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Voicing Up a Steinway M

  • 1.  Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-17-2018 14:34
    Hello all,

    Here's the situation: I have a client I inherited recently with a nice, rebuilt and refinished Steinway M. The previous tuner was mostly tune only, and at my last appointment the piano needed a tuning and pitch raise (the strings were still stretching) and the sos repaired. While tuning I thought it was very mellow, even for a Steinway. Afterwards the lady came and checked it out, and commented that it was too mellow for her tastes. She wants me to voice it in six months when it's tuned again, so I have six months to come up with a game plan.

    Other notes: hammers need shaping, about 2 mm deep groves. I think these are new Steinway style hammers, but forgot to check. Regulation seems good, room acoustics are decent enough. There's a 3/4" rug under the piano, and below that very expensive hardwood floors.

    Going by the "boom, clang, sizzle" method, the piano has great boom quality, mediocre clang quality, and almost no sizzle quality, even in the high treble.

    What I'm thinking to do is to resurface the hammers, and follow up with a 1000 grit sandpaper pass, then pack in the felt as laid out in Jim Busby's eBook. That may be enough for the owner. If it's not, what would you suggest? In addition or instead of.

    Thanks for any advice,

    ------------------------------
    Benjamin Sanchez
    Professional Piano Services
    (805)315-8050
    www.professional-piano-services.com
    BenPianoPro@comcast.net
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-17-2018 16:42
    My guess is they are Steinway hammers, and need lacquering. It is a good idea to check mating as well, and to note whether the tricord dampers are clearing their strings (often there can be late lift, together with long felt hanging below the strings, leading to a muted sound).

    You can always try the fine sandpaper, etc. and see if it gets you enough, but I'd advise you to be prepared to consider a complete lacquer treatment - which probably means taking it to your shop for a couple days, then returning. 

    You can get more zing on attack with acetone and "keytop" (acrylic, ground plexiglass), applied conservatively to the crowns where needed, and that could be enough to satisfy the customer. It is also a way to quickly demonstrate sorta kinda what a lacquer job will do, and confirm that that is the direction the customer wants to head - and it can be scuff sanded off as a reversal, as long as you are conservative, as in maybe three drops per hammer on the grooves.
    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    "A mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." Plutarch






  • 3.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 00:51
    Here's one method that may require a bit less time with the piano:

    Purchase Steinway's hammer lacquer from Steinway. It's pre-mixed at the preferred concentration and it's very durable.

    Fill your favorite applicator bottle with the solution. The pour all of it into a polyethylene tray (something that won't dissolve and to which the lacquer doesn't adhere well). I looked around for one with a flat bottom, about 5" x 8" is good for a 2-oz bottle. Put the tray outside or up underneath a bath or kitchen fan while the solvents evaporate. You'll be left with a thin and flexible film in 2-3 days.

    Remove the film and wad it up to fit back into the bottle. Add acetone and let it dissolve. You may want to filter it if your bottle has a narrow opening and/or there's much dust in it. A coffee filter cut to fit a small funnel works just fine.

    Now you have lacquer of the proper concentration with only acetone as a solvent. Much less toxic, and much faster to dry. As in the tone won't change significantly beyond about 20 minutes. We don't really need to worry about the finish drying too fast.

    As to how to apply, the last I heard from Kent Webb was that they recommend putting a stripe across the hammers about 11 and 1 o'clock for more bite, at about 10:30 and 1:30 for more body. I still often just put three drops right on top, particularly if the sound needs both body and bite.

    Doug Wood, RPT
    206-935-5797






  • 4.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 10:11
      |   view attached
    Should you have the means to experiment before going back to this M, give B72 a try if you need to apply any hardener. After attending Ken Eschete and Dan Levitan's class in Lancaster this past summer, I decided to give it a try on a new set of Ronsen Weickert hammers. The result was very good. I used Everclear 190 proof as the solvent instead of acetone. No nasty odors at all, just do not drink it! :-) It takes about 3 days for the pellets to dissolve in the Everclear, just follow the instructions. Note the small level lines on the bottles in the picture. I put them on about two months ago and have not seen any evaporation. Also, the B72 is staying in suspension in the liquid.

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 10:24
    I recently tried B72 for the first time, and was very pleased with the outcome. Don't think I had allowed three days for the pellets to dissolve in solvent, though. Sounds like things might go even better in the future when the pellets have had enough time with the solvent.

    Alan

    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 6.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 11:57
    As long as we are taking alternative hardeners, you might also consider platinum blonde shellac flakes dissolved in alcohol. They dissolve much faster and more readily than B72. Available from https://www.shellac.net. I've done some experimentation with it, but not enough to provide a formula for strength. It doesn't take much.

    I'll also mention the option of applying hardener to the side of the hammer: set the action on end, swing each hammer individually, apply right at the tip of the molding. Observe how far it penetrates, keeping it below the surface of the crown by at least 2 mm. Apply to the other side as well, as it won't likely penetrate all the way through. This provides the equivalent of foundational felt density, substituting stiffness for density. IOW, it creates that little diamond shape of felt that you avoid disturbing when needling a hard pressed hammer in the traditional way, and leaves the shoulders flexible.

    If more zing is needed, a little application directly to the crown will provide that.
    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    "Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them." Coco Chanel






  • 7.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 16:10
    Ultrablonde shellac flakes in 190 proof ethanol is what I have experience with. The 190 proof "Clear Spring" from the liquor store is so dry it makes great shellac. Keep it tightly capped and it has an extremely long shelf life. Plus, both shellac flakes and ethanol from a liquor store are very nontoxic, so I can use it anywhere without worrying about fumes. While ultrablonde is not very colored as shellacs go, it does still have enough that you can see how far it has wicked in. So that is sort of good and sort of not good at the same time.

    Mostly I put a few drops in the string grooves in the high treble. Sometimes I've needed to repeat that later on, and sometimes I haven't. I believe I did drip it in from both sides once, which I think worked okay, but I haven't done the side application enough to be able to predict the results.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 8.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Posted 10-18-2018 17:57
    *One note with Shellac is that its curing hardness does change with age of the solution. In my guitar finishing I've found it wise to do a shellac test by allowing a small puddle to dry on a piece of glass/mirror and then scraping with your fingernail. After about 6-9 months it will usually start curing to a softer state (not as hard) than freshly mixed shellac.

    It may be an immaterial difference for hammer hardening, but in my finishing work its key to test each batch. (unlike nitrocellulose lacquer which seems to have a nearly indefinite shelf life).

    The low toxicity of shellac is wonderful if used with everclear - if using denatured alcohol ventilation is still a great idea.


    ------------------------------
    Daniel Petrzelka
    Harrowed Strings

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  • 9.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 18:53
    Hi, Daniel

    That toxicity is the very reason I refuse to use denatured alcohol for anything.

    The other reason to use 190 proof ethanol to make shellac is that it is so dry. It's water contaminating old shellac that makes it turn gummy. So, to make a voicing solution, I open a brand new bottle of Clear Spring, pour it over the shellac flakes which I've put into a small mason jar, very clean and dry. I immediately capt it with a fresh lid, and I keep the shellac in my kit only in a very tightly capped bottle (inside a ziploc bag.)  I've found that old herbal tincture dropper bottles can seal tightly enough to preserve it. I've done tests like you describe on very old shellac (in the dropper bottle), and found that my 8 year old bottle of it was still as good as the day I made it.

    YMMV, of course ... it depends on how dry the alcohol you use is, how good the bottles you store the shellac in are, how often you open them to use it, how long you leave them open, and how humid the room is.

    One could, I suppose, go to extremes when conditions are humid -- get the action out onto an action cart or table, chalk mark the shanks of the notes you wish to juice, then open the dropper bottle, get some shellac into the dropper in your right hand, and put your left thumb over the bottle while you use the dropper in your right hand.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 10.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Posted 10-18-2018 19:13
    Susan, agreed on all fronts.

    I use the 190 proof I can buy on my regular visits to Portland, as its tougher to find in Washington after the liquor stores went public. The staff at the store I frequent in Woodstock always tell me I shouldn't be drinking this stuff, and nod politely when I ensure them its for high end instrument finishing.

    It may be the larger quantities that use (larger bottles, with eventually more air space) that lead to greater moisture absorption by the shellac/alcohol solution. That is a great tip to store in a little glass dropper bottle for use in voicing hammers.

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    Daniel Petrzelka
    Mount Vernon WA
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  • 11.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 19:54
    I always buy the fifth bottles. Usually one will last me for years. Some of it gets diluted 50-50 with tap water, turning it to "vodka", for either voicing down hammers or for softening glue joints when replacing upright hammer shanks.

    When I was in the middle of refinishing the celesta, using lots and lots for both alcohol stain and the shellac for French Polish, I ended up buying three bottles, partly to be sure that I could use a fresh bottle for the shellac. My last visit to get one more fifth of Clear Spring I brought a "show and tell" part, the folding flap for the music desk, so they could see how nice and shiny and deeply colored it was.

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    Susan Kline
    Philomath, Oregon
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  • 12.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Posted 10-19-2018 06:54
    Here is a link discussing denatured alcohol and solvent fumes. Post #6 is an interesting one.​ Clear Spring is not available near me, but I'd like to try it (for shellac, that is).


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    Philip Jamison
    Philip Jamison Pianos
    WEST CHESTER PA
    610-696-8449
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  • 13.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-19-2018 18:20
    I thought I'd share some general thoughts on things that were raised in this thread, concerning adding hardeners to hammers.

    Concerning B72, it is an acrylic resin, which has various uses including in conservation techniques (as a reversible adhesive, I believe). Ken Eschete was drawn to it because it was soluble in ethanol as well as acetone. His reason for wanting ethanol as a base has to do with speed of evaporation. Faster evaporation, as with acetone, causes a larger portion of the solute to migrate to the surface of the material that has been saturated, as opposed to staying deeper, as demonstrated by some experiments he had read about. When I asked Ken how B72 was different from acrylic (as in ground up plexiglass and the like), he said it wasn't different in any significant way, except for that fact that ethanol would dissolve it.

    So that is what led Ken to propose using the material, not some magic difference in its effect, but simply the fact that it could be used in an ethanol solution, thereby leaving more of it deep in the hammer.

    Lacquer thinner is formulated to slow evaporation. It is essentially acetone with various other, slower evaporating solvents added, to allow the lacquer to flow better on the surface, and to retard its evaporation so it won't have as much tendency to "blush" (caused by the cold created by the fast evaporation, condensing water from the atmosphere, I believe). So use of lacquer in lacquer thinner will also leave more of the hard material deeper in the hammer. Probably lacquer thinner could be added to "keytop and acetone" to retard its evaporation.

    Shellac is soluble in alcohol of various sorts, and this would have the same effect. As to how the stiffening caused by shellac compares to that of nitrocellulose lacquer or acrylic, there are probably various opinions, but probably based on no actual rigorous experiments.

    Applying any hardening material in a solvent to the side of the hammer will leave more of it within the hammer, and none on the surface, as long as you control how you apply it.

    I guess I'll leave it at that, for now. Just some musings, in the hope of focusing thought on some of the important aspects of the materials and processes involved in hardening hammer felt.

    ------------------------------
    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    http://www.artoftuning.com
    "We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same." - Carlos Casteneda
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  • 14.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 15:48
    Alan,

    The lighter mixes perhaps were dissolved in less than three days but the 3:1 certainly took about three days in the alcohol.  I used the cheesecloth method recommended by Ken Eschete and Dale Erwin. I opened the cheesecloth every day to have a look and decided it was done based on how much if any gelled goo remained. You need to shake it up a bit every day. Perhaps the process is faster in acetone. It sure is nice though to not have to deal with fumes by using the Everclear.

    Don

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Voicing Up a Steinway M

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 10-18-2018 18:25
    Don,
    Yes, I was using a more dilute solution than 3:1. However, I am definitely going to try grain alcohol next time, as I am not so fond of acetone. If I can avoid it, I will.

    Thanks,

    Alan

    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
    ------------------------------