Assuming you've already done this (5-8 stitches each side or as needed until you can feel some give in the shoulder)
And this (4-5 stiches each side or as needed)
Then do this (1-3 stitches each side). Cautionary note. The center stitches show a crossover stitch but don't do that unless you must. Start at the ends of the string marks and work in as needed crossing over only if you need to. Go slow and check until you feel confident about what's needed then you can proceed one section at a time. The upper part of the piano will react pretty quickly with this type of stitch.
And finally this (though you can start with this too just to take the edge off)
Using something like thisYou can also do this. These are relatively close together and not that deep (~4mm). You're just freeing up the outer layers which can be very tight on a heat pressed hammer. The name speaks for itself.
I just did a Baldwin L. I used Ronsen Bacons heavily tapered. And voiced them up with B-72. Here is the result. Judge for yourself.
Re: Daniel Achten
Daniel, you didn't mention when those Renner Blues were installed.
Didn't Renner Blues use a firmer felt in the past? I believe they are currently using Weickert felt. I just installed Renner Blues on a C7 and found the hammers to be rather manageable -- no needling required -- only voicing up in the treble.
The belief about sustain relating to hammer resiliency and hardness has always been troubling to me. I've never related the hammer as a factor in sustain, except with regard to the amount of power the hammer delivers or dampens into the string. To me sustain is strictly a factor of the string-bridge-soundboard impedance. A softer hammer may appear to deliver less sustain but certainly a soft hammer will deliver less energy to the belly making it appear the piano has less sustain. If your mindset is placed within the concept that the hammer determines sustain, you may be led down the wrong path when troubleshooting.
You misread my post. Except in those situations you mentioned. My point -- maybe not enumerated clearly -- is that I have witnessed technicians standing on their head to acquire sustain by "working" the hammer, when, in fact, the problem is in the belly.
All/Joel: Good post(s). When plucked some strings swell/blossom. The main thing I'd quantify across the board was sustain time. All kinds of charts and graphs about… but not ring time. Why? I've asked this before and wonder if no response is due to info absence or privacy. Paul
What is ring time?I don't consider, in my own work, the length of time the string vibrates as particularly relevant regarding sustain. The reason being, the "sustain" I'm interested in is the length of time the fundamental audibly exists. Is it there at all, or a microsecond, or does it last a musically perceivable length of time, before it drops out and just leaves higher partials vibrating? I do not consider a string vibrating (ringing?) without fundamental, to have sustain, at least in my definition. As well, a note that has no fundamental presence, or very short duration will always be a pain to voice, and any voicing success will be minimal.
Jim: To each his own. We both value time spent on string terminations anyways. Ring time to me is simply length of audible tone. Sure there is more to piano timbre but note volume/ length is the basis of music in general and instrument maintenance in particular, kind of like taking height/weight at the Drs' office. A decibel meter would be good too but a watch with a second hand is handy and it does not take much time to record a couple of ring times per octave to hear belly w/o hammers. Paul
FWIW, today I serviced a piano for the first time. Steinway 0 ~1915, original board. It received a new set of Abel naturals about one year ago. He plays 30 minutes to an hour each day. One year later he could not stand the piano. The hammers had developed into something quite obnoxious The sound I can only describe as kicking the side of a metal garbage can.
I was there for three hours, including tuning. Most of that was spent needling the you know what out of those hammers to try and get some warmth out of the piano. I followed the procedures I've outlined. To be fair, it was a weak soundboard, next stringing it should be replaced but still capable of a reasonable sound with the right hammer or, in this case, very aggressive voicing. Interestingly, when I was done, he said "that's what the piano sounded like when the hammers first went on". We'll see how it develops in six months.
When I was in my mid-twenties I installed a set of Yamaha hammers on an old Steinway with a flat board believing those high-tech hammers would make the piano anew. What a disaster; too heavy and too hard. All the needling in the world would not make that piano sound as we would have expected of a Steinway.
Your comment about Abel's on a Steinway mirrored my experience I had when I install a set on a Steinway "M". They sounded okay at first, but rapidly the piano became ugly. This was during the time when "steaming" was a fad. I quickly learned that steam was only a superficial remedy – only affecting the very surface of the hammer. I have since realized that any hammer that requires massive needling is not going to produce the resiliency (i.e. tone color) of a softer virgin felt. Needle holes in the felt has a different resilience matrix than virgin felt.
RogerI think we've all had that experience.
BTW I quite agree with your last statement about heavily needled hammers having a very different dynamic than softer Virgin wool. No amount of skill at needling will produce a hammer that responds like one that is softer and more resilient to being with.
The truth is that I think the current European and Japanese aesthetic is very different from that which governed early 20th century American piano building and that difference is reflected in hammer design and manufacturing. Yet, with the exception of Ronsen, the hammer manufacturing that dominates the world markets, namely Abel and Renner, follows that Euro/Japanese model and seems to favor power over everything else. It's not an aesthetic that I favor personally and judging from my customer requests and complaints it's not one they generally favor either. I wonder about that. Are we being conned? What is driving the insistence on producing overly hard hammers? How did we get here?
One of my fears is that Ray Negron will retire and close up shop. Not before me Ray!
RE the initial post from Daniel Achten: Too much missing information. However, we understand that RE action regulation
"it can handle a more refined regulation and anticipate it handling a more consistent voicing."
A more refined regulation is vague, but suggests that the regulation is not a disaster. On the other hand, maybe it is too rough since Daniel also claimed the regulation to be sloppy.
Daniel also writes: My main concern is that my customer is also complaining about the volume and strident tone...can Renner Blues be voiced well for this environment and for my customers desires.
My answer is, absolutely yes, but it is going to take some hard work by someone who knows exactly how to proceed. This assumes that the first technician did not, for some reason, juice the hammers. Voicing for hardwood floors, bare walls and big open spaces is always an issue, for any hammer and piano. Missing information includes hammer travel, flange pinning, and now everything seems suspect. Still, focusing on the hammers and tone only I know how I would proceed. This brief sketch is just that -- brief.
Renner hammer voicing as we teach it at the Renner Academy follows a definite set of procedures.
At the Academy, work begins by solidly gang-clamping the entire set of hammers in rigid hammer clamps (tails down sitting on a stiff rail). Then, standing and leaning over the clamped sets allows for the best, least stressful and most forceful use of a three-needle voicing tool. A significant amount of pre-voicing per deep needling in lower and mid-upper shoulders is applied. This is done until the tool can be inserted relatively easily, but with some definite sense of resistance, which indicates that the hammer has not been over-needled (hard to do, really).
Deep needling is followed by sanding with 320 grit sandpaper strips, pulling up small tufts to the top, and then lightly shoe shining the tops. Everything looks nice and pretty, and resilience has been introduced into the hammer set. This can be sensed by squeezing the hammer sides between thumb and fingers.
Hammers are then bored, cut to length, coved and side tapered (lower molding only) and hung on the shanks. Final voicing is accomplished at the piano, most of which pertains to attack and evenness. So my rhetorical question to Daniel is (and I don't require a reply): was this work done? Comment: if at present, you cannot insert a three-needle tool to at least an 8 mm depth (10 is better) with some force but relative ease in the upper shoulders, then I am raising an eyebrow.
If currently the hammers are too stiff, then any voicing technician is working at a disadvantage, as a significant amount of deep needling is required with the hammers on the shanks.
Still, were it me, I would want to put out the biggest fire first, which seems to be the "loud and strident" and uneven tone. Here is the big, club you over the head clue from Daniel,
My main concern is that my customer is complaining about the volume and strident tone.
Note the words, main concern. At this point, gaining the customer's confidence is job one.
If the regulation is close, this work can wait until setting an acceptable voicing baseline. I know this is backwards, so please, not to be rude, save the chapter and verse for another time. This is triage time, so we must assign the degrees of urgency. I've been there a bunch, so I know what works in calming down upset customers, many of whom are reluctant or loath to possibly "throw good money after bad". With experience and common sense, attending first to the worst pains will clear all heads and start moving things in the right direction.
In my experience the dramatic change in tone made on day one will instill a much needed confidence and hope in the client, such that on day two (and probably day three is necessary) all refinement efforts to string work, tuning, hammer travel, burn in, regulation and hammer fitting followed by the final voicing tweak will seem warranted and accepted. There is no point in making sure that the front door swings and latches perfectly if the house is on fire.
The brief high-points of the work using traditional needling techniques. I have used felt softeners in the past, but only on hammers that absolutely would not respond to needles.
- Align hammers to strings (if not too far off should take only a few minutes).
- Check your fussy alter ego in the closet and quickly set a hammer line to blow distance that allows for some aftertouch. Set a quick letoff and drop. Ignore spring tension, jack to knuckle interface and checking (take a half hour).
- Don't take any time filing or cleaning up the hammers. Save for later.
- Lift and "level" strings (30 minutes max, correct the worst out of level).
- Tune the piano. Time on the job is now ~2 1/2 to three hours. Spend the rest of the day with your voicing needles.
- Play the notes firmly but not forte.
- Call in the customer and have him point out the worst and best of the tones, but guide him to those notes you think are the worst, and those not so bad. Don't argue.
- Isolate and mark the worst loud and strident offenders.
- Take a loud offender and deep needle the lower shoulders (just above the equator at 3 and 9 o'clock).
- Try radial insertion, but if too difficult, then insert more or less parallel to the molding (this will require insertion entries higher on the low shoulders than radial methods).
- This stitching will probably not make a noticeable change, but if density exists there, it needs doing.
- Try radial needling in the center of the upper shoulders as a test. Full insertion of the needles may not be possible. Test a single needle 10 mm long. If difficult or impossible to insert, the hammers are too stiff indicating that serious pre-voicing or final voicing has not been done.
- Time to deeply insert needles in the upper shoulders, moving upward on the hammer in small increments on front and back shoulders. Stop about 6 mm from the crown.
- If it is difficult to insert needles going up the shoulders, turn the voicing tool 90 degrees such that the three needles are parallel to the sides of the hammer rather than perpendicular to it (learned this technique when I worked at Kawai). This will make deep vertical insertion much easier (see photo of Renner Blue Point).
- Test the hammer. The tone should be improved, though not finalized.
- On stubborn hammers, I have taken the deep vertical insertion technique all the way to about 1 or 3 mm from the crown, finishing with 4 mm deep sugar coating, or else angular cross stitching per single needling into the core under the crown.
- This is why in such instances I save hammer fitting to the strings for last.
- With the tone noticeably improved, you have "broken the code" for bulk work with hammer tail supports on the bench (bring one with, or else an action cart, or use the piano lid with a moving blanket). The "code" may be different for the various sections, i.e. the first capo section may require less work, or maybe the same --- depends.
- With your client watching, take another offender and repeat what was done on your trial hammer. He will be impressed with how much work is involved.
By gaining the customer's confidence and appreciation at this point, the gates are open to further refinements and follow-ups in all categories of our work. This approach has worked for me over and over and over again. In fact, depending on difficulty, I have scheduled the above type voicing jobs by concentrating heavy deep needling work on certain sections of the scale only, and then returned soon for other sections and so on. Gives a chance for the ears and forearm to relax. Had the pre-voicing and deep shoulder needling been done in the hammer clamps, where it is much easier and more effective, there would be no sore forearm. I give customers a break in price when I spend entire days with their piano.
The new Renner Blue Points are easier to voice than the classic Blues. The Renner Blue Point in the photo is from our instructor demo setup, and had all the pre-voicing deep needling done in front of the class. At present, the voicing tool inserts easily, and with some resistance.
I could go on for pages, but I'll leave it there.