Welcome to my first in a multi-part series of videos about what makes each major piano brand unique. Every major piano company has something that separates them from their competition: whether it is Mason & Hamlin’s Tension Resonator System or the Steinway Accelerated Action, many major piano brands will have some sort of unique or patented design element that their competition doesn’t employ.

 

Today we are going to start with the Baldwin piano company. There are many things about Baldwin pianos that make them unique but today we are going to be discussing one thing in particular that is truly unique about them – their Accu-just hitch pin system.

 

Baldwin developed this technology in the 1960s at a time they owned the great German piano company Bechstein. The first piano to employ the Accu-just hitch pin was the newly designed SD-10 concert grand which went on to get spectacular reviews.

 

But what is a hitch pin anyway? Well you are probably familiar with the tuning pins located at the front of the piano – those are the numerous small pins that stick out from though the plate which are set into the pin block. On the other side, the strings wrap around what are called hitch pins.

 

On most pianos, the hitch pins are simply hooks that hold the strings in place. You will also notice that the strings arc over the bridge – so they have a certain amount of down-bearing on the bridge; which is glued onto the soundboard. This creates just the right amount of downward pressure on the strings.

 

But why does this matter? Well, if the piano is rebuilt and the plate is removed, the down-bearing on the strings must be adjusted precisely once the plate is replaced – which means the height of the plate must be adjusted with precision because it is critical to the tone of the piano. When simply restringing a piano, normally there is no down-bearing adjustment possible. Often over time the soundboard will lose some crown but may still have good tone. It would be ideal if the down-bearing was adjustable without the tremendous undertaking of rebuilding and removing the plate.

 

This is where the Baldwin Accu-just hitch pins come into play. Instead of just having hooks, these newly designed Baldwin pianos have vertical rods which the strings wrap around. The reason for this is that the height of the strings – not just the plate – can be adjusted to get just the right amount of down-bearing. This allows a technician to adjust precisely the down-bearing individually for each string!

 

This is why a lot of Baldwins will have a particularly singing tone – especially in the high register – because the down-bearing can be manipulated to be absolutely precise in all registers.

 

Does this mean that these Baldwin pianos are superior to older Baldwins that don’t employ this technology? Not necessarily – there are many factors that go into making a piano great. And after all, there are many great pianos from other manufacturers that don’t have this technology. It’s just something that makes them unique and able to stand out from the competition. If you find a Baldwin without the Accu-just hitch pins, it’s nothing to be concerned about – just think of it as an extra bonus if yours contains them.

 

As always, thanks for watching and reading and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

What Makes Baldwin Pianos Unique? Baldwin Accu-just Hitch Pins

Welcome to my first in a multi-part series of videos about what makes each major piano brand unique. Every major piano company has something that separates them from their competition: whether it is Mason & Hamlin’s Tension Resonator Sy

 

This might sound silly but this is actually a very complex question.

 

When I was growing up, my father Mortin Estrin was a Baldwin artist. When he was selecting new pianos for performances and recordings, we used to go into the Baldwin artist showroom in New York City and he would play all the pianos and choose the one he liked the best. Back then, whenever he would encounter a restored piano he would scoff at them and couldn’t see any value in them. For a large part of my life I grew up with a similar mindset.

 

But now things are different for me; I sell restored pianos. So what changed? Well, pretty much everything when it comes to pianos. Back when I was growing up we had Baldwin, Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Knabe, Sohmer, Chickering, and dozens more piano brands still producing new pianos in the United States. Today, we only have 3 piano companies left making pianos in the US and the rest are mostly made in huge Asian factories at a fraction of the cost and quality of the handmade pianos of yesterday.

 

There are still some pianos being made today in America and elsewhere that maintain a very high quality – but unfortunately they come with a very high price tag. However, the vast majority of new pianos are nowhere up to the standard of the handmade pianos.

 

At the turn of the 20th century there were over 1800 companies producing pianos in the United States! Sure, we still remember some of the big names, but with hundreds of companies competing for the top spot, there were plenty of phenomenally high quality pianos being produced during that time period. Every company had to compete against each other and while everyone was at the peak of production, the quality was at an extremely high level; it had to be. However, the vast majority of pianos ever produced in the US are very old now.

 

Right before World War II there were still over 300 piano companies in the United States. They were producing lots of high quality pianos but even this was a long time ago. Many of these instruments have not stood the test of time – whether they weren’t maintained properly, succumbed to the elements of nature, or just wore out.

 

Some old pianos have huge potential to be great. The craftsmanship and level of work was outstanding. However, a lot of their potential lies in the life that these pianos have had. How well have they been preserved? And how much work has been done to make them play like a new piano?

 

In a perfect world where money is no object you could buy a brand new Hamburg Steinway or Shigeru Kawaii or other top brand and have a wonderful piano. For most people however, if they are looking for a top tier piano they will most likely consider a vintage instrument that has been meticulously restored.

 

There is a wide range of tones possible with many of these vintage pianos. Even the old Mason & Hamlins and Steinways have a different quality than the ones being produced today. They have slight differences in the methodology of production. There were also countless, skilled workers from what was a huge industry. Some people think the quality and aging of the woods produces a richer tone like a Stradivarius violin.

 

From my experience I have seen quite a bit of magic produced out of the great, vintage pianos. There is a difference in quality and tone that is rare on newer pianos. However, the question of whether or not they are better comes down to the individual pianos. You simply can’t compare the quality of Asian production pianos and handmade pianos. However, this is not to say that every handmade piano is better. Really the bottom line comes down to personal preference. Some people, particularly in rock and pop actually prefer the more strident tones produced by factory pianos today – it is a sound many people have become accustomed to.

Are Old Pianos Better? Old Pianos Vs. New Pianos

This might sound silly but this is actually a very complex question. When I was growing up, my father Mortin Estrin was a Baldwin artist. When he was selecting new pianos for performances and recordings, we used to go into the Baldwin a

When I was first asked this question I almost laughed; it seemed like such a simple question. Then when I started to think of the answer I realized it was much more complex than I initially thought; so here is the answer for you!

The most important reason is, if you had all white keys, it would simply be impossible to find your place on the keyboard – you would have to start at the bottom and count up all the keys to find a specific note! The black keys create a simple visual cue, a repeating pattern of groups of 2 black keys and 3 black keys which help you find your place on the keyboard.

However, keys aren’t simply laid out in order of black and white without meaning; there is a basic logic behind the layout which reflects the basis of major/minor tonality. When it comes to pitch, the distance between all adjacent keys on the piano– from black to white, white to black and where they occur, white to white – are all the same; they are all half-steps apart.

But what is the significance of the pattern of black keys relative to white keys? The white keys of the piano form a C major scale! It is a series of whole steps (2 keys together, one key between) and half steps (2 keys together, no keys between) in which they are all whole steps except between the 3rd and 4th notes (E and F), and the 7th and 8th notes (B and C). So when you play all the white keys from C to C you are playing a C major scale!

You can play in any key on the piano by utilizing specific black keys when playing in any key other than C major. This is reflected in key signatures, a topic for another video for you!

Why are there Black and White Keys on the Piano?

When I was first asked this question I almost laughed; it seemed like such a simple question. Then when I started to think of the answer I realized it was much more complex than I initially thought; so here is the answer for you! The most important r

Believe it or not, this is a question that is dear to my heart. I don’t know if any of you have noticed but I actually have very small hands.

This was a problem for me as I was growing up and working on more advanced repertoire; I was learning music that required reaching an octave; yet my hands could barely reach – I was only able to achieve this by playing around the keys as opposed to directly above them.

If you are learning to play the piano and your hands are too small to reach an octave, you will be at a severe disadvantage. It’s not impossible however. I work with Jake Clayton, a 10 year old pianist who has trouble reaching an octave but you would never tell by the way he plays Mozart Concertos or Chopin; he manages just fine.

At this point, Jake’s hands will eventually get bigger; mine on the other hand are pretty much stuck where they are. Now I have no trouble reaching an octave but when I get into playing music with 10ths and 11ths it requires a bigger reach then I can manage. You probably wonder, do I have to leave out notes? Actually no.

It’s not overly difficult and anyone can learn how to achieve this. The secret is learning how to break chords very quickly using the pedal; The difference is almost imperceptible.

While there may be disadvantages to small hands, there is also a tremendous benefit to having small hands for playing the piano. Believe it or not, some people have such large fingers that they can’t get their fingers easily between the black keys; so they will have to play on the outside of the keyboard as opposed to the inside near the fallboard – presenting a big challenge.

The most important part of playing the piano is achieving the sound you imagine. With practice, you can play the piano with small hands.

Are My Hands too Small to Play the Piano?

Believe it or not, this is a question that is dear to my heart. I don’t know if any of you have noticed but I actually have very small hands. This was a problem for me as I was growing up and working on more advanced repertoire; I was learning musi

 

Welcome back to my two part series on how to play the Beethoven moonlight sonata. Today we will be addressing a question from Dong about the third movement:

I’m still working on the 3rd movement of the moonlight sonata. I can’t get the measures 7 and 8: the problem is that i can’t do the broken chords while moving up octaves each time fast/ precise enough… can you give me some advice on how i should practice that?

 

For your reference, here is the section Dong is referring to in his question:

 

 

This part of the piece is much different from the ethereal first movement; it comes on fast like a bat out hell!

 

When you slow this part of the piece down you’ll find that it’s simply a broken minor chord going up by octaves, and then moves on to a diminished chord in the same manner. It is actually not so difficult to play once it is broken down to its component parts.

 

The secret is hand positions and finger patterns.

 

As I’ve addressed in previous videos, being over the right keys with each hand position change can make any passage much easier to play and helps to develop confidence in your playing.

 

In this piece you simply play to the fifth finger – the C# – and then switch your hand position by placing the thumb on the exact same note you started with (the C#) and play the same sequence again.

 

In your slow practice – which we’ve addressed in a previous video – you’ll want to play up to and not past the 2nd C# – the one in which you switch hand positions and play starting with the thumb. If you play this correctly, you will end up instantly over the next cord simply one octave higher.

 

The trick is to position your hand over the chord as soon as you play the second C# with your thumb.

 

Start by playing slowly and then consistently practice faster and faster until you can get up to speed. Try just starting up until the second C# and get that up to speed, then move on from there to the next chord position.

 

The good news is that this is not just a technique for this piece or this movement. This hand and finger technique is something you can use in all your music. Being aware of hand position and finger patterns can make any technical challenge very manageable.

 

I’ve really enjoyed presenting these tips on how to play the Beethoven moonlight sonata and would love to provide some tips and help for other pieces of music as well. If you have any requests for other pieces or questions about this one, please email me at: robert@livingpianos.com

How to Play the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata Part 2 – The Third Movement – Piano Lessons

Welcome back to my two part series on how to play the Beethoven moonlight sonata. Today we will be addressing a question from Dong about the third movement: I’m still working on the 3rd movement of the moonlight sonata. I can’t get the mea

 

Welcome the first in the two part series of how to play the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata. This lesson will cover how to control voicing in the famous 1st movement.

 

Learning to balance the hands is one of the most challenging aspects of learning to play the piano. It gets even harder when playing the Moonlight Sonata because you have two different parts in one hand and you want to play one part louder than the other – using only one hand. This is truly a challenge and will definitely take some practice to master.

 

I’m going to provide some techniques to help you practice this part of the Moonlight Sonata but this is intrinsic information when it comes to piano playing; you can use these techniques for all your music!

 

(If you are not familiar with the first movement of the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, you should be able to get the score on line.)

 

In this particular part you have two parts with the right hand – triplets on the bottom and a slow melody on top. The difficulty is compounded because the longer melody notes fade out while the accompaniment triplets keep repeating and are therefore naturally louder; so how do you balance the two?

 

If you try and play some notes louder than others you might not be able to achieve this at first. You might wonder how you would ever be able to practice something like that. There is a great technique to remedy this!

 

Instead of just practicing louder and softer with the right hand, practice with two completely different articulations. Play the melody legato and play the accompaniment part staccato (from the fingers); this will give you control.

 

By practicing in this extreme manner it will help to identify the feel of the melody compared to the accompaniment. Practice playing the accompaniment very lightly and play with just a touch of the fingers, not the wrist.

 

When you do play the piece as written – with the legato triplets on the bottom – feel that you are reaching for the melody notes on top and you will be able to control the sound from the fingers.

 

It is very important in your initial practice to not use the pedal; so you can accomplish the independence of your fingers from one-another and hear the voices clearly. The pedal is literally the last thing you add.

 

This is a technique you can use in all your music to bring out melodies. I’m very interested to hear any input or advice you might have regarding this technique. Thanks again for watching.

How to Play the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata – Part 1 (The 1st Movement)

Welcome the first in the two part series of how to play the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata. This lesson will cover how to control voicing in the famous 1st movement. Learning to balance the hands is one of the most challenging aspects of le

There are natural fluctuations in many industries. The question is, are there seasonal differences in the piano market? You have probably experienced businesses that have price differences at different times of the year. If you have ever booked a vacation during winter or spring break, you know that you pay a premium for the exact same hotels at that time of year compared to just weeks earlier or later. So the question is, are there differences in prices and availability of pianos at different times of year?

You may have been bombarded with all sorts of piano promotions from college sales, trade show returns, impending factory price increases as well as the ever popular going-out-of business sales. The fact is, new pianos are produced throughout the year and piano stores must create a sense of urgency in order to motivate people to buy pianos.

The used piano market is different. For example, the vast majority of pianos I list for sale come from people with pianos they need to sell who discover me from my concerts, videos and website, or are referred by teachers or piano tuners. Summertime is a slower time for piano sales but it’s truly a buyer’s market. The fact is in a couple of months I will wish I had the selection of pianos available then that I have now. It happens this way every year.

So, if you are considering getting a high quality used piano, this is a great time to get exceptional value because there are many fine instruments available now. (Incidentally, it’s also a good time to get a great deal on hotels!)

Aside from the pianos listed on my website, there are several in process which I was able to buy in the slow summer season. Rebuilding pianos is no small affair. So, I am considering lower offers on the pianos that I have now in order to keep everything moving. While I know it will be impossible to keep up on selection as we get into the prime selling season shortly, if the time is right for you, make an offer on one of the pianos and it could save you thousands of dollars.

Robert Estrin
Robert@LivingPianos.com
949-244-3729

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WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY A PIANO?

There are natural fluctuations in many industries. The question is, are there seasonal differences in the piano market? You have probably experienced businesses that have price differences at different times of the year. If you have ever booked a vac

You might have heard these terms used  in describing used pianos. But exactly what  is the difference between rebuilding a piano and simply reconditioning one? Is there a real distinction between the two? There definitely is.

Whether or not you will be looking at a rebuild or a reconditioning really depends upon the condition the piano is in. Generally the distinction of rebuilding is when the cast iron plate of the piano is removed. Removing the plate is a very big deal – it requires an engine hoist; as the plate weighs more than the rest of the piano combined. When removing the plate, the strings, pins and bolts are removed first. Then the plate is lifted out.

Rebuilding is necessary when the soundboard or pinblock are compromised. The reason removing a plate is so important is that it allows the technician to get to the belly of the piano. The soundboard can be refinished; it can be shimmed if necessary, and when the plate is put back in it can be placed precisely for ideal down bearing – the tension the strings exert on the bridge. You also have the option to reguild the plate to make it look like new. Really, removing the plate allows you to rework the inside of the piano giving new life to a piano with problems.

Another good reason to rebuild a piano is if the pinblock needs to be replaced. If the piano has been restrung a number of times it is important to replace the pinblock because larger pins are used every time you restring a piano and you reach a practical limit in pin size. Also, the pinblock can sometimes develop cracks which effects tuning stability.

If the soundboard and pinblock are in good shape, there is no benefit in rebuilding the piano. In fact, you can restring the piano, rework the bridges, and even rebuild the action, refinish the cabinet and re-bush the pedals all without technically rebuilding the piano. However, such a piano might be just as solid and potentially long lasting as a rebuilt piano. It all depends upon what each instrument needs in order to play on a high level for years to come.

What’s the Difference between Rebuilding and Reconditioning a Piano?

You might have heard these terms used  in describing used pianos. But exactly what  is the difference between rebuilding a piano and simply reconditioning one? Is there a real distinction between the two? There definitely is. Whether or not you wil