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#1
Old 01-31-2005, 10:16 PM
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"Hony Tonk Piano" or "Saloon Piano" - what is it ?

You must have heard the distinctive sound of this piano.
Ever hear the middle section of "Good Vibrations"? (possibly the loudest part of the song). Anyway, there is a piano in there that does not sound like a conventional piano. It has a brighter and more "sparkling" sound. I think we've all seen people play one of these on TV or the movies. So my questions are:
1) What exactly makes this piano sound the way it does?
2) Does it have an option whereby you can get the "saloon" sound or "regular"?
3) What is the proper musical term for this type of piano?
#2
Old 01-31-2005, 10:25 PM
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It's an upright piano.
#3
Old 01-31-2005, 10:26 PM
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1) What exactly makes this piano sound the way it does?

A couple of ways—the original sound comes from a warped soundboard (upon which the strings are stretched), and there are also versions with metal-surfaced hammers; usually tacks. These are "tack pianos".

2) Does it have an option whereby you can get the "saloon" sound or "regular"?

Strictly speaking, yes. You build the soundboard without much structural support and let the torque of the strings do the work. This method, however, isn't easily reversable. With the tacks, one could remove them, I suppose, but usually such an instrument is in a situation wherein it is dedicated.

3) What is the proper musical term for this type of piano?

I believe the actual MIDI description is "Honky-Tonk Piano". The piano with tacks in the hammers would be a tack piano (think Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles for a tack piano example).
#4
Old 01-31-2005, 10:27 PM
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Another site


My wife has a studio upright.
#5
Old 01-31-2005, 10:39 PM
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Actually, I didn't reveal the whole truth.

There is an option for alternating between honky-tonk and "regular" sound; this is achieved with a device called a mandolin rail, as referenced here. It seems to be based on the tack principle.

You can also detune the strings slightly within a couple specified suggestions, but some say that this doesn't sound authentic.
#6
Old 01-31-2005, 11:10 PM
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I'd always assumed that the "honky-tonk" sound came from the strings being just slightly out of tune, enough to hear but not enough to be jarring.
#7
Old 01-31-2005, 11:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jayjay
I'd always assumed that the "honky-tonk" sound came from the strings being just slightly out of tune, enough to hear but not enough to be jarring.
Same here. We stand corrected.
#8
Old 01-31-2005, 11:32 PM
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Hmm...I wonder, though, if maybe that's how it started out. The pianos in honky-tonks and saloons weren't terribly well taken-care-of, I'm sure, and the style became distinctive because of that. Then people started coming up with these technological methods of making the instruments sound that way from the start.
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Old 02-01-2005, 12:38 AM
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Here's a posting about Honky-Tonk piano tuning.

This thread made me Google for an artist called Knuckles O' Toole, and I found this site showing one of 3 LPs my Dad gave me ages ago, along with mp3 clips.
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#10
Old 02-01-2005, 03:45 AM
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Maybe I've heard wrong, being neither a honkeytonk nor a piano tuning aficianado, but I've been told that each key has three strings, precisely tuned not identically, but to to very close harmonics.

An unskilled tuner would tune the three identically, very much reducing the richness of the tone.

The result would be "tinny" or "twangy".

FWIW
#11
Old 02-01-2005, 06:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe K
a mandolin rail, as referenced here.
Holy crap, Joe K, as I read your first post I thought I'd submit a follow-up question that I'd long been looking for an answer to.

Not knowing what it actually was, I had seen a mandolin rail in use (above the keys, the piano didn't have a wooden covering over the strings- I think the covering was glass or possible plexi-glass). Because the strings were visible, I could see, during mid-song, when the musician used a lever to lower a rack of metal studded leather strips to hang between the hammers and the strings.

So I wanted to ask if anyone knew what the device was called. I appreciate your prescience in answering my question before I asked it!

For further justification of my "Holy crap" opening: The musician who I had seen use the mandolin rail was none other than Jon Brion! Exactly the musician referenced in the article you linked!

Your link is actually a letter from a reader who is referencing a previously published interview with Jon Brion in which Brion explained the effect that could be acheived from tuning the piano just a bit "off". The writer of the letter seemed to think that because Brion was talking about adjusting the tuning he must not know about the mandolin rail. Well, I saw him use the mandolin rail before the article was written so, obviously, he knew about it. He must have been making a point that was better illustrated by the "off" tuning option, and omitted any reference to the mandolin rail simply because it wasn't the point he was trying to make.
#12
Old 02-01-2005, 08:01 AM
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I recently watched a documentary about the Beach Boys and on one of the songs (sorry but I can't remember which) they got a very distinctive "piano" sound by plucking the strings of an upright piano by hand rather than letting the hammers hit the strings.
#13
Old 02-01-2005, 09:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eleusis
Maybe I've heard wrong, being neither a honkeytonk nor a piano tuning aficianado, but I've been told that each key has three strings, precisely tuned not identically, but to to very close harmonics.
Actually, it varies. The top 50-some keys have three strings each, the next 30-some have two, and the bottom eight have only one string. I'm pretty sure all pianos are strung this way, but I don't remember the exact numbers.
#14
Old 02-01-2005, 09:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arch Trout
I recently watched a documentary about the Beach Boys and on one of the songs (sorry but I can't remember which) they got a very distinctive "piano" sound by plucking the strings of an upright piano by hand rather than letting the hammers hit the strings.
That would be "You Still Believe in Me." To hear how a tack piano sounds when played alongside an organ, see "I Know There's An Answer" from the same album (Pet Sounds).
#15
Old 02-01-2005, 10:22 AM
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One of the best tack pianos I know of is on The Kinks' "Berkeley Mews." I think it was played by Nicky Hopkins. Incredible sound, incredible player, incredible song. You'll find it on "The Kink Kronikles" and most recently on the 3 CD edition of "Village Green Preservation Society" (both mono and stereo mixes). If you live in the Commonwealth, it was the B-side of "Lola" on the Pye label. Elsewhere, no such luck.
#16
Old 02-01-2005, 12:53 PM
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I had heard that you get the honky tonk sound by taking the felt off of the hammers, so that the strings are being struck with wood. In the saloons, this would have happened when the felt on the hammers wore out. Is this untrue?
#17
Old 02-02-2005, 01:41 AM
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Well thanks for all those replies. Personally, I do not think it is a characteristic of tuning the piano.
The mandolin rail, diagonal strings, the warped sound board and the wooden hammer methods seem much more likely candidates. You'd think that the "honky tonk" sound is so darned popular, there'd be pianos specifically made for this purpose. (Maybe there are but they sure don't "tout" this fact).
#18
Old 02-08-2005, 04:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe K
The piano with tacks in the hammers would be a tack piano (think Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles for a tack piano example).
Or "Tomorrow Never Knows". (Someone posted about this a couple years ago.) That song ends with a cacophany of various instruments. They stop, one by one, until only a tack piano is left to pound out the last few notes.
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