Searching for the Sound – Customized Vintage Piano Tone & Touch for Steinway Pianos
My name is Boaz Kirschenbaum. For many years I have been devoted to finding the elusive vintage piano tone that musicians love, and combining it with a cutting-edge precision action. Predictable results, extensive experience in voicing Steinway pianos, and a clear sense of aesthetics are all important factors when choosing a piano rebuilder. I combine all of these and look forward to working with you on building the piano of your dreams. Together we can restore your “golden-age” Steinway or find a candidate to re-manufacture from the ground up…the options are limitless.
I work with musicians in my profession as a piano rebuilder, tuner and voicer. I have been rebuilding pianos for over ten years, steadily increasing my skills and practice. My specialty is action and belly work on vintage grands & uprights from the 1880s to the 1950s, but I also restore Viennese actions, square grands, and fortepianos. It is my goal to ply my trade beyond the shores of Martha’s Vineyard, and be of service to all pianists and piano owners.
My other workshop….the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, where I practice concert work.
I learned my craft by working for several years at Steinway & Sons in New York City, where I was employed as a concert technician and action rebuilder. Before working at Steinway, I graduated from the two-year program at the North Bennet Street School with a Diploma in Advanced Piano Technology. I now teach piano voicing & regulation at regional conferences. I’ve been a Registered Piano Technician in the Piano Technicians Guild for ten years, and I am a Stanwood Precision Touch Design Licensed Installer.
Life on the Island
I live and work year-round on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, in the town of West Tisbury. The area is home to many farms as well as very talented craftsmen – shipwrights, carpenters, cabinetmakers, luthiers, machinists, and mechanics. There is also a vibrant and diverse music scene. Believe it or not we have more than a few high-quality music venues and concert halls. I am still able to work as a concert technician seasonally, and I take care of two Steinway Model Ds in two wonderful venues. I also care for several Steinway Model Bs in venues on the Vineyard and over on Nantucket.
I chose the name “Cherry Tree Piano” for a couple of reasons. My last name translates from the German as “cherry tree”, so it is a direct way of putting my own name on my work. Also, I wanted to have a connection to the past by having a simple, old-fashioned name. It just seems to have a straightforward ring to it like many of the farm names on the island.
My workshop-atelier is adjacent to the 200-acre historic Hoft Farm and Blackwater Pond, on Lamberts Cove Road. After years working in large cities, I moved here in 2007. I now prefer working in the more relaxed pace of the country life. Although the shop is small, it is well-equipped with state-of-the-art piano rebuilding tools and equipment, as well as a few choice pieces of vintage machinery.
Signature Piano Sound: Floating Tone
My taste in piano tone is influenced by my taste as a musician. My “signature sound” is really the classic New York Steinway sound from the past, especially the 1940s and 1950s. I honed my voicing style working with Ron Coners, Aleks Markovich, Eric Schandall, and Kent Webb at Steinway Hall.
I strive for musicality, dynamic range, a warm, velvety pianissimo, smooth transient attack, and an easily reached, yet subtle amount of brilliance when pushed to fortissimo. Some of us describe this as a “tone that floats”. Most of all, I love a piano that has a rich, dark, chocolately tone that “opens up”, blooms into brightness, and gives you brilliance when you ask for it. Older Steinways with cold-pressed hammers tend toward this sound. I believe this blueprint for tone was imprinted on me when I first started listening to the Blue Note and Columbia vinyl records of the 1950s and 1960s. Those recordings were made on Steinway parlor grands and semi-concert grands in New York City.
Recently I produced professionally engineered audio recordings of pianos I have voiced. These pianos represent my signature sound.
Tools for Rebuilders and Technicians
I also design and produce voicing tools for piano technicians and tuners. I hope that my tool-making efforts can help my colleagues in the field achieve the “vintage sound” as well. The latest tool is hand-turned Western maple with a carbon-fiber ferrule, and it is super-light. For a look at the tools check out my other blog and online store: www.vintagetonetools.com.
As a guitarist I have always been on my own “tone quest”, but about ten years ago I thought I could learn a trade that would involve helping other musicians. I combined my interests in instrument-making & repair, audio engineering & acoustics, woodworking & metalworking, and most of all, preserving & restoring vintage things. Piano rebuilding combines all of these.
I’ve been a semi-professional electric guitar-player for a long time, over 25 years. I studied musicology and performance at the McGill University Conservatory of Music in Montreal. I began playing guitar at age 12 at the encouragement of my father, learning songs by Buddy Holly & Carl Perkins. By the end of middle school, I discovered several guitarists whose tone influenced my taste greatly: Mark Knopfler, Jerry Garcia, Lowell George and Jimmy Page. This was at a time when the tones these players made were not really in fashion (it was the mid- to late 1980s). Vintage 1960s and early 1970s guitar tones are now considered to be classic, of course. Medium-wattage tube amplifiers, simple pickups/simple guitars made in the late 1950s, and a minimal use of effects – all contributed to the singing, shimmering, round “golden” tone they achieved.
I now use 1960s-style guitars with hand-wound pickups and a hand-wired tube amp to achieve my personal guitar sound. However, while the sound is “vintage”, these instruments often have hidden, modern upgrades that improve playability – much like the piano actions I build.