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MMD > Archives > November 1998 > 1998.11.05 > 10Prev  Next

Hard Hammers & Harsh Piano Tone
By D. L. Bullock

I too am very impressed with the quality of the Rachmaninoff CD,
"Window in Time".  The first few minutes however, were very
disagreeable until I turned the treble down.  The Boesendorfer used
on this recording is very harsh, most likely because Mr. Stahnke has
played the hell out of the piano since it was built.  He is probably
unaware of the harsh tone.  I would suggest he have a good tech soften
hammers or perhaps replace them with a new set because of the
phenomenal amount of use these have had.

This harsh piano tone developed from the Yamaha piano that became
popular a couple of decades ago.  They use less tension and less crown
and much harder hammers than the American piano.  They were trying to
copy Steinway tone, but just ended up with strident and harsh.  Many
Jazz pianists loved that sound.  Unfortunately, that harshness has
become a standard for many, even classical performers.

Steinway's tone has even become more harsh than they used to allow in
order to compete.  To demonstrate that you should know that a new set
of Steinway hammers installed right out of the box sound like the piano
is being played with wet noodles.  Hit the keys as hard as you like --
the piano has no volume higher than a mezzo-piano.  The factory then
must load up the hammers with Acetone/melted keytop hardener liquid.

In the olden days the hammers needed no hardener.  They achieved the
tone and volume from the grain, and firmness, and pressure manufactured
into the hammer felt itself.  Renner Blue hammers are still made this

This Yamaha harsh sound is the same one found on an old unrestored piano
with 60-year-old hammers.  I have worked 30 years to remove that sound
from pianos.  If you listen to a well restored American piano and
compare it to the Yamaha you will find that the American pianos have
much more resonance yet are capable of loud treble as well.

Someone said that Horowitz kept his piano that way.  My comment is,
at the time he began playing again he was old and set in his ways,
and beginning to be unable to hear as well as when he was 20.  He
had to have the hammers that hard so he could hear it the way we hear
a mellow piano.  I find it painful to listen to his later recordings
for this reason, musical though they may be.

D. L. Bullock  --  Piano world  --  St. Louis

 [ Wayne Stahnke's 290 SE piano has the same tone as many other concert
 [ Boesendorfers I've played upon, both in the US and in Europe.  These
 [ are the modern ("apres Yamaha") designs; other Boesendorfers of the
 [ same size but an older design have a much mellower tone.
 [ Yamaha concert pianos are indeed typically harsh also.  (A friend
 [ thinks they're descended from the koto! :)   But I was amazed what
 [ a skilled tech did with stock Yamaha hammers: he made a Yamaha
 [ C7-D sound like a Mason & Hamlin!  -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 5 Nov 1998, 15:46:30 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Hammers, Hard, Harsh, Piano, Tone

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