Piano Tech Eric Johnson teaches “Practical European Voicing”
Eric Johnson “Practical European Voicing” - PTG Masterclass
This class was part of the New Jersey Chapter of the Piano Technician’s Guild (PTG) curriculum for the monthly meeting on March 15th, 2023.
Check out Eric's article titled "New Piano Voicing Tricks for A Piano Technician" on his website for more Technician related resources.
Eric Johnson is a Registered Piano Technician with over 30 years of experience who presented this new lesson on "Practical European Voicing" for piano technicians.
He was one of the long time leading Piano Technicians at Bosendorfer, Yamaha, and Kimball where he collectively spent the majority of his career with opportunities that included prepping pianos at Carnegie Hall for guest artists.
He has since developed his solo career in piano technology on his own accord in and around Fairfield County, Connecticut in the United States where he services concert pianos, home grand pianos, and delivered this master class for the PTG.
Without further ado, here are my notes for Eric's presentation of his "Practical European Voicing" Masterclass.
Solving for a “choked” piano
At the beginning of the meeting Eric remarked that the Bosendorfer 225 sounded “choked” which interfered with the “speaking” of the piano.
The problem had not to do with strike point nor hammer mating.
After asking the group what the problem may be, a few minutes went by and nobody had the correct response.
After realizing that no one quite knew what the problem was, he adjusted the damper up-stop rail.
Eric insists that this is one of the most neglected adjustments in grands that he regularly combs over. If it’s too low, it will jam the key at the very end, preventing a clean escapement.
What could be different with insufficient escapement? There will be lost travel of the key and hammer.
Eric’s preference or “spec” for regulating this aspect is that there be “small but definite motion when pulling the damper head upwards while simultaneously having one finger pressed down on the key."
Higher level Service
Eric emphasized at the very beginning of the presentation the following point of view.
“At this level, everything matters.”
It’s the type of mentality he carries in the field when working through what may be wrong or unideal in a piano.
He couldn’t underscore this mental framework enough when teaching us about his approach.
Another philosophical approach that he shared with the class had to do with removing, rather than adding, obstructions in the piano that inhibit colorful piano expression.
“Remove the “blocks” away from the piano.”
In saying this, he conveys that often it is not what we add to the piano, but the “blocks” in which we take away to give the pianist more tools for expression.
Is Teflon okay to use on pianos?
While many problems that a piano technician faces have to do with excess friction, it is not always the "be all end all" to eliminate friction completely to remedy a problem.
“Friction is not your enemy.”
Eric said in reference to whenever he finds a piano action full of Teflon powder dustings.
“Throw out your Teflon!”
While he was erring on being facetious he does believe that using the minimum necessary application of “basically anything,” should be adhered to.
Shift Pedal Voicing
Eric shared that Bosendorfer's official "spec" for shift pedal was to hit all three strings when fully engaged in the shift position.
He advises that it is best to follow the makers' specification where you can and shared a few remarks to elaborate on shift pedal voicing.
“Do not miss the left string.”
“With serious pianists, the left soft pedal is not “on and off.”
“It is not the ‘Soft Pedal,’ but the ‘Color Pedal.’”
During this time there was a small discussion among the group whether or not there was consensus to the idea that the action should or should not completely miss the third string.
Adamant arguments against Eric's opinion expressed that setting shift to completely miss the third string would achieve all the color options, especially by way of "half-pedaling" the shift pedal.
The individuals in the class came to the conclusion to agree to disagree.
As an aside, Eric recommends Flitz metal polish to clean the shift pedal spring.
His use of Flitz is an extension of his philosophy to use lubrication sparingly, or to keep clean instead of applying lubrication in a given situation.
Eric is a big fan of “B72” Hammer Hardener to "voice up" a piano.
Resource for B72: Talas in Brooklyn where they sell 1 pound inexpensively. He recommends against acetone, but encourages the use of grain alcohol.
He has three ratios which he calls his Heavy, Medium, and Thin mix.
Heavy: 10g to 100ml - 1:10 ratio
Medium: 10g to 200ml - 1:20 ratio
Thin: 10g to 400 ml - 1:40 ratio
“McMaster-Carr” Company sells handy bottles for glues and solutions.
small squeeze bottles for various glues - 4176T8
glass bottles for B72 solutions, alcohol etc. - 5782T62
Two rows of 8 needles - Eric showed the class a tool that he got from Jim Coleman Jr. when he used to make tools many years ago. Included is a picture.
“Always use a voicing block”
HIBIKI makes a wide variety of voicing tools, including one close to what Eric uses today.
Anecdote from Steingraeber
Eric told a story about how he learned from a technician at Steingraeber that there were essentially two different types of piano tone.
“Beach or Harbor.”
Beach tone being where the water gently laps up on the shore, while harbor tone is splashy.
Beach is low tension rim, harbor is high tension rim.
When envisioning the differences between the two sceneries you may imagine what each one sounds like and draw respective comparisons.
Brief discussion on Hammers
Eric described Ronsen Hammers as generally “soft” and that Renner Hammers are much more malleable today than 30 years ago.
Long ago, he shared with the class that technician's in the industry once referred to Renner Hammers as "Renner Rocks," although quality has drastically improved since then.
Eric said that due to the wide variety and selection of hammers today, he insists that individuals must experiment on their hammers.
Brief discussion on Down Bearing
How much down bearing is necessary for pianos?
“Downbearing must be positive. Negative downbearing is never desirable.”
An audience member then told his own story about how he was called to inspect a problem with a piano and issue a warranty claim if necessary.
In order to validate the warranty claim, he used a “Digital Microscope” to prove that there was zero bearing/no contact with the bridge of that particular piano.
Due to this PTG member’s investigative due diligence, Steinway & Sons, who was the party responsible for the warranty of the piano, replaced the piano with a brand new one.
The piano in question, was a Boston.
Quite the story! If I do say so, myself!
Quick Piano Facts
Eric shared a quick story about how he was quite impressed with the 280 VC he had heard in concert at the PTG convention in Anaheim, which had duplex scaling.
Although duplex scaling had made Bosendorfer more homogenized with other world class pianos, he came to conclusion that this was an enhancement.
The rim in a Bosendorfer is different than many other competitive pianos because it is a “Low Tension” rim.
One of the only piano companies other than Bosendorfer that have low tension rims is Bluthner.
Quick Piano Technician Tips
A Rat tail file may be used to "open" slightly the ridges on the Steinway flange to allow greater side to side spacing for hammer spacing.
Eric said that it’s not enough for someone to play a couple snippets of a few songs in order to get a really good idea of a piano, which he recommends to “have them sit on a bench after a half hour.” After this amount of time, they will experience their own “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh” moment.
One last takeaway was that Eric uses a hammer lift tool to test hammer to string mating.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to any feedback regarding this article or any articles found within this blog!