Posts tagged spruce
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
The soundboard of a piano ~ to the naked eye, it looks like a giant sheet of wood located under the strings. To piano makers, this is one of the most critical elements of science in the instrument. Why? The job of the soundboard is to transform tone of the vibrating piano strings into audible waves which also color the tone. Truly, it is inseparable from the voice of the piano.
Doing some light reading 😀 (Wood for Sound by Wegst, 2006, American Journal of Botany) it becomes apparent that soundboards are this careful balance of elasticity and stiffness or rigidity. In the diagram, it reveals that there is a correlation between density of wood and elasticity (Young’s Modulus). Generally the lower the density, the greater the vibrational properties. Balancing this concept is stiffness required to resist what is called the down bearing of the strings – the pressure of piano strings pressing down on the soundboard. So the soundboard makeup is this marriage between rigidity (resistance) to pressure while maintaining elasticity for vibration allowing optimal dynamic range and sound radiation.
What then makes for a good soundboard? We thought it would be appropriate to go to the source. Bolduc, one of the few independent piano soundboard makers in the world allowed us a glimpse at what is involved in the making of a soundboard. Situated in bucolic Quebec, Canada, they supply both to piano makers as well as independent piano rebuilders. So without further, adieu, let’s talk to Christian Bolduc, factory superintendent.
Glen Barkman: Tone wood – why white spruce? Is it structural, is it the density or mass? What makes it ideal for piano soundboards?
Christian Bolduc: The North American White spruce has been used for over a century for the making of piano soundboards, as well as violins and other stringed instruments. It has proven its outstanding tonal properties with the most prestigious North-American piano manufacturers. The cold and vigorous North American climate contributes to the strength of the spruce which offers appropriate structure and elasticity required for making a good and resistant soundboard.
GB: When choosing a great log for tonal purposes, what characteristics are you looking for when you view a log in its natural state? Ie. What diameter, length, areas without branches, bark etc.
CB: We need the nicest spruce logs available for making piano soundboards. Most of the time, we use only the base of the tree and cut just under the first branches. The length of the logs we use can vary from 2.5 meters long up to 5 meters (8-16 ft). The tree needs to have grown slowly, gradually, without any twisting, blue marks or other impurities. After having selected the best logs, only 20 to 25% of the tree will be selected for making a 1st grade grand piano soundboard. The rest of the wood will be used for making upright soundboards because the colour is less important because they face the wall. The remaining wood can also be used for other products such as house mouldings and lumber.
GB:Do you happen to know usually how old the trees are when they are logged and when it is the best time to harvest these trees and why?
CB:The tree needs to be cut in the winter time to prevent any sap that would affect the stability of the wood. We need at least 15” diameter at the small end of the log in order to be able to make the quarter-sawn cut. Most of the time, the trees are at least 100 years old.
GB:Do different types of spruce or other woods exhibit different fundamentals in the piano as well as overtones?
CB:There have been many experiments made by piano manufacturers in the last century using different species of woods for soundboards. The spruce tree is definitely the best material as far as tone is concerned.
GB: What is the rough timeline from logging to soundboard? Logging, drying, cutting, curing, shaping, sanding…
CB: The spruce needs to be cured slowly before moving into production. The most important criteria is that the tree needs to be cut during the winter time when moisture is at its lowest. The logs will first be cut into lumber at our saw-mill and stacked outside for months for a slow drying process. The wood will then be kiln dried a few weeks and stacked again for many additional months. The spruce is at least a year old when we start making the soundboard panels.
GB: What is the ideal “curing” humidity or moisture content in the wood?
CB: The soundboard will need different drying periods during the process of production. In the final step, while gluing it into the piano, the soundboard can reach as low as 4-5% humidity content.
GB: Are soundboards planed and then sanded or rough cut and then thickness sanded?
CB: The spruce lumber is cut into oversized planks. The pieces are color and grain matched and then glued together. The soundboards are sanded to their final thickness in a 74″ wide abrasive wood planer.
GB: Do you customize pianos for specific companies and how do you go about doing that?
CB: We manufacture all types of soundboards based on the piano manufacturers’ specifications. Thickness, shape and grain alignment vary from one piano to the other.
GB: How thick on average is a piano soundboard?
CB: A regular piano soundboard can vary from ¼”(6.5mm) for a small model up to 3/8”(9.5mm) for a concert grand piano.
GB: Why quarter sawn? Why vertical grain?
CB: The main reasons are for stability, strength and sound transmission. The soundboard is firmly glued into the piano but still needs to expand and retract without splitting, depending on the ambient conditions and humidity variations. Maintaining the annual rings in a vertical position guarantees that the wood will change dimensions without cracking. The quarter sawn cut makes it also stronger to support the downward force applied to the soundboard by the strings which can reach over 600lbs.
GB: What is the purpose of ribs to a soundboard? How do you incorporate crown (slight arc) into your soundboards?
CB: The ribs help maintain the crown of the soundboard and also counterbalance for the down force exercised by the strings. The ribs can be pre-shaped to match the crown or glued under tension in a press.
GB: What types of glues hold the planks together?
CB: Most manufacturers from the 19th and 20th centuries have been using the hot-hide glue for gluing soundboard panels, pinblocks, veneers, etc. The hot-hide glue was not only good to fix the parts together but also a very good sound transmitter. Today, we use a glue which was developed with the same philosophy of “sound transmission” as it becomes as hard as glass but with a superior resistance to any type of environment.
GB: Obviously with 19 tons of string tension on a piano bearing down onto a soundboard, the soundboard needs to be stable enough to withstand that pressure. Do you measure clamping pressure when joining planks or have other measurements to determine adhesion and subsequent rigidity and stiffness?
CB: The glue used for laminating the soundboard panels is actually stronger than the wood itself. We may think having maximum force is better, but too much pressure with the clamps is not good. There must still be room left for the glue itself.
GB: Are soundboards finished with resins or lacquers or left in their natural state? Or are they finished by the piano manufacturers who purchase them?
CB: The finishing of the soundboard is done by the manufacturer after its installation into the piano. The soundboard needs to be lacquered in order to seal and protect the wood.’’
GB:How is the soundboard adhered to the inner rim of the piano?
The soundboard is glued to the inner rim as a flat glue joint. There are notches in the inner rim to allow room for the ends of the ribs to fit within.’’
I just want to express my thanks to everyone at Pianos Bolduc for answering questions and also supplying most of the images. Due to the wasteful nature of quarter sawn lumber, it makes me happy to see that Bolduc is also concerned with the environment and not letting any scraps go to waste. They only work with suppliers involved in reforestation. The shorter pieces unusable for pianos are sold to guitar luthiers and the sawdust is used by local farmers for litter while the bark for heating sugar shacks and cottages. Excellent!
For more information about Bolduc, visit their beautifully designed website. There’s lots more information on their company, soundboards and pinblocks as well as an array of tools that they also sell.
One final note ~ if you’re anything like me, you’re curious as to their inscription on their logo “Je veux, Je peux”. Translated from French it literally reads “I want, I can” and the insinuation is that we can really make things happen if the desire is strong enough to succeed. Congrats to Bolduc for nearly 40 years of this pursuit!
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