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Monday, 30 December 2013

A Good Piano

A good piano seems to invite a passing pianist to sit and play. Piano manufacturers like a Steinway, Bluthner, Bechstein, Fazioli, Bosendorfer etc. all have established reputations to maintain, and they continue to produce highly respected pianos which are greatly treasured by their owners! 

The search for a good piano usually eliminates the lesser-known, relatively inexpensive pianos. But many very fine pianos have faithfully served their owners and given hours and hours of music-making pleasure to all who appreciate piano music even though the name on the front may not be widely known.   

It is a mistake for pianists with more modest means, to think that buying a really good piano has to cost a fortune. For the more fortunate, no price is too much to pay for a particular piano. For most, the best piano available for a given cost will have to do. Interestingly, expensive does not guarantee 'good' and a low price does not always mean wasted money. There are so many variables with pianos that dogmatic generalisations are unhelpful. Seek advice where possible.

Popular opinion seems to prefer a grand piano over an upright piano. As a general rule however, a good upright piano is better than an average grand piano. A baby grand piano is chosen as much for its elegant looks as for its value as a piano. If you are wanting to spend a fixed amount of money on a baby grand OR an upright piano, almost certainly, the upright will be a better piano than the grand.

In days of old, to categorise grand pianos, odd names were used e.g. boudoir grands, semi-grands, cottage grands and mini grands. All had clear meanings when these pianos were sold originally, but today manufacturers generally distinguish their grand pianos by giving their size. The exceptions might be the terms Baby Grand and Concert Grand.

The very best pianos will always be expensive to buy. Most people manage to come to terms with the best piano they can afford. Dreams of one day buying a Steinway or something similar is not so out of place. Some dreams come true!  
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Pianology

How a Piano Works

The piano perfectly pairs mechanical movement with an infinite range of dynamics of sound. This pairing is made possible by the precision engineering of the piano action and keys, and the wonderful rich tones of vibrating strings. At the heart of the piano, the sound-board projects the sound of vibrating strings after they have been struck by the hammers of the action.

 Wood is meticulously chosen for its acoustic properties and harvested only when a tree is ‘ready’. Foresters are specially trained to know the 'signs' that indicate when a tree is ready! For uninitiated observers, one tree will look pretty much the same as any other, but an expert knows the appropriate time to fell the tree.

Manufacturers like to keep their methods to themselves. Some believe their specifications and particular methods give their pianos a unique sound and tone, and so they are keen to protect their ideas from being copied. 

Glued to the sound-board is a wooden ‘bridge’ linking the strings to the soundboard. Every string passes over the bridge and is kept firmly in position by locating 'bridge-pins' which define one end of the ‘speaking-length’ of the string. The metal frame is fitted - attached around the edges of the soundboard, leaving the soundboard to vibrate freely. 

The frame provides the anchor-points for the strings which travel from the tuning-pin, through an agraffe or over what defines the beginning of the speaking length of the string, across the central part of the soundboard, to the 'bridge' (the end of the speaking length) and finally to the hitch-pin. 

The soundboard is slightly convex in shape. This and the tension of the strings when tuned, produces a sensitive and highly charged unit at the core of the piano. 

The action and the keyboard - dealt with in another post here, are the mechanical link between the pianist and the sounds created by the vibrating strings. 

'How a piano works' is too complicated an issue to cover in a few paragraphs. This post is a general overview and I hope will help give the beginning of a clear understanding of the workings of a piano.

The Piano World

© Steve Burden  
Pianology

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Erard Pianos

Born at Strasbourg in 1752, Sebastian Erard showed a remarkable capacity for learning. Even when he was just 8 years old, he was studying architecture and geometry. In 1768, his father died. At only 16 years of age, Sebastian took upon himself the responsibility to provide for his mother and 3 siblings. 
He travelled on foot to Paris, looking for work that would pay enough to support his mother back home in Strasbourg. He found work with a harpsichord maker who could not have known that he would be introducing an extraordinarily talented young man to his destiny. Sebastian quickly became passionate about the harpsichord, and, equipped with his natural curiosity, began probing the theories of harpsichord design. In a very short time his shrewd questions required far more sophisticated answers than his employer could supply.
The Duchess of Villeroy had engaged him to build a harpsichord, giving him the use of a well equipped workshop in her palace. It was here, in 1777,  he built his first piano. With growing confidence and with his ambitions taking shape, he opened premises in his own name in the ‘Rue de Bourbon’ Paris. 
Soon, an order was sent for Erard to make a piano for Versailles. Erard’s flourishing connections with the upper ranks of the French aristocracy securely established his reputation. With his natural abilities, his astute business brain and his connexions, he had become a formidable figure in Paris. 
At this time, the theories determining an efficient piano mechanism were not clearly understood, the current examples were still very primitive. It was Sebastian Erard with his meticulous attention to detail who formulated the principles of the modern grand piano action.
In 1786, he decided to move to London where he opened a shop at 18 Great Marlborough Street. Setting up a business in London was a golden opportunity to conquer a fresh market. Erard studied the English methods of piano manufacture, and was eager to adapt what he felt were the best methods and practices. He began producing his own pianos in 1792. 

The principles he laid down for the design of the piano mechanism, remain the basis for all modern grand piano actions. Despite the huge advances of technology over the 19th & 20th centuries, his work still stands as steadfast as ever. 

Universal approval of his work took some time to establish. Differing opinions are always interesting to read as they give some context to the debates of the time. Quoted here is an opinion that seems to have been judged more on issues of patriotism than on the objective merits of the case. 
Thirty-six years after Erard had died, a Heinrich Welcker, who did not like French pianos, wrote of the Erard action: “Generally speaking, the action manufactured by Sebastian Erard figures as the oldest and most highly praised sort. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how such a put-up job, combining neither durability nor precision, could possibly have been copied by others, show that Mr. Erard did not have much of a head for mechanical things, but perhaps a great deal of money for people to sing his praises”.
Sebastian Erard died in 1831. His legacy to the piano world was his work with the piano action. To this day, his action is used as the basic template for the modern day piano actions! Erard Pianos are sadly, no longer made.


Directory of Piano Makers
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Pianology

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Grotrian Pianos - A short History

Grotrian Pianos are among the very best piano makers in the world. Since 1866, with a simple 'love of music' as their guiding principle, the family-owned Grotrian piano company has navigated the stormy seas of history and, with a dogged commitment to sheer craftsmanship, they have faced and overcome the challenges of industrial and economic change.

Fredrich Grotrian was born in Braunschweig in 1803 and in 1830 left Germany to establish a music business in Moscow. Maintaining close relationships with many pianists, he sought to understand what pianists look for in a piano. This knowledge was invaluable when he came to be building his own pianos. On his return to Germany1858, Fredrich became partner of a piano factory. 

In 1866, Wilhelm Grotrian became the sole proprietor of the factory and was able to develop his pianos with no outside or conflicting interests. In 1895, his sons Willi and Kurt became partners. To impart his straightforward purpose in making pianos, Wilhem said to his sons, "Lads, build good pianos and the rest will take care of itself." 

Willi and Kurt were sent on an international journey to gain experience in piano building, learning as they went what it meant to 'build good pianos!' They combined the best of their newly acquired knowledge with the craftsmanship inherent in Germany and soon established a golden reputation for quality and tone. 

The Grotrian piano factory was completely destroyed in the Second World War, but thanks to the perseverance and courage of Helmut and Erwin Grotrian, the sons of Kurt Grotrian, production was restored very soon after the war.

In 1974, a new factory was built iin 'Grotrian Street' in Braunschweig - where all Grotrian pianos are manufactured today.

Personal note: from a tuner/technicians viewpoint, I have always found these pianos a delight to work on. Invariably, the build quality and tone is superb and, most important of all, they are a pleasure to play

Directory of Piano Makers

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Pianology

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Looking for A Suitable Piano?

It might be unreasonable to upgrade your piano every year or so, but if a young student shows promise at playing the piano, ensuring the talent always has room to grow will involve discussions about suitable pianos. A starter piano is just that: it will get a young player started. A keen and talented student who has to work with a 'starter piano' will constantly be fighting frustration and discouragement.

Piano Exams mark the student's progress through to competent musicianship. The higher grades, obviously demand greater ability than the lower grades but there is a corresponding suitability gap between a piano that is just good enough for the elementary grades and one that is fully adequate for the more advanced grades.

The world of pianos is thick with variations of good and bad: good tone, bad action; good action, bad tone; light touch; heavy touch; responsive; unresponsive; bright tone; mellow tone; brand new; worn out; playable; unplayable! The list is endless. No sane person would ever try literally to document every aspect of every piano ever made. However, in a subtle and informal way, the pianos we encounter help us to make judgements and form preferences that reflect our tastes and style of playing.

There is no list of pianos that could be universally held to be the definitive guide to suitable pianos. Guidelines and statistics are all a list can offer. Due to the nature of pianos no two of them are alike. Even statistical facts are no proof or guarantee of satisfaction or suitability.

Choosing a suitable piano will always come down to the best value-for-money piano on offer. Get as much advice as you can find. Talk to your tuner. Pin-point as clearly as you can what you are looking for in a piano, e.g. tone, responsiveness of action, casework etc. Happy hunting!

The Piano World

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Pianology

Thursday, 19 December 2013

After the Tuning...

When tuning is finished, a tuner likes to be able to play the piano - after all those octaves, chords and repetitions, it is a relief to hear it sounding so much more like a real piano! Different tuners use different pieces for this kind of mini 'encore' at the end of the 'main program'.

At the moment, for my 'encore' I have been working on my own versions of Danny Boy and Waltz for Debbie. Both these pieces open themselves up to endless improvisation and encourage constant rethinking - fresh approaches seem to queue up for recognition.

Today, I noticed something I was not previously conscious of: The subtle changes from my more usual rendition were shaped by the piano I was playing!

The particular piano was an old Bluthner upright. Any tuner will tell you that these old pianos have a remarkably good tone. This one was no exception but although some neat action-work had been done, the action response was less than good.

I do not pretend, even to myself, that my technique is so very good - a better player than myself could easily make this old bird sing with its intrinsic beauty. My point today is that for most average players, if they are working on a piano in similar condition, fatigue will very quickly discourage persistence.

Today, after my 2 party pieces, I was done. The piano was tuned, my pieces were played and I'd had enough. By contrast, The other day I tuned a Knight K10. After tuning, and my little 'encore' was duly played, I was just warming up! I continued playing until I had to pack up my kit to get to my next call. When I stopped to put the piano back together, there was a little applause from upstairs - and an invitation to stay, and play all day! The difference was that the Knight was in excellent playing order, the Bluthner was not. 

If we want young players to know the spark of inspiration, to feel the rush of piano-creativity running through their fingers, we ought to provide the kinds of pianos that have the 'keys' to the kingdom of piano-playing!


Tuner's Journal

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dear Tuner's Blog… #1 (Tuning Stability)

If you have a question for The Tuner's Blog, please leave a question here.

Dear Tuner's Blog, 
Our School Piano never stays in tune for very long. It was bought brand new about 10 years ago, and has never settled down. Buying a new piano, we expected it would at least hold its tuning, but we have been disappointed and find it hard to understand. Could you please explain what is going on here. Thanks,
…School.  

Tuner's Blog replies

There are many reasons why a piano will not hold its tune. A piano could be affected by one or by the whole list of these reasons. The number of possible combinations and variations of these problems, while not infinite, is very large, so reducing a reply to a universally applied single reason is impossible.

Tuning stability will depend on:
  1. The condition of the piano strings 
  2. The piano being kept in a piano-friendly environment
  3. The piano being in good mechanical condition.

With a new piano, (10 years old makes this still a very young piano!) one can expect the strings NOT to be a problem.  

Pianos are not generally moved about, they are almost considered a fixture. In a School, the hall often becomes a thoroughfare. A piano will not take kindly to coping with all the temperature fluctuations that even humans would find uncomfortable. This is bound to affect tuning stability.

The mechanical condition of the piano is probably where most tuning stability mischief has its source. Every moving part of the piano action, directly or indirectly, has an impact on tuning stability. Poor alignment of parts, sluggish centres, even dried-out grease where springs are in contact with action parts, all affect how the hammer strikes the string and consequently, on the tone and tuning. 

With a newish piano, there will be nothing wrong with the design of the action, there will be little or nothing that can visibly be pointed at and accused of being the root of the problem. Getting what is a very sophisticated piece of engineering to work flawlessly takes many hours of skilled labour at the piano factory. If this close-up attention to detail is not done - despite whatever quality controls there may be - in the end, the poor customer has to deal with the upshot.

Very few modern pianos with tuning stability issues cannot be vastly improved by going the 'extra mile' in getting the basics right. It is frustrating that manufacturers and retailers can be so focused on pushing pianos through their doors that they seem to care very little about whether or not the piano is really ready to go.

For the end users: private owners, schools etc. a bad taste is left in the mouth! They ought not to be spending more money before they can properly enjoy the piano they bought!•

© Steve Burden



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Straight Talk to Piano Owners

Piano owners are often left confused if their tuner or technician tells them their piano - a loved and valued heirloom - is worthless. Explaining all the unhappy truths of the piano world is not going to happen today, but let's make a start! The piano industry has made its fair share of mistakes. These blunders make it difficult for the piano-owning public to know what is good or bad advice.

Many piano owners hope that an old piano can be made good for as little as £50. This, very definitely, is a false hope. A piano that has been neglected for 10 years or so and brought into the house from the garage with the expectation that after a tune, all will be well, is a piano that will provide only frustration.

Frequently asked questions about the potential of a given piano, will quite understandably, raise the issue of cost. One piano was described as having been attacked by moth! How much to fix this? Another has a number of notes that stick - making the piano virtually unplayable! How much to fix this? An old piano has a number of broken strings! How much to fix these?

The grim reality with all these problems is that none of them are properly sorted without spending what can easily stack up to a considerable amount of money. It is not easy, without the risk of upsetting someone, to communicate that their piano is beyond viable hope.

Then, there are pianos that look fine but are not! The development of the piano was largely complete by 1900. Since then, focus of further development has been more on materials and methods of construction. The use of plastic in the action and keys became quite widespread in the UK during the 1970s, though, thankfully, most of the better quality pianos stuck to more traditional materials.

As a result, here in the UK, even pianos that date from 1970s - and so cannot be described as being old - have serious problems that puts them in need of serious and expensive work, while some others are simply beyond sensible repair.

This makes it very difficult for the piano owner to understand why their beautiful little 'modern' piano should be written off so glibly, or given a value so low that they have to give it away.

The piano world is a confusing and unforgiving place. Buyer, beware! Before being persuaded to part with lots of money for a purchase or a repair, try to get quality, informed and impartial help. 

Pianos are to be cherished and enjoyed, they are not supposed to be a source of regret and dissatisfaction.  

The Piano World 

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Pianology

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Collard & Collard

The history of Collard & Collard begins around 1760. The story starts with a Music Publishing Company called Longmann & Broderip who dabbled in making pianos. Muzio Clementi, whose many compositions were published by Longmann & Broderip was interested in having a piano-making facility and, being wealthy, he invested in the piano factory and broughtt in his associates F.W. & W.P Collard to manage it.


Clementi traveled widely and sold Pianos along with his compositions. Orders were sent back to London from wherever Clementi visited - he was a very shrewd businessman. At this time, the company was called Clementi & Company. 

F.W. Collard introduced improvements to their pianos, on the strength of which, they took a significant share of the market. When Clementi died in 1832, the firm became known as Collard & Collard. By this time the pianos were solidly built by craftsmen had a proven reliability.

The Diary of a Nobody  was published in 1892, written by George & Weeden Grossmith. (We may be forgiven for thinking nobody ever did anything on their own back then!) The Diary of a Nobody is a classic of English literature, telling the story of a Mr. Charles Pooter and describes mundane life in late Victorian England. One anecdote involves a new cottage piano - bought on the three years' system, manufactured by W. Bilkson (in small letters) from Collard & Collard (in very large letters). Collards were by this time at least a well-known household name.

Collard & Collard had established themselves as makers of good quality and reliable pianos. They continued to be popular well into the early 20th century. In the late 1920s the piano trade was having to adjust to the harsh realities of very poor sales. Many long-established makers had to close, those whose 'names' were deemed to have value were bought by the stronger of the surviving companies.

Collard & Collard was eventually bought by Chappells.

Directory of Piano Makers

© Steve Burden

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

An Artist with a Pencil & Paper

While tuning pianos, automatically, you meet with artistic people. Recently, while finishing a repair job for an 'artist' customer, she asked if, as part of her daily drawing regime, she could sketch me working on the piano. As I was moving all the time - lifting out the keys one by one during the regulating process of the repair - I thought I'd make a poor subject but was surprised this did not seem to matter!

She kindly sent me a copy when she was done and I publish it below. Incredible that a few minutes work with just a pencil and paper can capture the moment with such atmosphere and charm! Thank you Karen...

Drawn by Karen Wallis www.karenwallis.co.uk
Karen is an established artist and involved with the local artist scene here in Bath. Watch: What's the Point of Drawing? This is a discussion of the role and relevance of drawing - an event recorded at Bath in October 2012

P.S. A few days later: Piano back together

The Piano World

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Piano Tuning as a Career

Piano Tuning is unlikely to be top of the list of potential careers for a school leaver. The promise of great wealth just isn't there, a commanding status among your peers is not included in the package either. So what is it that makes people go into this strange and, slightly cranky profession?

Piano Tuning - for those seeking adventure!

Of course, piano tuning is not a job that would suit everyone: fussing over whether a C# is a tiny bit flat or not, will not trouble most of the piano-playing public, but if you relish the thought of getting a standard piano as close to perfectly in tune as is possible while using little more than your ears, then Piano Tuning could be for you.

Life never throws the great treasures of experience at the feet of new-comers to the trade. Indeed it is during the early years of a career that the heavy and difficult building blocks of the job as a whole, are put into place. Persevere through these tough times with a growing focus on the prize, and you are the road to success.

Piano Tuning is one of those jobs in which one never stops learning. There are always better ways of doing things. There are greater depths of understanding how the piano action works, so that just by playing a chord, you can know how a given piano is going to respond to tuning. Further improvement of skills and understanding follows every stride forward. 

Just now, it is unclear how the Piano Trade is going to deal with the challenges of the next few decades. Sadly, a poorly-trained workforce will only accelerate an overall decline. Somehow, we in the trade have to look ahead, plan and work hard to save our crucial part of piano culture and our unique set of skills and abilities.

Tuners Journal

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Buying a Second-hand Piano

Buying a second-hand piano is a daunting prospect for someone who has limited funds and just wants a piano so their child can learn to play.

Choosing from an array of pianos is bewildering unless there is a structure to your decision-making process. Some people really do just want a piano as a piece of good-looking classic furniture. Whether or not it has any value as a useable piano would be very low down in their list of considerations. I suspect that if you are reading this, you are more serious about a piano's usability.

Without some idea of what to look for and what to avoid, the likely outcome of a piano-hunt is disappointment. Or, put differently, it is extremely hard to buy a good piano cheaply. 

If funds are limited, above all else, avoid being taken in by what just looks good. Descriptions can be pure phantasy - those desperate to sell an old and weary piano will not be very up-front about the fact that half the keys do not work, that the piano will not hold its tune… Think about an estate agent's classic play with words as they go about persuading punters to buy a house. With pianos, the stakes are nowhere near as high, but even so, you can ill-afford to waste your time and money on a heavy and monumental mistake! 

If you can take someone you know to be better informed than yourself, so much the better, but you are the one who has to live with it, you have to make the final choice. Few 'friends' really want to be saddled with a sense of guilt if eventually, there is trouble with your piano.

If possible, professional advice is always a help. Impartial help, if you can find it, will save truck-loads of stress and worry. But if you are still on your own, focus on what the piano sounds like and how it plays. Be fussy and firm in your convictions. Happy hunting!

The Piano World

© Steve Burden

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pleyel Pianos - A short history

Ignace Pleyel was a student of Haydn for 5 years, spent some time at the court in Naples, moved to Strasbourg where he devoted much time composing. In 1793 he moved for a short time to London appearing in concerts but soon returned to Strasbourg. 
During the French Revolution, to prove his loyalty to the cause of the Republic, he was ordered to compose music to a revolutionary drama. His composition was so well received that his allegiance was no longer doubted.

In Paris, 1805, he began a Music Publishing business. In 1807, opened a piano factory. The piano of the early 1800s was still a primitive instrument but being an accomplished player, Ignace could direct technical developments from a pianist's perspective. 

1824, he transferred the business to his son Camille who spent several years learning the art of piano making in London at Broadwoods and with Collard and Clementi, Camille too, was an accomplished musician and formed a close friendship with Frederick Chopin who became a great champion for Pleyel Pianos. 

When Camille died the business underwent various changes of name: Pleyel Wolff & Co. and late to Pleyel Lyon & Co. Under Gustav Lyon, the company developed the metal frame for the piano. Right up until our modern times, the Pleyel has always been a maker of fine pianos. They recently collaborated with Peugeot to produce a stunning concept piano. 

It is a very sad day when a well established piano maker has to close their operation down. All that history abruptly brought to an end! Pleyel is the most recent of the long line of piano makers who, due to a sharp decline in the demand for new pianos, have 'played through the final few bars' of their masterful piece of piano-making history.

Their passing is a great loss to the piano world. Let us hope that the makers that remain can weather the 'storm' until brighter times return. We must not lose the great diversity the piano world has always cherished


Directory of Piano Makers

© Steve Burden

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Top Piano Manufacturers

The top piano manufacturers like Steinway, Bluthner, Bechstein, Fazioli and Bosendorfer have established their well-deserved reputations by continually building great pianos. They use the best materials and production methods available and go about the business of building a piano using the unique traditions handed down by their founders as the basis for their pianos. The finished product is an inspiration for any pianist!

In any year, a manufacturer can produce thousands of the same model of piano, but no two of them are exactly alike. A particularly good piano will command a lot of interest and mysteriously, pianists will happily agree to play for a recital or use it for a recording. 

There are plenty of superb pianos makers that would not be listed in the Premier-League of Piano Manufacturers, but whose pianos serve their owners faithfully year after year, giving hours of music-making pleasure to all who appreciate piano music.  

In days of old, piano makers used to categorise the various sizes of a grand piano by giving names to the different size-groups, e.g. boudoir grands, semi-grands and cottage grands mini grands. All these charming names, seem to have had precise meanings when the pianos were sold originally, but now, these meanings are not so clear and certainly, the top manufacturers ordinarily categorise grand pianos by size.

The pianos from the top manufacturers will always be expensive to buy, and will need plenty of tuning to keep them sounding good. Most people manage to come to terms with the best of what their own piano can give. But, dreams of one day buying a Steinway or something similar is not so out of place. Ah! One day... 


© Steve Burden 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Day of the Minipiano

I have been reading 'The Piano Makers' by David Wainwright. It is a fascinating and well-researched book giving plenty of stories of how makers responded to the ups and downs of trade throughout the long history of the piano. 

In 1934, one English maker, Percy Brasted, discovered a miniature piano that was made in Stockholm by Messrs Lundholm. He bought the rights and began making the piano and called it the 'Minipiano' (This was the first registered use of the prefix 'Mini'.)

Piano tuners may never have really liked them but the minipiano restored the fortunes of the piano trade for many years. To give an extra sparkle to the appeal of these pianos, they began  producing the cases in different colours - this was a very daring move in the 1930s!

"... on the day the coloured Minipianos first appeared in the windows of the Barnes music shop in Oxford Street, London, and Wilson Peck in Sheffield, police had to be called in to control the crowds!"

Somehow, the thought of a piano being at the centre of civil disturbance in our lifetime, is highly improbable. Watch this space...

The Piano World

© Steve Burden

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bosendorfer Pianos - The Early Years

There were many piano builders in Vienna in 1828 when Ignaz Bosendorfer began building his pianos.  At 19, Ignaz Bosendofer began an apprenticeship

with the organ & piano builder Joseph Brodman.
When he was 34 years old he took over the Brodman workshops and set about improving their pianos. The Viennese pianos were traditionally mellow in sound with a light and easy touch of the action. Improving the construction allowed for heavier strings and a stronger action, thus making the tone much more like that of the modern piano. 

In the piano world, high quality speaks for itself - the rugged reliability of Bösendorfer pianos won the admiration of virtuosos. Franz Liszt, known for his formidable technique found it difficult to find a piano that could withstand his vigourous playing - until friends suggested he try a Bosendorfer Piano for his recitals. Using a Bosendorfer, he was impressed to find at the end of the recital, the piano was undamaged! This sensational moment established the Bosendorfer Piano's reputation and their long association with Franz Liszt who wrote, “The perfection of a Bösendorfer exceeds my most ideal expectations...”
1980s UK Letterhead
Bösendorfer Pianos were soon exported to the rest of Europe and overseas so that Bosendorfer became the best-known of all Austrian pianos.
About 1860, Ludwig Bösendorfer succeeded his father in carrying on the business and moving to a new factory in New Vienna. Bösendorfer had to move again ten years later to cope with the growing demand for Bosendorfer Pianos.


Directory of Piano Makers

© Steve Burden

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Bechstein Pianos - A short History

Carl Bechstein had a firm grasp of piano making while still a young man, he also had an acute understanding of how to use publicity to further his business. His first grand piano was built in 1856 - a piano on which Hans von Bulow gave a concert playing Liszt's piano sonata. This concert earned the Bechstein Piano universal praise, and thus Bechstein became a piano-making force to be reckoned with!



The following year, Hans von Bulow is believed to have written that, "Bechstein is, in my opinion, the foremost maker of grand pianos in Germany, although he has built only three so far..." In 1861, still seeking to further the cause of Bechstein Pianos, he wrote to Klindworth insisting that the Bechstein Piano be properly demonstrated at the upcoming International Exhibition in London.

Sure enough, at the 1862 London Industrial Exhibition, Bechstein was awarded the English Grand Prix. The pianos were described as "distinguished by outstanding freshness and breadth of tone, quality of play and uniformity of the different registers..."

The Bechstein Piano appealed to the musical elite and to numerous Royal Households. In 1881, a Bechstein Piano was sent to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. In 1885 what was to become the largest dealership in Europe was opened in London. During the early years of the 20th century the list of royal clients grew to include the tsars of Russia and the royal families of Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Denmark.

The annual production from the Bechstein factories grew steadily. In 1900, annual production was about 3,700 pianos. By 1910, this had increased to about 4,600. 

Bechstein Pianos still have the something of their 'freshness and breadth of tone'! The build quality is legendary and even today, many pre 1900 Bechstein Pianos are thought worthy of total rebuilding. The Bechstein Piano deserves its status as one of the foremost Piano Makers of all time.

Directory of Piano Makers

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Monday, 24 June 2013

Tuning a Piano

The job of tuning a piano had remained pretty much the same until technology found its way to the heart of this most 'traditional' of trades. The piano still has a relatively short history - some of the earliest of pianos are lovingly preserved in museums and private collections. A piano dated from around 1811 appeared on eBay recently! Tuners from the early years of piano history would be fascinated to see an App that does most of the skilled part of their job, so easily available to anyone with a smart phone! (At the dawn of piano history, even the telephone was a piece of
science fiction.)


Back in the 1970s & 80s, before piano tuning aids were widely available, it was not uncommon to meet people who tried, with the help of a book, to tune their own pianos! A few tune-your-own-piano books were written and might still be found in libraries. Hopefully, they are no longer in print! Clearing up the mess after some DIY Piano Tuning sessions were mildly amusing! In one case, the would-be tuner felt the tuning pins were far too tight for him to turn - and so WD40 was used to 'loosen' them up! The sad result was a written off piano! If it were not such a skilled trade, DIY Tuning Books might have become permanent Best-sellers!
Sorry for the quality of the picture - the light was very poor.

This label was stuck to the inside of a piano which dates from the 1920s - when pianos really were tuned 4 times a year. These or similar labels are no longer stuck to the inside of pianos! 

Back in the golden decades for piano tuners, to be busy the whole year round, only 3 months of work would be required to set the ball rolling, as it were. After that, it was just repeat business - easy money! How many pianos have been tuned 4 times a year since the 1920s is impossible to know, but it would be interesting to calculate the amount of money that would have been spent on just tuning a piano 4 times per year.

Some of this imaginary pot of money - no longer spent on piano tuning - has been spent on the digital piano which has established itself as the low-maintenance alternative to the traditional acoustic piano.  

But thankfully, whatever happens in the world of technology and the digital piano, there are still genuine, old-fashioned Piano Tuners, willing to tune your piano (up to 4 times a year). There is still nothing quite like a traditionally-tuned, acoustic piano!

© Steve Burden

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Ibach Pianos - A Short History


Ibach Pianos have been made since 1794 - and it is no surprise that the oldest piano-making operation should also produce the very finest of pianos. Solidly-built and beautifully put together, Ibach Pianos are instruments of elegance and distinction. A piano manufacturer's long history is like a bank of traditions and experience which brings purpose and direction to the long and complex process of building pianos. Pianists love to find a firm and responsive action with a clear and singing tone - these are the distinguishing features of Ibach Pianos.



There are many, very old examples of Ibach Pianos still being used today. Even if they are rather tired and long passed their best, the sheer quality of manufacture still shines through. 

It was Johann Adolph Ibach who in 1794, began building organs and pianos but soon chose to devote his efforts solely to pianos. He handed the business on to his son Carl Rudolph Ibach in 1825. Carl Rudolph, after establishing himself in the new role, sought to find an ever greater market for his product. He travelled to France and Spain entering his pianos in competitions and invariably coming away with an award.

From 1863, the 20 year-old Rudolph took charge and changed the name of the firm to Rudolph Ibach Sohn. He was strong and dynamic and soon had to enlarge the factory to cope with the growing demand for Ibach pianos. Many of the great piano virtuosos of the time played Ibach pianos. 

Rudolph sent his son younger brother Walter to study the methods of other great piano makers. Walter spent some time in Paris with Gaveau but also visited Brussels, and London before going to America spending some years with George Steck. 

During World War II, the Ibach factories, concert halls, retail houses and even their archives were completely destroyed. At the close of the war, another chapter in the unfolding story of Ibach Pianos was begun at Schwelm. Ibach Pianos continue to be among the finest in the world. Modern Ibach Pianos still impress any pianist looking to play his music on a first-rate piano.  


Ibach family names include: Johann Adolph Ibach, Carl Rudolph Ibach, Peter Adolph Rudolph Ibach, Hulda Reyscher, Albert Rudolph Ibach, Johann Adolph Ibach, Rolph Ibach.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Steinway Pianos - A Short History

The history of the Steinway Piano begins with Heinrich Steinweg. His father, a forester, had to leave his large family while taking his older sons with him to fight in the Napoleonic wars. On the father's return, only Heinrich and 2 other children had survived from the lack of proper food and shelter. Even this was not the harshest blow to hit the young Heinrich - shortly after, his father and the remainder of his family were all struck by lightening! Henrich's ability to survive was further proved when he was awarded a medal for bugling in the face of the enemy during the Battle of Waterloo.

After the war, while still in the army, he devoted his spare time to woodwork and the making musical instruments. He made a mandolin, a dulcimer and a zither. Perhaps he had absorbed an understanding of wood from his father, but his talent with wood was permanently to change his fortunes and by so doing, give the world of music the gift of the Steinway Piano!

Before long Heinrich had decided to devote all his time to the making of pianos. The political turmoil of 1848 threatened to interrupt the onward progress of the Steinweg family and business. His son Charles who had previously moved to New York, persuaded his father to join him in America. So it was that Heinrich Steinweg emigrated and changed his name to Henry Steinway.

Henry took great care in selecting timber for all the different parts of the piano. His innate understanding of wood was at the core of his piano building principles. His sons each absorbed Henry's vision and brought to the business their own skills and abilities as engineers, craftsmen and researchers.
1980s UK Letterhead
Firmly established as among the very best of piano makers, Steinways strengthened their place in the music world still more by sponsoring concerts and tours featuring the most prominent pianists from Europe and America. Consistently building success upon success, the Steinway Piano has earned its place on the concert platforms of the world. The story of the Steinway piano reaches back to privation of the early 1800s and looks into the future - many Steinway pianos become treasured heirlooms handed down from generation to generation. This is a worthy legacy from a young survivor with a talent with wood!  

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