My Piano Plays Like a Truck

So many vintage pianos have been restored with modern, heavy hammers, but action parts designed for much lighter hammers. Those actions typically have shallow key dip and are:

  • Exceedingly hard to control in soft dynamics, feeling as if they are pushing the fingers out of the keyboard, and/or:
  • Repeat poorly and are inert and fatiguing in loud playing

Properly matched hammers and action parts, even when the hammers are relatively heavy (as they are in many of the finest modern grands) can be balanced so that the action feels light and smooth, enabling excellent control down to the softest pianissimo, while allowing effortlessly executing big, repeated chords and difficult loud passagework.

Light Hammers

Light Hammer Some pianists and piano technicians recommend reproducing the light weight of hammers from pre-WW II pianos because their sound is cleaner and less aggressive, and their actions are very easy to play. That is certainly true. One only needs to play a few passages and glissandos on such a piano to realize how much easier it was to play demanding Romantic literature a hundred years ago.

However, one also needs to be aware of the limitations of that approach:

  • The relatively high leverage ratio of vintage actions makes it more difficult to control dynamic nuances because it takes less force (technically, "work") to reach fortissimo
  • The shallower key dip can be frustrating to a pianist who is used to "digging into" the keys on modern pianos
  • Light hammers sound very clean, but also somewhat nasal and limited in terms of expression in loud dynamics—there is a sense of tone breaking up earlier on the dynamic scale, in forte rather than fortissimo

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