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Topic: Audio Shopping vs. Piano Shopping.

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Posted by Romy the Cat on 08-09-2012
It is so funny how the things are turning up. Amy brought her grandma’s piano that was not user for good 40 years. After we set it up and tune we concluded that the piano is not good. We concluded that we do discard the sentimental value and will not “work” on this piano and will get another one. We are not in hurry and we slowly looking for another piano. We want 6.3’ grand. That had opened a Pandora Box for all imaginary things.

I want a piano with very specific sound… and I do not play. I however have very precise vision how the sound of the piano shell be and so far we did not see anything that fit the demand. The closest was one 6.1’ Steinway from 1909 but it was also far from what I would like to have.

Amy insists that what I describing to her does not exist. She inform me that the sonic qualities I describe to her exist only within a few selected 9 feet pianos and they easy cost a 1/4 million dollars. I do not know too much about piano abut I do know what sound I would like to get from piano.

The irony is that my piano shopping attitude is very identical to my audio shopping.  The pure girl did not know what she is dealing with… I do not care what dress I ware, what car I drive and what curb appeal of my house but I happen do care and do have very high standards about sound producing machines. Her viola in her hands does has a wonderful tone, so why our pianos would not have wonderful qualities as well. This is most likely the only piano we ever going to buy in our life – so why do not please ourselves with worthy sound? How different it shell be from Sound of a playback?

The Cat

Posted by Paul S on 08-09-2012
If you are a "serious" shopper, then there are bound to be some "serious" brokers in your area.  As you know, sometimes there are "whiffs" of the great pianos before they are actually sold.  Steinway has certainly done everything they could to obfuscate their "numbering"; but those who care seem to be able to keep track of the special pianos, none the less.  Good luck with a D in that space!

Hope your "timing" is fortuitous!

By the way, my enormous old Strich & Zeidler (from my great grandmother) was built in 1895.  Talk about "sentimental attachment"!

Best regards,
Paul S

Posted by Lbjefferies7 on 08-09-2012
A superbly interesting pursuit...
I would be most interested in that description of that specific sound.  It is true that some concert grands do certain things better than smaller pianos but there are rare instances of truly exceptional small(er) pianos.  Each piano is a unique instrument; first because of it's design and construction, but it is equally important to know that its sound is very highly dependent on the technician who works on it.
Unless you are stuck on buying a new piano, even a very capable concert grand will not cost anywhere near $250,000 unless it has an exceptional history or veneer.  Much like audio, monetary value of pianos has very little to do with its sound.  If a dealer has a magnificent sounding Steinway O next to a poorly sounding or badly rebuilt Steinway A, the A will still have a higher price tag on it.  And on that subject...buying a rebuilt instrument, one must be very careful.
With my regards,LBJ

Posted by skushino on 08-09-2012
I was spending my time shopping for pianos a few years ago.  I used to work too much, and was looking for an alternate 'right-brain' activity to balance all my time doing engineering at work.  I spent a few months listening to every imaginable piano: entry level spinets, vintage concert grands, Steinway, Bosendorfer, Kawai, Chikering, Yamaha, Boston, etc.  Different sizes, vintages, brands.  I listened to a lot. 

Like audio, pianos have unique sounds.  My favorite brand is Steinway.  The bass is like no other, deep, textured and rich.  No doubt others have different opinions, but you owe it to yourself to listen to the larger Steinways, especially given your affinity for bass.  But the smaller model S and Ms don't have the magic.  Try a B or D, if only for the experience.  Pressing the keys gives a feeling of unlimited power, like waiting to launch in a F-18.  The sound explodes from the sound board.  If space is a premium, suggest auditioning a K52 upright.  While lacking the movement of a grand, the soundboard is as large as a 6ft grand, and this model has the rich bass sound I love about Steinways. 

Have fun - buying my piano was a very enjoyable experience.

Posted by Romy the Cat on 08-10-2012
 Lbjefferies7 wrote:
I would be most interested in that description of that specific sound.
Well I do understand that with 6.3’ piano I will not get the “crash” of the 9.8’ Bosendorfer but “full bass” is not only what I am looking.  I am looking for a balanced piano, with “interesting” tone and with glowing.

I am not claiming that we tried too many pianos but among what we did none of them was “balanced” and only one had any more of less acceptable tone.  Under balance I imply that most of the  pianos we tried have that “in face” bright presentation, kind of forwarded sound, looks like a typical for all US made interments. I looking more like mellow, laid-back presentation that I remember from German-made pre WWII pianos. A piano has to be balance with proper volume of high and low notes. For sure it all might be to a great degree the property of the space where we hears the given pianos, not to mention the Amy’s sensitivity and comfort to actions of the specific instrument but still, I know exactly what the properly balanced piano shall sound like, even in the worse acoustic conditions and with most unaccustomed player.

The tone is self-explainable. I do admit that I a bit inclined to darker, melancholic, gloomy side of tonality and I would like piano to follow me in there.
The glowing part is the absolutely mandatory to me. The “right” pianos if you hit one single note in any octave surrounds the note with cesspool of sounds that literally glow. It is like piano get ignited and begin to breathe itself. I heard it a couple times, from German Bluthner and from US-made Steinways from 20s and I absolutely want to have it.

Thanks for the warning about the rebuilt instrument. I know it very well. Most technicians treat old pianos like renovating apartment for rent – they juts replaced the worn parts with contemporary plastic one with Teflon gasket and paint it in order new tenant did not see mold.  The irony is that the  rebuilt in this way pianos sound exactly like that.

Posted by Paul S on 08-11-2012
More than a few 20's Steinways were additionally fitted with a Duo-Art system.  I have no idea how hard it is to find the rolls these days, but I do know that a certain 1929 Steinway so fitted is one of the most amazing pianos I have ever heard, albeit only via the Everest Archive LPs.  While I would guess a piano like "the Wm. Powell Steinway" would be way out of reach, some "serviced" 20s Duo-Arts seem to cost less than a decent car.

Twisted thought, no?

Paul S

Posted by Jorge on 08-11-2012
As far as I know Bluthner used a third "string" on top of certain notes to make a better sound, I have only listened to an uprgiht Bluthner though.  Bechstein was really nice too, my sister has a big upright Bechstein, she even did some fixing on it to keep it as close as original as posible,  not too dificult, very nice and workable mechanism.

Posted by Lbjefferies7 on 08-11-2012
fiogf49gjkf0d ask, that is.

Yes, the "default" sound of most US made pianos is more "forward" than not.  Mason & Hamlin and Chickering can be brilliant, but are usually "loud."  Same is generally true for German Steinways.  For mellow presentations, the usual suspects aside from proper Steinway A (the 6'4") and O models are the wonderful but maintenance-intensive Bosendorfer, Ibach, possibly Steingraeber, pre-Samick ownership Seiler 186, and Bluthner.  Of all these, probably the "darkest" sounding that I have heard is probably the Ibach.  

Bosendorfers are a pain because the nature of their construction requires tuning far more often than others.  Their rims are made of massive pieces of spruce all glued together and cut out instead of having bent laminations of maple, beech, etc.  The early-2000s Seiler 186 is one of my favorites.  Its craftsmanship and fit & finish are simply the best and are very progressive in engineering terms.  Very balanced sound and an unusually serious bass.  Whatever it means, I am always reminded of Beethoven when I hear one.  It may not be quite gloomy enough, but everything about them is brilliant and very different from the "typical" Steinway sound.

"Glowing" is a wonderful quality, indeed and is affected by many many factors.  Proper voicing or even changing the hammers (Renner Blue or Blue Points are very are Ronsen) can embellish "glow."  You are right...playing a single note (even softly) should "ignite" a piano.  The hammer should strike with no or very little initial "pop," then grow and bloom only to evenly diminish...preferably after quite a long time.  It is a shame that Mason & Hamlins are likely too forward, because 1920s Model BBs are really wonderful for just this reason.  It would be interesting to see if one could be made to be darker, but I have my doubts.  A good test in addition to playing a single note is to hold down the sustain pedal and shout at the soundboard like a wounded-in-ass Mexican soccer commentator and listen to how the piano reacts both in volume and breadth of tones.

Duo-Art?  A faaaaar less painful option is available and with much better sustain pedal control...  Though the size of the decently-playing music library is lacking, and more than half jazz.


Posted by Goetz on 01-26-2013
Experienced piano building/renovation masters here in Germany are recommending, as far as it concerns postwar Steinway's, the one's from the 60's reg. quality of materials as well as manufacturing.
My 89 year old aunt in Karlsruhe is owning (and was playing) the Bluethner Grand piano which my grand parents bought in the 20's. It has a mellow but a fascinating sound however time will come for some decent renovation. We will never sell it out of our family.
Boesendorfer "Imperial" Grand piano is for my perception too soft, not enough defined, but may comply with the sound of elder pianos of 19th century.
I enjoyed a Steinway Upright piano in one of the many exercise rooms in the seventies in Folkwang-University for Music and Dance in Essen/GER, where I managed to get access when I had free time during my high-school days. The school was just around the corner... Smile
I sincerely hope to find next time a spacy loft in Gdansk(Poland), my second home aside of Hamburg. Then a (Steinway) Grand Piano will have priority to audio gear !
Enjoy your weekend!

Posted by N-set on 01-27-2013
 Goetz wrote:

I sincerely hope to find next time a spacy loft in Gdansk(Poland)

Goetz, when you do it, please let me know! I've just moved to Gdansk.
I have  a nice lofty flat there, but the space is too small for a serious acoustic
reproduction. There are great post industrial spaces around Motlawa
and it's channels, but, knowing Polish idiotic corrupt urban policy,
it's either already sold to a big developer or untouchable, but maybe....


Posted by Goetz on 01-27-2013
Dear N-set,

I will let you know.
We will meet via US-Eastcoast.. Wink

Posted by N-set on 01-27-2013
Goetz, seriously, I thought that a chance of meetig somebody from Gdansk here is zero
(or actually I did not think of that at all). Since we are both in Gdansk, or at least sometimes
you are, you are very welcome to visit me--I leave in the very center of Gdansk.

Mit freundlischen Gruessen,

Posted by Goetz on 01-27-2013
Dear Jarek,

Due to my company I'am every week from Monday to Friday in Gdansk, when not visiting our clients or trades in Europe or US.
On weekend I'am with my family in Hamburg.
90% of my ~4500 classic vinyls are in Gdansk as well as my most important audio gear and technical workshop. Piano unfortunately in Hamburg only.
I will change that asap.
I'am also living in the very center of Gdansk. So I will walk by...
You#ll get a mail and let's meet for a dinner targ rybne in the "Fish Restaurant" (f.e.)
Have a nice evening and sucessfull start into the new week.

Posted by N-set on 01-27-2013
Although I'm vegetarian (difficult in Gdansk!), eating won't be the main subject, so let's meet in Targ Rybny Smile
All the best,

Posted by Romy the Cat on 03-04-2013

Yesterday Kitty and me, while waking from the Carnegie Hole concert dropped in at Manhattan piano show rooms and played some pianos that we would not see in our provincial Boston. They were big Steinways, Bosendorfers, Steingraeber, Bluethners, vataghe and new, along and many other interesting instruments and we actually did have fin to hear them. I am very much undusted that the walk-in showrooms a pretty much for Morons and those polished and genetically rebuild pianos are glossy wrappers of empty suits. The pianos did sound very ugly in my view. Regardless the price, that were astronomical I did not hear any people that I like. The ugliest of all was 9.5 feet super duper Bosendorfer that sound more like a synthetic harp then a grand piano. For sure in better listening environment any piano might be tuned and voiced to be different but if you sit in a new car at auto dealer and realize that brake does not work then will you care to look for anything further in this car?

There was however something that we did learned. We discovered the Mason-Hamlin pianos. They had a few in there and I very much preferred this sound to anything else they have in there. It was large, it was mellow and not in my face, it was dark but at the same time it has that clarity that I found very attractive. Ironically the Mason-Hamlins are made in … Boston, so we will be looking for some local Mason-Hamlin to try, preferably vintage, to see how they sound and behave.

The reason why I tell this story is not our discovery of Mason-Hamlin but to comply with the subject of this thread: Audio Shopping vs. Piano Shopping. You remember my constant run that in high end audio we pretty much have generic mass-market audio where objectives and reference point of audio listened are not factored in? Well, I was slowly looking for good local piano rebuilder I come across Jim Laleggio from Shirley, Massachusetts. I do not know Jim but he had very stimulating article on his web site. If you replace in his article the phrase “restore piano” to the phase “build audio” then you will get what I uselessly imply:

For sure we do not buy any Mason-Hamlin now and we do not run to Jim Laleggio to voice it. I just bring this illustration as … an illustration.

Romy the Cat

Posted by Paul S on 03-19-2013
Here is more than no information on the "original Harold Powell Duo Art", which gives a little provenance on where the "batch" that it came from originated.  Also, as you will see, it is only 7', which surprised me, a little.

Sorry for being cryptic and listing it as "the Wm. Powell [Steinway]", earlier.

FYI, all punters, Harold Powell just passed away, not so long ago, I think.  As I recall, he was a "known" sound engineer with NBC for many years, lived in the Hollywood Hills, above Sunset.  I don't recall anything at all about his family, but a sale like this would likely be preceded by "feelers" both ways, I think.  I don't know if (Sony's) Joseph Tushinsky is still alive, or if he is still "active".  If he is both, and the heirs would sell it, then he probably has "first dibs" on that particular piano.

The game is afoot...

Best regards,
Paul S

Posted by Paul S on 03-20-2013
So much for my sense of "timing"!

Here is the fate of the Harold Powell Steinway Duo Art:

"Water Damage"!
Serves me right for my morbid curiosity, I suppose.

I feel ill...

Paul S

Posted by Romy the Cat on 03-02-2014
We kind of slowly were looking, and looking and looking and suddenly today we were blessed with news that Kitty’s parents let up to use their 7.6’ Yamaha C7. It is interment from 70s and Amy loves it as she learned as kid and then taught on this piano. The piano is sitting in parent’s living room for years and shall be in a good condition. Amy tells that it has slightly bright sound but I think it might be moderated by voicing. When I hit a few time the keys in parent house I remember that it was for sure large sound.

I do not know how this Yamaha will sound; I think any instilment shall be judged on individual merit.  I do think that this over 7 feet little monster will address our needs for now and will be fine for Amy’s chamber music pianists. I personally much prefer Amy do not drive 25 miles to play her piano quarters  but were able to do it home…

Posted by c1ferrari on 03-08-2014
Congratulations, Romy -- that's wonderful news :-)

Posted by Romy the Cat on 07-27-2014
Hm, this is $25K. I wonder what produces sound in there - a loudspeaker?  If so, than would LOVE to connect it to Macondo and see what happen. I need to admit that in all of those videos the D-pianos do sound like shit but the concept is very interesting.

The Cat

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