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The Birth of Steingraeber Phoenix
Article published on 13 January, 2008


The Professional’s Piano that is a “Quart in a Pint Pot”.


The spirit of adventure in devising new piano design was strong in the nineteenth century when many of the concepts now accepted as conventional were novel.  The designers worked closely with artists and listened to their needs.  Since those early days, little fundamental innovative thinking has been done: the artist/designer/technician link has largely been severed and a commercial link substituted. This has resulted in nearly a century of stagnation in music interpretation and pianistic demand.  Attitudes towards seeking better piano sound in the days of the great composers of the nineteenth century could not contrast more with today’s resistance to change.  Huge advances have however been made in building mass produced pianos, but these are inevitably compromised by materials supply and an inability to apply craft skill on a production line. 


Such budget pianos, coming mostly from the Far East, have caused stress in the European piano building industry so that currently only very few makes survive as independent companies and fewer still can now be described as premier producers.  Future survivors will not be those who challenge the Chinese in mass production but those who design better instruments by innovation, advanced technology and craftsmanship. European manufacture stands at a watershed.


About 20 years ago Australian entrepreneur Wayne Stuart brought out his now famous prestigious pianos incorporating bridge agraffes, stainless steel wound bass strings and a light but high strength frame.  He chose to use ultimate materials with 1000 year old sound board timber and extreme craftsmanship.  His pianos are powerful, clear, amazingly stable and virtually free of falseness. They have a new and challenging piano sound beloved of many top artists. These exquisitely engineered pianos offer high value for money.

Stuart has led the way for others.  At Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios     ( www.hurstwoodfarmpianos.co.uk ) work began to enhance piano performance whilst preserving the Germanic sound quality so revered in Europe. Computer programmes were devised to quantify and compare different piano sounds.  Equipped with this state of the art tool, a new concept of bridge agraffe was developed which approximately doubled the efficiency of conversion of vibration energy in the string to sound energy output from the piano.  The extra sound energy appears both in the form of much longer sustain but also as greater dynamic range.   This quite complex 7 piece bridge agraffe, unlike others from history, requires no down bearing load on the bridge.  It follows that the soundboard can be optimised for its acoustic properties without need to carry that load.  In traditional pianos this down bearing load of about a half ton has long been known to compromise certain registers and in time leads to collapse of the sound board, with major loss of performance of the piano.


In late 2005 the new technology, called the Phoenix system, was licensed to Steingraeber in Bayreuth.( www.steingraeber.de )  They embraced the ideas with enthusiasm and added their own long history of craft expertise to produce some remarkable instruments.  In 2006, size  205 and 272 Steingraeber- Phoenix grands were produced. These pianos, still few in number, now receive much acclaim from professional artists and technicians alike.  They are hand built alongside the traditional instruments of the family owned business using the finest materials available.


At the end of July 2007 the first baby grand Steingraeber-Phoenix 168 was completed. This is based on the standard Steingraeber 168 piano which itself is one of the World’s finest best baby grands.   In the words of Udo Steingraeber, when he first played the baby Phoenix,   “We were expecting good sound but this piano is Extraordinary.  It matches the performance of a normal seven foot grand”.  The piano has other special features such as hydraulically operated combined una corda and half blow pedal, which help to control the extra dynamic range afforded by the Phoenix system.

The first piano sold the same day it left the factory!


Whilst the action is conventional Renner type, almost every professional who has played a Phoenix system piano is convinced that the action also is special.   The reason is probably that for a given sound output the artist’s fingers have to do less work.  This gives him better control.  In a nut shell,   the piano is easier to play and the artist/instrument interface becomes highly favourable.


The potential future for this small piano is enormous.  It is the ideal teacher’s instrument for Colleges or schools with small rooms because it can respond without compromise to everything any student may demand of a concert grand.  In the home, the owner can have a fine sounding instrument without need to sacrifice a big area of a lounge or music room.


At Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios, innovation continues.  Already a piano which is designed to need tuning only infrequently is in development.  Another project in planning stage is a light weight, high quality, high performance concert grand based on Phoenix technology that will make it more practical for professionals to take their own instrument to public venues.


Innovation is also changing upright pianos. Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios specialise in the presentation of the new grand simulation SFM action based on magnetic operation of the escapement. This is a joint development by Renner and Steingraeber with small but critical refinements by the Author.  The notes will repeat reliably without returning to the rest position and there is a sensation of secondary touch that makes it almost impossible for the artist to distinguish between this action and a good grand action.  Repetition performance is sparkling and the lost motion associated with the half blow pedal on traditional uprights is eliminated.  


If instruments of the calibre of those described above had been available in the days of the great composers when frenzied activity to improve piano sound was everywhere, then composers and pianists alike would have immediately have adopted them.   Classical and contemporary musicians at the beginning of this new millennium now once again have that opportunity.  It will be fascinating to see if there are still those amongst them who, like their forefathers dare to lead.


Quotation by American Critic Dave Holmes of Audio Emporium on Eric Himy’s Schumann Recording on a Steingraeber Phoenix       ..Jan 2008


“This new recording is likely to be the best sounding piano disc you have yet purchased! Recorded on the new Steingraeber Phoenix piano, the sound is weighty and convincing.”  …
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The Hurst Crouch, Borough Green, Seven Oaks, Kent TN15 8TA, United Kingdom     T: 01732 885050    F: 01732 883030     E: info@hurstwoodfarmpianos.com

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