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"Kawai pianos tend to have a slightly heavier touch generally than Yamahas, and their tone is noticeably different. Yamahas are always a little bit brighter" - Dr. Fred Cole

In this episode

Dr. Cole discusses his journey as a piano tuner and his passion for the craft, as well as the importance of tuning in creating beautiful music. He explains the process of tuning a piano, from analysing the pitch of each note to adjusting the strings and hammers to achieve the desired sound. Dr. Cole also discusses the challenges of tuning pianos in different environments, such as concert halls and recording studios, and how he adapts his approach accordingly. He shares his thoughts on the importance of maintaining and caring for pianos to ensure their longevity and optimal performance. Dr. Cole offers advice to aspiring piano tuners and technicians, emphasising the importance of patience, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of the instrument.

Links from this episode

Specialty Pianos [official website]

email Fred Cole:

phone: 0412216019

Gear mentioned in this episode:

Piano Tuning Kit


About the 


Since 1981, Dr. Fred Cole has specialised in locating, restoring and rebuilding the very best instruments produced by renowned piano manufacturers over the last one hundred and twenty years.
Fred’s aim is to match each individual instrument to the specific requirements of our discerning customers.


The Production Talk Podcast - The modern way of producing music

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Disclaimer: The Production Talk Podcast is independent of (and not related to) my teaching responsibilities at SAE.



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Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Welcome to the Production Talk podcast with me, Yarn, of In this podcast series, we celebrate the modern way of producing music. We want to talk about all things related to songwriting, recording at home and music production. So, if you produce your music at home, this is the place to be. Please subscribe and recommend this podcast to all your friends. This is the Production Talk Podcast episode 75. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Welcome back to another episode of the Production Talk podcast. At the beginning of this episode, as always, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the country that we are meeting on today, the Arakwal people of the Bundjalung Nation, and I would like to express my thanks and gratitude at respect to elders past, present, and emerging. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Today we're in a special place in the hills from the other side of Lismore, and with me is Dr. Fred Cole. Welcome to the podcast. Fred Cole: Thanks, Jan. Us to be here. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: It is quite a phenomenal room that we're in. We're surrounded by pianos, so today is a piano special. But before we get into that, let me yeah, ask you to please share your background and your yeah, how it all started, where you, where your interest in music and piano in particular came from, and the milestones of her career, please. Fred Cole: Okay, well I grew up in a small village in the northeast of England. It was a mining village but the mine shut when I was about seven, and my father was the local priest. Vicker, I suppose, back in the Vic as in the vicker of Ley. In this case it was the vicker of black hole Coury. And as a result of that, there were, it was a very, it was a very kind of working class village and didn't have many friends. Fred Cole: And for my seventh birthday present, I was given piano lessons. Well, that was all I was given , so I had to be good, right? So Took up the piano. No one else in my family played and we had an. Over damper piano, which I'll go into later. There are only really two types over damper and under damper, but over damper is the least desirable, and I pretty much wore that out. Fred Cole: I went to a lady down the road who didn't slap me over the knuckles with a ruler. She encouraged me to play different pieces. In fact, she had to because I hated practicing the same piece over and over. Mm-hmm. . There were a number of things that propelled me to immerse myself in learning piano and piano literature. Fred Cole: One of which I think, which is missing in modern life is that the local library had an immense collection of sheet music. Mm. So I was able to go and just get out scores of Sound of Music, my Fair Lady, Oklahoma, all of the, I won't, I won't say there, , there was any pop music there because there wasn't , but I was exposed to a large number of classical a large part of the classical repertoire and also the American musical. Fred Cole: And of course I had no idea what jazz was really, you know, occasionally something would come on the tv I suppose TV came along when I was about eight and a couple of years later we actually got one. So, you know, my dad used to like the variety shows and so we, I used to watch in Aura as people like Oscar Peterson would come on, or Liberace I remember as well, and. Fred Cole: Over the years, I outgrew my first teacher and she sent me to her teacher who was a professor of music in Durham. And if I'd gone to him first, quite honestly, I would never have continued. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. All right. Why's that? Fred Cole: He used to fall asleep during the lesson. He used to chain smoke. The most attractive thing about the lesson was watching his cigarette turn to ash as he was totally emotionless and waiting for it to fall off into his lap Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh, gee. Anyway, ironically Fred Cole: my mother sent me a copy many years later when I was living in Australia and he, he died of a heart attack in Sydney on. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh wow. Fred Cole: Okay. So, you know, it was, he must have known that I was there somewhere. Anyway, to cut a long story short I could play the piano and I was really good at sight reading, but it wasn't, wasn't sexy, so I wanted to learn guitar. Fred Cole: So I took up electric guitar. I looked at the, the, I remember growing up we had a conflicts packet and on the back of there was win Win. You know, the sort of guitars you can buy. Oh yeah. At Kmart, you know, and I used to look at this and look at this and eventually I saved up and I bought myself one and played it through some old celestial record player speakers , which have provided the appropriate amount of distortion and learned all of the solos off Led Zeppelin too. Fred Cole: So you, you know, after a while you realized that guitarists two a penny but keyboard players are in short supply. So I went, when I went to uni later on, I bought a, a croma, used to be called Crummy Croma Electric piano. And I started playing guitar and piano. And then when I left uni, I moved to London and was fortunate enough to be asked to help build a recording studio. Fred Cole: I was a loose end and I'd done a session for somebody at budget recording studios in high. And they were just in the process of building a new 16 track studio in Coven Garden, which was called Free Range Studios, which was a demo studio. And when we'd finished building the studio they asked me if I'd like to become an engineer. Fred Cole: And that was where my interest in technology and production started. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Ago was that Fred Cole: That was in 1975. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I was born in 75 . You were hanging out in studios while when I was born. Fred Cole: Well there, there've been many twists and turns. Yeah. Between then and now, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: was a good year. It's also the year that Queens night at the opera was recorded and mixed Fred Cole: Right. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: there were, might have been released the year after, but Fred Cole: Yeah. Well, I, I'll never forget because in the studios in Holman, the desk, they, there was a an eight track desk was, had come from Abbey Road, and the Beatles had used it to record one of their earlier albums on it. Wow. And in the the next studio Free range studio. Fred Cole: The desk we had was a Sound Techniques desk, and it would been used to record the ground hugs. Thank Christ for the bomb Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh gee, Fred Cole: that's going back. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: okay. But nowadays you are specialized in pianos. You are the local piano tuna that everybody calls Fred Cole: I am. Yes. It was interesting how that started because I was living in Germany for a while and helping to run a jazz club in Munich, and I had some friends who lived north of Frankfurt and they had a bombing old piano. I think, you know, another one of these over damper things that I'm. About to describe. Fred Cole: And so I, I decided I wanted to play music with them, but it was totally unplayable, so I bought a couple of tools and I went up there and I spent two or three days wrestling with this thing and eventually got into some sort of shape. , but I said to myself, look, there's gotta be an easier way. Mm-hmm. Fred Cole: And so that was when I started my learning journey. And so I went to a few workshops in Germany and then later on when I came to the Northern Rivers, which was in 1981, I went round and met the three local tuners who were all getting on in New Years and thinking about retir. And two of whom were reasonably friendly, and the other one was quite antagonistic. Fred Cole: Mm-hmm. . But all of them had their own ideas. And indeed, if you read technical literature on pianos, you'll find that there are many different ideas on how to approach different problems. So I went out and I bought two or three pianos and started to kind of learn with the help of three books that I got also from the local library Fred Cole: In those days it was, you know, and interestingly they all had different techniques of tuning as well. Things change over the years though. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah, of course. Fred Cole: now there are probably. Seven or eight different tuning apps ranging from totally hopeless to very professional. The most professional of which, which is one that I used to assist my tuning is called Rayburn Cyber Tuner, but it also costs $2,000 and runs on iOS and Android, and you also have to pay $200 approximately a year to keep it. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh gee, that's expensive. Yeah, yeah. Fred Cole: However, you, you know, one tuning will cover the early price, so, you know, it works out. It's good to, you know, sometimes you're in a situation where you're in a noisy echoy hall or you're in a preschool with like 40 kids, yabbering and chattering and, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. Fred Cole: and it's impossible to hear really closely. Fred Cole: And those things can be invaluable for that sort of Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Right. All right. They basically allow you to focus or zoom to, to something that, yeah. Got it. Got it. Okay. Fred Cole: And, and also the tuning process itself. Most people don't understand this, right. A lot of the time when somebody asks you to go and tune their piano, what they really mean is something's not working. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Fred Cole: They equate that something mechanical. But they equate that to it needing. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes. So basically if somebody calls you on four piano tuning, it's often a general service. Fred Cole: And that's that makes it tricky to, you know, because often people want to know, well, how much is it gonna be? Well, yes. So then you have to ask them a series of questions, which becomes quite tedious. Fred Cole: Whereas what you really need to do is inspect the piano and sometimes it's more effective, cost-effective. To focus on the mechanical or voicing problems, I'll explain what voicing is in a minute than to actually tune it. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes. Okay. Fred Cole: Okay. Now, voicing is critical with pianos because if you imagine as you play a certain piece, you might practice it over and over and over again. Fred Cole: Those particular notes that you play obviously gonna sustain more wear than the ones you don. Now that wear has a couple of different effects. One, the actual regulation will change because the felts in the chain will become more compressed. Yes. So you might have to put a bit more energy into that to get the same equivalent volume, but also the hammer becomes harder because the felt in the actual hammer gets compressed, and that has the effect of it becoming more. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see Fred Cole: when you play a chromatic scale, all of the notes, one after another, it might go Don, don, don, d Don, Don don. Ding dink don don dink. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: yeah, you're Fred Cole: right. Okay. Now a piano sh every four or five years should have it taas, reshaped because the grooves that form in the hammer felt obviously match the strings. Fred Cole: Yeah. So often the hammer will become displaced. A. and so the grooves won't match, and that changes the tone completely. So in order to loosen the screw on the hammer and line it up with a string, you must get rid of the grooves. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see. Mm-hmm. . Okay. Fred Cole: So it's, it's not a big job, you know, but it involves sanding the hammers carefully. Fred Cole: Not on the, on the tip, but towards the. So, so you get rid of the excess felt and that changes the tone dramatically. And then what you do to even up the tone, you needle the felt with a voicing tool, which is just a tool with three needles. And however, it's not something you should attempt yourself because if you imagine a hammer to be kind of an oval shape, I suppose if you ne needle near the. Fred Cole: You will affect soft play. If you needle just back from the tip of around about five to 10 degrees, maybe you'll affect medium play. And if you needle on the shoulder, you'll affect loud play. Nice. There's a lot of variation that can be, so that's why I say often I can make more change and more difference with a voicing tool than I can by tuning it. Fred Cole: I mean, obviously tuning. Great and is necessary, however, that is often overlooked by people. Mm-hmm. And that you might be able to do that in 10 minutes or it might take you two hours Jan 'Yarn' Muths: And I guess for, for the owner of a piano, this is a gradual change. It wouldn't change suddenly from today to Fred Cole: tomorrow Exactly. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: over the course of months, sometimes Fred Cole: sometimes people can, sometimes people can be horrified. Like often if hammer's completely worn out and shot and you put a new set of hammers. Depending on the consistency of felt that you use for those new hammers, you will change the tone to make it brighter, louder, or softer, mellower, and sometimes people are used to those bright sounds. Fred Cole: Because the hammers have been completely worn out. When people give me a call to get their piano tuned, often it'll be more an issue that they have with the piano. Something won't be playing and no, it won't be repeating. And that's especially in our climate here where it's high humidity, that's often. Fred Cole: To do with the humidity and dirt forming a sludge in the hinge pin because each, there are three hinge pins in an upright and quite a few more in, in a grand, and they. A metal pin in a cloth bushing in a wooden part for the most part. Some manufacturers have gone over to, well, for a while they used to use ABS resin, which was a form of plastic. Fred Cole: And then Kauai in particular have changed to carbon graphite and indeed There's a company called W N G who make graphite replacement parts for any piano upright or grands, and they use, they don't use this method of metal in cloth. , they use a kind of roller bearing system. Wow. Okay. And look, it's unclear how they'll stand the test of time, but certainly you can, I, I have a couple of friends who've replaced standard actions with W N G actions and certainly the, the customer in the end has been very happy with the result. Fred Cole: With the result. Okay. Okay. So, so back to this sticky. . There are two main causes of sticky keys on pianos. The first is, as I said, a combination of those three hinge pins in the piano action, getting a little bit of too much friction. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: And, and by sticky key, you mean is key. That doesn't bounce back as easily as others. Yeah. Fred Cole: Or, or, or the key itself might bounce back, but the note it won't, won't repeat. Yes. Or, or it'll, you'll, it'll pay the first time perhaps. And then if you look inside, you'll just see the hammer coming back very, very slowly like that. Yeah. Because they have springs which, which help the hammer to return. Fred Cole: And if the. Has a spring, a hammer has a return spring of some sort, you know? So it has to be quite a lot of. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see. Fred Cole: For the note not to repeat. However, one of the most common jobs we do in this area is pull the action apart and replace every single hinge pin. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see, and Fred Cole: only in the hammers, sometimes in the jacks, you know, so the, the, the pins can either tighten or the, with a lot of playing, a lot of playing. Fred Cole: They can get too loose and then the thing will wobble from side to side. And then obviously that needs to be, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: and could that be due to our warm climate here? The subtropical, humid, humid climate? Yeah. Yeah. Right. Fred Cole: But also it's due to lack of use Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm-hmm. , I see. Fred Cole: often you might find in the, in the middle of the piano where there's been a lot of use, a lot of wear, things will be too loose and at the ends where no one goes, everything will be too tight. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. I see. Fred Cole: Okay. But, but that's only one of the causes. The other cause is in the key. Like the key has a pivot in the middle, and that's pivots on a metal pin and then at the front to keep it in place. It also, there's a slot and the pivot and the slot aligned with a strong wearing pushing cloth. That can wear if it's not corrected as it wears, because the front pin is oval and can be turned to take up the slack. Fred Cole: But if you don't turn it, it becomes increasingly slacker and slacker and wobbler and wobbler until eventually there's no felt left. And you get clacky, clacky clack. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Right. We don't want that. No. Fred Cole: so, so the, the, so, so it can be that the, those bushings will. on the middle pin or the front pin, and it can also be that the hole, the key goes down onto the hole in the wood of the key swells up and tightens. Fred Cole: So when you pick up the front of the key, it should just drop. Often it you pick it up and it'll just stay there. Mm-hmm. , either because of corrosion. On the bottom of that middle balance rail, it's called a balance rail pin, or the wood swelling. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: So, how often should should a piano or owner call call you in to look after a piano? What, what's a good interval once a year or more often? Fred Cole: Well, in this climate, ideally, even if the piano isn't being played, you should tune it a minimum of every two to three years. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay. Yeah. Okay. Fred Cole: Now, even if you don't tune it, it should be checked because the other things that happened, the other thing that happens in this area is obviously moths, cockroaches silver fish, mice, mice, rats. Fred Cole: If you live next to a macadamia plantation, I've seen it all. I've seen that the rats eat completely through the keys. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh no. So Fred Cole: there's Jan 'Yarn' Muths: oh, that's terrible. Fred Cole: in the middle of the keys, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay, well, is there much you can do in a case like Fred Cole: oh, let's not forget. Flood Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes. And of course flooding. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Right. Fred Cole: And fire Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Okay. . So it's a rough place for pianos to live. Look we are near, near Lismore here, and as we all know, at February 28, we had a devastating flood here. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I guess a lot of people have lost so many things Among those, some pianos, Fred Cole: Basically Jan 'Yarn' Muths: experience? Our. Fred Cole: everyone who lived in the flood area has lost their piano. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Right. We just spoke to to Lisa from, from Hassi, Higgs, and she actually mentioned that when her studio went under some of the gear was recoverable. Yes. So with a lot of maintenance, a lot of effort, some of valuable possessions like compressors and, and microphone PREMs came back. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes. What about pianos? What are, what are the chances of a piano surviving flood? Fred Cole: Zero. Well, having said that, if it goes in around about a foot, maybe I would say it was the maximum below the start of the treble bridge anyway, and you get in there right after the flood, which isn't always possible, and you hose the thing out with fresh water. and then dry it out completely, then you'll get another one to five years out of it. Fred Cole: But ultimately because there's felt woven through the bottom of the strings that felt will hold the moisture. Yeah. And the contaminants, and I lost maybe 14 pianos and the flood in 1989. I had a workshop in South Lismore and one or two of those were fairly. . And so I, you know, did my best to kind of keep them going. Fred Cole: And for a couple of years they did go, keep going. But when I saw them 10, 12 years later, half the strings were broken. Yeah, right. They had no tone. The problem is the sound boards are sealed with Lacka, but the end of the sound board is. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: and then water gets in and it warps. Yeah. Fred Cole: know, capillary action causes the water just to sort of get sucked up into the board and the tone dies. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: ah, Fred Cole: So it's sad, but unfortunately I had to pronounce the last rights for many beautiful pianos. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh, that's really sad. Can you give us some advice on choosing the right piano for different applications? Have you got any guidance, you know, are there particular pianos that work well for jazz or would you recommend other ones for blues or, or rock or classical music? Fred Cole: doesn't really work like that. Okay. There there are good pianos and there are bad pianos, and there are extraordinary pianos. And there are hopeless pianos. . Okay? Okay. And sometimes a hopeless piano might be right. Or a particular project and other times an extraordinary piano might be too good. Fred Cole: Yeah, it all depends on, I think, probably five factors. The first is how well was it made in the first place? Cuz remember that in every era they've been good, bad, and indifferent. Pianos Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes, yes. Every single. Fred Cole: Okay. And secondly, how has the piano been looked after? How has it been maintained? Has it been regularly maintained? Fred Cole: Thirdly, have any external factors affected it? Like, like Jan 'Yarn' Muths: humidity or Yeah, humidity, yeah. Things Fred Cole: know being dropped. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm Fred Cole: You know, being next to a fireplace, being underneath an air conditioner. Mm-hmm. Being in a draft. People often put pianos in corridors, and if you put in a corridor nearer coast and the sea breeze is constantly blowing over it, you can pretty much say goodbye to it in a fairly short space of Jan 'Yarn' Muths: salty sea air is terrible for pianos and yeah, draft makers makes it worse. Yeah. Fred Cole: The next is the quality of the hammer felt. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: mm. Fred Cole: You can often change. The character and tone of a piano completely, just by putting a different sort of set of hammers on it and fifths. Just cheer luck. You know, coming across the right piano at the right time. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. Fred Cole: piano has to speak to you. People, sometimes you're surrounded by pianos here. Sometimes people come out and I just show them what we have and then just leave them to it. And they just wander around and they play this and sometimes they don't find one that speaks to them. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see. So Fred Cole: Other times they Jan 'Yarn' Muths: personal connection people have with the instrument. Fred Cole: and, and, and, and sometimes it comes down to how it looks. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: mm-hmm. Fred Cole: It's sad. It doesn't really have any effect for me. Although, although I, I, I tend to get attracted to ones that, that really have something. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: so am I, you know look, the one in the corner with this beautiful woodwork. Yeah, that's a Fred Cole: that's a Bele northcut model. And I saw that on Gumtree, I think. Fred Cole: Beautiful. I saw it in Gumtree. Nothing played it. It was, it was in really bad condition. We had completely polished, it had to rebuild the base bridge. Had to replace just about everything. But as soon as I started, I. No, I have to have that and I, I'm, I'm actually surprised with the number of people who have really exquisite federation style houses around here. Fred Cole: I'm surprised it hasn't found a home. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. Okay. Fred Cole: Yeah. The, the three bales that I have here there was a, a kind of. A songwriter composer called Melia Norton, who lives over the coast, and she was in a band called Scarlet Defection. And during Covid, she wrote a piece for three pianos that went on as a part of a little festival in Bangalore where there were chaperoned groups of. Fred Cole: However, man, you could have 11 people taken round of different experiences. And at that time I used three Yamahas for the three. It was a, it was, the piece was just called Three Pianos. And and, but I really wanted to do, we were going to do it again in Lismore and we're gonna use these beautiful old Beatles as so we'd have a bit more history. Fred Cole: Okay. And but. The flood happened and well, first covid happened and then the flood happened and that was it. So I've, I've already sold one of them, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Right. Okay. So talk to us about, about the different sound. You know, you displayed some of 'em earlier today and the, the differences in sound are significant. I've never heard so many pianos next to each other, neck to neck, and it's, it's really obvious. Yeah. So, Fred Cole: there, there is, there are two or three qualities that a, that a piano can have. Yep. One is project. Projection is to do with the relationship of the curvature of the soundboard to, to the in other words, the angle of the string to the bridge on the soundboard, which is called down bearing, which you can measure, you know, you can put a, a, a fail gauge and measure the degrees of down bearing when you rebuild an old piano. Fred Cole: Often the bridge, especially on a. Will have collapsed a bit. So, so, you know, and, and that's why they talk of collapsed soundboards and negative down bearing. It means, rather than an angle up to the bridge, there's either no angle or a negative angle. And obviously that means that the string starts to ride up on the bridge pins and so you don't get any constant connection and transmission of energy between the. Fred Cole: and the soundboard because the soundboard is just a big resonator. It's like the back of a Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Front. The top. Mm-hmm. Fred Cole: Yeah. So length of string is ob obviously important. So if you want a good strong tone in the bass, you need a big piano. So the taller, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: makes sense. Yep. Fred Cole: for upright, obviously the better Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. Fred Cole: Modern pianos tend to be a bit lacking in the top half. Fred Cole: OC. So that's down to there again, growth rings in the soundboard. Now, in the early part of the century, the trees that they were using and milling to make soundboards were largely old growth timber. The longer a tree grows, the closer the growth rings get together, they better the resonant properties of the timber. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm, I see. Fred Cole: So certain timbers now with a piano and piano design, the wood has to be light. That's why they mostly they use spruce. You know, it has to be light strong with really good resonant properties. So even now, the best pianos in the world are made with either Scandinavian spruce or Canadian spruce. Fred Cole: But they have to grow in northern climate. It's to do. The angle of the sun and you know, there's all sorts of jiggery pork to do with, with wood and piano design, you know, and, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Right. And there aren't any sources for, for wood in the southern hemisphere, Fred Cole: Well, there are, and, and some of the old bales were made with really good timber as well. But it was a largely trial and error, you know. BELE were the largest piano manufacturer in the, in the British Empire in the, in pater of the century. You know, it's, it's a funny thing, you know, people say, oh, piano tunings dying art, you know, piano one buys pianos anymore. Fred Cole: But in truth, pianos, new pianos are still being sold. There was a bit of a lull in the last five or 10 years, but it's picked up again. It actually picked up again during c. To the point where now you have to wait a significant amount of time when you order a new piano because of supply chain issues. Fred Cole: And also, you know, problems with the actual piano manufacturers being able to source the components from wherever it is. They, they, they they get them, you know, and most of the pianos in the world are made in China because China's become aspirational. And this is quite a good thing really. Chinese piano manufacturers improved out of sight in the last five years. Fred Cole: Oh, the early in the early days, they were just copying things, so they were producing things that looked like pianos. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: but the quality has caught up is what you're saying Fred Cole: To some extent, you know, I mean, you'll find that they, where they're unable to source quality materials, then they'll actually, one of the main things that improved their quality was as pianos factories in Europe closed. Fred Cole: They would port the talent and encourage them to come over to China and look at their manufacturing techniques and processes and. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay, so quality is rising. That's, that's a good tendency. We like that. Fred Cole: Longevity. I, I, I'm, you know, often you don't know for 10, 20, 30 years whether a piano is gonna last. I mean, majority of the pianos that we fix, the all the ones are from that golden era era of piano design and manufacturer, which was from around about 1890 through to the first world. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: I see. Why is that called the Golden era? What, what's, Fred Cole: what? Well, I'm calling it the golden era from my experience. Yeah, yeah. And well, for the reasons I stated before, the fact that the woods were sourced and they had more choice, the fact that artisans were highly skilled. and mass production techniques hadn't taken over. They hadn't tried to do silly things like replace solid wood components with little plastic clips that were, or rubber grommets that would only last for 10, 20 years. Fred Cole: You, you know, there, there's, there certain manufacturers had certain issues, like every Yamaha piano from the seventies and eighties, they used a. Cord for the hammer spring loop that only lasted 20 or 30 years. . Mm-hmm. . So E, every, every single one. Now you touch the cord and it just integrat. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: yeah. Right. Fred Cole: So you have to pull it apart and it's quite a major operation to replace all of those. Fred Cole: The Yamaha also had a problem for a few years where they used a different sort of material for the key fronts and the key tops, and they used to go yellow, sometimes orange, dark brown. So you can, you look at a Yamaha and it's got dark brown. You go, oh, it's seventies Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah, right. . Okay. Well look I would love to hear some of the pianos. Shall we see if we can take our microphones Sure. And the recorder. And I would like to maybe just show us some of the sort of extremes sonically pianos that have different qualities. Yes. So where shall we start? Fred Cole: Let's start with the pretty one in the corner. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: All right. Fred Cole: This is a Bele Northcutt. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: All right, we're walking across the room watching the cable. Yep, that's good. It is packed with pianos, so we're just making our way through a narrow pathway here. Pianos left, right, and center. That's the piano with the amazing woodwork that immediately caught my eye. Fred Cole: I often find that people neglect in terms of micing techniques on pianos, they neglect the possibility of putting mics around the back cuz most of the sound comes out of the back. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Right. But uprights are often backed against the wall, so that's not necessarily accessible. Fred Cole: Well, you can always move it out a bit. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Right. But show us how this one sounds. Fred Cole: For me, it's all about the sustain. How long does the sound take to go away? You know? Jan 'Yarn' Muths: To me it sounds absolutely gorgeous. It's got, it's got everything that I love about pianos. It's, it's got, you know, the brightness, it's got the sustain of course, but it's also warm, but it's not muffled. No, it's, you know, clean, it's transparent, but it's got charact. Fred Cole: So I love this Royal Upright Concert. Grand Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Love it. And how old is this? Piano, approximately. Fred Cole: It is around about 1901. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Wow. So that is now about 120 years. Fred Cole: This, this here is a lip, it's a German piano and it's from 1885. Wow. Well listen to that. One is, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay, let's move across. Excuse all the handling noises please. So this is a Richard Lip, Richard Lip. Fred Cole: from 1885. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Beautiful. Can, can you explain what differences you, you hear when you play these two piano? Fred Cole: To me, the sound of the lip it, it's probably the hammers are a little bit softer. It's a little bit more, I would say there was less springiness in the soundboard. So it's a little flatter. Mm, than than the Beal. The Beal had a little more life. There, there's another Beal over here from 1922 and it has a combination of both of those. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: So, wait a second. We're just moving on to the next one. Let me just drop the stand that I need to hold your microphone. Oh, Fred Cole: I think you're gonna have to do a bit of editing on Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Oh yeah. So, yeah, I think I need to ask the listeners to forgive a lot of handling noise here today. Fred Cole: A lot of what I like about pianos is their dynamic range. You have to be able to play really, really softly, you know? So if. And, and I would say that this one has a majestic tone. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm. Yeah, it kind Fred Cole: of, it's the sort of thing you, you need to play the national anthem on or something. that's lovely. Okay. Fred Cole: Perhaps we should compare that with some of the, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: more modern, something Fred Cole: more modern, you know? So there, there I have two Yamahas. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay. How, how old would this one be? This is, It's a lovely black Fred Cole: 1981 doesn't quite have the depth that, that, that they all the ones have, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: but it's very clear. Fred Cole: Now I'd just like to compare that with that's 1 21 Centimeter Yamaha is common prof size for a professional model, but just over to your back. The rear of you here is the one 30. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay, let's swap seats. Fred Cole: Okay. It is a little bit tight, but we're getting here. cable cares. Yep. All right, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: so. Fred Cole: they both look very similar actually. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: But this one is now taller and therefore longer strings. Got it. Fred Cole: It's still not as tall as the Beal that we heard with the majestic time. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Now that is a beautiful one as well. That's a beautiful tone. But I, I can see, you know, what you said about the Yamaha sounding different to the Beatles. Yes. And First response is that, I guess, you know, if it stands by itself, I would probably prefer the Beal. Yeah. But if I now imagine this piano being part of a busy arrangement with drums and guitars and bass Fred Cole: exactly. That's why Jan 'Yarn' Muths: maybe you would want to choose AK for that. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Fred Cole: Yeah. Interestingly, if, if we can manage to work our way around, cause I also have a couple of kawas here. We'll, we'll go around Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay. Alright, let's try talking. Oh, okay. It's getting contact with the cables. Fred Cole: Okay, so this is a kind of seventies known in 73. I think it's a Kauai and it's much smaller than the Yamahas we were listening to just now. But this is a kind of contradiction to my assertion that the longer string is necessarily better. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Okay, let's hear that. Fred Cole: Kawas tend to have a slightly heavier touch generally than Yamahas, and their tone is noticeably different. Yamahas are always a little bit brighter, Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah, it's got a strong attack. I found. It's got a strong onset of the node. Fred Cole: Nice. Even sustain though. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Mm, lovely. Lovely. Fred Cole: I think we should compare it with the concert Grand. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yes. So I guess this is probably the most amazing piano that I see around here, at least to my inexperienced eyes. But we're now looking at what is this, a large Yamaha concert, grand. Fred Cole: a nine foot Yamaha CF that came outta the city hall. We are looking after it while they rebuild, and it was bought for the first Sydney International Piano Competition in 1986. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: What a beauty. Fred Cole: Yeah. And I, I negotiated the the purchase of this music of Viva, who's now defunct in Lismore, paid for half, and the council paid for the other half and we managed to get it back in, I think the nineties for 55,000. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Wow. Fred Cole: And a new, there were around about 380,000. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Gee. Okay, well let's have a listen to this one. Wow. The volume of it is just unbelievable. It's loud. Fred Cole: Yeah. And if, if we were to compare that, I also have a nine foot Steinway concert grand in there that we're selling on consignment and it has strings for the most part that are original. I, I, I believe, and Still has projection, but nowhere near the projection that this Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Yeah. Well, this is impressive. Absolutely beautiful, Fred. If one of the listeners wants to reach out to you and maybe buy a piano of you or get their piano serviced, what, what's the best way to contact you? Fred Cole: Probably just by phone. Phone or email. It's specialty pianos or oh 4 1 2 2 1 6 0 1 9, and. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: And I'm going to put the contact details in the show notes as well. So if anybody wants to reach out, just go to the end of the episode, click the button, scroll down, and Fred's contacts will be there. So, yeah. Well, I really appreciate you showing us around and sharing all your wisdom about pianos. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: This is really impressive. Thank you so much. Thank you. Fred Cole: you. Yeah. Thanks for making the journey. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: This was Pianos specialist Dr. Fred Cole on the Production Talk podcast. Thank you, Fred. It was amazing to see your showroom, and thank you for explaining all the ins and outs about pianos. That was really insightful. Much appreciated. If you listen to last week's episode, you know that I launched a survey to find out more about how you like the podcast and what I can do better. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Unfortunately, the responses have been a little bit slow, so just like to remind all of you to please contribute and let me know what you think I really need to know more about your thoughts so that I can make the podcast better for. Please head over to mix I decided to make it a bit more attractive by throwing in a little giveaway. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: The survey is anonymous, but if you decide to leave your contact details, you will be going into the drawer for a one hour one-on-one music production coaching session with me. Personally, that's just you and I. Anything you want to talk about, you can show me your music, we can give you feedback, we can talk about the problems that you have. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: We can talk about your workflows. Anything that you want, a one hour, you me, focused on your music, that's in the draw for you. So to win this, you first have to fill out this survey, please and give me some feedback. I really appreciate this. Thank you very much. Head over to mix It's mix au slash survey. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Head over straightaway. Thank you so much. If you want to reach out to me for music production, of course you can do so via my website, a mix au, where we offer high end studio recording services on the east coast of Australia, and of course, online mixing services for all clients worldwide. Jan 'Yarn' Muths: It's mix au. Okay, that's all for today. Thank you very much. I shall see you next week, and bye for now.
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