Founded in 1853, the venerable Leipzig firm of Blüthner continues today as a family-owned and -operated business. Blüthner pianos are characterized by impeccable workmanship, and a tone that is clear and crystalline from pp to ff. Being somewhat partisan to the Steinway sound, I find the Blüthner tone, particularly in the smaller models, to have less depth and color than I generally prefer. I find it easier to achieve the tonal range I like when voicing the hammers of the larger models, such as the Model 1 concert grand and Model 2 semi-concert grand. In the highest treble section, Blüthner pianos feature a fourth, "aliquot" string per note. This string is not actually struck by the hammer, but sits a little higher than the other three strings and vibrates sympathetically with them. The intent is to give that register—which in other pianos is sometimes thin and weak—additional warmth and sustain; to my ears, it really does work.
Two other technical features that make Blüthner pianos a joy for me to work on are: the angle-cut hammers in the bass and tenor sections, which makes reshaping hammer a breeze; and the graduation of string gauges by half-sizes all the way down the tenor section, resulting in a very smooth tuning scale.
— Steve Brady
Some pianos never let you forget that they are percussion instruments. Others, like the Blüthner, are the polar opposite—smooth, refined, rich, and velvety. It's easy to see why Artur Rubinstein wrote so lovingly about them in his autobiography. Ideal for intimate settings and chamber music, their rich, singing quality never overpowers. This beauty comes at a price, however: attempts to boost the power and add a little fire by hardening the hammers can be less than successful. Sustain may be compromised, and the tone can become strident, even weak. There seems to be a ceiling that cannot be breached, though I have found that judicious single-needle voicing from the side of the hammer can lengthen sustain while adding breadth and power in the sixth and seventh octaves. Blüthner's signature "aliquot" stringing system has the subtle but desirable effect of a whispering, ethereal echo that overlays the tone. One cannot but wonder, however, if the additional load on the soundboard from four-string unisons contributes to the piano's lack of power and brilliance, even while enhancing the unique, characteristic sound for which Blüthner is known. For pianists seeking a warm, sophisticated companion in chamber music, or the perfect piano for Chopin or Schumann, the Blüthner is an obvious choice. Those who want a piano that can also set the curtains ablaze may be disappointed. The workmanship is impeccable, the veneers and finish worthy of a museum, and despite the extra strings, they are a dream to tune.
— Steve Pearson
The Bösendorfer is a boutique piano: a relatively small number of instruments made by hand, the old-fashioned way, by highly skilled craftsmen. Bösendorfers have a sound quality that is clear, sophisticated, and unique—not as three-dimensional as a Steinway, but still complex, and with excellent sustain and a singing tone. It records well, but may require custom voicing to cut through large orchestras or for other specific musical situations. Most pianists find the action pleasing and easy to control. From a technical angle, the action regulation and tuning are stable, the wood is well cured, and the materials are excellent. Exquisite custom cases are available. A bit costly, this is a piano for the connoisseur—to be enjoyed and savored.
SPRING 2010 -- page 80
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Hybrid & Player Pianos