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 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 friendly chats 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 appropriate an 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

Feurich 218 M

218_paintingI took a slightly different path with the 218 and got help. I asked Boaz Kirschenbaum of Cherry Tree Pianos to recommend a configuration and perform the necessary surgery. Boaz is also a fan of Ray Negron’s Ronsen Piano Hammer Company products and together we decided on a set only this time made with Bacon felt. This felt, made by America’s oldest felt manufacturer, is much softer than most anything else used today and requires that the tone be “built up” through the careful application of lacquer. That is not a bad thing as it leads to a very specific piano tone. Boaz also wanted to include a Stanwood Precision Touch Design upgrade that was going to give us complete control of the up and down weight. All in all, it seemed like it was going to be a great piano. There was a catch though…

Ronsen hammers with Bacon felt, Stanwood Precision Touch Design..what could go wrong?? Nothing!

First the Feurich Ningbo Duo. 178M and 218M


Feurich fallboardI have two Ningbo Feurich grands; a model 178 and a model 218. Ningbo is shorthand for the pianos made to our specifications at the Hailun factory, as opposed to Feurich pianos of German origin.

There are a number of differences between a Feurich 178 and a Hailun 178, including different strings (Paulello) and different action ratios and different hammers. Although Feurich used Abel hammers in the Ningbo production, I was not completely satisfied with the sound and was convinced there was a better piano hiding below the surface.

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