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Posts tagged piano

Visiting Petrof Piano

Piano Price ~ November 2015
Chapter Index

PETROF Piano Tour

Czech Republic, November 18th, 2015
Bell Tower in Czech Republic
I walk up the stairs of the bell tower in the town of Hradec Králové (“City of the Queen”). The stone steps are worn because many have visited this monument built nearly 450 years ago. Massive beams are used to support the bell that appears to be about 5 feet tall. I think about the challenge of building a tower out of stone and then raising this 8 ton bell to a height of almost 200 feet without modern equipment. I’m sometimes baffled by the human spirit. It must’ve been a struggle to survive back then in everyday life. But what is more interesting to me is that there’s this determination not only to survive, but to build objects of beauty and to express creatively despite seemingly monumental obstacles. Such is the case also with PETROF pianos. Located in the same town, PETROF has been building pianos since 1864. When you think about building pianos back then – milling trees into lumber, casting iron, making thousands of intricate action parts by hand without modern tools, I must say I’m amazed at the human spirit again to feel compelled to build instruments of such rare beauty.
Today PETROF is very different. It quickly becomes apparent that PETROF, the largest European piano manufacturer, is this wonderful mixture of old-world charm and state-of-the-art advancements. Their facilities replicate their ideas. Out of these rough cut stones of old buildings come polished diamonds of beauty – transformations of wood and iron into dazzling pianos that are not only aesthetically pleasing but musically beautiful and expressive.

3 pictures of Hradec Králové

Outside the Petrof FactoryHand Sanding in Petrof Factory

I started the tour in the milling room where they cut wood into usable lengths and sizes. Adjacent to that is their cabinet making shop. It brings a smile to my face when I smell sawdust. I enjoy wood shops. The mixture of rugged machinery from yesteryear is situated right beside sleek computerized lathes which are accurately notching and drilling piano cabinets. My absolute favourite room in the whole factory though was the next area where grand rims are pressed together. Petrof grand rim pressTwo workers were preparing layers of the rim as well as beautiful veneers by hand but again, this massive press of brute force joins the layers of the rim together. Without seeing the magnitude of the machine in person, it’s hard to grasp. It looks like it weighs about the same as a tank! Thousands of pounds of pressure are used to push the grand rims efficiently and effortlessly together. The technical savvy to build the machine is staggering to me let alone the grand rims that come out of it.

Petrof grand piano cast iron plateMoving to the metal shop, we see the cast frames being sanded and finished, again by hand. If you’ve ever been in a machine shop, this smells identical. Concrete and brick with metal filings give this room such a distinct feel. Here the wet sand cast plates are prepared to be sprayed smooth with gold.
We then moved to the assembly area and that’s when I noticed one thing right away: Plants. Petrof Upright AssemblyYes you read correctly. I was just not expecting to see greenery in the piano factory. Why? It’s a highly technical reason… just kidding. It’s not actually. Here’s what I love about PETROF ~ Each of the assembly stations has been personalized by the workers. So at each station I saw something different that reflected the workers who go there every day – I saw plants, lots of pictures of their kids, memorabilia and collectables, pictures of cars and even sporting events. To others, the inspiration was not visual but audible. Some areas had obvious Czech cultural music playing while other areas were playing popular songs on the radio. Does this detract from the professionalism of the company? Absolutely not. Conversely, I find it telling that many of the workers have made piano manufacturing their vocation and have stayed for years. It speaks volumes to me about employee satisfaction. And with longevity comes proficiency. Petrof grand pianoPetrof hand chisellingAccording to Jan Prostředník, the production manager, he said ‘we actually have people who have been working here for decades. We even have some married couples or other sons and daughters that have joined operations here as well”. So in the midst of the work at PETROF, there’s also a sense of family. I respect that. How I digress.
Back to piano making: It’s interesting to me how companies who have been making a product for the last 150 years choose to modernize some aspects of manufacturing and yet retain other areas by hand. For example, ten years ago, they installed a giant computerized buffing machine to make their finishes PERFECT. And I mean mirror finish. Yet when it comes to things like intuition – feeling how the keys respond as the new bushings are being tested for friction, it’s hands-on labour. There’s no replacement for intuition. Again, there’s a machine that plays keys repetitively hundreds of times (or possibly even thousands) to break in or settle the piano but when it comes to voicing – listening to the newly installed voice of each hammer, it’s all done one note at a time. And just watching the master carver with beautiful chisels carve decorative panels is absolutely fascinating to me.

Petrof key levellingStepping into the furthest reaches of technology, PETROF is very sophisticated. Aside from computerized advancements in manufacturing, PETROF physically models and designs pianos through software called “Menzurix”. How does it work? Well pianos all have strings of various lengths correct? Low notes have really long strings while the top notes in any piano are really short. How do you know what thickness or gauge of wire to use on any note? Petrof Menzurix design softwareThis is where the Menzurix software comes in. Providing the length you require and then typing in a hypothetical gauge of wire, it will mathematically compute and graph out the potential sound for that string. Rather than installing one string after another and listening, the engineers at PETROF can mathematically compute and optimize the strings before a single wire goes into the piano. This is cutting edge technology. PETROF can pre-determine body of the tone and harmonics. But it doesn’t stop there. PETROF also has a very large an-echoic chamber (meaning there is almost no echo in this room. You can almost hear your own heart beat it’s so close). Petrof anechoic chamberIt’s large enough to house a grand piano and test their results. Also in the facility is a Feutron machine. The Feutron tests materials that go into a piano and pushes the envelope for both temperature and humidity. According to Jan Prostředník, every substance from glues, adhesives to finishes get tested at extreme temperatures and humidity. Practically what does this mean? It means that if they’ve tested materials in such an extreme way, there’s very little chance of it going wrong elsewhere in the world. They know all of their materials and how they will react. That translates into confidence knowing that they’ve done environmental “stress tests” with everything that goes into the instrument.
But what about the music? Ahhhh this is the enjoyable part. At PETROF you see almost every stage of construction. (Everything is made locally with the exception of German Renner actions and German hammers). Everything comes together in this one factory and when you finally put your fingers on the keys, it translates into the most wonderful tone. Their pianos truly feel like an extension of your fingers. The keys are responsive and quick, and the tone contains a gradual crossover from soft and felty with a tinge of sparkle to bold brazen power.
Antonin Petrof Grand

Petrof Zuzana Petrofova Susana PetrofAt the end of the tour, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Zuzana Petrofova (English ~ Susana Petrof). What a delight to meet a living legend – CEO of this company 5 generations later! That evening we drove through the town and passed the old bell tower. Across the street from this church is the family PETROF home. As central as PETROF is to this town, I believe musically, they have become central to the world stage over the last 150 years and I suspect will continue to strive to build pianos of excellence and serve the musical community at large.
Coming soon – the dynamic virtual PETROF tour. If you haven’t yet seen our piano factory tour chapter, you can see it HERE

Laoureux Dampers

Piano Price ~ October 2015
Chapter Index

Laoureux Piano Dampers
Piano Dampers Laoureux

Today’s topic is piano dampers. When your finger depresses a key on the piano, the string vibrates allowing us to hear the wonderful tone of the piano. But what happens when we lift that same key? The key returns to its upright position and the tone stops resonating. Why? The piano mechanism called the dampers simply press felt blocks on the vibrating strings to terminate the singing tone.

To understand a bit more about dampers, we brought in Marc Venet from world renowned felt maker Laoureux in France!
But before we delve into piano dampers, we need to take a brief look at the piano strings. On any modern piano there are usually 3 sets of strings: tri-chord, bi-chord and mono-chord. The prefixes of tri- bi- and mono- give away the fact that there are notes on the piano that contain 3, 2 and 1 string. This is significant because as we’ll soon hear, damping 3 strings at a time is very different than damping 1 string. Piano Damper TypesThe largest strings on the piano are the bass strings. They are copper-wound strings and produce the lowest notes of the piano where you can actually see the vibration of the string. Conversly, as you move higher in the piano, the frequency of the waveform gets faster and we can’t see the vibration. Sinusoidal Wave Piano StringsPiano strings can be called “sinusoidal” from where we get the root “sine” wave. The purpose of the damper then is to stop the wave and subsequently, the sound. The damping techniques and felt types are really different to mute different thicknesses of strings and their varying degrees of energy.

Without further adieu, and knowing a bit more of the background of dampers, let’s talk to Marc Venet from Laoureux.

Glen Barkman: The history of Laoureux, it’s been going a long time and is one of the largest piano felt makers in the world. Can you tell us a brief history of the company and how you got involved?

Marc Venet: Laoureux was founded in 1923 by Mr. Laoureux and after 3 generations of Laoureux’ leading the company until 1976, it wasn’t doing well financially. It was purchased by SCAPA group who bought the company in order to build a conglomerate in European felt business (Naish felts, Royal Georges felt, Laoureux, etc.)
My father was hired at this time in order to restore the profitability of the company Laoureux, which he succeeded to do above their expectations and quite possibly be the reason why Laoureux is now the only felt maker from this group that survived and producing today. The choice he made was to concentrate on high quality, hand made felts and avoid mass market felts like those found in the automotive industry, for example, which have bigger profits, yes but also involve big risks and large turnovers. It was a good choice. My father finally bought the company in 1988 and I joined the company in 1998.

piano damper types
GB: There are 3 types of strings and yet 4 types of dampers (mono,bi,tri and treble), can you tell us how each of those work?

MV: The shape and the types of dampers depend on the string they are supposed to damp.
A – The “Mono” or “One string” looks like a square with a V shape inside in order to envelop the large string on bass section of the piano.

B – The “Bi” or the “Two strings” looks like a V shape in order to get inside the space between the two strings on the tenor section of the piano.

C – The “Tri” or “Tri strings” looks the same as the “two strings” wedge shape but contains a split in the middle to act as a double wedge. These are for the lowest plain wire strings.

D – the “Flat damper” looks like a cushion of low density felt and are used for the highest notes on the piano.

For all dampers the target is to damp the sound, that means that they are in charge of absorbing the vibrations of the strings. Those vibrations are in fact frequencies like sinusoid signals (pictured above). The bass notes have low frequencies which mean long and spaced sinusoidal waves, and on the contrary, the treble or high notes have high frequencies which mean shorts but repeated sinusoidal waves.

Of course, for playing the piano, it is interesting to have more or less the same time to dampen the sounds when you release the keys, wherever you play on the keyboard (bass, tenor, or treble) and yet the frequencies and subsequent energies are quite different. For achieving that, we use different dampers with different properties adapted for the frequency of the sound. On the treble section, frequencies increase drastically when you play more to the extreme treble section. So for this section, even if there are 3 strings for each note, we have to change the method of damping from the double wedge to the flat block dampers.

100% natural felt
GB: Is there a certain density of felt that is ideal for piano dampers?

MV: Yes of course there are optimal densities for dampers. And there are also certain densities depending on the placement inside the piano (density for bass and for treble felt are different). Ideally the density should be as low as possible. You could find on the market bass dampers with densities from 0.23 up to 0.35 and for treble dampers ranging from 0.14 up to 0.25. Physically, density is weight over volume (D = W/V). For the felt manufacturer the challenge is to make low density felt because it has superior damping properties however it is much, much more difficult to produce. In order to be able to cut them with a high degree of precision (1/10 a millimetre) the felt should be perfectly consistent otherwise it is impossible to cut. The challenge is also for piano technicians, it is much easier to work with “hard” dampers when you do not have the correct know-how and experience. A soft felt is difficult to make on several levels: First, achieving the felting process for low density is very difficult, because if you are under the good “felting point” (felting being the intertwining of fibres), the middle of the felt will remain as only wool if it is not felted. And if you are over the optimal felting point you are too hard on the surfaces and soft in the center and thus, the felt is not consistent.
The job consists of making felt the same from top to bottom. This is not easy. It takes much more time, involving more hands-on processes and also involves a lot of waste. That is why it is more expensive than denser felt. Ironically, you pay more even if there is less wool inside because it is much softer but contains greater damping properties.

GB: In the cullinary world, it’s kind of like baking the cake right? Too hot and you burn the outside, too cold an oven and the center doesn’t get cooked. Interesting. Speaking of damping properties, what makes for great dampers? And can you take us through the manufacturing process a little?

Felt made in FranceMV: Wool is the first and natural technical fiber with a “form memory”. The felt pressed against the strings absorbs string vibration. If you leave the felt released, the impression will erase. This is what makes great dampers. The softer the felt, the better the form memory. Making great felt requires technical know-how but also great raw materials. Normally felt is graded by 2 criteria: the quality of the wool used and the density. We buy the wool taking into consideration the length of the fibers (told in millimetres), diameter of the fibers (told in microns), and ability to felt more or less (the curving of the fibers). Of course the thinner and the longest fibers are much more expensive than the shortest and the biggest fibers.

Process :
A – Wool opening and Blending: we make a blend of wool with different single lots in order to have something always the same. With blended wine for example, you assemble different qualities with more or less the same proportions to create consistency. If we were using only one type of wool for each production, we would have different results from one production run to another and so good blending allows consistency in production.

B – Carding: the blend goes into the carding lines in order to create wool layers. With our machines we can adjust the weight by square meters of the layers, and also the fiber direction (crossed or not).

C – Composition: It is a hand made process consisting of assembling and cutting several wool layers depending on the final result we want to achieve. In short, we know the final dimension and density we want. We will use the right weight of wool at the right dimension taking in consideration the shrinking coefficient we will apply.

D – Felting: The transformation between wool to textile. It is a natural process (no chemicals involved) where the fibers are matted together via friction.

E – Fulling: Once we transformed the wool layers to felt, we have to shrink it to it’s final dimension in order to give it it’s right density. This is again a hand-made process, one piece at a time. Dimensions of the felt should be controlled because we need to keep consistency in the shrinking. The right density is obtained when the felt is at the right dimension, not before, not after.

F – Drying. The previous process of felting and fulling require moisture and so the felt must be dried.
Marc Venet from Laoureux
G – Pressing: Here we calibrate the thickness of the felt, for example 10.2 mm thick. We use hot presses to achieve this.

H – Finishing: Depending the product we make it goes to the dedicated workshop in order to be cut or assembled to its finished purpose.

GB: Aside from piano felt, what other applications do you make felt for?

MV: There are many many different applications for felt. Felt is used for its natural properties of absorbing, transferring and sealing. Some industrial fields using felts: writing instruments, railway, automotive, nuclear, tools, bakery, design and of course, piano making.
Glen Barkman: Wow that was a fantastic glimpse inside the world of felt making by Laoureux. They are located in Normandy, France and operate in 7,000 m2 facility (about 75,000 ft2 factory). A special thanks to Marc for his expertise and continued dedication in providing the world with quality felt.

Piano Connections

Piano Price ~ September 2015
Chapter Index

The Current List of Piano Brands
Piano Connections

Having been to several trade shows, you start to quickly realize that the world has become a very small place. The chart above contains the approximately 60 piano brands featured on Piano Price Point. Why present this? I believe it is always helpful to know who the significant players are at a glance. It doesn’t need to be overwhelming to find out what brands are connected. I was speaking with someone this last week who had most certainly heard of Steinway but had never heard the name Essex before. If you look on the chart, you’ll see that Steinway has 3 levels of price points having Essex as their most affordable. The goal is to simply educate and to inform. If you’re a teacher and your student mentions that they’re interested in a piano you’ve never heard of before and they’re looking for advice, this chart should hopefully shed some light on who’s who. If you’re a technician, these will all be familiar names and will again hopefully act as a quick reminder of piano connections.

Piano ConnectionsPiano ConnectionsHistorically, the Pierce Piano Atlas names 12,000 names of pianos. Twelve Thousand!! On Piano Price Point you’ll find approximately 60 brands which represents an estimated 95% of piano brands sold in North America. What has happened over the last 150 years? I’ve often said that the piano was the entertainment center for families in the early 1900’s. Instead of gathering around television or radio and now even computer or mobile devices, the piano was one of the major focal points in every home. It seems that everyone had to have one. Subsequently, there was a great demand for piano builders. With limited transportation, pianos were sourced locally and in every medium sized city, there were quite often several piano makers. As the focus of the piano shifted to more media driven activities within the home, this myriad of makers decimated. Over the last half century, we’ve seen globalization and consolidation to the point where now we have both mega piano manufacturers and niche boutique makers. With the advent of computerization for accuracy working together with designers, we’re now experiencing the best era of pianos in tone and touch with remarkable consistency. Mass produced pianos even within the last decade have seen extensive changes while the boutique makers continue to offer artisan pianos with even more refined features. These are exciting times in new piano manufacturing.

Just a word about groupings: the size of the circles do not indicate size of the company but rather (pragmatically) one needs a bit more space to fit in 5 names rather than 2 and so the circles are adjusted accordingly. They are not listed by importance or quality but simply alphabetically by ownership. And finally, wherever possible, where there are multiple names in one circle they are ordered by price top to bottom. These piano connections, by the way, are publicly available. Simply look on each of their websites and you’ll be able to see their brands located there. Their models can also be found HERE on our website. Piano Price Point is dedicated to bringing the news in NEW piano manufacturing. It is dynamic in nature and new brands are being updated and added continuously. Enjoy!
Glen Barkman

Steinway Fibonacci Grand Piano

Piano Price ~ August 2015
Chapter Index

Steinway & Sons Celebrate Manufacturing Piano #600,000

Steinway Fibonacci 600000 Front

Multiple Choice QuestionaireIn the late 1980’s, I was completing high school and thought it would be interesting to try out the new computer program called “Choices”. Our guidance counsellor had this brand new hot-off-the-press system to help determine ideal career options based on a series of questions. You would sit in this tiny little cubicle and fill in little circles with a dull pencil that marked answers to questions like “Would you rather be in the garden or work on a science experiment?” After what seemed like an eternity the computer card filled with answers was then scanned into the computer and VOILA! out would come all of your potential career options. Even back then I was a bit of a computer geek but also completing my Classical piano diploma and so I thought this would be fascinating and hoped this might shed some light on my future. And so the much anticipated result? Career options for Glen Barkman: 0. Laughing it off I remarked “Does this mean I’m a good-for-nothing?” The new young guidance counsellor was both apologetic and appalled at the results. Having answered questions with an affinity towards both math and music, the computer couldn’t reconcile these differences because when I was growing up music was considered part of language skills and not mathematics. It wasn’t until the decade of 1990’s when studies clearly revealed the correlation between math and music. It’s almost humorous now because everyone sees that the ‘world of course is round’ and that mathematics and patterns are intrinsically linked to music.

Steinway D Serial Number 600,000When it came time to celebrate Steinway’s 600,000th piano, the company turned to furniture/interior designer Frank Pollaro ( who also designed the limited edition “Rhapsody in Blue” for Steinway (circa 1996). Steinway Rhapsody in BlueHis thoughts as he was asked for the challenge: “Designing Steinway & Sons’ 600,000th piano was an honor and a challenge. To me, knowing that this piano would become part of history meant that it had to be more than just a beautiful design, but also needed to visually convey a deeper message. As I considered the number 600,000, the Fibonacci spiral came to mind. The way in which it continues to grow but stay true to its form is very much like Steinway & Sons over these many years. Combining the universal languages of music and mathematics suddenly made perfect sense.”

Fibonacci PortraitFibonacci or Leonardo Bonacci (c. 1170 – c. 1250) is credited with 2 math concepts: one is the widespread use of Arabic numbers instead of Roman numerals and the other, the Fibonacci spiral. If you’re like me, there’s this vague recollection of studying something about Fibonacci way back in the distant past. Fibonacci Graph PaperInvestigating it a bit further, I remember now both the math and the subsequent pattern it makes. It starts like this:
1+1=2. Then you take the sum (2) and the last number in the equation (1) and add them together. So the new pattern is 1+2=3… 2+3=5… 3+5=8 and so on. The complete pattern is then:

1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 etc

If you then turn these into blocks (see graph paper), each block having an arc within, a pattern begins to formulate similar to that of a spiral shell. This design can be found throughout nature but it’s interesting as Frank Pollaro mentioned that it’s a perfect design for the serial number 600,000 from Steinway pulling together math and music.
Fibonacci Shell
Fibonacci Steinway Top View
Some facts about the Steinway Fibonacci:
It’s based on the structure of a Steinway Model D – Concert 274cm long or 8’11 ¾”
From start to finish it required nearly 6000 hours of production over a 4 year time span
The cabinet veneer is made from macassar ebony wood outlined by synthetic ivory
It is priced at 2.4 million USD
Six Model B Steinways based on a similar design will be made available for sale (for less than 2.4M)
Finished in high gloss, the look of the wood is further enhanced. Notice the details on the rim ~ the design echoed once more and instead of having legs, the entire base is also one large spiral!
Fibonacci Grand Piano Collage
Other famous Steinway designs are serial #100,000 presented to the White House in 1903 gilded with gold leaf.
A second design, serial #300,000 was given to the White House in 1938.
Steinway #500,000 was designed by Wendell Castle and has the names of 832 pianists and 90 ensembles on the Steinway Artist roster of 1987.
Fibonacci Grand Piano Collage
Where do piano companies like Steinway go now that mega piano companies are building more affordable and competitive pianos? Symbolically like New York City itself, if there’s no place to build, you build up. According to Paulson who purchased Steinway Company in 2013, “The Steinway brand is both opulent and bulletproof.” Steinway, although still supplying the world with concert level pianos is pursuing yet still higher levels in art cases appealing to exotic and affluent buyers. Similar to Fibonacci’s spiral, I expect we’ll see the concept of artistically designed pianos blossom and unfold in the years to come.

Fibonacci Steinway Top View

Renner Piano Parts Manufacturing

Piano Price ~ 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:

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
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 Factory ~ A First Glimpse

Piano Price ~ June 2015
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Hailun Piano Factory ~ A First Glimpse

Hailun Piano FactoryThree weeks ago I was in a discussion with Basilios Strmec of Vienna International (North American distributers for Hailun, Petrof & Sauter) regarding the creation of virtual piano factory tours on Piano Price Point.
After a slight pause his first response was, “Glen, how flexible are you?”
“Pertaining to what exactly?” was my reply not having any clue where he was headed.
“I’m leaving for China in 10 days and if you can clear your schedule, I’d like to invite you to Hailun Piano Company to do your first tour”.
Knowing I was planning a trip to Toronto for that week I said “Let me call you within 24 hours”. I managed to shuffle some dates to make this happen as I deemed it an exciting new adventure and opportunity.

Hailun Piano Framing
With new-to-me technology of panoramic photography I started to explain to Basilios during the shuttle from Shanghai what it is I hope to achieve. “I want to bring the masses to the factory” I said, knowing that it is an impossibility in reality but plausible with virtual technology. “I would like to give people the opportunity to look around – to see the stuff of every day life – to see the sawdust and the chisel shavings, to see the rough cast iron frames before they get sprayed beautifully in gold, silver and rose. I’d like consumers to begin with lumber and iron, leather, cloth and felt and end with a finished product ~ to show from inception to creation this process of making the piano.” OK I wasn’t quite that poetic but… you get the point.

In usual enthusiastic manner Basilios replied “Well let’s make this happen! Hailun is transparent and I’d like you to feel at home – to photograph and walk around as you would like.” It wasn’t until I started shooting panoramic images that his eyes lit up. “Wow this is fantastic! It really shows the factory as if you’re standing right here.” That was my intention precisely. The new chapter called Piano Factory Tours is in editing stage and will be released August 2015.

Hailun Cast Iron
5 Days Later
Debriefing this whirlwind, it’s simply overwhelming the stature and size of the Hailun Piano Company. They manufacture roughly 38,000 pianos per year. Now if you do the math, that’s just over 3,150 pianos per month in 4.2 MILLION square feet of factory space. Hailun Piano EngineeringThe construction of the piano is divided up into stations where each employee is trained in specific tasks. Some work on tone wood – the sound producing elements of bridges and soundboards while others work on action parts and how the piano plays. Some produce beautiful finishes and others are involved in the construction of the frames. At the end of the assembly there are usually at least 3 levels of refinement ~ rough tuning and regulation (making all the parts function evenly), then 2nd tuning and voicing (making all of the notes sound consistent) and then 3rd regulation and tuning. All pianos are inspected along the way at various levels. Oh and when Hailun Grand Framesyou walk into the factory, the sounds – you can’t even begin to describe this one machine – up until this point I had only seen pictures – Hailun Upright Piano AssemblyThe piano gets sent into an extremely well insulated booth where this machine strikes the keys to ‘break in’ the piano. The sound of all 88 keys hitting in rapid succession settles the entire piano; the tuning of the strings settle, the hammers find their strike point and the tone begins to really blossom and not sound so ‘green’. All pianos roll through the factory on what look like train tracks. They move from one section or station to another. There are some areas in the factory with tools not dissimilar to my own wood shop having the reminiscent smell of sawdust and conversely, there are multimillion dollar polishing machines working with exacting precision to achieve that mirror gloss many refer to as “piano black finish” or ebony polish. In order to create a piano however, it’s not simply the sum of the parts – it’s the design team of piano visionaries and engineers working at computers and CNC machines Hailun Showroom(computerized cutting tools precisely notch and cut down to 1/1000th of an inch). Hailun Piano ActionIt’s also logistics – transporting parts from one area to another and not get bottle necked at any stage along the way. Imagine if there would be a problem in one section, pianos would just start piling up at over 100 per day! So the entire process needs to flow from one section to another. And don’t forget about packaging – the creation of boxes, pallets and air tight packaging. At the helm of this giant ship is Mr. Hailun Chen – an absolute larger than life personality who despite cultural and language barriers makes everyone feel welcome. The few interactions over dinner and meetings, there were great laughs but you also recognize that he’s a remarkable leader who would be first to tell you that it takes a team to build a piano. Hah… and I thought my 5 day trip to China was a whirlwind – try building an entire line of pianos, manufacturing facilities, installing giant machinery, with hundreds of workers, an entire sales force with global presence, achieving publically traded stock status all in just 15 years. Wow.
Hailun Chen in his office
Special thanks Mr. Hailun Chen & Basilios Strmec (Vienna Piano) and the entire staff at Hailun Piano for accommodating this photo shoot and for facilitating and sponsoring this entire trip from start to finish. Thank you so much for the tour – halfway around the world and back within 5 days. Cheers to Hailun Piano and may you see continued success and growth in the coming years.
Hailun Piano Collage
Oh and one last thing… in between meetings, I had the opportunity to sit at a Hailun grand piano ~ model 218 (7’3” long) in a performance venue built within the factory. (You’ll be able to see it on the virtual tour). It was lovely not only to catch my breath for a moment but to also sit at this FANTASTIC piano and remember that it’s the inspiration of music that moves mankind to create and build instruments of beauty for the indulgent purpose of expressing what our hearts feel.

Estonia Piano Company Redefines Tone

Piano Price ~ April 2015
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Estonia Piano Company Redefines Tone

Estonia Piano Grand FallboardHave 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. Dr Indrek Laul Estonia PianoThis 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!
Team Oracle USA Ellison

“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.

Grand Piano Soundboard ProfileWhen 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. Estonia Grand Piano Hidden BeautyWe 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 Estonia Grand Piano Ribsare 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.
Estonia Grand Damper InstallationSo 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.
Estonia Grand Piano Beams

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. Estonia Grand Piano KeysThe ‘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. Estonia Concert Grand
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.

Mapes Piano String Company – How Piano Strings are Made

Piano Price ~ March 2015
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Interview with Andy Wilson from Mapes Piano String Company

Mapes Piano CompanyStephen Mapes established the Mapes Piano String Company in 1912 and shortly thereafter in 1918 it was purchased by John Adam Schaff. Now 4 generations later and employing 125 people in a space of 200,000 square feet, Mapes produces piano wire for many of the pianos we play on today. This month I had the pleasure of sitting down with Andy Wilson from Mapes to discuss some of the basics of piano string making.

Piano Strings

Glen Barkman: Mapes is the oldest piano wire maker in North America. How old is the Mapes company?

Andy Wilson: Mapes is not only the oldest but the ONLY piano wire maker in North America. Established in 1912, our company is 103 years old this year.

What exactly does Mapes manufacture?

Mapes manufactures piano wire, spring wire and specialty wire.

My division looks after piano wire. On any piano you’ll see that there are 2 different kinds of strings. The top 2/3rds of the piano are plain steel wire that we manufacture. Just by looking at them with the naked eye they look the same but there are actually many different sizes of wire on a piano. The bottom 1/3rd contain strings with a steel core wrapped with copper to make the lower tones of a piano. Mapes manufactures both the plain steel wire as well as custom bass strings for pianos.

Austenitization of SteelBoth the steel wire and the core of the bass strings are drawn wire correct? Can you tell us a little about the drawing process?

In order to make great sounding strings you need to start with good raw material. There are over 3,500 grades of steel. We have a steel mill that makes high grade steel to our requirements. So to begin with, you need to specify the chemistry – one of our closely guarded secrets. Before getting into drawing wire, it goes through a process called austenitizing where we heat up the steel to 2000 degrees and then “quench” or cool it again. This changes the structure of the steel.

Drawing Wire

We then press the steel through a funnel which is also called a die. It is pulled or drawn through the die where each time it reduces in diameter by as much as 30%. Think of steel like a piece of wood. Wood has pores or grain. Each time the steel gets reduced, the grain or fibers also get compressed. Heating opens up the “grain” in the steel while the cooling process stabilizes or sets the structure of the steel. So in piano wire making, there are at least 3 heating occurrences and 4 drawing processes to make the finished size.

In your opinion what makes for a great piano string in terms of singing tone?

There are three elements which make great piano strings – First you need great raw material. Chemistry is so important. Second, you need perfectly round wire. And third, when making bass strings, you need correct and consistent tension of the copper wrapped around the steel. Without these 3 necessary components, you could end up with unwanted vibrations which can lead to an inferior tone. Out of shape roundness causes distortions. In order to make a piano string vibrate freely, our job is to manufacture in such a way that it does not interfere by having any anomalies. Mapes Wire LogoWhen the hammer of a piano strikes that string, the vibration moves up and down the wire. Any interference alters that tone. So it’s our goal to make as round and as pure of a string in such a way that it does not obstruct or alter that vibration.

Steel Piano Strings

How many sizes of treble piano wire does Mapes offer?

We make sizes from 12-22 in half sizes (12, 12 ½ , 13, 13 ½ etc) and then 23-27 in whole sizes. So we make 25 different sizes of piano wire. Each size is one thousandth of an inch (about 0.025 of a millimetre increments) – approximately one third the thickness of a human hair with tolerances of 3/10ths of one thousandth.

The history of drawn wire seems to have been established in about 1840. With technology, how has the process been refined or made more efficient over the last 175 years?

Over the years, the raw materials have definitely improved. But within our own company, the basic premise is the same but what have changed are the controls. So instead of simply heating up the steel, we have accurate sensors and controls that are indicating more precise measurements of temperatures, tolerances, speed indicators and cooling controls.

Are piano wires ever coated at least to prevent corrosion or does that interfere with tonal properties?

Nickel electroplating is actually the finishing step of piano wire for silver look. That might create some corrosion prevention but electroplating is only microns thick. Some think it’s polishing but it’s actually electroplating. Any piano wire however will rust over time because that’s just the nature of steel. When it comes to copper coatings in the bass, I have not found anything relating to coatings that doesn’t affect tone.

Steel Piano Strings

How are bass strings made?

Bass strings are a combination of steel and copper wire. The addition of the copper wire adds mass to the bass string for depth of tone. Correct tension during wrapping stage requires consistent tension. Copper compacts somewhat when wrapping and pulls down in diameter and so uniformity is everything.

When you look closely at bass strings where the copper terminates there is a flat part. What is that?

The flattened portion is called a “swedge”. Since the center steel core wire is completely round, the copper wrapped around it needs a place to attach so that it doesn’t slide up and down the core. If you flatten the steel at each end it gives the copper something to bind to.

Large bass strings are often double wrapped with 2 layers of copper. What is the purpose of double wrapping a piano string?

The purpose of any wrap is to add weight to a string. The weight gives more depth to lower notes. Generally, the shorter the length of a piano, the more you need copper to add weight to a string to get those low vibrations. Conversely, the longer the piano, the less copper you need for lower tones. If you want a lower tone, you can have either a single large copper wound string or 2 smaller copper wraps to achieve the same mass. There’s a lot of debate – some manufacturers would like single wound strings while another might do 2 small wraps. We simply make custom strings to the manufacturer’s specifications. Those decisions regarding double or single wraps are part of the “scale” of a piano that are made at the design level.

Mapes Bass Strings
Andy Wilson
I just wanted to thank Andy Wilson for giving us a few insights as to the industry of making piano strings. There are very few companies globally who have the capacity to make the quality with tolerances as fine and consistent for piano making. Congrats to Mapes for continuing this pursuit of excellence for over 100 years.

To learn more about Mapes Piano String Company, you can find their contact and ordering information on their website: Mapes Strings

The Mapes Piano String Company
#1 Wire Mill Road
Elizabethton, TN 37643

Phone: 423-543-3195

Interview with Norbert Abel – Abel Hammer

Interview with Norbert Abel from Abel Hammer Company

Piano Price ~ February 2015
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Abel Piano Hammer LogoNorbert AbelBehind the scenes in the piano business it’s a very small world. You won’t last but 10 minutes before you hear something about Abel hammers. Hammer heads – the felt that strikes the strings on a piano are in my mind the most critical foundation of tone. Abel is world reknown specializing in hammer manufacturing. It was my pleasure to meet Norbert Abel last month and have him shed some light on the piano hammer making proccess. Every time I interview someone I learn something new about the piano trade. Although I’ve been in the business for just over 20 years, I only now have heard 2 words which were unknown to me before this interview: Lanolin and Biofelt. Read on to hear the words of Norbert Abel. And by the way… Abel makes about 50,000 sets of hammers per year… multiply by 88 keys on a piano that equals 4.4 MILLION hammers annually. They are arguably one of the greatest authorities on hammer making in the world.

Glen Barkman: The History of Abel – How did you come into this business?

Norbert Abel: My father, Helmut Abel started his own hammer production business in the year 1982 after he had worked for another German manufacturer making piano hammers and action parts for 23 years. His goal was to produce hammers in the ‘old style’ which meant custom making hammers for each manufacturer using high quality materials and advanced techniques.

Abel Piano Hammer HeadsAll pianos are different and have individual requirements and so with this custom approach, he convinced many of the piano makers and technicians with the Abel quality and philosophy; making hammers for many brands to individual specifications.
From the beginning I have been involved in the business side and have seen the continuous growth and development of production. In 1988, my brother Frank started into the business and has taken over production. The third generation, my son Alexander is now learning step by step the difficult procedure of hammer making. Since 1993 the Abel Hammer Company has a factory in Frankenhardt, Germany. In our history, our facilities have increased two times now to 24,000 square feet of manufacturing space with an annual production of over 50,000 sets of piano hammers per year.

What are the steps in making hammers?

Hammer making looks to be very easy: Take some wood, some felt and put both into a hammer press and the hammers are finished. But it is not that easy. The whole procedure is much more complicated.
Everything starts with the felt. Felt is a natural product and based on Merino wool (Merino is a type of sheep with incredibly fine and high curled fibers) from South Africa, New Zealand or Australia. In these countries the Merino wool will be selected into different grades. For making hammer felt only a high grade wool fiber can be used. Then the raw wool comes into a cleaning process to Europe where all dirt, sand, dust, mud, vegetarian parts are washed out. This process is called carbonizing under the use of sulphuric acid. However, this acid is counter productive to hammer making as it has the undesired effect that a lot of natural lanolin will be also washed out (and the acid also is not good for the environment).

Natural lanolin (also called wool wax ) is very important to keep the natural resilience in the hammer felt which greatly affects piano tone. To retain this lanolin, Abel started the BIOFELT PROJECT 2003-2006 (sponsored by the European Union) with the result of a felt called NATURAL FELT which did away with harsh chemicals in the washing stage of felt making. This is a more natural product – not as white in color but incredibly versatile in sound. The use of this new Abel Natural Felt is responsible for great success in the piano business in our company.
Felt sheets will be then cut into strips after the sheets have been carefully controlled. The single wool fiber is still in a curled position. In the hammer press the felt will be pressed around the hammer moulding to stretch the wool fibers and to build up the resilience in the hammer felt. This procedure is the main secret of the hammer production. All hammer makers have a slightly different philosophy with this. Here is where Abel’s 55 years of experience in hammer making from Helmut and Frank come into play. Understanding the whole process from “Sheep to Hammer” is the basis of the high quality Abel hammer production.
Although we have our own brand of felt, we also incorporate other felts from other makers to give a wide range of choice so that each maker can select hammers suited to their needs and guarantee the Abel high quality standard of manufacturing.

Abel Factory Picture

What’s the difference between cold and hot pressed hammers? How does that affect the hammer head?

Cold pressed means that the felt in the hammer press form will be pressed with no heat or almost no heat. This guarantees that the natural resilience of the wool fiber will be kept alive. Hot pressed hammers in a heated press stabilize the wool fibers however it means that the natural resilience is gone and the hammer felt has lost its elasticity and the ability to create a maximum range of sound colours. The Abel hammer production is a cold pressed process for this reason.

Natural Felt from Abel

Why are hammers measured by weight? (for example 16lb hammers)

Hammers need a different weight because the pianos are different in size. The bigger the piano, the more weight is required to bring the long strings into vibration and to create maximum sound. For this reason especially the weight and size of the felt are important. A big hammer has a lot of concentrated resilience in the felt to stimulate the string to maximumize sound producing energy.

How does the wooden moulding material affect the hammer?

Different hammer wood is important for different weight. Especially big pianos need larger felt with light hammer mouldings. The large felt is important to maximumize sound vibration and the light woods like walnut and mahogany keep the total weight on a level which makes piano playing possible. So if you combine large felt hammers with light wooden mouldings, the overall weight is manageable at the keyboard.

What is the purpose of underfelt? Do colours designate manufacturer or something of function to identify a design or a time period?

When the first hammers were built the hammer makers did not have the same size felts available that we have today. It was necessary to make a hammer with different layers of underfelt and a thin top felt outside. Nowadays, we can make the same size of hammers with one layer of underfelt and a midsize topfelt or with no underfelt and a big size topfelt. The quality of the underfelt is always the same. But the underfelt can be dyed with different colours to show different brands.

How does quality of felt affect tone? Within one sheet of felt there might even be discrepancies in tone, correct? What felt does Abel use?

We use various felts from different makers. Different felt manufacturers each have a ‘signature’ in the type of felt they make. The combination of felt and felt making procedures will result in different sounding hammers. In this way hammers can be individualized for customized requirements. Felt is a natural product. There are natural discrepancies within a sheet and from one sheet to the next sheet. It depends on the ability of the hammer maker to realize these discrepancies and to select the felt strips. Abel has skilled people who test all felt strips by hand and with their experience they select the strips in to different grades like soft, medium or hard. We call this the “outside quality”. The inside quality depends on the different raw wool and manufacturing process of felt in the felt factory. That means the inside quality describes different characteristics of felt from different felt makers. At Abel we are always in discussion with our felt suppliers to keep the inside and outside quality of the felt sheets within an acceptable quality range. Abel is in contact with all hammer felt manufacturers worldwide which allows us to always select the right felt for our customers and retain diversity.

Density of felt also produces really different results. Is there a way of determining sound from a certain hammer from density and/or elasticity?

The density can vary from one sheet to the next sheet and also within a sheet. As long as the density is within the tolerance of the Abel specification the felt can be used in the Abel hammer production. Density of felt sheets can be determined with the felting process, the milling process and a pressing process. Most important is the felting and milling which enables the wool fiber to interlock and to build up a system of fibers with a maximum elasticity when the felt becomes pressed around the hammer moulding. This complicated procedure has a big influence on the sound of a piano. A hammer with a lot of resilience and a lot of natural life in the felt can create a wider tonal range. The best felt to reach this goal for our production is the ABEL NATURAL FELT. Hammers with less resilience and stabilized wool fiber do not have the ability to create such a wide variation of tonal colour at the piano.

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I just want to say thanks to Norbert for allowing us a small glimpse into the art of hammer making. In addition to manufacturing of hammers, Abel also performs operations related to hammer customization called shaping, coving and tapering. Of interest to some wanting to preserve a vintage instrument, Abel also has the capacity to re-felt hammers on existing mouldings. This keeps the wooden shanks and flanges intact and keeps the authenticity of the instrument. Amazing! Hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did.Natural Felt Hammer Close Up


Hailun Piano Innovation

Hailun Piano Innovation

Piano Price ~ 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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