In May 2021 I began the hunt for my first ever acoustic piano, something that would encapsulate the close-mic’d, intimate sound that I usually write with, but with the scope to expand into a louder, concert-like dynamic. The problem I had kept running into was that felt pianos have a tendency to hit a brick wall when the dynamics of the orchestration get to a certain point; I wanted a piano with a felt like tone that wouldn’t get drowned out when the piece went anything above an mf. I was on a relatively limited budget and assumed that I would have to either sacrifice playability, or some of the sonic quality at the price I was looking for. At least, that was until I stumbled upon this 1907 Bluthner Style VII, which was sat in the back room of a music shop awaiting restoration, and a bit of a sorry sight. It was clickety-clackety, and alot of the notes didn’t work, but it was love at first sound. It underwent a five-month restoration, leaving the exterior finish untouched, which to me was a big part of the character and charm of the thing, with the added bonus of saving a huge chunk of money. I sampled this piano with a pair of Soyuz 013 FETs in three dynamic layers, raising the ultra-soft, felt-like tone to be more easily playable.
My answer to the felt piano crisis
Reviews for Marcus Warner’s Blüthner
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Amazing Tone and Dynamics with some noise build up
This piano sounds really fantastic. Its really dynamic, well recorded and well balanced. Its warm intimate and the frequency balance is pretty perfect. I never feel like it gets muddy even when playing close voicing down low and the highs cut through without being too bright. I seriously love the sound and playability of this.
The one big issue for me is that if you hold down the sustain pedal and play a bunch of notes you get a pretty significant noise buildup which is really just too much to tolerate in my opinion. Also i see people mentioning a knob to switch between the felt and non felt sound. To me it seems like the knob is operating as a volume control and maybe a high cut filter. I don't mind though because i love the sound with it all the way up.
This is one of my favorite pianos in a while and i would love for this noise issue to be felt with a little more. Apart from that its pretty perfect.
Delicate but dynamic
I love the story behind the piano and I think it's clear that Marcus has achieved exactly what he set out to. The softest dynamic layer is muted and delicate just like the best felt pianos, but then it rises to a clear but still una-corda type tone and finally to a clear rich and confident - but never strident - tone. It's rich and well recorded with a good balance of mechanical sounds which never become problematic. Both extreme ends of the piano - so often neglected - are outstanding. To address the concerns raised in the other reviews - the copy I downloaded had a folder named Samples No NR - so clearly the raw samples have now had noise reduction applied and I can attest to the fact that I experienced no hiss no matter how many notes I held. The GUI "button" is in fact a knob which represents the Mod Wheel which is linked to a Low Pass filter - so the instrument should be played with the mod wheel fully "up" for its natural sound and levels should be set accordingly. Indeed it loads like this by default - so unless you move the mod wheel you're fine. I used to live near a studio that had a Bluthner and it was beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing this.
Piano with Character
I've spent a few days playing around with this instrument and I like it. It's got a lot of character, and nice (and very different) colour options from the low register to the top end. It's fun and responsive to play. The GUI is ok, but lacks some options and clarity.
I'm working my way through pianobook sample libraries and recording short one minute (ish) demos. Find a demo of this instrument here: https://soundcloud.com/pianobook/sets/marcus-warners-bl-thner?si=922e30cd338745aaae0a1cb828800c26&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing
Natural and Distinctive
A very distinctive and 'real' sounding piano. A beautiful tone and particularly suited for busier pieces compared to some on pianobook.
There is some noise build up on sustained notes and its worth opening up kontakt to tame some louder samples.
A very dynamic blending piano
Sometimes problems are good because they spark ideas when searching for solutions, and I guess that this instrument is the solution to Marcus' problems, because sometimes you gotta do it yourself. This is a very kind piano that features a knob that lets you switch and blend our beloved felt sound with a more natural piano sound. The knob is also bound to the modwheel and therefore CC1 as well, which makes it nice and easy to handle when both performing and programming.
The knob has two things that are slightly annoying to me:
1) It is bound to horizontal mouse movement instead of vertical, which I personally hate for knobs
2) The indicative dot that lets you know where the nob is sitting lies behind the bottom right shadow on the design, which basically means it's all turned up by default.
The biggest problem though is that there is some great loudness difference between the two "modes". The "normal" sound is so damn loud by default. On higher velocities it peaks very easily, so putting it to -6db is a must. If you do that though, the felt becomes barely audible. While it makes sense "naturally" speaking, it is not convenient in the context of a mix. It means that you will have to use extreme compression which will greatly alter the sound, or automation which beats the purpose of solving the initial problem. It seems to create more problems instead...