Making of an instrument

Part 1: In the timberyard


Everything starts with the wood

At the beginning is the wood, which grade is crucial for the quality of the instrument – thatʻs why we only use carefully selected woods at AUGUST FÖRSTER. For example best mountain grown spruce for the important soundboard. Trees in heights grow slowly – the results are fine grain and close annual rings, which increase the vibrational ability and encourage propagation of sound. For this reason the tone of the strings is amplified in a perfect way. The same happens with the bridges, which conduct the strings tone to the soundboard. This process should happen with a loss as little as possible. Sycamore with its sturdy timber offers the best conditions to conduct the sound.

We receive our wood from local partners in Upper Lusatia. Once arrived, itʻs not getting processed right away – it becomes technically dried. After this, the proper time of drying starts - the thicker the plank, the longer it takes. Rule of thumb: one centimeter of the boardʻs width means one year in the timberyard. In the process of maturing we implement maturing periods again and again. All this causes that the wood later on reacts as little as possible on humidity - so our grands and upright pianos hold their tuning for a long of time. Furthermore the risk of a crack formation in the soundboard gets reduced a lot. Until a delivered board leaves our manufactory, about four years pass away. Quality needs time, as our experienced master piano builder Olaf Mehlich says. That applies to all August Förster models, whether pianos for beginners or concert grand piano.

More than ten different types of wood are used in each AUGUST FÖRSTER-instrument. Beech and Nordic pine are used for the essential parts – wood that grows slowly and therefore is of superior quality. Furthermore mahogany, cherry, walnut or oak is used in profile mouldings, ornamentation and veneer – depending on the costumer’s requests.


Part 2: The rim


The spine

We take a lot of time for building the rim of a grand or upright piano – it is the first part of the piano that shows what kind of instrument occurs. It predefines the form. Beech and pine can bear tons of weight. Hard and soft wood in combination leads to a high rigidity. For gluing we use two-component adhesive. It cures as hard as glass and ensures the best stability of shape. Additionally our instruments have six struts of solid wood - that helps the rim to hold its shape, too.

The load a rim has to take results on one hand from the tension of the strings – rim and cast plate have to hold a tensile load of up to twenty tons – on the other hand it holds the parts of the instrument: soundboard, iron plate, housing components. Because of this the rim forms the spine of an instrument, just like the back of a human the rim is important for supporting and holding functions to let the whole piano work. Building rims at AUGUST FÖRSTER is a traditional work: the construction is an in-house development and comes from the 1950s. Slightly revised it ensures rigidity of our instruments until now.

Long periods of maturation over months are part of building a rim, to make sure the wood preferably wonʻt move away later. The outer rim matures nine months before compounding it with the struts, which is done with traditional wedged joints, pins and dowels. Once the rim is completed, it matures again: another six months pass until the further processing starts. There are only a few piano manufactories that take as much time for this process as we at August Förster do. Careful foresight and planning makes it possible for us to meet the customerʻs demands promptly.

AUGUST FÖRSTER relies on solid wood

For visitors the star of our machine shop is the glue star, which is a very pragmatic invention. A special device for gluing wooden sticks to solid wood plates was needed. Therefore the glue star was created – in the time when the founder August Förster (1829-1897) established the manufactory. The glue star is serviced carefully and meets demands until now. The wooden plates that are produced with it are used in fall boards, lids or music desks.

Generally in the machine shop of AUGUST FÖRSTER manufactory all wooden parts of an upright or grand piano are prepared: lids, instrument legs, bridges… In the formation phase no chipboards are used – our instruments entirely are made of solid woods, which is another special FÖRSTER feature in modern piano building. The wooden sticks are made of Nordic pine, turned according to its annual rings and locked by veneer. This process is another contribution to prevent the warping of the wood in the further production.

With the Veneer our instruments receive its individuality given by the costumer. Whether designed as a white rococo grand piano, a ruby red upright piano or an instrument made of cherry, walnut or oak wood: We always conform to our costumer’s requests. Therefore we can draw on different woods in our large timber-yard, which makes each AUGUST FÖRSTER instrument a real unique.

Part 4: The iron plate


A piece of music - completely rounded

Iron plates are essential for each AUGUST FÖRSTER-piano. After the process of heating, the liquid iron gets poured into a mold of sand. This does not happen in Löbau, but we have chosen factories in Bielefeld and Offenbach to untertake the task of doing it – so the principle “Made in Germany” remains true. The companies in which the plates get produced, only use valuable material and work very well. This is absolutely important for the further processing in our manufactory.

When the plate arrives at our factory, the work just begins. More than 500 holes have to be drilled – hand-crafted. Templates help placing the bores exactly – later on the holes are holding the pins that are needed for mounting and leading the strings. After drilling, grinding and deburring starts the refining. Then the unevenness is compensated to get a homogenous surface, which happens again manually. Finally each plate gets its golden gleaming skin. At AUGUST FÖRSTER we use a specific metallic paint called “Dukatengold”. Preparing a crude iron plate for placing it into the instrument needs three working days. In fact it takes around four weeks for the drying periods, which require plenty of time. Especially the visual appearance of grand pianos plates is one of our high demands we make of our instruments.

The iron plates of AUGUST FÖRSTERs upright and grand pianos are in-house-developments and make a valuable contribution to the quality of our instruments. They are no lightweights but conscious dimensioned to be very solid. They do their part to hold the strings tone for a long time as well as to ensure the durability of our instruments. The iron plate accounts for about one third of the weight of a plus-200-kilo-upright piano. Plate and rim have to sustain a lot of strain: Up to 20 tons of strain are needed to make a piano sound. But cast iron is in Löbau not only used at our manufactory: Our little town in Upper Lusatia is known for a tower, which is completely made of cast iron- itʻs surely a unique worldwide. Since 1854, only five years before the founding of our manufactory, the tower attracts thousands of tourists - year after year. This “König Friedrich August” tower, with a high of 28 meters, is a unique as well as a real masterpiece – just like each of our instruments.

Part 5: The soundboard


The Stradivari-part of August Förster’s pianos

No sound without speakers: in a piano the soundboard takes this function. Itʻs only a few millimeters thick and made out of solid spruce wood, which is cut down in the Val di Fiemme in the Dolomits in Italy. The woods that grow there are very special: Already centuries ago trees have been cuted down in Val die Fiemme for the famous Stradivari Violins. This is the standard for our instruments as well. The soundboards raise the quiet strings tones and make it audible for us. Because of this it is all the more important to have a high quality soundboard – just like at AUGUST FÖRSTERs.

A specialized company manufactures the soundboards in Val di Fiemme according to our specifications. Once arrived in Löbau the wood matures two (for Uprights) to four (for Grand pianos) years before the further processing starts, which is another unique feature of our manufactory.

The soundboard multiplies the surface of a single string, it lets the air vibrate and produces optionally a clear, loud or a quiet, fine tone. Compared to instruments of other manufacturers the soundboards of AUGUST FÖRSTER have a greater dimension. This helps us to achieve really clear tones – especially in the lower ranges, which again and again impresses and inspires many pianists worldwide. Therefore we created a construction, which makes it possible that the soundboard vibrates freely in certain areas, especially near the edges. Thatʻs the reason why even quiet tones are nevertheless highly voluminous. Crafting pianos like this is complex but worthwile, says our director of production and master piano maker Benjamin Schwarz. Besides the board is slightly arched for giving the wood its necessary tension to produce an optimal tone. The bridges, which conduct the tone from the string to the soundboard, just like a speaker cable does, are made of Sycamore – a strong wood that rarely dampens the vibrations.


Part 6: The strings


Handicraft for harmony

For the good sound of an instrument, not only the musician needs a sensitive feeling for music: Also our craftsman need their manual dexterity to produce the strings and mount them on the iron plate. At AUGUST FÖRSTERs we do have such professionals, but they can be find in other places as well – for example in the Bavarian Fichtel mountains. There, in Röslau, a manufactory produces high-quality strings made of profane steel wires, that later on are going to be processed in our workshops. Many workflows are necessary until the strings are prepared for being put onto the iron plate. 230 wrest-pins are manually hammered into the plate – up to 55 of these strings are covered with high quality copper in our manufactory. This helps the strings of the lower tones to increase their sound’s volume. The shortest string of an upright piano measures only a couple of centimeters - the longest one nearly 130, although if the rim is for example only 116 centimeters high: The strings are tensioned in an cross-over way. Besides the strings are the thicker the lower the tone is: It’s thickness varies from 0,875 up to seven millimeters – in steps of hundredth millimeters. “The Know-how of spinning a string is fundamental in building a piano”, says our experienced master piano maker Olaf Mehlich. “At the end the sound of all strings has to be in harmony - for this a lot of empirical knowledge is needed.” In fact, a professional’s hearing takes the last decision about the tuning of every single string. Does it sound as exactly as it should? Does it fit into the typical AUGUST FÖRSTER-sound? Only if criteria like these are met, we are content with it.

The strings are led over the iron plate with so called Agraffes, which allow a very precise partitioning of the string, since only a defined part of the string vibrates effectively free. There the audible tone is formed – another smaller part makes it sound with the Duplexscala, which characterizes high quality piano manufacturing. At AUGUST FÖRSTER we use it in our Grand pianos models 215 and 275 in an in-house-developed way: The string is led over a round steel for enriching the high tones with overtones. This increases the sound’s volume and ensures a good perception of the piano even in interaction with an orchestra.

If all strings are winded on the iron plate, the instrument gets tuned for the first time. This happens six times until the piano leaves our manufactory. Now for the first time plate, rim, strings and other parts are under tension. Before the further processing starts, a mature time of four weeks begins – after that continues the further process of building the instrument.

Part 7: The gluing division


Solid connections for the instrumentʻs body

When itʻs time to give an instrument its appearance, the next process starts at the gluing division. There one gets a first impression of how a Grand or Upright Piano will look like. The housing is built around the rim and the iron plate. Around a dozen single parts are put together – and connected with glue, just like this process is called. Solid connections are important: movements in only millimeter range would already affect the playability. Tight connected the housing has a great impact on the volume of the pianos tone. Nevertheless the instrument can be disassembled easily for an effortless transport.

For gluing works usually cold adhesive is used. Certain edges are glued with animal glue according to the traditional know how that AUGUST FÖRSTER holds on. Accuracy is needed for putting together the board, key-bed and more. Itʻs important that all the gap sizes are exact. The distances must be wide enough to have enough space for the further work process, but also small enough to achieve a premium visual appearance. When the glue needs its drying time, the craftsmen work with several instruments at the same time. At the end the castors are fixed – even if not with glue. Now the instrument can be moved easier, but the castors are not suitable for real transporting.

The work at the gluing division is the characteristic activity of a carpenter. Besides the piano makers, especially the carpenters work at AUGUST FÖRSTERs and bring their experience into the manufacturing. We train young people in these professions as well: In summer a new trainee starts its education at AUGUST FÖRSTERs.


Part 8: Bending wood


How to bend solid wood

Hard shell, soft core: At the outer rim of a Grand piano the exact opposite can be found. The rim has a core made of solid wood inside - thin enough for bending, but tight enough to insure the needed stability. The outer rim adapts the form of iron plate and inner rim and is made in a separate division at AUGUST FÖRSTERs. The coreʻs wood is cut in certain intervals to allow the bending in the further process. For reaching the required thickness, on both sides of the core several layers of veneer are applied. Especially the length is impressive: the outer rim of our shortest Grand piano is 4,80 meters, the rim of our 275 concert Grand piano counts 6,60 meters. To make this possible, the veneers arenʻt only glued one above the other but also next to each other. This happens with the traditional manual skill of splicing.
The outer rim is finished and usually polished black. The majority of clients order instruments in black. Some are interested in white ones as well - furthermore we manufacture Grand pianos with surfaces of mahogany, walnut or other woods. For the concert grands the inner side of the outer rim is made with birdʻs eye maple. This gives the instruments a precious design and supports the golden-finished shining of the iron plate.
The technique of bending rims resembles the making of the inner rim. Layer by layer is glued and well positioned using a special form. Then again patience is needed - under pressure the rim dries 48 hours. After that another four weeks pass before further processing. The glue needs this period for drying completely. With this procedure we want to ensure that the rim remains stable in form - the workers of AUGUST FÖRSTERs know about these natural processes. They give the elements the required time for manufacturing a premium instrument.