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The Hidden Piano Treasure of Jean Sibelius

Strangely enough, it would be quite easy to attend piano recitals for years and never hear a note of Sibelius. Now Norwegian pianist Leif-Ove Andsnes makes an adventurous raid into Sibelius’ native Finland and want us to change that. It is not surprising that his playing is immaculately detailed and sympathetic Read more >>

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Author Topic: Professional Level Uprights  (Read 534 times)
patrickbcox
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« on: August 30, 2017, 12:37:12 AM »

Hello,
I am getting back into piano after quite a few years away.  At the beginning of this year I bought a nice Roland digital piano (FP90) and I do enjoy practicing on it with my headphones.  But I would like to also have a nicer acoustic piano.  I currently have a 1975 Yamaha M series console piano that I played as a young person but today I am not satisfied with it.  It is not easy to play softly and it does not have a full enough sound.  It is loud but not full and rich.  I was considering a small grand piano but now because of space limitations primarily, I am leaning towards a high end "professional level" upright piano.  Like a Yamaha YUS series or a Kawai K Series.  I have not played either piano because they are not available in my city but I have plans in mid September to drive about 3 hours to a larger city and play a Yamaha YUS1 & YUS5 and then a Kawai K300 and K500.

My question, that is probably difficult to answer, is - can I expect comparable sound from a high end upright vs a mid range ~ 5' 4" grand?  (Yamaha GC1, Boston GP153, Kawai GL-20 are the level of grands I was looking at previously.)  I know the actions will be different but I don't think that will be a problem for me.  My main worry is the sound.  But my hope is that a 50" or so upright will offer a larger soundboard and then the nicer hammers and strings of these premium upright pianos will produce a comparable sound to the smaller grands I was considering.

So, do any of you only play on an upright piano that is satisfying to play?

Thanks!
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iansinclair
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« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2017, 01:08:08 AM »

Yes.  One of my pianos is a 1904 Steinway "upright grand" -- about 60 inches high.  Very good tone quality.  It doesn't have the absolute power and brilliance of my grands, but it's quite satisfying.  For tone.  The action, not so much -- but that's to be expected.

Depending on where you live, you may well be able to find a big used upright which is quite satisfactory for remarkably little money -- in some parts of the US, for instance, excellent uprights can be had for only a few hundred dollars.
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Ian
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2017, 01:27:43 AM »

I own a 1900 Stieff upright, 52 inches, which has a rich full bodied tone that would rival that of a grand.  It was one of those I paid very little money for, and it needed very little work. 

I don't know where you live or what your budget is, but if available, you might want to look at Charles Walter studio uprights,  which receive  outstanding reviews from those that have played them 
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indianajo
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2017, 06:31:51 PM »

The better sounds come from thinner soundboards & kickplates, not taller. Shaving the soundboard thin makes for a lot of scrap.  Voicing was an art and higher end ones cost more due to higher care with attendant labor costs.  
 I find grands project good tone to the right and some to the floor, consoles/studios project out front or back, more suitable for a home.  Its not worth $1000 to me per move (in my market) to have the middle pedal sustain function of a real grand.  
I'm fond of 1950's 60's 70's Baldwin Acrosonics 40" & up, Sohmer 40 & 44, Baldwin Hamilton 44, Wurlitzer 44", Grinell Bros of Detroit, York 40's.   Chickering has a reputation but I've never heard one. I liked one Kawai 44 I played.  A Mason & Hamlin 36" at a charity resale shop had great tone, but spinetts are of course slow. I'd like to hear a 40 or taller.   I find Everett's and Yamahas bland, especially the bass notes.  Steinways sound good but later ones have heavy touch, and need a hard wall to bounce the good tone back at the player.  My 1941 Steinway 40 has holes in the front and sounds fine to the player.  Note 40" consoles have beat frequency 0 octave bass, which I find pleasant. taller ones can have fundamental frequency bass.  The winding on the strings has to match up in the voicing in the bass. 
Most premium 50's 60's 70's console & studio pianos can be had for $40-200 in a flea market charity resale shop or owner's home, up to $1000 in a dealer.  *****y sounding yamahas go $2200.   Cabinet stress runs the cost down more than internal wear.  Craigslist can be good but pickup when you deliver the cash, not afterwards.  Buy a piano dolly & trailer hitch (or find a U-haul) to make fast purchases before the flipper gets there.  I can move an upright with one weakling helper to shove the dolly under while I lift one end.
Steinways tend to be beat to death by use, other brands may have 50 hours or 15000.  Look at the hammers in the middle for wear.  Mouse eaten felt, spliced bass strings, warped hammer shafts, wiggly hammer pivots, cracks in soundboard or frame also should be avoided.  Try the piano 88 notes that the voicing matches up.  Try a couple of notes alternating fingers of two hands to see how fast one note will repeat.  168 bpm should overrun about anything one plays.  Check for even action at ppp all across. I played a post globalization Wurlitzer (90's or 00's) in a home that had very uneven soft touch.  
Other brands of course will be found in UK, Europe, or the orient. Even Canada has Dominion, US doesn't.  
Flea market & home pianos will be out of tune, remember that $200 tuning will add $600 to the cost.  It takes 4-7 tunings to pull a neglected piano up to tune. I do them myself, final tuning to an electric organ.  My solid pin block 1941 Steinway 40 holds tune better than my 5 laminations pin block 1982 Sohmer 39.  Various Baldwin Hamiltons & Acrosonics I play in unheated (6 days) churches hold tune quite well.  A loose pin in the block can't be detected at purchase, only if pitch sags in under three months,  but for $200 it is worth the risk.  repairing would be another 6 hours fooling around. 
Most newbies go to a dealer and let his suit & spiel make the decision, instead of their ears. Sounds like you may have listened to a few pianos.  Have fun shopping.
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visitor
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2017, 08:04:33 PM »

if i were in the market for a pro level upright and something that rivaled a good grand in terms of action and maximizing what an upgright can do, i would seek the product of dell fandrich's genius, and get one of his uprights

their upright is 48 inches, but the magic is in what dell engineered and improved upon w regard to action and other sound tweaks

http://www.fandrich.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=0afd01a31aa305e499a7daf85ec3a16f&location=pianos

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patrickbcox
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2017, 10:43:03 PM »

if i were in the market for a pro level upright and something that rivaled a good grand in terms of action and maximizing what an upgright can do, i would seek the product of dell fandrich's genius, and get one of his uprights

their upright is 48 inches, but the magic is in what dell engineered and improved upon w regard to action and other sound tweaks

http://www.fandrich.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=0afd01a31aa305e499a7daf85ec3a16f&location=pianos



Thanks for sharing.  This looks interesting.  But that is a long trip for me to try one of their pianos.  I"ll see how it goes when I visit the Yamaha and Kawai dealer.  Thanks!
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huaidongxi
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2017, 06:52:07 AM »

patrickbcox, both of our pianos play and sound fine, but with millionaires living across the property line about four meters away who retire around 2100,most of my practicing happens on the upright, in a room facing no neighbors. it's about 54 in. tall from 1895, built more massively than modern japanese uprights (by at least a couple of hundred pounds compared to the biggest yamaha or kawai verticals).

we spent a fair amount of time looking at less expensive pianos ; we knew who'd done the restoration and when, and it was lightly used by one owner post restoration.  as it happened, it cost pretty close to a brand new yamaha U1.  you're considering pianos on the next tier higher. it would surprise me though if any modern japanese upright had a fat, smooth tone like ours.

competition for professional level uprights but not at the same stratosphere of the German and Austrian builders (C.Bechstein, Boesendorfer, Grotrian Steinweg, Steingraeber und Sohne, August Forster are considered equal or better than Hamburg Steinway ; Schimmel, Feurich, Bluethner have their fans as well), is fairly stiff in the market, and a consumer considering yamaha  and kawai might learn something from playing both the premier euro brands, and the top Chinese and Korean pianos (except for Hailun, they generally have western names like Kayserburg, Ritmuller, Baldwin, Albert Weber).  the latter are designed,  sometimes built as well, by europeans or americans with many components from the same european sources as the top euro or american brand names, while priced to go after the yamaha and kawai market.
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