Pictures from My Summer Work

I’ve been very busy lately and haven’t written here much. My wife and I had our third child join us at the end of May and we’ve been very busy ever since!

I’ve run into a lot of interesting and odd instruments over the summer, so I thought I’d share some pictures of some of them here.

First, I’ve been working hard on a harpsichord that I bought this summer and got into my teaching studio. My alma mater, George Fox University wasn’t using their instrument and they gave it to me for a very good price! I worked on this instrument while I was in college, but it has been very gratifying to have more time to get it playing really well. I have also been experimenting with historical tunings, specifically the Lehman-Bach tuning which sounds awesome on the harpsichord.



The week after I picked up my harpsichord, another harpsichord came into Portland Piano Company and I’ve been working at getting it back into shape. It was extremely dirty, and I found that cleaning the delicate harpsichord is much more time consuming than cleaning a modern piano! One of the two courses of strings had no tension on it at all, so it has taken a lot of tunings to get it stabilized.

IMG_4378I got to tune an interesting Grotrian piano from the 1950’s again this summer. I’ve worked on these pianos before, but I always enjoy coming across them.



And inside the piano….IMG_4712

I’ve been tuning at Reed College all week and they have 3 harpsichords along with around 25 pianos in their music building. I just tuned a vintage Bosendorfer there this week:



This little harpsichord was very entertaining. Harpsichords were often custom painted for the owners, inside and out. This tiny instrument has a painting of Reed College buildings inside the lid with “The Swing” in one corner and tonsured monks playing Frisbee in the other corner!



Those are some of the interesting instruments I’ve run into this summer. I hope you enjoyed those pictures and have a good remainder of your summer. I hard at work getting school pianos in shape before school starts again in a couple weeks!




Grotrian Pianos

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Germany has a long tradition of producing high quality products and its pianos are no exception! Germany is home to several high quality piano manufacturers, including Steinway (Hamburg), Bluthner, Bosendorfer (Austria), Bechstein, Schimmel and Grotrian, or Grotrian-Steinweg, to use their German name.

Grotrian pianos have been produced in Braunschweig (Brunswick) Germany since 1856 when Friedrich Grotrian became partner with Heinrich Steinweg (who immigrated to the US as Henry Steinway!). As Henry Steinway began to focus on the American market in New York, the Grotrian family bought out his interest in the Grotrian-Steinweg factory in the 1860’s. The company prospered in the early 20th century producing a peak of 3000 pianos in 1927. The company survived the Great Depression, learned to make aircraft during WWII, repaired the bombed factory and has continued making some of the finest pianos on the market. Grotrian currently produces around 500 upright and 100 grand pianos of various sizes annually.


Grotrian-Steinweg won several awards at world fairs and exhibitions and was the preferred instrument of great pianists including Clara Schumman, Paderewski, and Eugen d’Albert.
There has been tension between Steinway and Grotrian-Steinweg over the use of “Steinweg” for years and in 1977 the company dropped Steinweg from their name for all pianos sold in America (they still used Grotrian-Steinweg in all European pianos).

But enough history! Grotrian makes a wonderful piano! You should play one!

Grotrian uprights quickly replaced Schimmels (also German) as my favorite upright. Their sound is massive and the action is so responsive it feels like I’m playing a grand. Both their sound and touch is my favorite in any upright I’ve ever played.

Grotrian 57cm Classic Model

Grotrian 57cm Classic Model

Grotrian produces several different sizes of uprights ranging from the more affordable 52cm Freidrich model to the 66cm Concertina model which will costs you a bit over $30,000. And it would be worth every penny!

Grotrian produces several sizes of grands, ranging from the 5’4″ Chambre to the 1,200lb, 9′ “Concert Royal” grand. Their tone is very clear and “German” in quality. The range of dynamic is supurb, and while more aggressive than the Austrian Bosendorfer, the Grotrian is still a mellower piano than the Steinway. The pianos come from the factory precisely prepared and with very little work needed before they are put on the showroom floor.

The Grotrian Concert Grand

The Grotrian Concert Grand

While expensive, they are still a good deal cheaper than Bosendorfer and Steinway pianos in the same class. So if you’re looking for a wonderful, first tier piano, Grotrian is probably the least expensive way to go.

I’ve been able to work on several Grotrians, including a couple odd uprights from the 1950’s, a 9′ concert grand from the 70’s or 80’s and many new uprights and grands at Portland Piano Company.

The 1950's style Grotrian-Steinweg Console

The 1950’s style Grotrian-Steinweg Console

I recently got to tune a newly acquired Grotrian grand at Reed College in preparation for one of Paul Roberts’ master classes in February. Reed college has a new performing arts building and one of their concert spaces now features this 7′ Grotrian, sporting the durable “institutional finish.” It sounds wonderful in its space and I stopped to play for a good while when I was done tuning.

You can read more about Grotrians here on their website, or on Wikipedia. You can walk into Portland Piano Company and play several models of these beautiful pianos, or peruse their selection online here.

I’ll leave you with a couple more pictures of the grand at Reed College.
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I also installed a fallboard lock on this piano.

Finest workmanship and materials evident here under the “belly.”FullSizeRender

Playing a Fortepiano

After a good day’s work tuning, cleaning, voicing and regulating pianos at Reed College, I got to indulge myself a little and play around with their fortepiano, the modern piano’s predecessor. Working with a school often has its perks! I get access to their instrument storage room the the harpsichord and fortepiano. I spent a good bit of time playing, tuning and maintaining a harpsichord while doing my time getting my undergraduate at George Fox University, but I haven’t ever had access to a fortepiano like this!
So how is a fortepiano different from our modern pianos?
1. The fortepiano is much lighter and smaller than the modern piano. There are fewer and thinner strings, and there is no metal frame to maintain the high tension you find on a modern piano. This gives the fortepiano much less sustain, but more delicacy than the piano.
2. There are less keys. The fortepiano has between 4 and 6 octaves compared to the piano’s 7.5.
3. This fortepiano has reverse colored keys! The black keys are white and white keys are black (harpsichords are often this was as well).
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4. The keys are hammers are much smaller and extremely light, which makes it easier to play very light and fast.
5. The hammers are covered with leather instead of felt, giving a very different timbre of sound. In fact, each register seems to have a more unique timbre, much less uniform than the piano.
6. One of the hardest things for me to get used to was the pedal placement! Instead of having a pedal lyre underneath and the pedals close to the floor for your feet to work, the “pedals” are right underneath the keyboard and are operated by your knees! Instead of pushing your foot down to depress the pedal, you have to push your knee up. Very counter-intuitive for me!

I’ll leave you with a link of a little video of me playing a bit of a Haydn sonatina I’m currently teaching one of my students. Bear in mind that I didn’t tune this instrument before playing here. 🙂

Haydn Sonatina

Here is a link of a great video where you can learn more about the fortepiano, or you can read about it on Wikipedia here.