Posts tagged Grand
Have you ever heard of the company called Estonia Piano? Appropriately they are named after the country in which they reside. Haven’t heard of the country of Estonia? They gained independance from Russia in 1991 and eventually became part of the European Union. Situated across the water from both Finland and Sweden, Estonia has been actively making pianos since 1893. This month I had the wonderful pleasure of skyping Dr. Indrek Laul (CEO of Estonia Piano). Although we’ve only met twice in person, he is a pleasure to converse with and if you could only sit where I sit, you’d find that his passion for piano building shines through. But he not only is passionate about piano construction but piano performance, having obtained his doctorate from Juilliard School of Music. You can see his fantastic ability on youtube here. The following is a wonderful illustration of piano design that weaves old concepts into new told by Dr. Laul himself. Enjoy!
“I was on a flight from Houston to New York reading this article from Wall Street Journal about billionaire Larry Ellison regarding his passion for competitive sailing. On these giant catamarans Team Oracle (funded by Ellison) had been failing against Team New Zealand despite having high tech computer sensors generating 3000 variables 10 times per second. The computers predicted the most efficient path for tacking (zig-zagging across the water against the wind). All indicators predicted victory to this high tech team and yet they consistently lost. Watching the video replays of both boats, they found that their competition – team New Zealand was tacking at a much greater angle making them go farther distances but at greater speed. When Team Oracle tried this, in the end it was discovered this “low and fast” method was superior and ultimately led them to victory of the America’s Cup. Although the computers aided much of the efficiency for Team Oracle, the last step towards the finish line, the final stretch came from sailing intuition ~ intuition which had been passed down for generations. Segue.
When it came time to design two new models for Estonia Piano we decided that our starting point should be listening – listening to pianos that really moved us. Invariably the pianos that provided inspiration from the late 1800’s/early 1900’s were the ones that captivated us.
Similar to the sailing example, “the final stretch” came from pianos that didn’t have technological advances. Sometimes we need to set aside what could be deemed most logical in order to ‘experiment with joy’. We wanted to capture anew and to relive the excitement and joy of beautiful tone and in doing so we started with these living examples from yesteryear. We then examined them and found that there was a common theme in soundboard construction which had major ramifications. The soundboard acts as an amplifier to the strings. There has been this movement towards tapered soundboards meaning that they are made thinner as they approach the rim (see diagram).
The reasoning is that this gives the board more flexibility to vibrate. Paradoxically however, the older instruments we listened to and enjoyed didn’t have tapered soundboards at all and yet we enjoyed them more. They were more rigid. This newer movement with tapered soundboards which vibrate freely, can also be problematic in being unwieldy and so to compensate, more perpendicular ‘ribs’ on the under side of the soundboard are used to stiffen it in the center. Well if you have a firmer soundboard like the pianos from last century, it requires fewer ribs. Fewer ribs reduce rigidity and rely more on the soundboard itself. So in simply redesigning the soundboard, automatically it required the spinoff effect of redesigning the amount and configuration of the ribs. I know this is technical, but ‘experimenting with joy’ can be exciting when you hear the results.
So we found that if we made wider and shorter ribs – having the same mass as previous ribs except the older ones were thin and tall – we achieved better control of the soundboard. There is also a movement to placing “pre-crowned” or slightly arced ribs on a crowned soundboard. Makes sense correct to match the arc of the ribs with the arc of the soundboard? On the contrary, we discovered that flat ribs pressed adjacent to a curved soundboard created tension. This tension resulted is in an even livelier yet stable soundboard.
But we didn’t stop there. In these new design changes, we also examined the contact point of the bridges. We found that bevelling the edges were more conducive to sound transference. The ‘less is more’ idea works well here where less contact on the bottom edge of the bridge achieved maximum transference with the least amount of soundboard interference.
Finally, we re-examined the beam structure underneath the piano. With 20 tonnes of compression from the strings, we experimented with the beam structure to match that pull by placing beams in a radiated fashion to create an equal and opposite rigid design. What started with the concept of listening, abandoning any pre-conceived ideas and then re-engineering, it led us down this path of two new pianos which we are really pleased with. We are now actively implementing these concepts to the rest of our models.
Oh and to finish the story about Larry Ellison, shortly after that race he purchased a brand new model 210 Estonia grand.” ~ Dr. Indrek Laul.
This is such an exciting story – one that ties in modern piano construction with artisan design concepts. A special thanks to Dr. Laul for this captivating illustration. You can view all of the current Estonia models on Piano Price Point here.
I have to admit, I let out a big sigh 6 years ago when I found out that Bösendorfer was purchased by Yamaha. Why? I have nothing against Yamaha. It’s because like many companies as of late, small piano makers are sold to larger ones and they’re dissolved into bigger corporations and it soon becomes merely a name on the front of a piano. The history, the heritage, the piano making expertise are lost and replaced as a name plate – simply selling credibility on the laurels of a former name.
Regarding Bösendorfer, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Fast forward to 2014: I caught up with Ed Bezursik (Yamaha Acoustic Piano Marketing Manager/ Bösendorfer North American Marketing Manager). We recently had a few brief minutes talking. We spoke of the new Yamaha CX line (see July 2013 blog) and then finally I asked him “So what’s the future for Bösendorfer? Is it going to get moved to Japan?”
(I know… a brazen and bold question but… I was curious) “Nothing of the sort!” he replied emphatically. “We’re keeping it where it is. In fact, we’re making Bösendorfer MORE Austrian”. When queried about this, he said that areas which had been outsourced are now being made in Austria. He referred me to the man who specializes in this at production level, Simon Oss (Premium Piano Market Development Manager for both Yamaha & Bösendorfer). “Yes”, Simon confirmed, “as Ed points out, the cast iron frame was previously made in the Czech Republic and is now a more expensive, higher quality frame made in Austria. Many people wonder how the product changed since Bösendorfer was purchased by Yamaha Corporation. The piano is constructed with exactly the same fundamental principles of Viennese piano making in Austria, since 1828. The production of the instruments is unchanged and we have Yamaha to thank for a much broader service and distribution network. The same Austrian craftsmen who built the pianos before Bösendorfer became part of Yamaha are still working today. With about 120 staff – out of these about 100 are craftsmen and technicians which are producing close to 300 exclusive instruments a year – a major contribution in today’s economy. In 2013 we celebrated our 185th anniversary at Bösendorfer, which makes us the oldest premium piano maker in the world. And we also completed our 50,000th instrument, a model 225 which you surely saw at NAMM”. (see NAMM highlights blog).
For those who have never heard the name, Bösendorfer can be found in many concert halls around the world. The company was started in 1828 by Ignaz Bösendorfer and by 1830 gained the status of official piano maker to the Emperor of Austria. The company has a star-studded cast of owners over the last 185 years from Classical greats like Paderewski to pop icons like Michael Jackson, jazz legends like Oscar Peterson to money moguls like Steve Jobs. If you’re looking for what is called a “Premier” piano, Bösendorfer is considered one of the most prominent, highest ranking, oldest companies in the world. Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP) of these pianos start at a modest $105,000 and range up to $515,000. Whew!
Most times I don’t like being wrong but in the case of Bösendorfer, I’m glad I was and I’m happy to see that one of the oldest surviving piano companies gets to continue to build pianos as one of the godfathers of the industry. Kudos to Yamaha for having the foresight to secure this company and allow the heritage to live on.
For your viewing pleasure – A quick video about the making of serial # 50,000 from Bosendorfer. BTW, that’s 24 carat gold plated statues and frame.
And Bösendorfer has also started a publication recently which can be read online and found here
Earlier this year, Kawai introduced us to their newest GX line of pianos following nearly a 20 year run with the RX series. Continuing on with their high tech Millenium III actions made of styran infused with carbon fiber, the piano scale has also been redesigned. However there are bigger structural changes which are outlined here:
1. Stretcher widened. The stretcher is the perpendicular beam (pictured left with lock plate) that connects the left/right sides of the rim. Kawai has solidified this beam and connected it to the pinblock and frame to act as a single unit.
2. Concert key buttons. Notice that the length of the key buttons (pictured right with red bushings) are very long acting as structural reinforcement to the key. Stiffer keys mean better energy transfer to the action.
3. Longer keys in all models. This lengthens the distance from the fulcrum (pivot point) enabling both greater control in dynamics and minimizing touch difference from front to back of the key at the keyboard.
4. New rim design called “Konsei katagi” meaning “mixed temperament”, mixing 2 alternating woods, one from northern grown closed pore hardwood, the other a tropical grown open grain wood provides both projection,warmth and full body.
5. New tapered soundboard. Using straight grained, quarter-sawn solid spruce for the GX line, the new soundboard taper offers greater sustain and projection.
The year 2012, marking their 125th anniversary, Yamaha introduced a new line of pianos. For those who have been in the trade, you will know that Yamaha became famous for their G series grands in the 60’s and 70’s. The C series soon became the popular models throughout the 80’s and 90’s and through the millennium. In 2010, Yamaha introduced a brand new concert grand replacing the CFIII with one called the CFX. Just two years later Yamaha unveiled the entire CX line utilizing the ‘trickle down’ effect where technology on the highest level of design has been applied to smaller sized grands. So what are the features of the new CX series? Like any scale design changes, they must be observed first hand. But here’s the skinny on major points.
1. Thicker back-post structure. Yamaha has increased the thickness by about 20% on supportive beams.
2. New soundboard design. Although not much has been revealed about what this entails, with years of experience and millions of pianos having been made, Yamaha states that the new manufacturing process to create the crown offers more projection and response.
3. New hammers. Based on the same felt as the CFX concert grand, these new hammers offer wider color range and tonal expression.
4. European wire is now utilized throughout the CX series presenting more pure fundamentals and distinctive sustained overtones.
5. Cabinet redesign. Pedal lyre, case arm, music rack and legs now have a minimalist look to them.
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