The DAP Blog
MUSINGS ON CRAFT & SOUL
Posted on April 29, 2016
By David Andersen
…is massive. It is both physical, tangible, and psycho-acoustic illusion: your brain likes the radical improvement so much it sounds better than better—it sounds MAGIC.
As I’ve said so may times before, finding a piano technician with the skills to both diagnose and execute this work at a high level is rare. If you find one, hold onto her ferociously. Refer her to other people who will treat her with the respect and honor she deserves.
It comes down to this: high-end piano work, acquiring and perfecting the skills to make a piano sing, is hard. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus. Only a relatively small percentage of piano techs will make the sacrifice to actually get there.
When you find one that does—and you just have to look sensibly—hold onto them, my friends.
Posted on February 25, 2016
By David Andersen
I have maintained literally hundreds of pianos over the last four decades whose soundboards have had little pooched-up lines along some of the glue joints. Many piano owners see these little pushed-up places, and they become very concerned; they think the piano is ruined, that it’s a lemon, that the warranty should declare the board defective and replace it….
But nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s what I wrote to a client that bought a wonderful 20-year-old Yamaha C3 from us, and discovered the dreaded little raised glue joints on his soundboard:
Hello—that, my friend, is a pressure ridge. It’s been in this board since I first saw the piano, years ago. It has absolutely no effect on the sound or the value of the instrument. A huge percentage of pianos, Steinways or whatever brand, sometimes develop these. It’s where one of the glue joints on the soundboard panel is pressed against its neighbor as the board goes through its normal cycle of swelling and abating; a little ridge is formed. There is absolutely nothing to be done, and no effect on the touch or the tone. I have bought and sold many pianos with pressure ridges, and many of my beautiful custom-restored Steinways have them.
No problem. Please enjoy that wonderful piano—and the holiday…
And here’s what the Mothership, Yamaha Corp., has to say:
“The issue of soundboard ridges and cracks is often misunderstood. At Yamaha, we recognize the fact that since the soundboard is made out of wood,it will always be subject to the effects of fluctuations in relative humidity (RH). In order to produce Yamaha’s signature tone, the design of the soundboard incorporates pressure and tension; this means that at times of high RH, it is quite possible for the board to exhibit pressure ridges. At times of extremely low RH, it is also quite possible for cracks, or separations between panels, to appear. These phenomena are indicators of good quality wood in your soundboard,that reacts as it should to these RH conditions.
As long as the panels do not separate from the ribs on the back side of the soundboard, which may cause buzzing and other objectionable sounds, the overall quality of tone will not be affected. Since the function of the soundboard is not compromised, there is no defect.”
Yamaha North America
So: those of you who discover a pressure ridge in your precious piano: rest easy. It’s no problem.
Posted on November 16, 2015
By David Andersen
There have been thousands of words written, on various piano forums, about the pianos that are made in Japan—in the same factory, and with the exact same production line as pianos that are exported—and sold to Japanese buyers domestically. They are disparagingly called “gray-market” pianos, and they are not supported or recommended by the Yamaha Corporation. It is alleged, or suggested, or rumored, that these used pianos from owners in Japan, often refurbished to some degree before they arrive on the shores of North America and Europe, are somehow inferior, “more flimsy,” “not weatherized, (?)”—some form of “not as good as” the exported Yamaha pianos sold new, here.
Is this true? In my opinion, no. The reality is that the Japanese culture, the people, in general, do not want to put things in their homes that other people have owned—especially things like furniture, musical instruments, or clothing. What do you do with a perfectly good, modern, moderately used piano that has little or no value in the domestic market? You ship it somewhere else in the world where people will welcome it, as an instrument of value—and buy it.
The Yamaha Corporation sees these pianos as competition to their authorized new and used sales, and treats them as such. No surprise there.
Yamaha makes, in my opinion, the finest mass-produced pianos in the world. I maintain dozens and dozens of them, and have worked on hundreds. I like very much, and in some cases, love, the pianos. They are extremely well-made, easy to work on, and can be made to sound and feel wonderful, especially the C series pianos of all ages, and of course, the older, hand-made “S” series, and the new CX series.
I have deep respect and affection for Yamaha—and I know the pianos they make are excellent. “Gray-market” or not. Enough said.
Posted on November 1, 2015
By David Andersen
Everyone knows about the brand name Steinway. It’s like Kleenex, or Google.
There’s a dozen other fabulous, expensive pianos made in the world—and only a single digit percentage—perhaps 5%—know any other piano brand at all, with the possible exception of that Asian brand that begins with a Y…
There’s another difference that piano people, but few others, know about. There are two Steinways: Hamburg Steinway and New York Steinway. The New York Steinway factory opened in 1854; the Hamburg Steinway factory opened in 1888. The United States, by and large, knows only New York Steinways. The REST of the world, all the other countries, know only Hamburg Steinways.
So, same company, right? Same ownership, yes? The pianos in both factories are identical, right?
Wrong. Let’s start with the glaring differences:
• Different wood used in the rim—hardwood, but a different species; in New York Steinways, hard-rock maple is used; in Hamburg Steinways, it’s beech and a different species of maple. So—a different basic, fundamental sound.
• Different finish—the Germans have used polyester for over 30 years, and the Americans have stuck with lacquer—so the Hamburg instruments tend to be shiny, and the New York instruments tend to be satin or semi-gloss
• Different action parts—Hamburg Steinways use Renner parts, the oldest and, most say, the best wooden piano parts maker on the planet, made in Germany for 130 years. New York Steinways use parts made by them, or made by someone (I don’t know who) for them.
• Different kinds and species of spruce in the soundboards—means the essential quality of the ring, bloom, and sustain of the piano are subtly different.
• Different kind of hammers—Hamburg uses the Renner high-compression Weikert felt hammers; New York uses their own proprietary low-compression hammer, probably made out of Bacon felt. The high compression hammers are “opened up” and softened with needles to bring their tone out; the low-compression hammers are treated with hardening solutions and protocols to bring their tone out; very different voicing and attack qualities and procedures are necessary.
• The “arms” look different—the arms, or cheeks, the ends of the piano’s rim that flank the cheekblocks and the keys—are squared off in New York Steinways, and are rounded on Hamburg Steinways.
• Different bass strings—different makers; the German one very small, the American one the biggest in North America. Some, if not most, say the German strings are superior.
So now you have some fun facts to amaze your piano-geek friends with; have a ball….
Posted on September 11, 2015
Below please find something I wrote about this stunning artist 10 years ago—the first time I heard him play live; it all still fits like a glove. DO NOT MISS THIS; sitting eight or ten feet away from one of the greatest players on Earth is a unique, mind-blowing experience.
I had one of the shocks of my musical life a couple of months ago…
Here’s what happened:
My old friend Richard Sherman, a gifted player and long-time client of mine, had been telling me about this Russian pianist, Dmitri Ratser, who he described as “phenomenal” and “a deeply emotional player,” someone I “really couldn’t miss.” Richard went on to say that he’d heard him play in concert, and was determined to help him be heard by more people on this side of the world. Eventually, Richard convinced me to come to his house and hear two live recordings Mr. Ratser had made, both within the last few years.
Richard has a very good stereo system, on which I’ve listened to hours of the most beautiful players—Hoffman, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Arrau, Gould, Geiseking, Radu Lupu, and others—and as I listened to Ratser play, I literally could not believe my ears.
Here was a player singing through the piano, moving me to tears; the Rachmaninoff piece he was playing, which I’d heard many times before (I’m deeply ensconced in a Rachmaninoff listening phase; have been for 2 years) sounded new, and fresh, and original in a way that thrilled and frightened me…he made the technical part of it seem like child’s play, like a gambol on a forest meadow. All the true forces of the music were singing an internal melody through the fingers of this man with deep emotion, and touching my heart, and my gut.
Dmitri Ratser has moved jaded, big-city critics to use words like this:
“Ratser’s performance took one’s breath away with its mesmerizing single-mindedness, its inexorable force, its stunning virtuosity.”
– Los Angeles Times
“Ratser looked like a combination of the young Liszt and Paganini, and he played with a demonic intensity reputed to be characteristic of those two virtuosos. Ratser’s pianism is larger than life: His fortes thunder, his pianissimos shimmer, his fingers fly with preternatural dexterity… Yet he is far more than an artist of seismic shock and digital dazzle. He can achieve a glowing tone and uncommon clarity of texture, qualities that served him well in Bach’s Partita No. 2.”
– The Atlanta Constitution
“Ratser has an elegant, weightless touch, an immense technique and a singing line that remind some listeners of Horowitz… Much bigger names, with much bigger fees, have passed through this area, but with a few exceptions the stars shone with little more than ordinary luster.”
– Dallas Magazine
Imagine my great pleasure as I invite you to hear this beautiful artist, very close-up, at my home and showroom..
David Andersen Pianos presents
DMITRI RATSER IN CONCERT
Chopin, Liszt, Khachaturian, and Rachmaninoff
SUNDAY OCTOBER 11, 2015
DAVID ANDERSEN PIANOS
3587 OCEAN VIEW AVE
LOS ANGELES 90066
$35.00 INCLUDES LIGHT REFRESHMENTS
ALL REVENUE GOES TO THE ARTIST
RSVP AT ONCE – SPACE IS LIMITED TO 35 SEATS AND WILL FILL UP VERY QUICKLY
PL:ASE CALL 310-391-4360 OR EMAIL: JAYE@DAVIDANDERSENPIANOS.COM
PAY BY CREDIT/DEBIT CARD OR PAYPAL, OR CHECK; ALL SEATS MUST BE PAID IN ADVANCE
From the desk of David Andersen
Posted on September 10, 2015
PART TWO: The Rest of the Story—how we got the job
Remember the “magic” rental piano, the Steinway concert grand that used to be at the Todd-AO scoring and soundstage, that I spoke about in my last blog post? The one that the management of the Eastwood Scoring Stagerented every time they needed a piano, because the piano they owned played like a truck? It is a really beautiful piano, with a singing board. But, at somewhere between $1000-$2000 per usage, pricey.
One night, five years ago, I got a call from Frank Wolf, recording engineer extraordinaire and, as it happens, my brother-in-law. He said, “I’m at Warner Bros., in the control room at the Eastwood Stage. We’ve got a big piano problem…”
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, I’m in here with Rob Reiner, Mark Shaiman, and Brian Pezzone, and we just trashed a whole day of solo piano recording because of a sound that we can’t seem to track down—or get a straight answer about. We’ve talked to three other piano techs, and we can’t figure anything out.”
“What’s the sound?”
“It’s a little ‘pock’ noise that happens when Brian releases a key. It’s all over the tracks. The whole recording day was soft solo passages, and the sound ruins all the tracks. We just blew a whole day. Do you have any idea what this is?”
As he was speaking, a slow smile spread over my face. I was pretty sure I knew what the problem was. It had been a particular interest of mine for a while. It has to do with a piece of the action mechanism called the jack. It’s spring-loaded, and when it’s in the wrong position from front to back—when it’s too far back, that “pock” noise happens when the key is released. On many actions, even when the jack position is technically “correct,” the “pock” noise still happens.
I’ve found the solution is to slightly customize the “normal” jack position forward—toward the player, or proximally—by small fractions of a turn until the noise disappears. Many good players notice the “pock” noise, and are amazed and appreciative when we disappear it. Especially in recording studios…And because I follow my own work over the years, I’ve never had a problem with the customized jack position vis a vis action regulation or function.
For you piano techs and piano nerds, that means no cheating jacks; nowhere near.
I said to Frank, “If it’s what you describe—a ‘pock’ sound when the key releases—I can fix it completely in an hour.”
“Wow. Really? Fantastic. Can you come now?”
It was 9:15PM. I was settled in, in my jammies.
“No, but I can come as early as you need me to in the morning. You’re done recording tonight, right?”
“Right. This is really, really good. See you at 8 AM. I’ll email you all the directions and the passes will be waiting for you…”
So I fixed the issue, got congratulatory emails from the studio manager, the director, the composer, and the pianist. And an invitation from that same studio manager, two weeks later, to inspect the “unplayable” Steinway “D” they had owned since 1928 (read the last blog post.)
And now, five years later, Warner Bros. original recording piano, a piano that everybody loves, and that untold millions of people have enjoyed the sound of—it was used on all the big movies throughout the ‘30’s through the ‘70’s—and now it’s back, as good as new.
And as that old geezer, Paul Harvey, used to say on the radio,
“AND NOW, YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!”