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Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

  • 1.  Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 03-26-2020 23:27
    Here's the links to the two part video series of a class that was held at my shop in Lenoir City. The instructor is Todd Scott RPT.
    He's showing his Fabric Softener and Hair spray voicing system.  The Piano is a Baldwin R with my new soundboard system. The hammers are  Renner Blue Points that were preshaped and prevoiced by Renner.  A word about Todd using Hairspray in the videos. I read the ingredients and the hairspray is basically plastic (polymer), alcohol (reducer) and fragrance. Taking that knowledge, I made my own using B-72 (polymer) and everclear (reducer) and I so far like the results.

     Hope you enjoy the videos!!

    Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers
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    Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Part 2

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    Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Part 2
    Todd Scott RPT continues his presentation regarding Voicing with Fabric Softener and Hairspray. Recorded on 3/22/2020 at the shop of Chernobieff Piano Restorations in Lenoir City, Tennessee
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    https://www.brighteon.com/78153c40-e66f-4130-a1ba-a41b946d9fa7









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    If it's pinging, it's not singing, it's just ringing,
    chernobieffpiano.com
    grandpianoman@protonmail.com
    Knoxville, TN
    865-986-7720
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-01-2020 12:37
    Thank you Chris, can you confirm the ratios for the two mixtures?

    Fabric softener to Everclear?
    B-72 (ganulars??) and Everclear?

    What's a good source for B-72?

    I have a piano in right now that would be a good candidate for this experimenting.

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    Jonathon Lorek
    Painesville OH
    440-539-7354
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  • 3.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 04-01-2020 13:35
    You can get your B-72 from Dale Erwin.

    Alan

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    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 4.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-02-2020 14:27
    The mixtures are 1-1-1 of All fabric softener, alcohol, water. Just remember the purpose of the alcohol is to carry the softener and water into the felt. I have had to add more alcohol to the mixture when i wanted to apply from the side of the hammer with a dropper.

    Todd used the hairspray Big Red Sexy Play Hard, but he said the play Harder is better.  I looked at the ingredients and saw that the hairspray is basically alcohol and plastic. So why not make your own? I decided on B-72 because it mixes with alcohol.  I am still experimenting, but as a starting point 2.5g to 4oz seems reasonable. I am open to even diluting more, testing will decide.
    Here's my source for the B-72. I prefer them over Irwin because they offer other type of plastics besides the B-72. So there may be something there that's even better. Ya never know.

    https://www.talasonline.com/search?keywords=parobaloid

    -chris

    ------------------------------
    If it's pinging, it's not singing, it's just ringing,
    chernobieffpiano.com
    grandpianoman@protonmail.com
    Knoxville, TN
    865-986-7720
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-02-2020 15:06
    I know I have a few questions on the topic but I think the clarifications I'm seeking will help a few others on this topic. Thank you again for posting the video.

    1. In the video a mixture of 1:3 fabric softener and alcohol is mentioned, but you are saying 1:1:1 including water. Are you finding adding in water is preferable? When use one vs the other?

    2. The video doesn't show the actual application of the solution to the hammers but the captions mention spraying but the applicator looks like drops. In the end I don't have a good grasp on the amount of product being applied. Can you share any general application thoughts? Is a general starting point something like 5 drops on each side of the bass hammer, 3 tenor, 1 treble, etc?

    - Jonathon

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    Jonathon Lorek
    Painesville OH
    440-539-7354
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  • 6.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-02-2020 16:02
    1. Todd just mis-spoke, which can happen on live performances, it's 1-1-1.  He said he also uses a 50/50 alcohol/rose water solution , but was unable to demonstrate that as i was unable to get rose water. However, I find Lavender essential oil to be rather pleasing and i put a few drops in the B-72, and the 1-1-1 mixture.


    2. No drops, its all spraying. Todd  said spraying is the key to this system because it makes everything even unlike needling or applying with a dropper/oiler.  I however have used a dropper for side application of 1-1-1. Mostly because the hammers i'm working on are old and have been voiced many times over the years. I am using Todds method to bring life back to them and its working pretty darn good so far.  I just had to improvise a little. But i don't think that would be necessary on new hammers.

    -chris


    ------------------------------
    If it's pinging, it's not singing, it's just ringing,
    chernobieffpiano.com
    grandpianoman@protonmail.com
    Knoxville, TN
    865-986-7720
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-02-2020 20:42
    Thank you Chris

    ------------------------------
    Jonathon Lorek
    Painesville OH
    440-539-7354
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  • 8.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 04-03-2020 14:46

    Not to be a contrarian but just want to offer my two cents on these two methods and hammer voicing procedures generally.  I have heard many pianos treated with fabric softener.  I would not suggest this method except under the most extreme circumstances when the hammers are otherwise non responsive to any other methods.  While fabric softener will soften the outer layers to which it is applied that's not really the goal in voicing.  Hardening agents have different properties and we should be aware of what we are trying to accomplish and why we might pick one product over another.

    The reason we voice can be distilled to a few points. 

    1. To impedance match hammers to the belly:

      How much energy is delivered to the soundboard assembly is a primary goal in voicing.  Each belly will tolerate, or need, a level of energy input that is determined by, among other things, the string scale, the stiffness and/or mass of the belly.  That will depend on the design, often the model, and other physical characteristics of that particular piano.  The characteristics of the hammer that influence how much energy is delivered to the belly will be mostly mass and stiffness.  Mass will define the limits of the energy available and stiffness will determine how much energy is absorbed by the hammer as opposed to being delivered to the belly.  The mass of the hammer can be difficult to alter once the hammers are hung (though adding mass is much easier than removing it).  Stiffness is altered by our voicing methods whether it be adding chemicals, use of needles or, in this case, use of fabric softener.  But the method we use influences not only how much energy is absorbed by the hammer and how that changes dynamically when we try to play either louder or softer, but it also affects other aspects of hammer performance including stability which speaks to the lifespan of the hammer, and recovery (how the felt springs back to its original position after being compressed which not only influences stability and longevity but also timbre.  Hammers that have more "springiness" get off the string faster and tend to have less of a damping effect on high partial development.  Controlling the filtering of high partial energy is crucial in controlling timbre.

      2.  To create a graduated dynamic range.

      Ideally what we want in a hammer's performance is that the volume increases and decreases in a smooth and graduated way as we play softer or louder.  Related to that is the timbre and how that changes as we play louder or softer.  For the hammer to have a smooth and graduated increase in volume the hammer needs to have a graduated consistency.  As we compress the hammer further with harder playing we bring into play deeper layers of felt.  If we don't have a smooth graduation in stiffness we won't have the same dynamic range.  That graduated stiffness combined with an active springiness also contributes to our ability to control timbre.

      3.  To control timbre (how bright or dark) at various levels of playing.

      Think of what we want to accomplish with voicing as like an orchestra.  As we play louder we want more instruments to be joining in, we don't just want the basses to play louder.   Ideally as we increase the volume of our playing we are adding the perception of a broader range of frequencies.  In order to achieve that we need the hammer to respond in such a way that it isn't filtering out, especially, high partial energy.  We also need the hammer to act like an active spring because that springiness insures that the contact time decreases at a rate that doesn't damp high partials as we play louder.  Similarly, when we play softly we don't want the high frequency instruments to dominate, instead we are looking for a somewhat darker sound.  Remember that loudness in a piano is in part a cumulative (or additive) function of the range of partials we hear.  The more partials we hear the louder the sound will be.

      So how do those relate to voicing procedures?

      Using fabric softener tends to soften only the outer layers of the felt.  It's great a creating a darker sound, eliminating high partial energy.  It's not so great at creating a hammer structure that allows you to bring in those high partials when you need them, when you want to play loud by virtue of engaging the full orchestra.  The effect of fabric softener is essentially to dumb down the tonal spectrum, to more permanently remove access to high partial energy by softening too deeply the outer layers while leaving the lower layers unaltered.  If the lower layers are very hard and you only soften the surface layers you can get a dark "whumpy" sound that is lacking in complexity when you want to play loud.  So  the control of timbre can be lost.

      The problem with fabric softeners is that they only address the outer layers of felt.  If we want a graduated response in terms of how the belly is responding when we want to increase the volume we will get something very different from a hammer that is basically soft on the outside but very hard on the inside than one that stiffness gradually as we compress it further because we have created a smoother non-linear spring by insuring that the consistency of the hammer for tip to core has a more graduated quality.

      Having a more active spring allows the hammer to have more "bounce", it gets off the string faster the harder you play it and the damping qualities will be less than if you have a dead lump of felt.  We see this often in very old hammers that have no tension left in them or over lacquered hammers that have been aggressively needled to bring them into some greater compliance with our goals.

      Timbre is best controlled by a hammer whose felt is active (maintains adequate levels of tension) and is graduated in terms of density and stiffness.  Mass does play a role in timbre at both ends of the piano as well.  A hammer that has too much mass in the treble will have more damping qualities and it can be hard to get clarity out the upper end of the piano.  A hammer that has too little mass in the bass can weaken the low fundamental and bring out too many high partials making the bass sound thin and too bright, not to mention it will increase the perception of inharmonicity as the higher and more "out of tune" partials become more audible.

      Lacquer or other hardeners, as the one mentioned, can be inflexible, impact the resilience of the felt which means the voicing will be less stable .  Lack of resilience means that when the hammer is compressed it doesn't return to its original form as easily.  Stability is all about the hammer returning to its original form.  That is compromised both by wear over the long term and lack of fiber resilience in the short term.  Lacquers and other hardeners tend to make the fiber brittle.  When compressed those fibers don't flex and return to their original form, they break and once those fibers shift either by breaking or a change in their relative position to other fibers the tone changes.  The faster they change the more you have to follow up with other voicing procedures and in the long run you have a situation of diminishing returns.  The more we treat the hammers by our various voicing procedures the less stable the voicing is and the more we compromise the hammers' ability to respond in the way we would prefer.

      In brief, we are best served by starting with a hammer that is closest to what we need in the first place and requires the least amount of alteration.  Less is more.  Hammers that achieve the level of stiffness or density (the two factors both contribute) by playing in rather than by altering the nature of the fiber or the inherent structure of the hammer tend to be more resilient and stable contributing not only to longevity but better control of dynamic timbre.  Of course a poorly made hammer puts us in a quandary.  If the hammer is too soft then the amount of playing required may to much for practical purposes.  If the hammers lack resilience or have been pressed to the point where we have no choice but to resort to more aggressive treatments then we are stuck with a choice of the lesser of the evils.

      Our goal, then, should be to choose a hammer that delivers something just under what we want in terms of loudness such that a reasonable amount of playing gives us the necessary levels both in terms of loudness and timbre that we desire.  I understand that concert situations, especially in larger venues, may be a bit different where we are targeting a somewhat unique level of performance and must have it on day one.  But most of our jobs are not that.  We can afford to be a little patient.

      In that sense, things like fabric softeners that address only one area of the hammer and are too aggressive and hard to control, or hardening agents that result in creating brittle and non resilient fibers should be avoided, in my opinion.  As far as hardening agents I find Pianolac (the product sold by Pianotek) to be the best product as the lacquer is without any agents that make lacquer hard and brittle which is good for table tops but not for piano hammers.  That product remains somewhat rubbery when it cures.  Fabric softeners are simply too aggressive, hard to control aren't successful in achieving the goals we strive for in a well performing hammers.  It should be reserved for situations, say over lacquered hammers, in which we have, perhaps, no other choice. 


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    David Love RPT
    www.davidlovepianos.com
    davidlovepianos@comcast.net
    415 407 8320
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  • 9.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Posted 04-03-2020 19:42
    David,
    First, it is not a fabric softener per se, but a mixture with one of the ingredients being fabric softener. The mixture is 1 part softener, 1 part alcohol, 1 part water.  Interestingly, my first concern was exactly yours, did it penetrate or stay on the surface of the hammer? So Todd and I did an experiment the day before the class. We made the mixture and applied it to a Ronsen hammer and a Renner Blue Point Hammer. After just a couple minutes we cut the hammers in half, the mixture penetrated all the way in.  Try it for yourself. The exact ingredients we use were ALL Fabric Softener, Everclear 190 proof, and distilled water.
    Regards,
    -chris

    Chernobieff Piano Restorations

    Chris Chernobieff ( pronounced chur-no-bif )
    Lenoir City, Tennessee 
    email: chrisppff@gmail.com
    Follow on:  Facebook
    phone: 865-986-7720









  • 10.  RE: Dissecting the Tone of Piano Hammers Parts 1 and 2

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 04-03-2020 21:38

    Chris. 


    Yes, I understood that and I understand the technique.  I realize many people use it and my post wasn't to be taken as a criticism of individual choice. I'm just not a fan. It's certainly a quick and easy remedy of sorts. I just don't care for the result. 



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    David Love RPT
    www.davidlovepianos.com
    davidlovepianos@comcast.net
    415 407 8320
    ------------------------------