Archive for August, 2012

8.10.2012 – Material World from International Piano July / August 2012

Posted on: August 10th, 2012 by WNG No Comments

MATERIAL WORLD

Story taken from International Piano July / August 2012

Integral piano parts continue to be crafted out of wood but could there be a 21st-century alternative? Tom Lagomarsino, executive vice president of Wessell, Nickel & Gross, suggests that the answer lies in carbon fibre and nylon glass

For more than three hundred years, piano makers, dedicated to providing the very finest musical instruments to the great composers, artists and piano-playing enthusiasts of the world, have taken a great deal of pride in their craft and products. Although the piano witnessed many changes and improvements in the 19th century – increased pitch range, steel strings, felt hammers, a more stable design with cast iron plates and improved bearing and tension of the stringing scale – such refinements were considered by some as vexing and a compromise of Cristofori’s delicate masterpiece of 1700. While steeped in tradition and fine design, many manufacturers have been reluctant to embrace advances in the resources and technology available to improve both the instrument and the performance experience for players and listeners.

Twentieth-century innovations brought us the first man on the moon, the split atom and colossal advances in technology, medicine and science, but there was a profound lack of progress in piano design. And as these same designs – considered cutting-edge 150 years ago – are carried over into the early part of the new century, some might see an industry seemingly content with yesteryear’s creations.

Today few companies report much in the way of plausible research and development expenses to improve design or protect intellectual property, and thus little has changed in the material and functional design of today’s grand piano in comparison to Cristofori’s. Most of today’s piano actions are comprised of wood, the same material that’s been used for 300 years. Although wood action quality has been enhanced by advances in manufacturing processes, quality of selection and so on, wood is still wood and it has not changed a great deal over the centuries. For optimum performance, a piano action must be extremely consistent, balanced, durable and precise as well as resistant to corrosion. Wood is subject to atmospheric changes and conditions; it reacts negatively to arid and high altitude dryness, as well as to moisture, humidity and rainy environments. One could hardly say that wood action vulnerabilities are optimum or congruous on the concert stage, in an institution or at home. Wood action parts can lack a consistency of grain, strength and weight of balance. Simply put, no two trees are alike – nor are any two hammer shanks or repetition parts in a piano action.

But this is changing. THE STATUS QUO and great piano makers of our time are now being confronted with startling innovations and applications of synthetic material and design elements that promise to thrust piano technology and performance to a level unparalleled, unmatched and unseen in 300 years of piano-making.

The Wessell, Nickel & Gross company (WNG ) high performance piano action is a non-wood action consisting of parts made from composite materials, specifically carbon fibre and nylon glass. WNG combines a base resin of nylon glass and long carbon fibres to create a composite that is both strong and rigid. Nylon has been in wide use for over 50 years. Long fibre is durable to the extreme. In the benign environment of the piano action with limited – if any – exposure to the sun, material scientists expect a minimum life expectancy of 100 years; indeed, it could be much longer.

Composite parts are stronger and more durable than wood parts, with the same weight but yet a more responsive action feel. WNG carbon fibre hammer shanks are more rigid, therefore they deliver more power for the pianist, a longer sustain and an increased repetition speed. Environmental considerations aside, composite actions are also impervious to changes in climatic conditions, humidity-related swelling or shrinking and loss of consistency in performance, and are much more durable and rigid than wood with over 10 times the strength. The low maintenance and durability of these parts are a piano technician’s dream. Additional benefits include lower liabilities and longer instrument life – this is especially useful for schools and institutions where decreasing operational budgets restrict the affordability of maintaining optimally performing instruments. Forward-thinking companies like Kawai of Japan have used composite action parts much to their advantage and to the benefit of many educational institutions. WNG offers compatible turn-key piano actions and parts to piano manufacturers and piano rebuilders for every make, model and brand, for both today’s pianos and for pianos over a century old. Additionally, the Boston-based Mason & Hamlin, a sister company sharing the same ownership as WNG , has demonstrated its courage of conviction by exclusively offering WNG composite actions in all of its grand piano models.

For more information about WNG high-performance piano action parts, please visit www.wessellnickelandgross.com

8.8.2012 – Find A Rebuilder page now live!

Posted on: August 8th, 2012 by WNG No Comments

The Find A Rebuilder page, a database of WNG-certified piano rebuilders / technicians,  is now live!

Piano rebuilders / technicians: contact nina@wessellnickelandgross.com to find out how you can be added to this page!

8.7.2012 – On Rebuilding with Wessel, Nickel & Gross Composite Wippens – Thoughts from the Designer

Posted on: August 7th, 2012 by WNG No Comments

By Bruce Clark, Lead Engineer, Wessell, Nickel & Gross

Story taken from Piano Technicians Journal / July 2012

 

At Wessel, Nickel & Gross we agree with much that Anne Acker asserts in her comments on Chuck Behm’s Weber restoration series.

Various approaches are available for those who make their living rebuilding pianos. At one end of the spectrum are those who view an old piano as simply the raw material for their next creation. In some ways this group resembles the traditional piano maker more than one who refurbishes. This group is typified by those who rescale the old piano, or correct touch resistance problems, or who redesign the soundboard by changing the ribbing and adding cutoff bars. Whether or not one agrees with the choices made by any particular rebuilder, the goal is to get the best possible performance from the piano at the end of the rebuilding process. Whether or not the final product bears any resemblance to the original is of little concern in this style of rebuilding.

At the other end of the spectrum are those, such as Anne Acker, who provide “conservation-oriented restoration.” I take this to be much like a museum restoration in that historical accuracy and authenticity are the paramount values. Practitioners of the restoration approach strive to keep as much of the old as possible while restoring the rest of the instrument to a functional level. The goal is to keep the instrument as a historically accurate representative of the intentions of its manufacturer.

Most actual rebuilders fall somewhere between these two examples. Often only the most egregious problems will be corrected, sometimes for conservation, sometimes because of economic reasons.

Typically, rebuilding customers choose the style of rebuilding through their choice of rebuilders. If one wanted a museum-style restoration it wouldn’t make sense to choose a rebuilder who will redesign the instrument, and if the customer wants a piano that plays its absolute best by contemporary standards, a conservation approach is not likely to satisfy. Inevitably any individual rebuilder, because his work is an expression of his values, will prefer one style of rebuilding to the other. Those of us in the field need to realize, however, that this is for the well-educated customer to choose, not the rebuilder.

If the customer has chosen a conservation-style restoration, then we at WN&G agree that our composite action parts will not be appropriate. Composite parts would not be historically accurate or authentic for historic reconstruction of an 1850s instrument, for example.

We also agree with Ms. Acker’s observation that current wooden parts are not exactly authentic either. She in fact outlines some of the work needed to modify current parts to be more historically correct. However, the only real way to be historically accurate would be to duplicate, in new wood and cloth, the old parts. In essence, you would need to become an action maker that specialized in one-of-a-kind actions. I think it is no accident that no such company that I am aware of exists today. Even if it did, such a one-off action would be tremendously, perhaps prohibitively expensive.

In the case of Chuck Behm’s Weber, the design of its action is sufficiently obsolete that it should be considered untenable. Even new parts break from time to time during normal use. If an action has reached the point that replacements for missing parts are no longer available, then either the piano becomes a museum piece, fragile, rarely played and maintained as an example of the past, or a redesign and upgrade must occur for the instrument to continue as a piano, useful for daily practice and perhaps performance.

At the time this Weber piano was made, the linked wippen design was common. Parts were available and technicians had appropriate skills to apply to the problems of maintenance. But this design was discarded over a century ago and technicians today, for the most part, do not have the relevant skills to maintain this piano even if the action had suffered no wear or deterioration over the last century. The customer would find it most difficult to get quality service for this piano, even if every other aspect of the piano was spectacular. It is clear that the rebuilder opted for redesign and I think the customer likely agreed.

One more comment: In choosing parts it is reasonable to simply weigh wooden action parts and compare the weight. Construction of wooden parts is similar enough for the comparison to be approximately correct. In the case of WN&G repetitions, because the design and materials are so different, this no longer works. The material in a WN&G repetition is a nylon/glass fiber composite with a specific gravity of 1.47, about twice that of maple. It is also about ten times stronger than maple. If we just copied wooden parts, the result would be inferior because of weight, so for any part that moves we used the material properties to design parts that have a lower moment of inertia.

For example, our flanges are 1-1/2 to 2 grams heavier than wooden flanges, but there is no point in lightening a flange, as it is screwed to a rail and does not move. Mass is only important when a part moves. If you place an assembled WN&G repetition on a scale and read the weight, right away you have about a 1-1/2 to 2 gram error because of the weight of the flange.

But more important, simply weighing a part gives you no clue as to the distribution of its mass and thus its inertial resistance to movement. The WN&G composite repetition base has been designed so that the center of gravity is closer to the center of rotation than in a wooden wippen. This makes the rotating mass (i.e., the moment of inertia) less, even though the overall weight of the part is greater.

To understand how this impacts the actual functionality of the repetition, it would be best to use the tool designed by David Stanwood to measure the weight at the heel when the wippen is suspended as a lever. If you measure the old wooden repetitions and the new WN&G repetitions, you will find WN&G repetitions are very slightly lighter than the best wooden parts when measured this way.

By the way, as far as weight goes, if one were to use a typical old-fashioned brass capstan to replace the rockers, that capstan would be the heaviest element in the system. Old Steinway hexagonal capstans weigh between 10 and 12 grams and current brass capstans are typically about 6 grams. WN&G lightweight capstans weigh between 1.3 and 1.8 grams depending on which capstan you use. A side benefit would be that the anodized aluminum capstan reduces the friction between the capstan and the wippen heel much more effectively than do the old brass capstans.