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Saturday, 30 August 2014

New Pianos

Surely, buying a new piano should to be straightforward enough, shouldn't it? Unfortunately, as there are not so many piano shops around, if yuou wish to compare prices or try pianos in more than one shop, your hunt for a new piano will mean a good deal of travelling.

A piano can seem perfect in the shop, but at home in your music room, the sound hardens into a strident, in-your-face tone which is difficult to control and hard on the ears. Second thoughts, regret and disappointment are not easy to overcome when you have bought an expensive piano. Surely a piano costing so much should be 100% satisfactory from Day One! 

It is not uncommon, as a technician, to be called in to deal with a brand new, expensive and newly-delivered piano that is terribly out of tune and/or the action is very heavy and difficult to play. Promises that the action would loosen up or the tone would mellow after being played for a while, prove to be disappointingly empty. The owner is very unhappy - cross that there should be a problem at all!.

These issues can all be sorted but not in about 10 minutes. It is not rare to find a brand new piano which is so heavy to play the action needs re-centring. Frequently one finds keys that are sluggish, hammer-felts that are as hard as nails, notes going wildly out of tune or pedals that squeak every time they are pressed down. 

I have a great deal of sympathy for New-Piano-Buyers who feel so let down by their new piano. Piano brochures - without exception, make bold claims about the quality and care of manufacture. But sadly, too often, modern pianos never quite live up to expectations. 

In an ideal world, all pianos would be ready and 'match fit' long before it is delivered to the home of an excited pianist who has invested their hard-earned money in their dream piano. 

Perhaps 50 - 60% of new piano owners would say they are totally satisfied with their purchase. Possibly, the tuner/technician's satisfaction rate would be rather less, but the reality is noticeably less 'glossy' than the brochures that use extravagant superlatives to describe the build quality. 

Buyers should insist on standards that match the price they pay for a given instrument - the quality of a cheap piano will be as low as the price, and... the quality of an expensive piano ought to be as high as the price - certainly, no lower!


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Pianology

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bentley Pianos

The ‘Grover’ name was associated with instrument making in London since the eighteenth century and in 1906, branching out a little from family tradition, Douglas W. Grover began making pianos. 

Since London was the centre of piano building at the time, any thought of moving production to the west country would have been considered foolhardy. However, in 1910, Douglas’s wife went to stay with friends in Gloucestershire to recover from an illness. This meant that each weekend, Douglas caught the train down to Stroud. In a short while, he took to the rather more idillic setting of the countryside and decided that he could make his pianos in Stroud.

In 1911, moving into an old Cotswold Mill at the village of Woodchester just outside Stroud he established the Stroud Piano Company.

Launching a new, overstrung model in 1930 and sold as a Bentley piano. This ‘Bungalow grand’ as it was called, was an instant success - its distinct casework and moderate size was perfect for the piano-buying home owner of the time. The company changed its name to the Bentley Piano Company. 

In 1938, the Woodchester Mill was virtually destroyed by fire but despite the rivalry between fellow piano makers, rivals and suppliers were willing to help at such a time of need. One company who manufactured woodworking machinery, sent the next available of each machine required. Within a week of the fire, production had begun in premises just across the road and in 9 months, output was up to the level before the fire. 

From at least the late 1960s, Bentley’s made their own actions. The use of plastic for some of the action parts might have cut production costs, but the long-term life of these crucial parts, proved to be a less than satisfactory. During the mid 1980s the action-making operations were brought to a close and the Langer actions (made by Herberger Brooks) were fitted to their pianos. These, better actions improved the piano noticeably.  

In 1989, another fire hit the Woodchester factory - this time destroying about 40% of the production area. Just 4 years later, in 1993, the Bentley Piano Co. Ltd. was acquired by Whelpdale, Maxwell & Codd of London
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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Knight Pianos

Alfred Knight was born into a family of piano makers - his great-great-grandfather worked for Broadwoods. While still at school he helped at the Hicks factory where in 1913, he began his apprenticeship. On the completion of his training he worked at Squire & Longson, where, the much respected Cremona piano was built. The pianos that were built under the name of Welmar were based on the Cremona designs.

Alfred Knight was involved in developing further these pianos. Working particularly on the iron frame design. He used a distinctively linear shape - a style he perfected later in his own Knight Pianos. 

In 1929 the Squire factory was destroyed by fire but was soon rebuilt. This was a difficult time for the industry, but despite the unpromising odds, in 1931, Alfred Knight set up a new business at Stoke Newington, Booker & Knight. By 1935, he was able to buy out Booker, calling the business the Knight Piano Co.

1955 the Knight Piano Co. moved to Loughton in Essex.

In the late 1950s, there were, in the UK, only 2 piano action manufacturers: Herburger Brooks, and British Piano Actions who were based in Llanelli in South Wales. The American owners of Herburger Brooks tried to buy British Piano Actions - a move which would have established a virtual monopoly.

It was Alfred Knight who formed an international consortium of piano makers so that the British Piano Actions could remain independent. Of course, a ‘British Piano Actions’ action was fitted to into Knight pianos until BPA was closed down. 

The Knight K10, in my opinion, remains one of the finest modern-style pianos ever made in England. The tone was bright and clear and the robust build-quality, no doubt partly due to the large and heavy iron frame, made it an excellent choice for schools and colleges.

The closure of the Knight Loughton factory was the close of perhaps, the most progressive chapters in the history of British Piano-making - even though, for a while the Knight pianos were made elsewhere.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Bluthner Pianos

At Leipzig, in 1853 Julius Bluthner began making pianos. The qualities of Bluthner Pianos soon won them recognition among the great names of the piano trade and among the Royal Courts of numerous countries - Queen Victoria, the Russian Tsar and many others owned Bluthner Pianos!

Julius Bluthner worked hard at creating a network of international contacts to ensure he could establish a truly global demand for his pianos. Here in the UK, Whelpdale, Maxwell & Codd was founded in 1876 - purely to import Bluthner Pianos.

After surviving the First World War, and then the Great Depression, the business suffered a severe blow when, during the Second World War, their factory was bombed in an air raid in 1943. The difficult, East German politics of the time meant recovery was very slow. However, production of Bluthner Pianos began once more in 1948.

The firm was nationalised in the 1970s but in 1990, the business was given back to the Bluthner family.

People still talk about the ‘Bluthner’ tone! The beauty of a good piano is found in its tone - Somehow, the Bluthner pianos, more often than not, seemed to get it right! Solidly built to last, many Bluthner pianos, 100 years old or more, are still being used and often still sounding as clear and pure as ever.

For a while Bluthners used their own Patent Action - vastly different from what has become the standard ‘roller’ action. These patent actions used a slightly shallower touch, but when working properly are, even now, a delight to play! 

Another notable innovation was the ‘Aliquot’ system: a 4th string was given to the upper two thirds of the treble strings. This 4th string was not struck by the hammer but was left to pick up the vibrations of the notes ‘sympathetically’ - the result was a very subtle extra layer of harmonic overtones. Quality has a voice of its own! In a Bluthner Piano, this voice is always in good form!

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Schimmel Pianos

Schimmel Pianos, established in 1885, have a proven record of building pianos of excellence. It is regrettable that the S.W. corner of the UK, where I live and work,  I rarely see a Schimmel piano. However, when I do come to tune a Schimmel, I know the piano will respond as I seek to reveal its intrinsic qualities of tonal clarity and charm. 

The Schimmel Piano Company has navigated itself through tough economic conditions by manufacturing some pianos, for a time, in Poland and China. Now, making the most of computerised machinery, together with their traditions of handcrafting expertise, the Schimmel Piano deserves the highest esteem of all who have the privilege of playing one!

Established in 1855 in Neuschonefeld, the company grew steadily and had a factory built in nearby Leipzig - opened in 1897. During the Great Depression, production was moved to Braunschweig as part of a co-op of piano manufacturers.

In more modern times, 2003, a more moderately-priced range of pianos was produced in Poland under the 'Vogel' name. These were replaced by the Wilhelm Schimmell brand some 10 years later.

In 2007, like some other piano manufacturers, Schimmel imported a Chinese-made piano. These 'May Berlin' pianos were discontinued about 5 years later.

Personally, I'd like to see many more Schimmel pianos here in England - simply because they are so good!


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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Bechstein Model 9 Repair


The Repair of a Bechstein Model 9.

The model 9 is my favourite Bechstein upright - providing it is not too old! Before taking the action to the workshop, I quickly raised the pitch so that the final tuning - after the repairs - ought to be nice and easy! 

As it was, the piano played almost acceptably - hints of a few lurking problems, misfiring notes etc. and for a Bechstein, a heavier touch than normal! Looking at some of the flange centres today, it is hard to understand how it worked at all. It is remarkable these pianos just seem to keep working even when the centre-pins are very stiff.

Cleaning the keys:  Getting the grime off the sides was not a pleasant job - the dirt was black, thick and greasy. The wood of the keys is now beautifully clean - good as new!
Damper Springs fitted

Work on the dampers - new springs, re-centring - and recovering the felts. All somewhat tedious and time-consuming but so important to get these things 'just-so!'

Felts recovered.
Fortunately, the hammers seem to have remained clean since a moderate overhaul - I reckon sometime during the 1960s.
Piano repair complete!  - A fine example of a Model 9.
Refitting the repaired parts is very rewarding and means the job is progressing and nearly done! Once all back together the regulation begins. This is the most important part. Everything has to work in sync to get the best from the piano.


There we have it! The repair is now complete and once again, the lovely qualities of the instrument are restored - smooth, light touch and a clear and strong tone!

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