Bill Scharbrough R.P.T.
Stephen Scharbrough
Marlene Scharbrough

Home Before You Buy A Piano How Do You Recognize Good Tone?
How Do You Recognize Good Tone?

First, play one note softly and let it sustain for a while. Look at the vibrating string transmitting vibrations to the soundboard.  Play the note softly. Play the note loudly.  Listen for not only volume change but timbre and tone color changes.  Play another piano and see if it is possible to discern differences between the way the two pianos respond. Play a third piano the same way.  Can you hear a difference?  As you educate your ear you will begin to recognize subtle changes between instruments.

What makes those pianos different?

Energy….Dynamic Range….The piano’s ability to speak

It’s all about energy. Energy, it’s that simple. Until a piano is played it is a box of stored energy. When the hammer hits the string it becomes dynamic energy. It’s released. That’s the point when pianos become different.  We’ve established that pianos don’t sound the same… Now you are beginning to understand the true differences between pianos and can now begin to educate yourselves as to what to listen for in the search for your own personal piano. It’s all about the ability to produce dynamic energy.
The piano is a box of energy and a mechanical instrument. Some boxes have more energy while others have less.  In all the years I have been servicing pianos the thing I have most come to look for is that the piano has the ability to give maximum release of it’s energy when the player demands it.  Artists are looking for Energy, Power, Resonance, Dynamic Range, Sustain, and Articulation.

Tension and compression in perfect balance give up the most energy. Manufacturers work to make the release of energy more efficient in order to have a dynamic instrument capable of thundering power and also subtle whispers, singing melodies and a wide tonal color palate. After 30 years servicing, tuning, and rebuilding pianos I have a good idea what one should hear.

Good piano tone has aspects that one can learn to identify. Good tone will start with attack. This is the initial part of the sound when the hammer strikes the strings.   It can be bright or dull and have clarity or distortion.  Generally when the hammer strikes a soft blow the sound should be quite mellow and as one plays harder the tone should change, becoming brighter.  This change in tone color allows an accomplished pianist to adjust tone color to enhance the musicality of a performance.  Poor quality pianos will get louder as one plays harder but the overall quality of the sound will not change much.

A good way to hear these changes is to play notes on a well prepared high quality piano and compare it to the piano you are considering.  Based on the price you are willing to spend does it compare?

Anther aspects of tone include sustain. This is a measurement of how long the sound lasts when you hold down the note and allow it to fade away. Once again comparison with a several piano will help you discern differences.