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Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report #2998246 07/12/19 12:53 AM
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Nathanael_I Online Content OP
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Last week I had the opportunity to play the Stuart and Sons concert piano at length. I have been interested in the piano for about 10 years, since first stumbling across them through a PianoWorld posting, I think. Wayne Stuart has recently completed work on the worlds first and only 108-key instrument - a full 9 octaves! On my visit I played a studio grand with 97 keys (F-to-F), and the full 102-key concert instrument. I spent most of my visit on the large piano.

It is, without reservation, the finest piano I have played in my life. It has more compass (notes), more dynamic range, and more timbral range than any other piano that exists. For an improviser and composer I cannot image a more rewarding instrument.

Wayne has innovated all over the instrument, but I'll try to call out the big ones that I know about. Perhaps the biggest innovation is the bridge agraffes that keep all string tension from pressing down on the sound board. This makes the instruments radically resonant. Chords will sustain over a minute with the dampers raised. Because the sound board is not stressed, the high harmonics are not immediately damped, and this means that the piano can go brighter and louder than other instruments. But, Wayne's design for the plate and bridge location means that there is no "tenor break" - you can't find it no matter how hard you listen. The piano also always has a core fundamental supporting the sound - even on the very lowest bass notes almost an octave lower than an 88 note keyboard. Huge crescendos put a massive grin on ones' face - the piano simply roars in a way I've never experienced. The piano also features a 4th pedal that shortens the hammer blow distance. The 4th pedal is continuous, not "on/off", providing near infinite shading. This pedal can be used independently or in conjunction with the "shift" (una corda) pedal. Practically this means that the piano can be played to the edge of silence with complete control. Playing that would not trigger a note on my Kawai RX-7 make real notes and tone that can be controlled at musical tempos. The piano is just stunningly expressive, and offers a near infinite range of light and darkness. I have played many of the finest piano brands in the world. All pale next to what is possible on this instrument.

I took high-end recording equipment with me to document the experience. The videos below were recorded with a Sonosax SX-4+, and a combination of Josephson, DPA, and Earthworks microphones. No EQ or compression has been added. I did add a tiny amount of hall reverb to "gel" everything, but it doesn't change the tone. The original recordings were 192Khz/24-bit. I uploaded 96Khz AAC2+ to YouTube, so it is as good as I can make it.

I chose to improvise entirely on this visit, which this piano rewards thoroughly. There is very little piano music composed for extended instruments. But for improvising, all those colors and extra notes are immediately welcome and useful. These improvisations are what I would term a "Piano Diary". They are not jazz standards or standard forms, but literally me listening, playing, and reacting in a linear stream. This is me "thinking out loud" on the piano. More like an artist sketch than a gallery showing - these are not "performances". I didn't get the piano fully wound up to maximum crescendo, but the overall tone and use of the pedals are fully demonstrated. My thoughts are in the last two videos in this playlist. You can decide what you want to watch, but the three improv videos are about 30 minutes total. The talking bits of analysis are about 6-7 minutes each.

It was a very special day, and Wayne and his family were gracious hosts. I can't say enough nice things about them or their instruments. Truly world-class and an absolute to delight to play a truly modern piano that vastly improves the instrument in every way.

Here's a link to the playlist of videos on YouTube.


Last edited by Nathanael_I; 07/12/19 02:19 AM.
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Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998251 07/12/19 01:32 AM
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Nathaniel, thank you so much for sharing this. Deeply, deeply inspirational. I can only hope to have a similar experience some day!


Life is too short to be playing bad music.

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Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998292 07/12/19 01:11 PM
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That is so cool. Might I ask where one might get to experience such an instrument?


The great thing about music is that there's always something to learn. The frustrating thing about music is that there's always something to learn!
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998322 07/12/19 02:58 PM
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I played this instrument at the Stuart and Sons factory in Australia. I believe many of the pianos they have made are in Australia. I think there are two or three in the US - all in private hands.

Going to Australia would be the easiest way. The Beleura House near Melbourne is a venue that has the worlds first and only 108-key instrument from Stuart and Sons. There are several other classical/jazz/acoustic venues in Australia that have Stuart and Sons pianos. They regularly have concerts, recitals, host recording sessions, etc. These are very special instruments and the venues want to promote this part of Australian excellence. If you are going to Australia, and have an interest, I would bet you can make arrangements to experience one somehow.

There are many recordings linked from Stuart and Sons website if you want to hear a wide range of classical, avant-garde, jazz, etc.

Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998323 07/12/19 03:20 PM
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Amazing Australian pianist Kevin Hunt did his PhD on the Stuart piano, look him up. I think his paper is on his website.


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Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998325 07/12/19 03:28 PM
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Gerhard Wilhelm has recorded the entire Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle on one of their pianos as well. That recording is on Spotify. I've enjoyed Bill Risby's improv work on the piano as well. And Rai Thistlewaite (Sun Ra) has several tracks where he plays and sings - just an amazingly complete musician. They are special instruments and it takes a little effort to get to one, but it is well worth it. Just exceptional. I wish more could access them as there is so much more possible than what has been the case since the piano was standardized in the late 1890's.

Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998388 07/12/19 11:04 PM
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Fascinating videos Nathaniel - thanks for sharing them. I've heard from a few sources that the Stuart & Sons pianos really challenge a pianist's technique, and ultimately encourage you to become a better pianist.
My piano tuner is a friend of Wayne Stuart, and has visited the factory a number of times. I might have to make the trip to NSW myself (about 5 hours drive) and see if I can experience these pianos first hand.

Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998413 07/13/19 05:00 AM
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The pianos will offer many opportunities to improve one's technique. I am just finishing up the full written review for my website, which will go up some time this weekend. I discuss that at length there. I'll provide a link here for those interested.

If you are 5 hours by car, I would consider that highly worthwhile. These are possibly the finest pianos in the world, made in your country by a master craftsman and visionary. It is worth doing in your life if you love pianos. I flew a very long way to play them!

Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998415 07/13/19 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Nathanael_I
The pianos will offer many opportunities to improve one's technique. I am just finishing up the full written review for my website, which will go up some time this weekend. I discuss that at length there. I'll provide a link here for those interested.

If you are 5 hours by car, I would consider that highly worthwhile. These are possibly the finest pianos in the world, made in your country by a master craftsman and visionary. It is worth doing in your life if you love pianos. I flew a very long way to play them!


Yes, I'm a piano obsessive, so a 10 hour return trip shouldn't be a problem! I've been fortunate to have played and performed on some of the world's best pianos, including Hamburg Steinway D's & B's, a Fazioli F212, all models of Bosendorfer (including the intimidating model 290 Imperial Grand) in the Showroom in Vienna (the staff there were very welcoming), Steingraeber grands (amazing pianos), a pretty special Shigeru Kawai SK5, a few restored C.Bechsteins & Bluthners, and recently a really interesting restored 7ft August Forster grand from the early 1920's . . . but, never laid my hands on a Stuart & Sons Grand Piano.

Last edited by pianoproducer; 07/13/19 08:05 AM.
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998465 07/13/19 06:49 PM
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Here is a link to my blog, containing my complete thoughts on the instrument after my initial experience:

Full 102-Key Stuart & Sons Piano Review

I have played many of the top piano brands: Steinway, Fazioli, Bosendorfer, Beckstein, Blatherer, Mason & Hamlin, Yamaha, Kawai, and many more. This piano exceeds them all and I think offers a significant advancement beyond the instrument we know from the 1890s.

If you prefer video, here's my thoughts at the end of the day, filmed while still at the factory.




Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998529 07/14/19 03:40 PM
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I'm surprised that more of the piano-centric forumites haven't weighed in on this one.


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Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998534 07/14/19 05:02 PM
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Iím what you would call piano centric, but Iíd wager I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack in these parts. Classical training at conservatory level, but that was a loooong time ago. Rock/pop/jazz music over several decades allows for a certain level of sloppy play, shall we say. Donít know if I would truly appreciate such a piano, to be fair. Am curious about price, though. I know, if you have to ask, you probably canít...


I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998591 07/15/19 01:01 AM
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Nathanael -- your post is the utmost in descriptiveness and precision, so many thanks for that. I went and found a bunch of other comments from people who have played one in the flesh. Uniformly, they are all blown away. So maybe this is my next quest? The Search For The Ultimate Piano.

I've been looking for a decent excuse to get back to Australia and hang out. This might be the trick for me. Melbourne can be a blast when it's not cold. Tennis? Melbourne Open anyone?

Maybe finding a piano that's more interesting than my super-amazing Bosie?. Why am I not surprised that an Aussie would seriously innovate on a tried-and-true device like a grand piano? I suspect there's a new tradition in the making, based on everything I have read. Wish I knew what they actually go for.

In the enterprise tech world, AUS/NZ are known as fast adopters. They see something great, they go all in, more so than US and western Europe. Not related to music, more about the psyche in that part of the world.

Upwards and onwards!


Life is too short to be playing bad music.

Keys: NP2, NS3C
Home: Bosie 200, Yam AG N3
Amps: FA 12acs, RCF TT08as, QSC K.2s, EVOX J8, SSv3
Stuff: Stay stands, Key Largo, Vent II, X-Air 18
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998594 07/15/19 02:10 AM
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Chuck, Thanks for the kind words on the writeup. I took a lot of notes in my journal on the way back to California, and even with that it still took a few days to feel like I got to the essence of the experience and what it meant as a player, improviser or composer. I'm glad it was useful to you. It was an amazing experience, which I've tried to convey and justify with some objective evidence!

Last edited by Nathanael_I; 07/15/19 02:11 AM.
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: stillearning] #2998595 07/15/19 02:18 AM
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Originally Posted by stillearning
Iím what you would call piano centric, but Iíd wager I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack in these parts. Classical training at conservatory level, but that was a loooong time ago. Rock/pop/jazz music over several decades allows for a certain level of sloppy play, shall we say. Donít know if I would truly appreciate such a piano, to be fair. Am curious about price, though. I know, if you have to ask, you probably canít...


I can say with certainty you would appreciate the difference - it isn't subtle as a player. You have more training than I do by a lot. I notice it instantly, I'm certain you would.

The price? Fazioli or Bosendorfer wearing quality wood veneers, i.e. more than these marques in basic black, less than the most exotic offerings they have. Stuart and Sons don't make "jewelry pianos". They put the innovation inside the case. They are not the most expensive at this level, not the cheapest. But yes, these are in the premium tier. Buying a concert grand is expensive, takes a lot of space, and then requires top tech work to maintain - just like a Ferrari or a Bentley. For actual pricing, contact Stuart and Sons - exchange rates and all apply.

Last edited by Nathanael_I; 07/15/19 02:29 AM.
Re: Stuart & Sons 102-Key Piano - Player Report [Re: Nathanael_I] #2998600 07/15/19 03:02 AM
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By the way, if anyone wants to hear what a 108-key piano covering 9 octaves sounds like, you can purchase a recording of the debut concert at this link:

Rare View World Premiere Recording

Composer Alan Griffiths wrote new music for the occasion, since there obviously wasn't any 108-key piano music before!

Best,

Nathanael


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