How significantly does a new piano change tone over time?

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adamjohnson
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How significantly does a new piano change tone over time?

Post by adamjohnson » Mon Nov 07, 2016 9:40 am

Although a very experienced pianist, in shopping for a new piano I am realizing I don't understand how much a piano changes tone over time. Everyone says "pick the piano you love", but what if I like a piano the way it is in the show room but would not like it a notch or two brighter?

Specifically, I have played used and new Yamahas of the same size back-to-back, both verticals and uprights, and have found the older ones passable but the newer ones surprisingly nice. I know there are technical improvements in the new ones but wonder how much of my preference for the new U1 over the unbearably loud 30-year one I played, or the new C2X over the 20-year old C equivalent, is because the hammers haven't hardened yet? I did also prefer the new C2X over GC2, but the difference between those two new ones was much less pronounced than between the new and used.

Do Yamaha pianos change in tone more over time than others, or have I happened to play some poor used Yamahas? I like a lot about the C2X including its the clarity of tone, but am sensitive to bright pianos, and worry that if it got much brighter I would find it jarring and would have to voice it down frequently. Anyone here had a CX piano for several years who can report how the tone changes?

I'm not set on Yamaha, just happen to find new and used together to compare tone. I've played many instruments and "like" the C2X over anything else I've played up to and in its price range, but am closer to "loving" the CW 175, which is a lovely instrument and nowhere near too bright (but moving out of my price range); unfortunately the only piano I've sat down and had a wow moment with was a restored 1910 Bluthner, way way out of range.

Strangely I universally dislike Kawai sound (even Shigeru) though abstractly it seems the obvious answer to a less-bright Yamaha. But regardless of make, pianos do change in brightness over time - my question is, how do I factor that into selecting a long-term instrument?

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by HullandHellandHalifax » Mon Nov 07, 2016 11:57 am

I am no technician adam but I will happily give you my opinion based on my own experiences.
Yesterday I was present at a concertante monologue, that is to say an actress acted out a monologue with piano accompaniment and the pianist was playing a Kawai grand and for me the sound was dreadful, hard, unloved, totally unusable with lyrical music. Whether that is a trait of the Kawai design, I have no idea but it woyld certainly put me off even considering a Kawai. So that is rule 1 find a piano whose sound satisfies your requirements whether that be for its lyrical quality or it's power if that is what you want.
I like you love the sound, and touch I might add, of the older generation of pianos, my favourite being Bechsteins built between 1900 and 1930, even Steinways and Bluthners and Bosendorfers of that era are acceptable to my ears. Those pianos were built with natural materials, nothing synthetic from plastic and other man-made materials so of course they do alter over time, they can be restored or altered to suit your taste. Paderewski had his hammers made with thinner doe skin for a brighter sound I believe, Pianos of those times were probably more individually built than the current instruments where more use of synthetic and therefore predictable materials can generate a reliably similar sound throughout the numbers being made. The question is whether the modern materials will alter over time and in what way, being synthetic one would assume the changes will be minimal and predictable.
Only personal recommendation or condemnation can help you here in choosing a new instrument after you have narrowed your choice down based on your own experience and findings. Of course a talk with a good piano technician/tuner will be extremely valuable, someone who has hands ionexperience of what goes on inside that big black box.
Good luck
Brian

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by alfor » Mon Nov 07, 2016 10:55 pm

Apart from use (age) there are a couple of conditions which
are of severe significance, regarding touch ("feel") and tone:

1) the acoustics of the room (depending on size, furniture, windows, curtains, carpets, parquet, etc.)
Look at old pictures of pianists/musicians: very many did completely close the lid and placed the music desk on top - despite many had fairly spacy music rooms with thick carpets and curtains!

2) Humidity (!!) Both low and high humidity will severely change touch and tone of any acoustic piano
(even if within a range that does not harm the instrument!).
A possible cure might be the "Damp-Chaser" system - if properly installed and maintained.

3) Material and condition of the hammer felt. Professional voicing (i.e. hardening or softening the hammer, resp. giving the hammer felt a desirable "bouncing" resiliency) is an art in itself and only very few pianists (like Brendel or Anton Kuerti) had the endowment and endurance to do it by themselves.
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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by fredbucket » Tue Nov 08, 2016 11:56 am

All pianos, especially when new, take a period of time to 'settle in', as it were, and adjust to their new environment. In my case, my piano took over a year to get to some semblance of stability. This, despite the long period of time, was actually expected. Firstly, the actual build of the piano settles in and the joints, pins, strings etc respond to the overall tension within the piano construction. Secondly, and this was more noticeable in practice, the piano 'equilibrates' to its environment - temperature changes, humidity, the pianist's playing etc. This is why new pianos require regular and precise voicing, as well as tuning, to make sure everything is running well. Once that is achieved, a good piano will stay in tune and tone for quite a period of time.

Mine gets tuned and voiced annually, and in most cases the work required is relatively minimal.

I'm with HHH regarding materials - too many manufacturers are cutting corners these days, including Steinway - and I am not impressed with their modern instruments at all. However, there is justification for judicious use of quality composite materials, but not for the primary reason of cheapness. There is no justification for composites for the sake of composites.

I'm not familiar with Yamahas theses days, so cannot offer any practical advice in that regard, but in general terms better quality will always give better results, as long as the voicing is maintained properly. Badly voiced pianos sound horrible no matter which brand.

Alfor mentioned DamppChasers for humidity control. Don't touch them, they can do much more damage to a piano than good. Better to control the humidity in the room, not in the piano - trust me on this one.

Regards
Fred

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by Timtin » Tue Nov 15, 2016 12:32 pm

My baby grand gets very dusty underneath its strings. Can anyone suggest
an easy way of dusting this inaccessible part of the piano please?

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by HullandHellandHalifax » Tue Nov 15, 2016 1:53 pm

Timtin, I am ashamed of you, a Meccano genius and you haven't invented something to do that impossible job yet.
Joking apart, the only method I know of that works is rather messy indeed and it involves using an electric leaf blower to blast the dust from the inside of the piano or it means reversing the direction of flow from your trusty vacuum cleaner and then putting it right again because you will have to hoover up all the fallout from the hurricane which you have just unleashed on your unsuspecting grand piano.
probably rather unhelpfully
Brian

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by Timtin » Tue Nov 15, 2016 3:28 pm

Thank you Brian. Interesting idea!

A leaf blower would certainly get to the parts hoovers can't get
near. My own idea, which is a lot slower and more fiddly, is to
sellotape a piece of flexible plastic tubing to the hoover's nozzle
and suck up the dust by pushing the tube between the strings.

In fact, I'm surprised that Dyson, with his absurd propensity to
patent every novelty on his machines, hasn't already come up
with something similar - along the lines of a miniature blower
and an adjacent sucker, resembling the earpieces of a stethoscope.

Regards, Tim.

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by HullandHellandHalifax » Tue Nov 15, 2016 3:46 pm

I think the biggest problem with your idea Tim is the total lack of space between the strings, making it extremely difficult first to get the tube to parts no other tube could reach to and then to be able to control it sufficiently to gather up all the dust. My method probably will be better at doing what you want in a fraction of the time but with the downside of the amount of nuclear fall out from the dustcloud you have just created. I do not think there is an easy answer here, it is a pity that the manufacturers did not make the bottom hinged so that you can let it down, clean it and then fasten it up again. Buy an old clapped out grand and experiment with it a la John Cage and make the housewifes choice of piano the easy-clean Cleanway piano!!!
cheers
Brian

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by Timtin » Tue Nov 15, 2016 5:05 pm

If I owned a leaf blower, I'd certainly try it. Another idea, a bit less
drastic but probably also less effective, is to use a hair dryer set on
cold blow, with a hoover's nozzle in close proximity.

In the past, I've used a slightly damp duster fitted over one end of a
wooden 1ft. ruler, but this takes ages, and still doesn't reach every
nook and cranny. No, your idea of the leaf blower is the best bet.

Maybe we need to invent something tailored specifically for the dusty-
insides-of-pianos market!

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Re: How significantly does a new piano change tone over time

Post by alfor » Tue Nov 15, 2016 9:18 pm

Best regards, Alfor S. Cans

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