Delwin Fandrich, Olympia, Washington
Back in the U.S., piano technician and designer Delwin Fandrich is working on a new piano that he calls “my interpretation of a direction piano development might have taken had we not allowed ourselves to be caught up with the notion that bigger and more massive is always a good thing.” Inspired by the fortepianos of the mid-19th century, the new instrument is 8' 2½" long, but, being narrower, takes up about the same floor space as a conventional 7' 4" grand, according to Fandrich, and is about one-third lighter. He calls his new creation “my interpretation of those wonderful transitional instruments that appeared roughly between 1840 and 1870. It is not a reproduction of these instruments, but a thoroughly modern instrument; indeed, it is one of the most technologically advanced pianos available today.” Fandrich's new piano will feature low-tensioned scaling, lighter hammers, and the new composite action parts from Wessel, Nickel & Gross.
Michael Spreeman, Scottsdale, Arizona
What attracted Scottsdale piano technician Michael Spreeman to piano building was simply the potential to “design and create something exceptional,” he says. “In a business society that seems to be focused on building things faster, for less money, and in greater quantity at the expense of quality, I wanted to move in the opposite direction and exist in a different head space.” Working with two employees, Spreeman builds two to six pianos a year, using rims and plates made in Germany by Sauter. “Everything that has to do with production of sound is our exclusive design,” he says. “This includes the soundboard, rib scale, bridges, and string scales.” Spreeman's pianos come in two models, the 7' 3" Model 220 and the 9' Model 275, and bear the name Ravenscroft, in honor of local jazz pianist Bob Ravenscroft.
Although the sources for some of Spreeman's materials can change depending on the specific piano he's building, a typical Ravenscroft 220 (base price $230,000) might have a keyboard from Kluge, and action and hammers from Renner, both German companies; a red-spruce soundboard panel from Ciresa, in Italy; and a pinblock from André Bolduc, in Canada. “The sound I offer,” says Spreeman, “is a bit of a hybrid. I am after a pure European clarity with an American sort of fullness and color. We also obsess over the actions. Each action is CAD optimized, meticulously assembled and regulated, and weighed off to one-tenth of a gram from note to note. We strive to make the interface between the artist and the piano as invisible as humanly possible.”
Spreeman could easily be speaking for all his fellow boutique piano makers when he says, “We don't mass-produce a ‘product.' Each piano we build is the best we have to offer. Once completed, they are evaluated by my team, and by artists who provide feedback about performance. We then take these evaluations, assess them, and implement design changes to further enhance the next piano. My primary focus is to design a piano that allows artists to express themselves in ways they've never been able to before, and for listeners to experience this expression with the purity and fullness of that artist's intent.”
Or, as Luigi Borgato puts it, these boutique pianos “have the charm of authentic works of art that reveal the inspiration and passion from which they were designed. Exaltation of matter, perfection of form, care of every little detail. These things make the instruments unique — created by hand, one by one.”
Steve Brady, author of Under the Lid: The Art and Craft of the Concert Piano Technician (Byzantium Books, 2008), currently works each summer as head piano technician at the Aspen Music Festival. The rest of the year he services and rebuilds pianos and teaches piano technology in Seattle.