Archive for the 'Facts and Info' Category

Fiction: The bigger the piano the better the sound is.
Fact:
True but more important are the three main objective areas: the scale design, the quality of materials and the workmanship than its size (meaning the height of a vertical piano or the length of a piano). A small piano that is build with all these objectives will have better sound than a big piano that is not.

Fiction: Key sticky is a worthless piano
Fact:
Do you say your house is worthless if a door sticks when the humidity is up a little? Would you tear down the house because a door was sticking? Definitely not! Sticking keys is a common problem with pianos, and can happen to any brands. It is a maintenance issue, related to moisture, and easily solved. A few simple adjustments and you’re back to playing.

Fiction: Asia piano is suitable for our climate. European have a different climate than in Asia and therefore, those pianos will not be suitable here.
Fact:
I don’t find any logic to it, do you? There are total of seven continents in this Earth. Asia is the largest of all continents, Europe is a continent, and Africa is a continent and so on. In Asia you have more than 20 countries with different climates and with different temperature and humidity annually. A piano is made out of wood. Being a hygroscopic material, it will absorb and desorbs moisture depending to the climate condition. Piano maker have suggested that an ideal relative humidity is between 42% and 65%. If the humidity is below 42% or above 65%, it will affects the moisture content of the wooden parts, causing them to shrink and swell in the long run. It is not healthy for any piano. This may cause the finish to crack or chip, the string tension to change, the critical tolerance of action parts to be distorted, or the soundboard to crack. If your area is too dry, get a humidifier or if you area is too wet, get a dehumidifier.

Fiction: Do I need a heater in my piano? My friends/neighbors’ pianos all have a heater in the piano.
Fact:
Piano maker have suggested that an ideal relative humidity is between 42% and 65%. If your piano is sitting in a room that is within the margin, why do you need a heater? Improper use of this device may cause damage to the piano in the long run. The heat inside will eventually dries up the wooden parts and organic materials such as felt, cloth and leather. Thus, wooden parts become brittle and crack and action parts become loose. In countries like Canada, they don’t need a heater because the RH is too low. For them they need a humidifier so to bring the moisture up. Some countries have dry and wet session in a year. In this case, both dehumidifier and humidifier are needed. The best way to know if your room is good for a piano to live in is to buy a hygrometer (also known as moisture meter).

Fiction: Light touch is always better to play.
Fact:
There is no easy way to become successful without learning from the hard way. Touch is a subjective issue. Some pianists prefer light and some pianists prefer heavy. But don’t think that a lighter touch is always better. In fact, most advanced musicians like to feel a touch that is anywhere from 52 to 58 grams. If a piano is too light, there’s no feedback from the piano back to the player. And if the touch is too heavy, arms and fingers tire easily and sensitive control is gone.

Originally you asked a rather general question. Why Slam Chinese-Made Pianos? There have been a number of excellent answers to your specific questions but I would like to add a general observation or two on the overall issue.

Some of us with long memories can remember when Japanese-built pianos began coming into the U.S. The early Japanese instruments were plagued with problems ranging from such minor details as soundboards coming loose and pinblocks coming apart to unstable actions to polyester finish problems. Not to mention the myriad ongoing tonal problems. It took about twenty years for them to get their product up to a minimally reasonable standard. In the meantime they were sold viable alternatives to the piano marques. Dealers and salespeople assured one and all that the Japanese pianos were just as good as the expensive U.S.- and European-built pianos, but because of the low cost of labor in Japan they were a real bargain. What problems? They were all built to the highest standards and used only “world class” components. And many U.S. consumers ended up paying the price.

Later on the Korean’s entered the fray. The early Korean instruments were plagued with problems ranging from minor details like soundboards coming loose and pinblocks coming apart to unstable actions to polyester finish problems. Not to mention the myriad ongoing tonal problems. It took about ten years for them to get their product up to a minimally reasonable standard. In the meantime they also were sold viable alternatives to the U.S., European and Japanese built pianos. Dealers and salespeople assured one and all that the Korean pianos were just as good as the more expensive U.S., European and Japanese built pianos, but because of the low cost of labor in Korea they were a real bargain. What problems? They were all built to the highest standards and used only World Class components. And many U.S. consumers ended up paying the price.

And now the Chinese and Indonesian pianos are entering the fray. The early instruments coming from these countries have been plagued with problems ranging from minor details well, you can probably guess where this is headed. It’s déjà vu all over again. And, once again, the U.S. consumer is taking it on the chin and in the wallet. It remains to be seen just when (or if?) the Chinese manufacturers will reach the level of the better Korean or Japanese manufacturers. Not to mention the better European builders. They probably will, given time. Anyone who has walked on the Great Wall can but admire the focus and tenacity of this culture. Still, I’ve been in several Chinese factories and, while there is certainly a will to achieve world-standard status, I’m not sure if there is yet a willingness to pay the full price of admission.

It takes more than a list of features to make a good piano. It also takes more than a collection of “world class” components gathered together and stuffed into a box. It takes more than a verbal assurance that wood is now, finally, being properly seasoned. I have stood in a Chinese factory being assured that the wood used for backposts in row after row of vertical piano back assemblies had all been “properly” dried and seasoned. And no one can explain the splits running two-thirds the way up several of these backposts. Just no idea how it could happen. As we went down the line I discovered this was not the only example of raw, green wood being used in these pianos. These things were twisting and warping and splitting all over the place. But it was all “properly” dried and seasoned.

Eventually they will figure all this stuff out. Some, perhaps, have already done so. At least they mostly seem to be working on their problems. This is of little consolation to those who purchased the earlier instruments, of course. The same was also true with the early purchasers of various Japanese and Korean pianos — but that was then and this is now. Both the Japanese and Korean builders are now more experienced and one thing you are going to get for your extra money with a more established maker is experience and knowledge. They have already had it, learned from it and have paid for it. And now you are being asked to pay your share in exchange for their higher level of competence. Their products will generally reflect that competence in terms of on-going performance and an extended useful life. It is one thing to get a piano sounding really nice on the showroom floor. It is quite another to keep it working well and sounding nice in your home for ten or twenty years.

In your favor, of course, is that by now most of the really bad pianos coming from China are gone. You are now much less likely to end up with an expensive pile of junk than you would have been just five years ago. Still, in exchange for the money you will be saving you will be given the opportunity to join an ever-growing group of guinea pigs (if you’ll please pardon the expression) who will be helping the Chinese piano industry achieve world standard status.

* Extract from Piano World Forum

If you or your child are taking lessons, it is so important that your piano works and sounds as perfectly as possible. Many people tell me that their child will not be playing at Carnegie Hall, or that “he/she is only a child” so the piano doesn’t have to be perfect. No true! Your child’s ear is being trained to learn the different sounds or pitch the piano makes. Part of learning is to play with expression, the louds and the softs. If the piano is not at the right pitch the student will not learn to recognize pitch, if the touch is wrong, the student will not learn dynamics. If the notes don’t work correctly (or don’t sound like the teacher’s piano), the student may get frustrated and not want to continue.

You wouldn’t teach someone to drive on a car when the wheels are falling off, the steering wheel only turns one way, the wipers don’t work and the horn doesn’t make any sound. Get the most from you instrument and your lessons!

Proper Care of Upright Pianos and Grand Pianos
or else
How to Take Care of the Instrument to Ensure Its Perfect Condition Even for Future Generations

Upright or Grand?
When choosing an instrument, the first thing to consider is the purpose, spatial and acoustic capacities we have at our disposal.

Upright piano
This instrument is characteristic by the fact that its strings are fitted vertically from the bottom part of the instrument upward, and the action is installed vertically, as well. The upright piano, even of a greater size (a taller model), does not occupy as much space as a grand piano and is used especially for practicing, in smaller apartments, and due to its lower price it is also an ideal instruments for beginning players.

Remember!
An average upright piano occupies the space of ca. 150 x 60 cm!

In the majority of upright pianos, the apparatus (the bar with fine felt inserted between the strings and the hammers, the so called moderator) is controlled by the central pedal or using a small lever in the side filler of the keyboard or from below under the keyboard. It also has the function of strong quietening of the entire instrument. When this function of the moderator is active, the tone timbre changes, as well. This system is suitable especially for customers who do not want to disturb the other occupants of the house and neighbours by playing in the evening. Electronic systems exist today which can be specially mounted in the instruments, thus forming the so called silent piano from a classical acoustic instrument. Upon playing a tone, the instrument does not “make” the sound but the sound is generated electronically and this electronic sound is reproduced into the headphones or external loudspeakers. The function and feel of playing of the action remain unchanged.

Taller upright piano models of the height of 120 cm and more have longer bass strings and larger surface of the resonance board than most grand pianos of smaller models up to 160 cm. Therefore they make fuller and longer lasting bass tones.

Grand piano
Grand piano denotes an instrument in which the strings are fitted horizontally, in parallel with the ground. This structure is characterized especially by a stronger sound, especially in larger models used for concert purposes. Compared to the upright piano, the feel of the action is slightly different, given by its horizontal placement.

Remember!
Medium-sized model of the grand piano occupies the space of ca. 150 x 180 cm.

  1. Grand pianos longer than 160 cm have longer strings and a larger surface of the resonance board, they thus provide a stronger sound than most upright pianos.
  2. The grand piano action (English) allows faster repeating of the tone (repetition) thanks to its structure and using small springs, even if the key half returns to its position only.
  3. Upon proper adjustment, the action is much more sensitive and allows greater “dynamics” of playing.
  4. The upper board – the piano cover – provides various sound levels pursuant to the degree of its opening, without blocking the pianist’s view.

Common Parts – The Pedals
Every instrument, upright as well as grand pianos, have 2 pedals at the minimum:

  • The right pedal is used to prolong the tones of the whole range of the instrument;
  • The left pedal is used in upright pianos to bring the hammers nearer the strings in order to weaken the tone; if pressed in grand pianos, the entire keyboard shifts, together with the action, to the side, the hammers thus hit 2 strings only instead of 3 in medium and high tones, and only 1 instead of 2 strings in the bass section. This causes an overall quietening of the instrument, just like in upright pianos.

If the central pedal is installed:

  • In upright pianos, it functions as the moderator mentioned above;
  • In some grand pianos, the central pedal provides the so called “system prolongement” function, serving to prolong the tones played immediately before pressing this pedal.

It is of interest that in some older instruments, 4 and even more pedals can be seen. The fourth pedal, placed on the very left, serves to prolong bass tones only; the function of other pedals differs and is of minor importance (e.g. moderator with metal elements to modify the tone timbre).

How to Purchase a New Instrument?
Upright or grand pianos have the minimum lifetime of 100 years when handled “well” and taken solicitous care of. This means roughly 3 – 4 human generations. Therefore it is necessary to observe certain principles when buying an instrument:

When buying a new instrument, the customer faces essentially no risk that material of low quality has been used in the production. It is good to choose the instrument pursuant to subjective sound feelings and according to the requirement for spatial capacities and needs. Another perspective is represented by the style and surface treatment, and thus possibilities of harmonizing the instrument with the apartment interior.

The warranty period of new instruments is 5 years provided that all principles of proper handling are observed.

How to Proceed if Purchasing an Older, Used Instrument
It is necessary to be very cautious when purchasing a “second hand” instrument, without a guarantee.

Do not ever buy an instrument without its prior assessment by a true expert piano engineer!

There are cases when the customer buys an instrument and upon its installation in the apartment, the piano engineer called in finds out that the technical condition of the instrument is so bad that the price of its repair may very well reach the price of a new instrument. Having the instrument assessed by your piano teacher is often very subjective, too. The teacher can certainly evaluate the sound of the instrument but not in what environment the instrument has been, or the condition of the action, the resonance board, the cast-iron frame etc.

The most essential elements to determine the quality and long-term usage of the instrument are as follows:

  • Resonance board
  • Cast-iron frame
  • Level of wear of the action and keyboard
  • Whether there are no moths and woodworms in the instrument
  • Whether the instrument stays tuned etc.

An expert piano engineer can also give you the age of the instrument pursuant to the so called opus (serial) number, and thus you can save yourself many problems and disappointment from a bad purchase, and last but not least, loss of money.

What to Avoid, which Instruments to Avoid, what to Seek?
Do not buy!
Upright pianos: “With the top damper”. These instruments can no more be repaired in good quality today due to impossibility to find original spare parts.

Grand pianos: “With the Vienna action”; this action has not been manufactured for about 100 years, and its technical design is obsolete. This action system has hammers which are flung up directly by the key. This is a very simple, slow system, and it does not meet the
today’s requirements for playing. Professional pedagogues do not recommend this action system for beginning pianists either due to slow and uneven movement of the keys.

Upright as well as grand pianos: With the cast-iron frame structure of the equi-stringed system where all strings are fitted in parallel next to each other. This structure system is obsolete and compared to the cross-stringed system, the possibility of usage of longer strings in the instrument is not utilized.

In upright as well as grand pianos, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact whether the instrument has not been in an environment too humid. Even a several days long stay of the instrument in an open passage way of the house in humid weather can absolutely destroy the instrument.

Request!
In upright pianos: The “bottom damper” action system.

In grand pianos: The “English action” system where the hammer forms part of the action configuration which can be adjusted.

In upright as well as grand pianos: The cross-stringed system of the cast-iron frame structure, i.e. bass strings are fitted cross-wise over the smooth strings.

What the Instrument Requires?
By proper placement, regular maintenance, cleaning, adjustment of the action and tuning, the instrument can be preserved in perfect condition even by the next generation which shall play the instrument.

By regular maintenance and cleaning, you can prevent occurrence of moths, woodworms, and in some cases even of rodents in the instrument. Materials used in the instruments, such as cashmere, felt, paper, but even wood, literally call for this.

By regular tuning and intonation, the instrument shall preserve its peculiar sound, and the players will not damage their perception of music by false tones. This is very important especially for children learning to play an instrument, in order not to deform their perception of the entire instrument.

Remember!
If the instrument has not been tuned for a long time, upon subsequent tuning when a great difference in strain of the instrument occurs in a short time, damage of the entire structure may even occur.

The instrument, if tuned to the pitch of a1 – 440 Hz, has tension of the strings equal to ca. 15 – 20 tons. When the action does not function in the way it should and the instrument is out of tune, the enthusiasm for practising tends to be very low, too. Too much of play in the action causes inaccurate running of the action, an altered feel when playing, altered dynamics of the hammer stroke, and modified tone timbre. The hammer stroke is uncertain and the feel of playing is in stable. Especially children practicing their instrument as well as experienced pianists recognize the difference before adjustment and tuning of the instrument and afterward very well.

The most suitable maintenance intervals are as follows:

Tuning, intonation, checking and cleaning – 1 – 2x yearly (pursuant to the playing load of the instrument)

Action adjustment – Upon 3 – 5 years (Or even once per year pursuant to the playing load and frequency and extent of changes of the environment temperature and humidity)

Regrinding of the hammer felt – Upon 8 – 10 years (or even sooner pursuant to the playing load)

Proper placement of the instrument affects markedly the lifetime and acoustic expression. Although materials of top quality are used in the manufacture of upright and grand pianos, such as, for example, resonant spruce for resonance (sounding) boards, hard massive wooden materials, wood (wooden skeleton – barrage), noble and coloured metals (the strings, agraphs), special felts and cashmeres (the action and the keyboard), it is not possible to protect them sufficiently against drastic changes of temperature and humidity.

When installing the instrument, pay attention especially to the fact that the upright or grand piano:

  • Is not near the window as sudden temperature changes can occur when airing the room, especially in the winter period when steep changes of temperature and sun radiation occur, damaging the surface finish of instruments
  • Stands as far from the window as possible, along an internal wall of the apartment if possible, due to stable temperature of the wall
  • Is not exposed to steep changes of temperature due to irregular heating (wetting and subsequent corrosion of metal parts of the instrument)
  • Is not situated near the entrance door, bathrooms or other sources of direct moisture
  • Is not situated at the place where small rodents, insects, and wood-decaying fungi occur
  • Is treated and cleaned regularly by an expert engineer to prevent incidence of moths

If you want or have to install the instrument in an apartment with floor heating, consult an expert engineer, the seller in the case of new instruments or directly the manufacturer what measures to take.

It is usual that the floor temperature is about 22° – 24° C. The instrument is thus “washed” with air of relatively favourable parameters. However, if the floor temperature is too high, for example, when the temperature starts up upon interrupted heating of a house that has cooled down, it is suitable to apply some insulation material underneath the instrument. It is good to use insulation materials or a reflection foil which shall prevent action of direct radiant heat from the floor so that the instrument does not suffer.

The absolute value of temperature or relative air humidity are not decisive. What decides is the equilibrium moisture of the wood. Upon considering the common variation of temperatures in the house with unsuitable interrupted heating and the common temperature difference in winter and in summer, fluctuation of the temperature in the range of 15° – 28° C must be admitted. Then the admissible range of relative air humidity may be ca. 35% – 56% in such a range of temperatures, and 32% – 60% in suitable combination of the temperature and air humidity. It could happen that after the first heating period, the instrument shall be totally leaky. Therefore it is necessary to observe the humidity carefully and possibly use air humidifiers.

Outside of the heating seasons, problems of opposite nature can be seen sometimes, when air humidity exceeds the allowed limit. Materials used in the instruments, especially wood, felt, and glues, receive moisture from the air and change their volume in the case of high humidity. This causes worsening or disabling of proper function of the instrument, especially of the keyboard and the action, and your possible complaints cannot be accepted.

Today, there are devices and systems which can maintain your instrument in an optimum environment, especially before the beginning and after the heating season when such humidity changes are most drastic. Every good expert engineer, seller or directly the manufacturer will be certainly happy to help you to solve this problem.

  • Air-conditioning unit: Maintains the recommended climate in the whole room
  • Special equipment (e.g. climatec): A device to be installed directly in the instrument; maintains the recommended microclimate inside directly

Take into account the acoustic capacities of the area where you intend to place the instrument. This will have a great impact on your satisfaction with the acoustic expression of the instrument. In upright pianos, if placed at the wall, it is a good idea to have them placed 10 cm away from the wall at the minimum in order to allow better sound transmission from the resonance board. Also, proper wedging of the instrument in the case of uneven floor when rocking occurs has an impact on the instrument structure and tuning.

Avoid using the instrument as a flower table or storage place of various things, vessels, and glasses with liquids. Damage by liquids can cause serious damage not only on the surface treatment of the instrument but also inside. Subsequent repair of such a damage is very laborious as well as costly, of course.

Wipe the surface of the instrument using a slightly moistened piece of rag only. In the event of rather gross soiling, alcohol based or ammonia based cleaning preparations can be used (with great caution) in polished instruments, as well. In satin surface treatments, a weak solution of fine toilet soap can be used for cleaning.

Do not use any greasy polishes!
Always make sure whether you have sufficient information on the mechanic whom you let make interventions in the instrument. Unfortunately, there are also such “individuals” who only describe themselves as specialized engineers, however, their knowledge is infinitely small. From my own experience, I know what huge damage can be done to instruments by their incompetent interventions, unfortunately, always at expense of the customer.

Conclusion
Even the best upright or grand piano is only a substandard instrument without regular maintenance!

The piano is one of the most versatile and beautiful sounding musical instrument. The piano can blend very well with other instruments and is also an ideal solo instrument. If you are thinking of buying an acoustic piano, here are some guidelines:

Budget
This should always be at the top of your list. Determine how much or how little you can spend on buying a piano. Pianos cost a lot more than other musical instruments simply because it is very durable.

New or Used
Unlike other musical instruments, the piano is very durable when properly cared for. It has an average lifespan of 40 years and its value depreciates very little over time. Although a piano costs more than other instruments, your investment will be well worth it because of its durability. Determine whether you can afford a new one or if you’ll settle for a used piano. Remember to bring along a pianist, piano teacher or piano tuner/technician who can help inspect the instrument especially if it’s used.

Size of Pianos
How much floor space do you have to accommodate a piano? The grand piano is larger and more responsive but it’s also very costly. It ranges from 5 to 9 feet. There are also vertical pianos that range from 36 to 51 inches in height. The spinet is very popular because of its small size. Research the different sizes of pianos to help you choose which one to buy.

Styles of Pianos
Pianos come in different sizes and styles. When shopping for a piano, look at the type of wood used, the style of the piano cabinet, the music rack and leg design, the color and the overall look of the piano. Some people buy pianos based on how it will complement their other home furnishings.

Where to Go
Unlike other instruments which you can shop for online, pianos need to be seen and touched to determine its quality. Browse the classifieds section of your local paper to give you an idea how much new and used pianos costs. Visit different piano dealers, and if possible, bring along someone who has been playing the piano for a long time. That way you’ll have help in determining whether the piano performs and sounds well.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
The piano can be a good investment but it can also be expensive so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about its durability, performance, sound, aesthetic and internal construction. Be familiar with the different parts and functions of a piano so you’ll get a better understanding of what you’re looking for.

Warranties, Repairs and Others
Ask about warranties (how long and what does it cover?). Also, ask about repairs and maintenance (where will you go for such service?). Check out if the store has an ongoing promo that can offer you discounts. If you’ve already decided to buy a piano, ask if the purchase price includes the bench and delivery. Ask them to check the piano’s tuning and whether it’s been cleaned before they deliver it.

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