October 2002

Weber WSG60 Grand Piano

Despite years of touring and playing numerous pianos, I had never played a Weber as far as I can remember. Interested to find out what it would sound and feel like, I journeyed to a piano store south of Long Beach, Calif., that had three Weber pianos in its showroom. I chose the biggest, a cherry-wood stained WSG60 that was about six feet long, and sat down.

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Weber WSG60 Grand Piano

I played some chromatic scales with both hands. In octaves, fifths, seconds and 10ths. This is the way I usually begin with a new piano. It’s like a first date: you have your own style of getting to know someone new. And like on a lot of first dates, I found myself occasionally fantasizing about being with another.

There wasn’t anything overwhelmingly terrible about the WSG60 I played on. In fact, the action was pretty good: kind of stiff and fairly heavy—which I like, particularly in a piano to practice on—with a good upweight and downweight. The downweight, which is usually measured by piano technicians, is the weight it takes to push a piano key down to the point where it forces the hammer to strike the string. The upweight is also important, as it is the measure of the force with which the piano key comes back up after being played. A good upweight is crucial for fast playing and for repeated notes.

The thing I didn’t like about the piano’s feel was the plastic on the keys. All new piano keys are made of some variety of man-made material these days, as using ivory is now illegal. And in many pianos, such as Bösendorfers and Steinways, the new key materials feel very good. On the Weber, however, the feel was very plastic and a bit slippery. The whole reason piano companies try to imitate the feel of ivory is that ivory is so porous and tactilely satisfying. The Weber doesn’t come close.

As in all new pianos, this one needed to be played to break it in. It also needed some serious regulation to the feel and sound, something the showroom should have had done. I continued with the chromatic scales, and was disappointed with the tone. The piano was a little dead sounding, like a muted horn in the middle register. The top was mediocre and did not sing out, and the bottom was more of a tenor sound than the bass sound that I like to hear from the bottom of a piano. Admittedly, a piano showroom is not the best place in which to test the acoustics of a piano, so that could account for some of the dead sound. I tried some notes with the soft pedal on, and when played softly, the sound was warm and pretty.

The best sound I got on this piano came from playing a ballad in the middle register very softly. I used some minor 7th polychords and discovered a pretty, somewhat bell-like tone in the middle upper register. Rubato, arpeggiated chords sounded nice in that register, and gave me the best feeling I had the whole time I played the instrument.

I then played Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude in C Sharp” at a brisk tempo, and noticed a “plunky” sound in the left hand. The tenor area seemed to make a strange clicking sound with this more aggressive and more staccato playing. I played some very percussive repeated and arpeggiated notes, part of an original piece I wrote recently entitled “Madimba,” based on the sound of the African thumb piano. Again, the more aggressive tones just didn’t sing on this piano. They sounded a bit honky and dead. Regulation and a good technician’s adjustments would go a long way to shaping this particular piano up.

If I had to play this particular piano on a gig, it would be disappointing, because it had no magic, no uniqueness of sound or feel. Still, I would be able to play music on it and make the music work.

I think this piano would be decent for the average pianist to play on, and would be fine for a practice piano. However, for a professional pianist this WSG60 was not good enough in the shape that it was in.

Michael Wolff is a New York City-based pianist who leads the group Impure Thoughts and also plays with the new band Children on the Corner. His latest CD is Intoxicate (Indianola).

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