Type of wood used for hammer heads - is it important?

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crispin
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Type of wood used for hammer heads - is it important?

Post by crispin » 29 Oct 2008, 22:16

Today the tuner came to give my new Bechstein Academy 124 upright its free tuning - I asked him about the difference between this piano and the Zimmermann Z1 that I nearly bought. He said that a big part of the difference was due to the wood of the hammer heads. The Bechstein has these mahoggany Abel hammerheads while the Zimmerman has beech - he said (not sure that this is so - but certainly it is a white wood). Anyway - my question is : the heammer is covered with this thick layer of felt - what possible difference can the type of wood have on the sound of the piano. If there is an appreciable difference - why doesn't Zimmermann use the same (if it is better) type as the Bechstein - the price difference between similar pianos is not so large so even if Mahogany costs more - they could afford to use it. He claimed that one can hear the sound of the hammer hitting the strings more with a Zimmermann than the Bechstein Academy..

Can anyone clarify why different manufacturers use different hammer head material?

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Barrie Heaton
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Post by Barrie Heaton » 29 Oct 2008, 22:40

Weight and flexibility make a big difference to hammers Hornbeam is used on most pianos rather than beech

Mahogany is used as it is heavier than Hornbeam so it has an effect on the hammers inertia. so it packs more punch for the same velocity also better felt is normalcy used

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crispin
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Post by crispin » 30 Oct 2008, 11:00

... also better felt is normalcy used
If I understand correctly... the type of wood may just indicate that a 'better' felt has been used to cover the hammer... and thus there is no magic associated with the exact wood. If the weight (and thus the density) of the hammer is important - surely one can make the hammer head slightly bigger or smaller to compensate.
And finally if I look on the web - I find that the cheapest set of hammers costs ~ $150 and the most expensive ~$850 (for Steinways) ... $400-500 for the mid range..... therefore it can not cost a manufacturer much to choose between mahogany/hornbeam hammers. Why doesn't Bechstein fit the Zimmermann with mahogany hammer heads if they are perceived to be better (maybe this 'better' is all in the mind - and in reality there is little difference?)

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Post by Brumtuner » 30 Oct 2008, 11:24

Pfffttt......

In my opinion (based on fact and 30+ years experience), it hardly matters what type of wood is used. Ok, you wouldn't use balsa or ebony, but face it, there's hardly any wood in a hammer head so therefore it's all down to the felt used..... weight, density, flexibility etc. I've 'knocked-up' hammer heads out of softwood, oak, whatever is at hand and never had a problem to date.

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Post by mdw » 30 Oct 2008, 13:39

I guess if they use the same quality hammers where do they stop. Soon all the bits are the sme quality and you dont have a range of pianos. You have to give those who pay top money bragging rights over something otherwise nobody would buy the expensive pianos which they must make most margin on.

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Post by Barrie Heaton » 30 Oct 2008, 21:34

crispin wrote:
... also better felt is normalcy used
If I understand correctly... the type of wood may just indicate that a 'better' felt has been used to cover the hammer... and thus there is no magic associated with the exact wood.
in the most yes to a point only because others do it Steinway like walnut hammer heads I use to like working with walnut hammer heads over Hornbeam but I don't do restoring work any more

You see you will get piano Techs when replacing a set of shanks on a grand will tap each one and listen to the sound they make the dull one go to the base the bright ones to the treble now some will say what a wast of time but others....

its all down to little subtle changes that in the big picture when you add them up count.

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Post by genaa » 01 Nov 2008, 10:39

As others have said I think the culmination of a series of small differences is what creates a range of pianos and therefore the ability to market 'the next one up' - otherwise piano manufacture would be little more than a race to the bottom, with all instruments having exactly the same spec and the only difference being the place where the computer operated machines that built them reside......

I am sure there are sound (scuse the pun) reasons beyond simply marketing spin, that lead different manufacturers to choose one material over another for various of the components in a piano action, and that this is probably not simply a question of what is 'best' (in a purely linear sense) but rather what lends what to the tone characteristics. There have to be some reasons behind why a bechstein sounds so different to a bluthner after all.

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