The better the piano, the more voiceable its hammers and the more malleable its sound. Manufacturers have to make decisions about materials as they increase or decrease the quality of the product to meet various price points. The hammers in the least expensive models just won't produce the quality of sound heard from the more expensive instruments. This can make separating a piano's voicing issues from its tonal potential much more challenging for the consumer.

In addition, because tone depends not only on the quality and voicing of the hammers, but also on the other sound-producing parts of the instrument (such as the rim, soundboard, and bridges), one should have realistic expectations about smaller, less expensive pianos. No amount of voicing will make an entry-level grand sound like a 9' concert grand. And because hammers tend to revert to their originally designed tone, scaling deficiencies in older or smaller models that may have been hidden by careful voicing may return as harsh changes in tone when the voicing deteriorates, exposing awkward transitions in the scale.

Following purchase of a piano, it should be ready for touch-up voicing and regulating after having been played for 50 to 100 hours, depending on repertoire and on how much playing and touch-up it received in the store before purchase. After that, the tone and voicing will evolve throughout the life of the hammers.

Choose a technician experienced in voicing your particular brand, especially for performance-quality instruments. Many manufacturers have specific tonal goals for their instruments, and technicians who regularly work with those brands' hammers are more attuned to their expectations — and the expectations of the client who has chosen that brand based on its tone.


Over the past 35 years, piano technician Sally Phillips has worked in virtually every aspect of the piano industry: service, retail, wholesale, and manufacturing. In her role as a concert-piano technician, she has tuned and prepared pianos for concert and recording work in such venues as Town Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Kennedy Center, and for such orchestras as the Cincinnati Symphony, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic. At present, Phillips lives in Kentucky and works throughout the southeastern U.S. She can be contacted at sphillipspiano @hotmail.com.

ONLINE RESOURCES

Alexander Kobrin Talks About Piano Tonal Aesthetics

Voicing Sound Samples

The Historical Evolution of Piano Voicing
This conversation with pianist Alexander Kobrin, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medalist, was held in Legacy Hall, at the Schwob School of Music of Columbus State University, in Columbus, Georgia. Working with Alex over the past several years has been particularly gratifying for me because, although he is not a technician, his attention to the technical details of piano preparation are so refined. For this video, we talked at length about, among other things, how the preparation and tone of a piano affect the pianist's ability to convey his or her interpretation of the music. As Alex puts it, "We tell all the stories of the pieces with the tone."Many piano owners are unaware that a piano's tone can be changed by replacing the hammers or by adjusting the consistency of the hammer felt (voicing). The sound samples in this video demonstrate the difference between the tone of an old hammer and that of a new one, or of an old hammer that has been voiced. Note the distorted impact sound of the old hammers, and hear the improvement in tone when an old hammer is filed, ironed, and/or needled. Then listen to the gradual improvement in tone as the new hammers are voiced. Cleanness of tone and accuracy of tuning are both affected by filing, and by the fit of the hammers to the strings — details that can make an enormous difference in a piano's tone.I present here, via YouTube, samples of piano tone that reflect the varied voicing and tonal preferences of concert pianists. As this chronological survey will show, over the last hundred years, with changes in both musical tastes and the materials available to piano manufacturers, voicing and tonal preferences have changed — mostly toward a brighter sound, but also, more recently, toward a more full-bodied clarity than that produced by the greatly hardened hammers of the 1960s through the '90s.

The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for

Buying New, Used, and Restored Acoustic Pianos and Digital Pianos

Spring 2014    Page 100

Spring 2014    Page 100

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