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One cannot help but be inspired by the story of Glenn Gould. He is the wonder boy who dazzled the public with his pianistic ability from the youthful age of 13. He is the man who became famous for his 1955 recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations and then came back and freshly recorded them all again in 1985 with great success. He is the quirky musician who pleased audiences and then suddenly refrained from public performance to focus solely on recordings. Many biographies have been written about the famous Glenn Gould, but now we have the story of his quest for the perfect piano.
In A Romance on Three Legs, Katie Hafner describes the painstaking process of finding Glenn Gould’s ideal piano in great detail. Along the way, we learn about the inner workings of the pianos that Gould examines. Hafner also divulges actual letters that Gould wrote to Steinway & Sons and others critiquing their pianos. Meanwhile we get a healthy dose of Gould’s character; the eccentric, obsessive, compulsive, and egotistical side of Gould as well as the gentler and deeply artistic side that the public loved. This non-fiction story reads almost like a biography as it also peeks into Gould’s social, personal and family life and helps us know and understand who Glenn Gould really was and why he was obsessed with finding the perfect piano.
A Romance on Three Legs by Katie Hafner is a book that not only tells the intriguing story of Glen Gould’s search for the perfect piano, but also gives us a glimpse in to the lives of the other people and pianos involved in his quest. Katie Hafner immediately introduces us to Verne Edquist, Gould’s blind tuner who worked for him for much of his career. We also meet Henry Z. Steinway as well as a number of other folks who Glen called on frequently.
This book is highly recommended to the piano enthusiast as well as anyone who is interested in a true historical account of the piano industry in the mid 1900s.
At ANR Piano, we have quite a variety of used pianos that come through our shop. We offer them to our customers at reasonable prices, in good working condition and well tuned. The variety of piano names we carry is quite amazing sometimes. Just take a look at our inventory list and you’ll see a sample of the names we have at the shop right now.
We want our customers to be informed about where their piano came from and that is why we offer this section of our Newsletter. Let us introduce you to one the manufactures found on our showroom floor!
The Everett Piano Company originated in Boston in 1883. In 1926 they merged with Cable-Nelson and moved their production to South Haven, Michigan. Everett pianos were of good quality in these early years as is evidenced by a number of composers and pianists who owned them and concertized on them, including John Philip Sousa. In the 1930s, a greater demand for smaller pianos arose and caused Everett to rethink their scales. They discontinued their grand piano lines to invest all of their efforts into vertical pianos.
George Stapely, who was an engineer and production manager for Chevrolet, acquired the Everett Piano Company in 1936. It was during these years that one of Everett’s most important innovations came about. George Stapely developed and patented a Balanced Tension back construction that would implement cast metal back posts and control and balance the 20 tons of compression from the piano strings under varying circumstances such as heat, cold, damp, or dryness. This would help the pianos stay in tune for longer and would give them a freer and solid tone. In 1973, Yamaha acquired the Everett name and for 13 years they produced Everett pianos alongside their Yamaha pianos.
At this time they produced a line of pianos consisting of a 41” console, a 45” studio which was very popular for use in schools and churches, and a 48” upright that was similar to the Yamaha U1. A 6’ grand was made for a short while and it bore great resemblance to a Yamaha G3.
In later years, Everett pianos were made for Yamaha by Baldwin as Yamaha discontinued their manufacture of Everett upon moving their plant to Thomaston, Georgia. Original Everett designs were re-implemented and the production continued on until 1989 when Yamaha dropped production of Everetts completely. Nowadays, the Everett name is used by Wrightwood Enterprises, Inc. on pianos manufactured for Donbei Piano Co. in China.
There is another name which often appears on Everett pianos and for you old timers out there this name will bring back memories of a by-gone era: Lyon & Healy. Lyon & Healy was a very large music store in Chicago which closed in late 1970’s from what I have been able to determine. (They now are the world’s major harp manufacture, their plant is near Ogden and Loomis in Chicago.) They, at one time, sold a piano for every price point from humble spinets to Steinway & Sons pianos. Everett was a primary supplier of “decal” pianos for Lyon & Healy for about the last 25 – 30 years of their piano business. Everett would make the pianos and put the Lyon & Healy name on them. So, if you find a Lyon & Healy console or spinet piano, the odds are pretty good it came from the New Haven, MI plant of Everett and therefore is a great piano.
I personally feel that the Everett pianos from the 1940’s to when they ceased production are some of the best and most reliable mid-range pianos ever made. They usually have beautiful cabinets, a good stringing scale, and a great tone from their very well made hammers. Great care was taken at every step in their production.
Let’s first address the issue of definition. Piano tuning is a process of adjusting the relative pitch relationship of 88 different pitches. As with politics and religion – everyone has a different opinion as to what “in tune” means; even among professional piano tuners. To add to the difficulty of defining “in tune” is the inherent instability present in all pianos. Piano tuners who are honest about their work say they abandoned a tuning – not finished it. There comes a point in every tuning where further work doesn’t achieve any more satisfactory a tuning than leaving it be. Further work at that point may actually decrease the stability of the tuning. This doesn’t mean that the piano is “in tune”. It just means that it can’t be made any more “in tune”.
Tuning is analogous to cleaning. If the room is very dirty, a preliminary cleaning is the first step to bring order and cleanliness to the room. A first cleaning may begin to clean the dirt and dust typical of a reasonably clean room. You can continue to clean away but it makes no appreciable difference to the overall cleanliness of the room. Does this dirt still present make the room “unclean”?
So what defines the “dirt” of tuning? In the simplest of terms, it is inappropriate “beats”. Beats or waves are generated by the interference between two pitches. These beats can be present at various speeds and between different notes. Tuning is a process of arriving at some optimized control of these beats.
You can sometimes hear beats within a single note. Play a note in the middle of the piano. Hold it down and listen for a wave or undulation in the pitch. If you hear any movement in the pitch, it is out of tune.
Play perfect 4ths and 5ths. Hold the note and listen for the waves or beats. You should hear some movement between the notes. Generally, the 4ths will be ever so slightly faster than the 5ths. Their speeds will depend upon the location on the keyboard and certain design aspects of the instrument.
Octaves, double octaves, and triple octaves will have little noticeable movement; however, sometimes a piano will need to have the octaves stretched out a bit to better fit the rest of the notes into the octave. The smaller the piano, the more this may be necessary. In most instances you won’t notice this stretch unless you go looking for it.
These multiple octaves can help give us an idea about what is going on across a larger part of the piano scale. Pianos will first begin to go out of tune in the lowest tenor notes which have plain wires. (If it has a few wound strings at the bottom of the tenor, they will hold up a little longer than the plain wires.) During this coming winter the tenor will begin to drop in pitch. You can see this by playing the lowest plain string and the note one octave above. At some point this winter they will develop a noticeable beat as the lower note drops in pitch first. Now check the upper note with the note two octaves lower. The base will usually stay in tune longer than most of the rest of the piano. As long as it is not too long into the winter this double octave should sound pretty clean compared to the single octave.
As the winter progresses however the notes further up the scale will begin to drop in pitch as the humidity continues to drop. The reverse occurs during the summer months.
Here is one last tuning check. Play parallel major thirds. Their speed should gradually increase as you move up the keyboard. The same applies to major sixths.
These examples apply to “equal temperament”, but if you have a historical temperament on your piano, then you will have a different set of expectations, but that is a story for another day.