Precision Touch Design
I use Precision Touch Design to transform the touch of an unsatisfactory action, or as an integral part of the process of replacing hammers. The results are quite remarkable, and I am delighted to be able to offer this service. If a piano, old or new, is too heavy or too light, is too uneven or is impossible to play quietly, Precision Touch Design can provide the most astonishing improvement.
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Precision Touch Design
The background to Precision Touch Design
It has always been a puzzle for both pianists and technicians: why would two apparently identical pianos - same size, same age, adjacent serial numbers - sound and play so differently? Why, when a piano was reconditioned, was it impossible to predict how good the result would be?
This was the conundrum that David Stanwood, an American piano technician, set out to investigate more than 30 years ago. Traditionally the actions of even the very best pianos have been built, or rebuilt, without a great deal of attention being paid to the precise weight of the action parts or the precise ratios in the movement: the touch weight would be regulated by installing lead weights in the front of the key so that a weight of around 50g would then cause the key to go gently down, while a minimum of about 20g on the front of the key could be lifted on its upward travel.
The problem with this, as Stanwood realised, is that it is only dealing with very slow movements, whereas the movement of the action parts when the piano is being played can be very fast indeed. Under playing conditions, inertia is much more of an issue. One can get a heavy weight to move slowly quite easily; getting it to move quickly, with very rapid acceleration, is much more difficult. In this context, the ratio of the key is crucial. If one thinks of a piano key as a seesaw, the position of the fulcrum is as important as the relative weights on either end.
Starting from the premise that the weight of the hammer head is at the heart of the sound and feel of the piano, Stanwood weighed all of the constituent parts of hundreds of piano actions, analysed the relationships and ratios, and gradually came first to an understanding of exactly what is happening in the movement of the action, and finally to devise an all-encompassing equation that he refers to as the ‘equation of balance’.
Using this approach, it became possible to predict exactly what would be the outcome of rebuilding an action. One could design a piano with an intimate sound and feel for domestic use; or one capable of projecting to the back of the largest concert hall. And because of the meticulous weighing of each hammer head and each front key weight, the feel would be completely even over the whole range of the piano.
These ideas were taken up by two Dutch technicians, Wim Feldhaus and Frans Pietjouw, who now give classes and run training courses all over Europe, and who have developed software that enables the design process to be much quicker and more accessible to technicians.
In November 2013 I went to Holland to do the training course, and since then have used Precision Touch Design both to transform the touch of an unsatisfactory action, or as an integral part of the process of replacing hammers. The results are quite remarkable, and I am delighted to be able to offer this service. If a piano, old or new, is too heavy or too light, is too uneven or is impossible to play quietly, Precision Touch Design can provide the most astonishing improvement.
The fitting of a Precision Touch Design can be of benefit for any level of player, from beginner to professional. How can one learn to play even scales if the weight of the hammer varies from note to note? How can one learn to produce a range of dynamics and tone colours if the action is so heavy that it cannot be controlled? For the more advanced player, the evenness, control and increased dynamic range open up musical possibilities that were previously unimaginable.
Furthermore, the use of a properly balanced action can dramatically reduce the possibility of stress- and repetition-related injuries; and if a player already has issues of this type, the installation of a lighter action design can be transformative
Further information can be found at www.ptdae.com where you can watch extracts from Miracle in a Box, a fascinating film about David Stanwood and the rebuilding of a concert piano; and at www.stanwoodpiano.com -particularly an article called The Weighting Game, which gives a very clear explanation of the principles that have been developed into Precision Touch Design.