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Ralph Joseph Onesti Piano Restorations
1317 MacDade Boulevard, Woodlyn, PA 19094
Phone or Fax 610.833.1657 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What to look for.
How to determine which model is right for you.
When and why you should ask for help.
New vs. Rebuilt
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Note: Although the emphasis here is on grand pianos, much of the information regarding proper choice, condition and evaluating is also useful in purchasing a vertical piano. The content here is slightly more technical, but of great importance in choosing the proper instrument.
Characteristics of a Fine Grand Piano
In the case of the pianoforte, all else being equal, the bigger it is, the better it is. However, you can incorrectly choose an instrument that has the capability to overpower an area. Voicing down an oversized instrument to prevent overwhelming a space usually compromises its ability to produce a pleasing tone in all ranges. Care should be taken to match the acoustics of the instrument's work area, with it's size and tonal qualities.
Generally, studio grade instruments should be in the 6 foot to 7 foot range, in order to produce a tone suitable for study and or recording purposes. Recital grade instruments require a soundboard area and scale of sufficient magnitude to fill a given area with the proper fundamentals and overtones. Pushing a piano's capabilities to fill a room by adding too many overtones will result in noise rather than a pleasing volume. Therefore the 6 to 7 foot instrument for recitals in a limited space is preferable to something smaller. For concert instruments residing in concert size halls, nothing less than the traditional 9 foot piano would be usable or acceptable. Also, the action configuration is somewhat different in the 9 footers due to scale considerations.
The tone in a grand piano should be clear and shapeable. At any one given time, different types of music, and differing tastes of individual artists will require the shaping of the piano's tone. This process is called voicing. If a piano is not of sufficient size for the purpose, or does not reproduce tone accurately, then tone shaping is impossible.
The question of tone shaping relies on two major factors in a piano: the first is the scale. The scale is the progression of wires with regard to their length, thickness, and frequency. The second item is that which strikes the wire (the hammer). Here the considerations are many: where on the string the hammer makes contact, the inertial qualities of the hammer/string relationship, the conisitancy of that which makes up the hammer, and proper regulation. Except in some instances, there is usually no way in which to alter any of the above, except for striking force (under the control of the pianist) ,hammer voicing, and regulation (under the control of a competent technician).
Since the artist controls the tone by touch, the instrument relies on the technician's ability to alter the number of partials in any given string by manipulating the felt that covers the hammers. In simpler terms, making the hammers softer or harder will affect the tone. Just as important is where, on the speaking length of the string, the hammer is allowed to strike. Fine instruments are made by adding this final touch through the expertise of the technician's ear. The strike point of the hammer is nothing less than critical.
The furniture of the grand piano is referred to as the case. The case has but one real job: to sustain the pressures put upon it by over 20 tons of compression imposed by the strings. With no other importance, the case's appearance is both esthetic, and possibly esoteric in nature. A fine furniture finish will do nothing for the tone in either size or shape. Therefore case considerations are as follows: Finish, can be either solid in color (black hand rubbed polish is concert tradition), natural clear (the natural finish, stained or otherwise, wood tone), the shape either traditionally straight, or more furniture appealing (Louis XIV, Queen Ann, decorated parts, curved/carved legs). Therefore, your particular visual needs are the only parameters the case must meet.
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Steps Necessary in the Selection of a Grand Piano
An investment of any proportion, in grand or vertical models, is worthy of some degree of care. We suggest that after you have done your homework, and have found what you feel is the one, you have it evaluated by a registered, qualified technician. The fee he or she charges to observe the overall performance and condition of the instrument is nothing when compared to finding out later that you have brought home a costly mistake.
- Determining the piano's use: residential or commercial, professional or amateur, recital or concert.
- Determine the size necessary to fill the work space. Consideration should be given to the kind of music to be played. Will the instrument be used solo or for accompaniment? For instance, will this piano have to compete with an orchestra.
- Determine the condition of the instrument. It is imperative to be accompanied by a registered, qualified technician that fits the level at which the piano is to be used. That is; if you're looking for a home instrument, a registered technician used to working on that level of piano is sufficient. If recording and recital work is considered, then a concert-level registered technician, accustomed to handling the requirements of the concert artist, is the minimum requirement.
- The piano must be inspected for all aspects described above, whether it is 100 years old, or brand new. The piano must be observed for its ability to be tuned, and tone shaped. It makes no sense to purchase a piano that will not meet the music schedule for which it was selected.
- When the purchase choice is among new, used, or remanufactured, a new piano may appear to be the safest choice. However, a new instrument from a mediium level manufacturer can be less desirable than a used one that is at the level required. A quality instrument, restored in the hands of a professional rebuilder can outlast many of today's newer pianos. If new, the determination of warranty, and its ability to be tone shaped, must be qualified by the level of registered technician required. If used, the technician's expertise must be razor sharp. Here, a qualified rebuilder is the best choice to accompany the purchaser. In the case of a remanufactured piano, the expertise, experience, and reputation of the rebuilder, should be under close inspection.
- In the case of a rebuilt piano, you must qualify what the term rebuilt means. In specific, The Piano Technicians Guild defines rebuilt as essentially the replacement of ALL replaceable parts: action, soundboard, pin block, and bridges, along with the custom fit and finish that would make it virtually undetectable as a used instrument.
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New vs. Rebuilt
The question of purchasing a new piano from a qualified manufacturer or opting for a restored instrument from a qualified rebuilder is not an easy one to answer.
The rebuilding of a fine piano such as a Steinway, Knabe, or Mason & Hamlin, by a qualified, competent instrument maker, in some cases, can be far better than a production line piano. In a factory, several workers, the majority of which are not trained instrument makers, do their individual jobs. It is then the task of the quality control people at the end of the line to make it all work. In the case of the fine piano factory, this can, and oftern does, work quite well.
In the shop of a qualified rebuilder, there are generally one or two trained instrument builders with the task of seeing the job from start to finish. If the soundboard installer, who must rib and shape the board, knows the art of tuning and voicing, then the installation of the soundboard is not left to mere mechanics. In an analogy, if the individual who makes the automobile fender, will later have to install this item on the final assembly, that person is more apt to make it correctly.
Cost effectiveness is also a consideration. If one owns a fine model grand piano, it is virtually always less expensive to have it remanufactured by a qualified individual, then to replace it. Also, qualified instrument rebuilders generally can afford to give more generous guarantees because of their level of control.
Please visit our Maintenance Tips page to find helpful suggestions on the care of your instrument.
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