What’s A Wippen?

grand piano wippens
A wippen is the heart and soul of the grand piano action. With some aspects of piano design and construction there is a wealth of variety but not so much anymore with the wippen.

The top two wippens in the photo represent the most fundamental designs (yes, you nit pickers there are more, but these two are the most common designs in pianos of the last 30 years or so).

The top one is called a Schwander design and was the most common wippen design until about 10 years ago or so.

The middle one is called the Herz spring design, or commonly the “Steinway” wippen because it was primarily found in Steinways until about 10 or so years ago. Since that time most manufacturers have migrated to the Herz design because it repeats better.

You can get an idea of why it repeats better when you look at where the repetition lever (the angled piece on the top) fulcrum is and the way the spring is attached. In the Herz design the repetition lever fulcrum is closer to the middle and the spring clearly has better positioning to lift or suspend the repetition lever during play.

The main complaint about the Herz design is that setting repetition spring tension is much more difficult and time consuming. On the Schwander design you set the tension by turning a screw. On the Herz design you have to unhook the top of the spring, bend it to increase tension then reset it in the slot in the repetition lever and then gently reduce tension until it is where you want it to be. Oh well..

The bottom example shows an attempt to introduce screw adjustment to the Herz spring but that design never achieved much traction.

Here is a great site to learn more about piano and action components.

Fazioli Moving Up

Fazioli at night
I was invited to an event sponsered by the “new” Fazioli dealer in NYC. I put “new” in quotes because while the dealership stays the same, Klavierhaus, much has changed. This includs the new involvement by Michael and Marina Harrison formerly of Faust Harrison and Allegro Pianos, and a new location caused by the move of Beethoven Pianos. Confused? That’s OK, it’s confusing. But I’ll go into all that later.

The event was described as “An Evening with Paolo Fazioli” and included brief performances by 11 different pianists. The music was varied and great,the select crowd appreciative and enthusiastic. However the location stole the show; The Estrela Penthouse on the 44th floor of the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. The piano was set against a wall of windows with an expansive view of Central Park, a dramatic setting indeed. The Parker Meridien is, apparently, the new location of the Klavierhaus salesroom. It will be located in a now closed restaurant space on the ground floor facing 56th St. How a piano store focusing on high end Steinway rebuilds and even higher end Fazioli pianos is able to afford ground floor space in such an extraordinary area is a story in itself…a story that I don’t understand well enough to document and as the space is still under construction, I won’t get ahead of things.

It was a musically satisfying evening. with performances by Joel Fan, Saar Ahuvia and Stephanie Ho, Luis Perdomo, the great Randy Weston, Manuel Valera, Laszlo Gardony, Frank Kimbrough and Jochem Lecointre.

These are all wonderful, skilled musicians and I enjoyed all the performances, but the real revelation for me was Vadim Neselovskyi, a young Ukrainian pianist with a style and musical intelligence all his own.

Go here and listen to the 3 tracks from his CD titled Music For September and see if you don’t agree.

A Letter to Udo Steingraeber

Steingraeber A170
Dear Udo
It has been far too long since my last visit to Bayreuth. My son is 17 now and while he will someday treasure the photograph of himself at Wagners grave, alas, that day is not yet here.

I of course remember vividly my then 2nd visit to your works and your compelling description of the steps required to make a Steingraeber piano. I loved the Steingraeber sound before then and I love it to this day, even more so because I’ve had more opportunities to work on and become familiar with your fine pianos.

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You MUST control the humidity

humidifiersIt has been freezing in New England and running the shop humidifiers has been critical. The photo shows the only time ever that the various hygrometers have been in such agreement. RH is in the 40% range because it rained for half a day before freezing again. Usually it is a struggle to keep it above 30% with 2 humidifiers going.

But struggle you must! If you have a nice piano and are at all serious about keeping it in shape, measure and control the humidity. You have to play an active role if you don’t want bad news later. Confused? Call or email me. I’m happy to help….really!

Author: Eric Johnson

Steingraeber – Action and Reaction

A Steingraeber grand pianoSteingraeber is one of the world’s great pianos and I do not expect anybody with credibility to disagree with me. Like the other pianos at this level it has its own sound and style which may or may not appeal to you, but it is a great piano in any technical regard and has won enthusiastic followers the world over.

I really love the Steingraeber piano. I’ve played and worked on many and have found them to be amazing pianos in quality of  construction and tone and touch. I love the white key bushing felt instead of the customary red. I personally am reluctant to shape hammers with the extreme diamond point that frequently comes out of the factory, but I will happily maintain such a shape if Steingraeber says I should. Udo Steingraeber is one of the great men of the industry and Alex Karsten, his Klavierbaumeister, is skilled, friendly and down to earth.
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Piano Work as Meditation

piano tech tools

Piano work can be a lonely occupation. Yes, one deals with (hopefully) a stream of customers, many of whom can be quite interesting and some of whom  become friends. This connecting with individuals with whom one shares (again, hopefully) a common passion is rewarding and inspiring.

But the work itself is isolated. In fact many people make a specific point of leaving the general area in which a piano technician is working, at least for the tuning part. Tuning of course is difficult to do in noisy environments and takes concentration as well as quiet, so a friendly chat while one is tuning is not really an option.

The other work including regulation, voicing, and repair requires focused concentration and can take extended periods of time during which even the most interested layman usually finds something else to do. After all, if you’ve seen a technician set drop on 2 notes, you pretty much have the idea and there is no reason to watch him or her set the remaining 86. Let’s face it: piano work can be quite tedious and to do it correctly, one must perform an appropriate sequence of steps carefully and evenly, regardless of how one is feeling, or how ones day started out. This can be a demanding profession for all its rewards. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Yamaha AvantGrand

I’ve been involved in a series of performances using the Yamaha N3 AvantGrand.  The AvantGrand series are hybrid pianos in that the keyboard, action and pedal work is all identical to that found on an acoustic piano. But the tone generation uses large digital samples of a high quality grand piano projected by built-in amplification and speakers, rather than a soundboard and strings.

Frederic Chiu and David Gonzales

The goal is to get as close as one can to the touch and tone of a regular piano without the need for tuning or voicing.  In addition to a real grand piano action, the N3  also provides digital communication connections and comes in a smaller (460 lbs) though not always more easily moved package. While smaller than a grand piano, it is still a large, heavy instrument and should not be mistaken for a Clavinova or similar home style digital piano.  Yamaha put a great deal of effort developing the amplifier and speaker system to accurately project the sound of a grand piano. This includes speakers facing up as well as down and the use of the case as part of the tone generating system. Continue reading