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I attended two piano concerts played on Steinway Ds this week, one brand new. Both of them had a really severe effect where when the pianist ended a phrase using the damper pedal and slowly lifted his foot, the sound got really warped. I know pianos often have a slight effect when you slowly lift the damper pedal but this was very distracting! Is this normal? Some kind of regulation issue?

(Also, I thought the new D did not sound good at all. Very muffled hammers and metallic overtones at times. I'm probably going to avoid piano concerts at that venue for a couple of years until the hammers are broken in.)


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Dampers can cause some odd noises just when making contact. They may need to be trimmed, adjusted, or even replaced. As for waiting till the hammers are broken in...don't hold your breath. Your ear may simply not like what the technician did. I've experienced that at a local venue where the tech seems to like a "wet socks" sound. Oh well, everyone has different tastes.

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I suspect the damper felts are firmer than what was used in the past.

And I am 99.9999% certain the hammers are heavier than Steinway used 100 years ago.


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As you slowly raise the pedal, the damper felt touches the strings in steadily increasing amounts, not necessarily consistent. Some harmonics may become prominent. This may be what you were hearing.


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Originally Posted by BDB
As you slowly raise the pedal, the damper felt touches the strings in steadily increasing amounts, not necessarily consistent. Some harmonics may become prominent. This may be what you were hearing.

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Originally Posted by BDB
As you slowly raise the pedal, the damper felt touches the strings in steadily increasing amounts, not necessarily consistent. Some harmonics may become prominent. This may be what you were hearing.

Is consistency expected if the dampers are regulated well? I've never heard the harmonics so jarringly before.

Originally Posted by Scott Cole, RPT
As for waiting till the hammers are broken in...don't hold your breath. Your ear may simply not like what the technician did.

It actually sounded just like the brand new B I played at the Steinway dealership, except that one didn't have the metallic overtones. When he asked what I thought and I said the voicing was too muffled, the dealer told me something about cold-pressed hammers that can't be lacquered? Or maybe that if they were lacquered it couldn't be undone, so they don't want to voice it until after purchase to the buyer's taste (which is... not ideal).

It's a real pity about that new D because the new venue it's in is stunning (and has an inexpensive parking garage).


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Originally Posted by twocats
I attended two piano concerts played on Steinway Ds this week, one brand new. Both of them had a really severe effect where when the pianist ended a phrase using the damper pedal and slowly lifted his foot, the sound got really warped. I know pianos often have a slight effect when you slowly lift the damper pedal but this was very distracting! Is this normal? Some kind of regulation issue?

(Also, I thought the new D did not sound good at all. Very muffled hammers and metallic overtones at times. I'm probably going to avoid piano concerts at that venue for a couple of years until the hammers are broken in.)
By 'damper' I guess you mean the Una Corda pedal? I'm surprised that the pianist used this to end phrases. Doing that would risk string wiping with resulting choir detuning.


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There are pros who think they can control decay by slowly lowering the dampers - that's the right pedal being slowly raised. That does not work on all pianos and needs to be tested before using. I heard Stephen Hough do this at Spivey Hall in Atlanta, resulting in a noticeable "zing" - not good.

I wonder if these expensive concert hall grands get enough playing time to really seat the dampers - I think that eliminates the "zing".

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My piano had the "zing" effect (mentioned above by Sam S) pretty badly on a few notes recently: lowering the dampers (raising the pedal) while these notes were still sounding caused a very annoying buzz. Perhaps that is what you heard. (I had to fix it by removing the dampers in question and softening the felt very gently with a worn toothbrush, a procedure recommended in an old thread here on PW.)


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Originally Posted by BDB
As you slowly raise the pedal, the damper felt touches the strings in steadily increasing amounts, not necessarily consistent. Some harmonics may become prominent. This may be what you were hearing.

It also may not help if the unison has wandered as in that nebulous 'almost touching solidly' zone one of the wires may be damped earlier or better than the others so the tone changes if the unison isn't true.

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Originally Posted by twocats
I attended two piano concerts played on Steinway Ds this week, one brand new. Both of them had a really severe effect where when the pianist ended a phrase using the damper pedal and slowly lifted his foot, the sound got really warped. I know pianos often have a slight effect when you slowly lift the damper pedal but this was very distracting! Is this normal? Some kind of regulation issue?

I hear such an effect not infrequently in concerts, and I find it most unpleasant. It astonishes me that the pianists do not notice or perhaps do not care.

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Originally Posted by twocats
Originally Posted by BDB
As you slowly raise the pedal, the damper felt touches the strings in steadily increasing amounts, not necessarily consistent. Some harmonics may become prominent. This may be what you were hearing.

Is consistency expected if the dampers are regulated well? I've never heard the harmonics so jarringly before.

There are different shaped dampers, and they will release from the strings in different ways.


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Originally Posted by Sam S
There are pros who think they can control decay by slowly lowering the dampers - that's the right pedal being slowly raised. That does not work on all pianos and needs to be tested before using. I heard Stephen Hough do this at Spivey Hall in Atlanta, resulting in a noticeable "zing" - not good.

One of the Bechsteins D 282 I've recently played was regulated in that way, meaning that consistently the bass dampers were raised first. When done right (and in this case it was) it had the really pleasant effect of being able to carefully pedal the treble notes/chords while the bass still kept ringing.

In 'Le Gibet' this was a real treat.

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Originally Posted by twocats
Is consistency expected if the dampers are regulated well? I've never heard the harmonics so jarringly before.

It actually IS expected, especially in a high end venue and concert. BDB is correct. He mentioned that there are different shaped dampers that behave differently, but expert damper prep., including trimming fresh dampers, is part of expert concert prep of a piano. I am not sure what damper felts S&S is using these days. We have replaced very new damper felt with a softer French felt in the past successfully.

Originally Posted by twocats
It actually sounded just like the brand new B I played at the Steinway dealership, except that one didn't have the metallic overtones.

This sounds to me like the pianist was trying to get more sound out of the piano and pounding the stuffing out of it to get what they wanted. This can result in metallic overtones when the hammers are very soft.

My 2 cents,


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If a piano is regulated to enable full clearance of the third string when the shift pedal is fully depressed; if you try to do a slow return of the dampers to the strings, you will get some weird sounds because the unstruck string is 180 degrees out of phase with the two struck ones and this doubles the damper noise.

This problem is greatly reduced with nice soft damper felt.

But nice soft damper felt is more difficult to regulate because it settles a little, and you have to reset damper timing again after you install dampers. You have to go over things again when regulating and that costs money.


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Originally Posted by Sam S
There are pros who think they can control decay by slowly lowering the dampers - that's the right pedal being slowly raised. That does not work on all pianos and needs to be tested before using.

I play like this too... the intention is a gentle and less abrupt release. Sounds like it's not the fault of the pianist, but that the piano hasn't received enough prep.

Originally Posted by Beemer
By 'damper' I guess you mean the Una Corda pedal? I'm surprised that the pianist used this to end phrases. Doing that would risk string wiping with resulting choir detuning.

No, I mean the damper pedal, the right pedal.

Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Originally Posted by twocats
Is consistency expected if the dampers are regulated well? I've never heard the harmonics so jarringly before.

It actually IS expected, especially in a high end venue and concert.

...

Originally Posted by twocats
It actually sounded just like the brand new B I played at the Steinway dealership, except that one didn't have the metallic overtones.

This sounds to me like the pianist was trying to get more sound out of the piano and pounding the stuffing out of it to get what they wanted. This can result in metallic overtones when the hammers are very soft.

That makes a lot of sense. I haven't been to a solo piano concert in a long time (only chamber music and piano concertos) but I haven't noticed anything like this before. I suspect the pianos have only been tuned and not properly concert prepped. And especially after two years of no live concerts where all the arts organizations are low on money.

And thanks for explaining about the metallic overtones. That piano definitely needs to be broken in! I'll give it another chance in a couple of years. On the other hand, the pianist gave a wonderful masterclass at a local dealer and he and the students played on a pair of very lovely Faziolis! He was able to get so much more out of the Fazioli when demonstrating!

Last edited by twocats; 05/08/22 01:55 PM.

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Originally Posted by Beemer
Originally Posted by twocats
I attended two piano concerts played on Steinway Ds this week, one brand new. Both of them had a really severe effect where when the pianist ended a phrase using the damper pedal and slowly lifted his foot, the sound got really warped. I know pianos often have a slight effect when you slowly lift the damper pedal but this was very distracting! Is this normal? Some kind of regulation issue?

(Also, I thought the new D did not sound good at all. Very muffled hammers and metallic overtones at times. I'm probably going to avoid piano concerts at that venue for a couple of years until the hammers are broken in.)
By 'damper' I guess you mean the Una Corda pedal? I'm surprised that the pianist used this to end phrases. Doing that would risk string wiping with resulting choir detuning.

The damper pedal is one of the US terms for the sustaining pedal because it operates the dampers. You see it on digital pianos a lot. Roland used to call the right pedal the damper pedal on their old models. Yamaha I think tend to call it the sustaining pedal. Damper is to do with its mechanical function and sustaining is its musical function. Confusing because you might think damper refers to dampening the sound or deadening it. The left pedal is always called the una corda or soft pedal even here on the west side of the Atlantic.


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Also, Steinways often have this kind of fizz when the dampers are returned to the strings. It can happen on other makes too, it's just that I've heard it most on Steinways. It seemed to happen on every model D I've played and heard. I've heard it on Yamahas too of course but less so. I wonder if Yamaha use a different density or hardness of felt? I've actually no idea.


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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
Also, Steinways often have this kind of fizz when the dampers are returned to the strings. It can happen on other makes too, it's just that I've heard it most on Steinways. It seemed to happen on every model D I've played and heard. I've heard it on Yamahas too of course but less so. I wonder if Yamaha use a different density or hardness of felt? I've actually no idea.

Interesting! And also thanks for clarifying about pedal terminology here vs across the pond.


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Trying to do a "fade out" ending to a piece that ends softly where you are using the shift pedal too should really be avoided. In resonant halls, normal damper pedal release will still result in a fade out of the sound because the reverberation time takes care of that.

But, many newer pianos have too dense damper felt and this makes the issue much more prominent.


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