The Australians: Wayne Stuart, Ron Overs
Wayne Stuart, an Australian piano designer and builder who trained as a piano technician in the 1970s, makes pianos with bridge agraffes: metal fixtures that connect the strings to the bridge and keep the vibrations of the strings in the vertical plane (see Photo 5). While most grand pianos use agraffes at the front end of the strings, their use at the bridge end has, historically, been rare. The strings in most pianos are fastened to the bridges by means of angled bridge pins, resulting in a string vibration pattern that begins in the vertical plane but then changes to the horizontal, which causes an audible shift in tone as the sound dies away. According to Stuart, “The bridge agraffe liberates the soundboard from the reaction forces produced by bending the wire at the bridge termination position. This design enables the soundboard to be fabricated along the same principles as loudspeakers. The soundboard is no longer a load-bearing structure but, rather, a light, stiff diaphragm that responds to a much broader set of string motions, and thus increases its dynamic potential.”
Stuart's instruments sport, in addition to the traditional three pedals, a fourth that reduces the travel distance of the hammer and key levers. “This is a significant addition for the player, particularly in accompaniment and where textural effects and control over tone color are sought,” says Stuart. “This pedal can be used independently, or simultaneously with the shift pedal to produce the most extraordinary effects.” The Stuart & Sons piano comes in two sizes, a 9' 6" concert grand and a 7' 2" studio grand, each with options of 97 or 102 keys. The 102-key model ranges from the C an octave below the lowest C of a standard 88-note keyboard to F above the top C of a standard keyboard. Prices of Stuart's instruments range from $150,000 to $300,000 before taxes.
Another Australian, Ron Overs, has built a small number of pianos emphasizing other features. One is a soundboard with ribs shaped like small I-beams, which Overs says helps the soundboard retain its crown because they are nominally 60% stronger directly under the bridges than are conventional soundboard ribs. Another is his proprietary action mechanism (patent pending), which has “approximately half the friction of any other roller action you would care to compare it to.”