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Piano Touch with David Stanwood

Piano Price Point.com ~ June 2016
Chapter Index

Piano Touch with David Stanwood

Piano Touch
David StanwoodI was speaking with someone recently about this blog post on touch, describing it as “an interview with a piano mathematician”.
“There are piano mathematicians?” was the reply. If people only knew how many calculations go into the engineering of a single instrument, they would be astounded.

Today we have the privilege of speaking with David Stanwood, a piano technician who also happens to be a published author specializing in piano touch metrology. (Metrology being the science of measurement). He has spent decades studying, pouring over data to understand what it is that we FEEL under our fingers at the piano ~ what it is that makes the piano satisfying to play. The only problem is, it’s a little like speaking with a Formula One mechanic and asking “how does the car work?” It’s difficult to take these highly complex calculations and make them easily understandable. So what we’re going to attempt to do is start with the basics and work our way forward through some of the more complex questions. I hope you will find this not only interesting but also challenge your thinking about how we approach piano playing, performance and the technical angles of piano touch.

Glen Barkman:In its simplest form, can you define what touch is?
David Stanwood: Touch is the tactile connection between musical intention and piano tone.
GB: Musical intention. I’ve never really thought about it but you’re right, before we play, we make decisions, we pre-determine what sound we want to come out of the instrument that sits in front of us. When we touch the keys, that tactile connection is the bridge between what we seek and the tone we desire.

GB: In your opinion, what constitutes a satisfying piano touch?
DS: A piano with satisfying touch gives the pianist comfortable control of tone across the keyboard and at all dynamic levels (from pianissimo to fortissimo).

GB: From beginner piano students all the way to concert pianists, why is the concept of touch so important?
DS: Pianists use technique to control their sound and play expressively. It takes different techniques to play on pianos that have a light, medium, or heavy touch. A beginner is less flexible in their ability to adjust to different piano types because they are more limited in their technical skills. It’s best for a beginner to play on a piano that feels comfortable with a sound that they connect with emotionally. The professional pianist has more extensive ear training and a repertoire of technique that allows them to adapt more easily to the variety pianos they perform on.
GB: The piano, due to its immense size and weight is one of the few instruments musicians don’t readily carry with them. A violinist or horn player will show up to a performance and have full knowledge of what to expect from their own instrument. Pianists need to adapt to a variety of levels of touch. It’s a requirement of the instrument.
DS: Yes and pianists also expect and want a predictable response from every note. If one plays a scale at any dynamic level, it should take the same touch applied to each key. This simply makes it easier to control the sound. Unfortunately, there are lots of pianos with uneven touch. It takes highly skilled technique to play on a piano with uneven touch and without that level of skill the results are less expressive and not as satisfying.

Rosalyn Tureck talks very clearly about the challenge of performing on pianos with uneven touch in Steinway’s informative booklet “Talking About Pianos” Published in 1982:

Rosalyn Tureck Piano Touch Quote

Grand Piano Whippen AssemblyGB: Many have not seen the inside of a piano. In basic terms, what’s the purpose of the levers that make up the piano keys and action?
DS: There are three functions of the piano action:
1. Multiplying force: The levers in each piano key make the hammer go up much faster than the key goes down. This multiplying effect gives the hammer enough velocity to produce sufficient tone.
2. Escapement: The second purpose of the action design allows the hammer to release from the pushing force of the mechanism just before hitting the string without jamming the hammer against the string.
3. Repetition: The action makes it possible for the pianist to be able to repeat the playing of each note quickly.

GB: How has piano touch evolved over the centuries?
DS: Chopin played and composed on mid 19th century pianos that had, very soft, light hammers, and a very light and shallow touch. The piano evolved into it’s final structural form in the late 19th century to have heavier hammers with heavier and deeper touch than its antique predecessor. Over the course of the 20th century we see hammer weights evolving even higher and tapping into the hidden tonal potential that we find in today’s pianos. To keep actions from becoming too heavy, the pivot point of the keys (balance rail) on today’s pianos is a little farther back than it was 100 years ago. This means the hammers do not move up quite as fast in relation to the key going down. As a result, the touch of today’s pianos is about 1mm deeper than those made earlier in the 20th century, bottoming out at a depth or “Dip” of 10.5mm. We find wide variations in touch of pianos at any point in history.
GB: You wouldn’t think that 1 millimeter of touch depth would make a difference but it is quite noticeable at the keyboard. Similarly our sense of touch is quite acute even in how level keys are or even variation in key resistance from one piano to another or from key to key.
Before going any further, take a moment to watch this brief video from David Stanwood where you’ll be able to see more of what is involved with Precision Touch Design:


Piano Key Stick with Lead Weights InsertedGB: To aid the feel of the key, lead weights were introduced over a century ago and inserted into the keys. So manipulation of weight has been around for years now. What’s the purpose of the lead weights?
DS: Leads are traditionally set in the key to make it just barely drop with a 50g downweight (the weight required to start to move the key down). Hammers are heavier in the bass and lighter in the treble so there is more lead weight in the bass side of the piano and less on the treble side. Intuitively we think that making a perfectly consistent down weight will make piano feel perfect but it is an illusion. The inconvenient truth is that down weight is a very poor indicator of the forces that the pianist uses when playing at different volume levels. This is because down weight is measured with the key moving so slowly that the hammer does not go fast enough to hit the string. At playing speeds, the laws of inertia apply and the pianist experiences much higher playing forces which we refer to to as “Dynamic Touch”. Down Weight could be called “Static Touch”. It’s easy to measure but has little to do with playing pianos and making music.
Piano Hammer RotationGB: How then do you approach the piano to make this dynamic touch (from extremities of soft to loud playing)?
DS: My approach is to look at the component structure of Dynamic Touch. To do this I had to invent a whole new realm of piano science. It’s called “Touch Weight Metrology”. I developed new protocols which include Strike Weight – the weight of the mounted hammer and Front Weight – the amount of counterbalancing weight in each key. What ties it all together is the “Equation of Balance” which I discovered in the mid 1990’s. With the equation it became possible to calculate the amount of weight it takes to balance a gram of hammer weight. It’s called the Strike Weight Ratio which relates to how fast the hammer moves in relation to the key. Up until that time it was generally assumed that all action ratios were 1:5. GB: Meaning that for the force of the key was multiplied five fold at the hammer? DS: Yes, and to our surprise it turned out that the ratio could be anywhere from 5 to 7 depending on the age of the piano and its construction quirks. We studied hundreds of pianos and found that specific hammer weight/ratio combinations are associated with specific dynamic touch types. The key component of dynamic touch is the weight of the hammer. This little mass of wool felt covered wood is what transfers the energy of the finger’s stroke into glorious tone emanating from the soundboard. The hammer produces 70% – 90% of the force that the pianist exerts on the key when playing. Studies show that inconsistencies in hammer weights are the major factor in contributing to inconsistent dynamic touch. Smooth out the hammer weights and you smooth out the dynamic touch.
It’s not a silver bullet but it is a powerful tool.
As for our old friends the key weights – they will always have a place in piano construction. And down weight? – It plays a part but relates mainly to the pianissimo side of playing.

GB: And now for the ever-so-popular question… Can the touch of a piano be changed and improved? And what is the process for changing the feel of a piano?
DS: The touch of any piano even those of the highest quality can be changed and improved. The approach I take is to first perform a touch weight component analysis. I carefully listen to the client talk about their needs and desires. I inspect the action, I listen carefully to the piano and I play it myself. From all this data, a clear choice of engineered solutions emerges. These alway include smoothing out the Strike Weights and adjusting the level of Strike Weights to be higher or lower and most importantly to be a match for ratio.
GB: So for clarification, if I can interject, what you’re saying is that the smoothing out of strike weights refers to adjusting the weights mainly in the piano hammers because the leverage in the action makes every gram count when it is multiplied?
DS: Yes , actually every tenth of a gram counts. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to hammer weight. This skill has been overlooked in the evolution of piano technology. If the ratio is out of bounds, we adjust the position of lever points within the action to create a match. The weights in each key are always attended to as well because the traditional down weight balancing method that all piano makers have been using always produces inconsistencies in the key weights. I use the equation to calculate perfect key balancing patterns for remounting and fine tuning the counterbalancing weights within each key. The regulation of the action attending to friction
tuning and voicing of the piano are addressed as well.

New Touch Weight Metrology - Folded and Unfolded
GB: After years of analysis, you came up with an algebraic equation to explain piano touch. Can you briefly share the concept and the idea behind this “folded” and “unfolded” beam method of thinking about your Equation of Balance?
DS: It’s not rocket science, it’s see-saw science. The piano action seems like a complicated mechanism but it is actually what engineers call a Folded Beam which is to say it’s design, with key, wippen, and hammer shank, is made into a compact and practical mechanism. To understand the weight, leverage, and friction relationships in a piano key, it’s helpful to use the direct analogy of the key as a see-saw with a short side which represents the playing side of the key with a weight on its end representing the key weights. On the other side, the hammer sits way out on the long end. One may easily see that when one moves the short end down slowly, the long end moves up quickly just like a piano key. The ratio is represented as how far out the hammer sits. It’s easy to imagine that adding or subtracting weight to the hammer or sliding it in our out on the long end is going to have a big impact on how much weight it takes to balance at the short end. The wippen is represented by a weight just behind the fulcrum. Friction is represented by a rusty bearing on the pivot point.
Strike Weight MeasuringThinking this way makes the relationships clear. I’ve even used the see-saw to show 5th graders how a balanced beam with weights on both sides is equivalent as an algebraic expression with an equal sign. You could see the light bulbs going off by the expression in their faces!
GB: What we’re looking at above is a cutaway of a grand piano key. Pictured is the side profile. The orange colored weights represent the necessary weight (which would in effect be our fingers pressing down the key) to balance the equation. The second diagram depicts those same ideas spread out. The numbers along the see-saw are the multiplying effects of those same levers. The picture here has a 5 to 1 ratio meaning that every gram at the hammer is multiplied by 5 at the keyboard, thus as you mentioned before, the importance of smoothing out the weights of the hammers. Though it looks like 5th grade math and paradoxically simple, when you add in the fact that the hammer is on a rotational axis and then you add in lead weights with friction points, the puzzle becomes more challenging.

GB: Historically, lead weights are the usual go-to for balancing a piano action. But talk to us about strike weight and what impact hammer weight balancing is can have on the piano.
DS: Historically lead weights have been used to hide a host of sins. For example if a key bushing is too tight when keys are balanced, more lead is typically put into the key to get it to go down. When the key loosens up after playing, the extra lead weight in that one key will make it respond differently from its neighbors and making the dynamic touch uneven. Or if a hammer is cut a little wider making it heavier than its neighbors, more lead is put into the key. In this case the uneven hammer weight makes dynamic touch uneven and the effect is magnified even more by the uneven lead weights in the key. Better to fix the friction or hammer weight rather than throwing lead weight at the problems.

My approach is to design and make dynamic touch by building touch weight components to precise engineered specifications. Most importantly strike weight is matched with the action ratio. This sets the stage for the dynamic quality of the action. Once the strike weight and action ratio is known the key weighting specifications for each key are calculated using the equation of balance.

The dynamic touch design is then installed to specification by individually adding or subtracting the strike weight of each hammer so they are perfectly consistent from note to note. Similarly lead weights in the keys are individually set into the side of the keys using precise specifications all installed to within a few tenths of a gram. This results in a specific dynamic touch quality that is perfectly consistent and predictable from key to key when played.

With these “Equation Balanced” actions the key weights are truly set permanently in the right place and never have to be altered again. When hammers wear out down the road, the new hammers are made to the touch design specifications and the integrity of balance may be maintained for the life of the instrument.
Strike Weight MeasuringGB: So to recap then, pianos have been measured from the front (meaning the key and lead weights). What you’re saying is that we need to start thinking from the hammer and working backwards. We need to look more closely at Strike Weights and Strike Ratio. Since lead weights will really only affect a small fraction of the representative touch, addressing the Strike Weight will affect all levels of dynamics and not just quiet playing.

DS: Yes and so this vision for the piano industry includes training piano technicians on hammer weight balancing skills. They have to learn how to work with a hammer/strike weight specifications and be skilled in reducing weight by cutting and/or sanding the sides of the hammers, or increasing hammer weight, swaging small bits of lead weight into the wooden molding of the hammer. I’ve been balancing strike weights since the mid 1990’s. Initially there was some push back but now after 2 decades of teaching and training it has become an accepted method for technicians aspiring to the highest quality in their work.
GB: The evolution of the piano has led to this point of now being able to represent touch as an algabraic expression. Thanks, David for your efforts in all of this. I started reading your works back in about year 2000 and was amazed (back then and even more today) at your abilities to calculate touch.
Stanwood Banner
GB: It has been great talking with you. Be sure to stop in at David Stanwood’s Website and look at many of the resources there. He has developed Precision Touch Design and offers training and courses to technicians globally.

Baldwin Piano Then And Now

Piano Price Point.com ~ April 2016
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Baldwin Piano ~ Then and Now

Baldwin Grand KeysTom Dorn Baldwin Display
If you live in North America, you’ll surely be aware that Baldwin is a household name. In fact, my first job involving pianos was in the local Baldwin dealership. They have been around since 1862 and were at one point the largest piano manufacturer in North America. At the NAMM trade show this year, I caught up with Tom Dorn (pictured on the right) as I was curious how Baldwin has changed over the last few years knowing that they had been sold to Gibson Guitar Corporation in 2001 and in 2008, moved manufacturing to China. But I was equally curious to know what elements have stayed the same. As I approached the Baldwin booth, I couldn’t believe how the cabinets were identical looking on some of the models from decades ago. Baldwin, in my opinion has always captured the essence of American décor.
Baldwin White Grand
Glen Barkman: Tom, they look identical to pianos I used to sell. Are they using similar cabinet designs?

Tom Dorn: These furniture models (B342 & B442) are updated versions of the old Acrosonic pianos and have identical cabinets. The Hamilton studio piano (B243) is the latest version of our institutional vertical, and the model B252 is the updated version of the Concert Vertical (Model 6000). The new Baldwin Professional Series Grands have cabinets that were modeled after the most recent version of Baldwin Artist Grands (M1, R1, L1) that received that cosmetic makeover in the year 2000.

GB: What are some of the features that are unique to Baldwin that are implemented into current designs?
Baldwin Upright Piano
TD: The new BP (Baldwin Professional) Series Grands are done with the same “level” of materials that we traditionally used in Baldwin Artist Grands. The grands feature all-maple inner and outer rims, wet sand cast plates as well as solid Sitka spruce soundboards, Abel hammers, duplex scaling, and real ebony sharp keys. Baldwin verticals have a strong 5 post backframe, wet-sand cast plates, complete with Baldwin full blow action, and are now using Accu-just hitchpins ~ a way to accurately apply downbearing to the bridge from the string hitch. All Baldwin verticals are equipped with a functional middle pedal that is a bass sustain.
Baldwin Strings and Logo
GB: What are some new upgrades that the old Baldwins didn’t have?

TD: Baldwin Verticals now have added the felt-strip mute rail or quiet play feature on a small lever on the lower part of the cabinet. This allows us to offer that capability without sacrificing the middle pedal.

The BP178, BP190, and the coming BP211 Grand models all feature the new slow close Magic Lid. This is a hydraulic system that allows you to lift the heavy grand lid with 2 fingers and makes opening and closing the lid on these pianos much easier and safer.

GB: Are there some features like hammers or strings that are the same brand 20 years ago that are still used on today’s pianos?

TD: We still use all maple parts in our actions, and the last change in the vertical action design came in 2002 when we altered the balance rail for faster repetition. We may have different suppliers for some parts, but they are all built to Baldwin specifications.


Baldwin Cast Iron Crest
GB: What prompted the change to build pianos in China?
TD: The global piano market has changed dramatically. The Chinese domestic piano market is approximately 350,000 pianos annually – which accounts for 80% of the world’s new piano market. The USA only sells about 35,000 pianos per year. China simply is where the market is. When I started in the piano business back (way back) in the 1970s, there were many US manufacturers because the US market was selling upwards of 200,000 pianos annually. It made sense to make pianos here because it was the largest market.

GB: What are some of the new models released now? I remember the Artist series grands were M, R, L, SF and SD. That line has been expanded slightly to meet the needs of today’s consumers. What are the sizes of grands now? And uprights? What are the latest models?
Baldwin Upright Piano B342
TD: There was a 5’2” Artist Grand, the Model M (probably my personal favorite, one of the best small grands ever built). The new grand models are the Baldwin Professional Series (BP) and have a number designation that indicates the size in centimeters. They are BP148 (4’10”), BP152 (5’), BP165 (5’5”), BP178 (5’10”), BP190 (6’3”), and coming soon the BP211 (6’11”). I would suggest that someone who liked the M should try the BP165, the R the BP178, the L the BP190, and the SF10 the BP211.

For verticals we still make 2 Acrosonic 43” consoles (B442, B342). Everything else follows today’s demand for taller uprights. The new BP1 and the B243 are 47”, the BP3 is 48”, and the BP5 is 49”. The B252 is 52” as it is exactly like the model 6000 Concert Vertical.
Baldwin Upright Piano B252
GB: What makes the new Baldwins sound “warm”?
TD: The ‘warm’ Baldwin tone is a result of using similar materials to the ones that we always have (such as Abel hammers), and by having a product manager at the factory who has worked with Baldwin pianos for many years. Barnabas Fekete inspects each Baldwin Grand as it comes off the line and makes sure it is voiced to sound like a Baldwin.

GB: What’s the advantage of having a mega corporation like Gibson at the helm?
TD: Gibson is obviously no stranger to the music industry. Established in 1902, they have grown to become one of the largest music names globally. Purchasing Baldwin back in 2001 has given Baldwin presence and the stability of a major American corporation. One of the biggest advantages is the Gibson Entertainment Relations Division. Gibson has dozens of offices around the world that are working to promote their brand names. In the case of pianos this can be seen in terms of highly visible placements on TV Shows such as “Glee” or “Arrested Development” and movies such as “Behind the Candelabra” on HBO not long ago. Gibson also maintains the Trumann factory as a parts facility should technicians require parts for older Baldwin USA pianos.
Baldwin Grand Piano on Stage

Thanks so much Tom for taking the time to give us some insights into Baldwin then and now. Having been with the company for years, no one would better know than you how this company has transformed into the newly emerged Baldwin Piano Company we’re seeing today. For more information about Baldwin and their products, you can visit their website here: Baldwin Piano

Renner Piano Parts Manufacturing

Piano Price Point.com ~ July 2015
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Renner – Piano Parts Manufacturing

Renner Piano Logo
“World War II – July, 1944 ~ 71 years ago almost to the day, 85% of the Renner factory was destroyed. Wilhelm Megenhardt, then 70 years of age simply replied ‘We’ll just build it up again’. He continued working until 85 years of age after Renner had become a leading producer of piano parts. He was my grandfather.”

Clemins von Arnim from RennerGlen Barkman: It was a delight and privilege to sit with Clemens von Arnim (pictured left) and ask him about his connection to Renner. I had no idea that it was his grandfather, Megenhardt who partnered with Renner in the early days of this business and eventually became sole owner.

Established in 1882, Louis Renner opened a small workshop in Stuttgart. Operating with 25-40 workers, he built a successful business around making piano parts (also known as action parts). Twenty years later, as he began to struggle with his health, his son Oskar Renner assumed position as technical head of production. Shortly thereafter in 1906, in partnership with Wilhelm Megenhardt, they opened a modern factory manufacturing action parts as well as piano hammerheads.
Renner piano hammers
Why is Renner important? Aren’t there other makers of action parts? The answer is yes, there are many makers of parts, it’s just that none of them have the reputation of Renner. Throughout the pages of Piano Price Point you’ll come across this phrase “Renner option available” or “Renner hammers”. When I’ve asked consumers, pianists and even aficionados about Renner, I usually hear a similar response: “I’ve heard of Renner but don’t really know what it’s all about.”

Renner piano whippen assemblyIn short, Renner builds the finest action parts money can buy. The most prestigious, exotic piano makers in the world use Renner parts. Take a look at the chart below of piano companies that Renner supplies to. Who uses Renner piano partsIf you know some of the names on this list you’ll know that they produce the finest instruments in the world. And so why use parts from a company like Renner? Listen to the words of Clemens von Arnim to hear more:

Demand
Clemins von Arnim: Our philosophy is based on 4 words: Quality, Reliability, Precision and Durability. How we accomplish that comes from the original mandate set out by Louis Renner himself. A standard grand action has more than 4000 parts. He set out to meet the demand for consistent quality. When you play a piano, all 88 notes need to respond precisely in the same manner and each of those keys has a minimum of 45 action parts. How does one manage to meet the stringent criteria for the highest level of quality? The answer is multi-faceted but let me start off by telling you a simple example that is decades old in the Renner factory about planing wood – one that set Renner apart. You see, to make piano parts, you must plane or cut wood to specific shapes and sizes. Cutting with the grain of wood is easy. Cutting across the grain at 90 degrees requires the correct tools. If the machinery is not extremely rigid, the edges of the cutting machine will ‘jitter’ against the wood and you will end up with course or substandard parts. In my grandfather’s era, at the Renner factory they over-built, over-constructed these planing machines to almost 2 ½ times the specifications so that cutting the smallest pieces would be accurate and smooth.

Renner piano shanks
CvA: That original machine existed in our factory for decades. And it got replaced not because we had outgrown its usefulness, but rather automation in manufacturing prevailed. But it was this commitment to quality – to engineer and have machines that could produce the finest parts of the highest quality that set Renner apart more than a century ago.


GB:That story sounds like one where they call the inventor crazy until they see the end result. Tell me about your parts and how they are made.
Renner piano wood sorting
CvA: Our parts are made of hornbeam wood. Trees need to be cut between November and March when growth is slow and not so wet. Boards are then cut and air dried for one full year. This is very important because if you dry it too quickly, it has too much tension. It is then kiln dried until it reaches uniformity at around 8-9% humidity. After that, boards are sorted by our specialist for usage (see diagram). Vertical grain is used for hammer shanks while horizontal and diagonal grain wood is used for other action parts. In the end, 60% of our production lumber we deem as firewood and only use about 40% due to our stringent quality controls.”
Renner cut piano parts
Delivery
GB: How has Renner managed to stay on top of the industry for so many years?
CvA: Aside from the commitment to quality, Renner has over 100 years of technical experience. There is a balance between modern automation and know-how when it comes to natural products. You cannot simply rely on machinery to have intuition regarding natural materials of wood and felt. And so 50% of our processes are automated and 50% involve hand-made personal touch. We have two facilities – one at Gärtringen (near Stuttgart) and one at Meuselwitz (near Leipzig). What has kept Renner going is that we can deliver and have met the demand without comprimise. Renner is the largest purely piano action manufacturer in the world. Over 3 million piano actions have left our production facilities.

GB: Somebody please do the math… conservatively 4,000 piano parts per action x 3 million actions… anyone? 12 BILLION parts. I think it’s safe to say that Renner can deliver.

DiversityRenner piano computer design
CvA: In 1952, we expanded yet again to offer not only parts for new fabrication but also for repair and rebuilding. We manufacture over 1000 types of piano hammer heads. One of the reasons Renner continues to exist is the fact that we can supply not only volume but also make hammers with custom requirements. Clients tell us how firm the felt should be, how much felt is required around the wood and what sound they’re trying to achieve. We can troubleshoot and even offer suggestions to those wanting to customize action parts. Now, in the age of computer assisted design, the diversity is even greater. Over the years we have gained so much knowledge in working with wood and fibres of felt that we can control variances to very small percentages. Our tolerances at Renner are less than 1/10th of 1 millimetre which is sporty if you know what it’s like to work with natural products of wood and felt.

GB: This was one of those moments that made me smile .. “sporty” (I thought to myself) was the perfect word that describes the healthy pride in accomplishment and ownership but also denotes great satisfaction. :)

Renner piano hammer manufacturing
The Renner Advantage
CvA: Because of such tight tolerances in product manufacturing, our long standing knowledge base, combined with our hands-on technical team, we are capable of not only making beautifully crafted actions for today but also ones that will remain consistent for long periods of time. Our actions need little adjustment.

GB: If you’ve ever sat down at a piano with a Renner action, you’ll know that the touch and feel is superb. They play as smooth as silk and feel as rich as chocolate.

Many thanks to Clemens von Arnim. It was fantastic to meet face to face and to learn about Renner and the history of not only your family but the heritage that Renner has made. Renner has changed the world in creating music with the most prominent piano makers in history. The greatest concert pianists have played on piano actions created by Renner.
Renner piano action
Renner has its own Academy for training purposes on piano actions. Below are some links to Renner around the world. Enjoy!
Renner Germany ~ Renner USA ~ Renner Academy

Hailun Piano Innovation

Hailun Piano Innovation

Piano Price Point.com ~ December 2014
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Hailun Chen
Aluminum Key BedEarlier this year at NAMM I interacted with Mr. Hailun Chen – truly a privilege and honour to connect with such a humble visionary who has influenced and supplied more piano parts than we’re probably aware of. I greatly respect individuals who state “I have put my name on my pianos and on my company”. Mr. Hailun Chen is the real McCoy where his name is his guarantee.

Working with a translator, he showed me different concepts in his pianos. What caught my eye was this silver looking gleam under the keys on one of their upright pianos. As seen in the picture, the key “bed” is the horizontal frame that the keys rest on. It’s imperative to have a solid key bed without which the piano touch would be compromised in evenness and functionality. Normally made out of wood, frames will sag or warp over time. It’s a common problem.

Upright Piano Side ProfileAluminum however, prevents this problem and ensures both structural integrity but also alignment for a life-time. It is completely warp resistant. So if the strings run vertically in an upright piano, the key bed is perpendicular to the frame. If there is any sagging or warping in a wooden key bed, even by a few millimetres (1/16th of an inch), the problem is compounded in the vertical alignment of the strings.

So what are the implications of integrating aluminum? (See? I knew you would be as excited about this innovation as I am. This innovation BTW is exclusive to Hailun pianos and is officially called PAS system – Permanency- Accuracy- Stability). Aluminum Key BedWell to keep any piano completely in ‘check’ and performing optimally, regulation (fine adjustments) are done. Quite often, as pianos age and get worn, piano technicians are making these adjustments to compensate for worn parts but also for a sagging key bed. What happens then if key bed issues were taken out of the equation? Indeed, the regulation would be a much easier task. Speaking with Basilios Strmec, CEO of Hailun Distribution for North America, it gets even better. Let’s say you are an avid pianist working hard on a performance degree and you used one of the Hailun pianos as a workhorse. You would expect to see substantial wear and tear, correct? Over years, when pianos start to feel and sound worn, if you had an aluminum key bed, you could simply swap actions and renew the instrument to its original condition.

Hailun FactoryThat means in essence you would have a mechanically NEW piano – with new joints, hammers and parts. It would feel new but also the fresh felt on the hammers would make it sound new. Historically during construction of a piano, one instrument’s parts were fitted to just one piano – meaning they’re not interchangeable. Hailun SignEven if it’s the same make, same model, same brand, same year, you would usually not be able to change out parts readily. With modern computer based CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled – in other words carving out parts by computer control), the precision is such that you could actually swap out the ‘engine’ of the piano with 4 bolts in a few minutes. In essence then, we’ve reached an age in manufacturing where not only are you investing in the present piano but saving on the rebuilding costs for years to come. That’s amazing! Kudos to Hailun for the innovation in the industry. Special thanks to Basilios Strmec for taking the time to discuss this with me and providing information.

Hailun Award

Haven’t heard of Hailun? They have over 430,000 square feet of manufacturing space and employ over 1,100 people and one of only 2 Chinese made piano companies listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange.

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