given to me by Andre Svetlichny of Baldwin at a Tanglewood seminar).

The volume struck me as underpowered, so I epoxied onto the hammer tails dozens of tungsten disks in the 0.2 to 1 gram range.

The saga of getting them perfectly aligned to the strings in all planes was... wow.

George Winston says he likes the result.

Posted By: Rickster Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 02:47 PM
Originally Posted by An Old Square
[quote=David Boyce]
Quote
I find myself these days saying to people with 120 year old pianos "Half the components in a piano are made of wool, felted or woven. Imagine a 120 year old wool sweater - what state do you think it'll be in?....."

At the risk of seeming like an utter lunatic, I present 163 year old original factory Steinway hammers.

To even begin to detail everything that was done to them over a period of seven years would take a ridiculously long time.

They'd been barely played and were in mindbogglingly good condition.

From low A up to the mid treble they'd been covered with leather and the felt was quite literally untouched under them.

Shaped with up to a final 600 grit, only single needle voicing (as taught to me one on one by Fred Drasch of Steinway), and all juicing was with a special kind of Lexan plastic dissolved in acetone (which was given to me by Andre Svetlichny of Baldwin at a Tanglewood seminar).

The volume struck me as underpowered, so I epoxied onto the hammer tails dozens of tungsten disks in the 0.2 to 1 gram range.

The saga of getting them perfectly aligned to the strings in all planes was... wow.

George Winston says he likes the result.


I enjoyed watching and listening to your video very much, An Old Square! It sounded great, and looked even better. What a fantastic job you did restoring it!

My hat is off to you, my friend! smile

Rick
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 03:04 PM
Originally Posted by Rickster
Originally Posted by An Old Square
[quote=David Boyce]
Quote
I find myself these days saying to people with 120 year old pianos "Half the components in a piano are made of wool, felted or woven. Imagine a 120 year old wool sweater - what state do you think it'll be in?....."

At the risk of seeming like an utter lunatic, I present 163 year old original factory Steinway hammers.

To even begin to detail everything that was done to them over a period of seven years would take a ridiculously long time.

They'd been barely played and were in mindbogglingly good condition.

From low A up to the mid treble they'd been covered with leather and the felt was quite literally untouched under them.

Shaped with up to a final 600 grit, only single needle voicing (as taught to me one on one by Fred Drasch of Steinway), and all juicing was with a special kind of Lexan plastic dissolved in acetone (which was given to me by Andre Svetlichny of Baldwin at a Tanglewood seminar).

The volume struck me as underpowered, so I epoxied onto the hammer tails dozens of tungsten disks in the 0.2 to 1 gram range.

The saga of getting them perfectly aligned to the strings in all planes was... wow.

George Winston says he likes the result.


I enjoyed watching and listening to your video very much, An Old Square! It sounded great, and looked even better. What a fantastic job you did restoring it!

My hat is off to you, my friend! smile

Rick

Thank you very very very much. I decided this was the last restoration of my career, and did not care anymore about conventional wisdom or tradition. For example, the nameboard felt is green instead of red, because green contrasted with the rosewood far more interestingly. And so on for the whole thing.

PS Should mention this thing plays 104 notes lol, in case anyone is confused by some of this recording.

The 85 originals, plus, the 19 notes from C3 to F#4, play the octave fifth harmonic of the note being played when the left pedal is depressed instead of the fundamental.

The black rod seen in between the soundboard and strings is part of the mechanism that does that.

The amount of pressure on the left pedal determines the kind of tone the octave fifth harmonic has, from distorted and overdriven to extremely pure.

To date, Santa Fe concert pianist Melanie Monsour is the only person to have spent enough time with the Oct5 Effect (as I call it) to even *begin* to achieve some practical mastery over it.

Working on getting Dave Grusin (client for decades but not recently) to check it out. If anyone can master it it'd be him.
Posted By: WilliamTruitt Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 04:38 PM
What kind of wire did you restring it with?
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 05:25 PM
Originally Posted by WilliamTruitt
What kind of wire did you restring it with?

After researching the uh, heck, out of the options (high tension low tension high carbon low carbon...) and the opinions of others with credibility, I just steel wooled the rust off the original 1859 wires and used them.

There's a few tied off knots in the speaking length of some, but I doubt that affects anything.

wink

Kidding.

KIDDING.

This piano is tuned flat, for a number of complicated reasons, all of which pointed TO tuning it flat. It's 100 cents flat to A-442, settled on that after tuning it to any number of pitches.

Did a couple tests in the tenor with Roslau and Mapes Gold, not much diff to my old ears at that tension, so went with Mapes, both for plain wires and bass string duplication.

The stringing scale was off-the-map "why they do that???", so spent some time with the calculator and created a fresh scale which seems to have worked.
Posted By: WilliamTruitt Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 07:06 PM
Have you retained the original scale? Chris Chernobieff has an 1860 Steinway Square that he is redoing, and his scale is bonkers also (I have seen it), but it looks like strings were replaced hodge-podge. It would be nice to know what Steinway's intentions were.

Since the 19th century was a time of significant development of the strength of piano wire, it would be nice to know where this piano fell in the scheme of things.
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/17/22 08:54 PM
Not sure how much help I can be. Pretty sure I didn't save my notes about that. Here's what I can remember.

Not one wire was close enough to any modern standard gauge to be very sure, most seemed to be in between sizes. They were the original wires, so I assume there'd been a lot of stretching and therefore thinning. Lots of oxidation and rust on top of that. The handful that'd been replaced were no help, a few were clearly the wrong gauge (as in not close to the original wire gauges, which were themselves useless).

I recall that they'd used (what seems to have been see above) the same gauge for far too many notes before going to the next gauge up or down. Don't recall any I might have called a half-size like 13 1/2, all whole gauges (more or less). I also recall there were no thick gauges like 19 and up. Seem to recall a LOOOOOOOOOONG sequence where they should have switched gauges at least twice but stayed on the same one, maybe 15? It was so off I saw no point to recording it.

There were no penciled in numbers on the bridges, I think but am not sure that I penciled in MY gauges, would have to check, I finished the stringing years ago now.

I am far far FAR from any sort of expert at creating new stringing scales. This was the only piano I was ever really forced to try that with. Did just enough study and research to create one on this. Stubborn pride and "I can do this myself-ness" kept me from reaching to those who ARE pros (like Chris probably is) to get feedback on how well I'd done.

So, I'd be happy to figure out the scale I ended up putting on, but as I said, I'm no authority on designing stringing scales, this was my first last only attempt, and Chris may be better off doing his de novo and not putting too much stock into what I did. But quite happy to share that, for whatever it may be worth. Would have to go look and see. smile
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/21/22 04:14 PM
My tuner came by, he turned what I initially thought as overly bright into a few finely tuned unisons that now hold sustain forever.

It was 6 months ago since my last tuning............
Posted By: Withindale Re: Voicing a piano - 01/21/22 04:49 PM
Good news. To round off the discussion would you say what notes they were?
Posted By: Learux Re: Voicing a piano - 01/21/22 05:11 PM
Notes were C6 and up a few
Posted By: Seeker Re: Voicing a piano - 01/25/22 02:50 AM
Originally Posted by An Old Square
===SNIP====

At the risk of seeming like an utter lunatic, I present 163 year old original factory Steinway hammers.

To even begin to detail everything that was done to them over a period of seven years would take a ridiculously long time.

They'd been barely played and were in mindbogglingly good condition.

From low A up to the mid treble they'd been covered with leather and the felt was quite literally untouched under them.

Shaped with up to a final 600 grit, only single needle voicing (as taught to me one on one by Fred Drasch of Steinway), and all juicing was with a special kind of Lexan plastic dissolved in acetone (which was given to me by Andre Svetlichny of Baldwin at a Tanglewood seminar).
Not only do you NOT seem like a lunatic of any sort, I love what you did with that piano. It is quite beautiful. It sings.

Is there any way we can convince you to make a video showing and explaining the single needle voicing technique you learned from Fred Drasch? It would be a shame if that knowledge was lost.

As to Svetlichny's magic juice, is he still alive? Is there any way to get the formula? And if not, can you at least share how you used it?

Heck - put a paypal.me link on your YouTube video. I'd pony up a little cash for the expertise.
Posted By: An Old Square Re: Voicing a piano - 01/25/22 05:13 AM
"Not only do you NOT seem like a lunatic of any sort, I love what you did with that piano. It is quite beautiful. It sings."

Golly gee whiz thank you!



"Is there any way we can convince you to make a video showing and explaining the single needle voicing technique you learned from Fred Drasch? It would be a shame if that knowledge was lost."

Thanks but utter nonsense! Any number of people here are vastly better at the art of voicing than me! Mr. Drasch generously taught many people over the course of his life, and I was just one of them. My best voicings were, as they say on the old jazz album liners about OK but not outstanding bass players, "workmanlike". LOL. A 6-7 outa 10. I had fortes, but voicing was not one of them. But no one ever asked for a refund either. wink


"As to Svetlichny's magic juice, is he still alive? Is there any way to get the formula? And if not, can you at least share how you used it?"

Andre passed away some years ago from leukemia. He was dying at the time he taught me (us, in a class) but we did not know that. As for the juice he taught us to use, at graduation he gave all six of us a sizeable quantity of plastic granules, which when dissolved in acetone (differing strengths) and applied to different parts of the hammer, produced some incredible results. It's some form of (but not chemically exactly) Lexan, of the specific type used in airplane windows. It cures in seconds unless you're soaking the entire hammer, then it takes a few minutes at most. The full effect of what you just did is 100% there when it cures and stable and long lasting. It's very easy to needle down, and even gives tactile feedback. I love the stuff. I used what he gave me for 20 (?) years, and still have enough left to juice hundreds of hammers. I used it in critical concert and studio settings without a care and got many artist kudos.

If there's a real chemist here who can do a real analysis of it I'll send a small sample.

Andres NYT obituary.
https://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/20/...ner-of-concert-pianos-for-the-stars.html
Posted By: Steve Jackson Re: Voicing a piano - 01/25/22 08:22 AM
As it happens, I just voiced a concert piano yesterday with Renner Blues. My only relevant observation is they are not the easiest to tame and the top 2 octaves were hard to force to my will and I never got the tone I wanted, but the customer was happy. My recommendation would be to try the appropriate hammer for the piano. There were a grave mismatch on this piano.
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