Sauter factory visit, 17th March 2008

On Sunday 16th March, Ulrich Sauter fetched Alvin and myself for the drive in his car down south to Spaichingen. The Frankfurt Musikmesse had ended the day before and it was now time to visit the Sauter factory in the south of Germany.

We eventually made it out of Frankfurt around 10h00, and headed first for the small city of Sinsheim, about 30 minutes drive away. There was a hobby fair there and Ulrich wanted to stop in for a few hours to buy parts for his airplane modeling hobby.

While Ulrich was at the hobby fair Alvin and I went to the Sinsheim Air & Motor Museum. If you happen to be in the area I strongly recommend a visit. I can now truthfully claim to have been in the Concorde and the Russian TU-144. On the same day. There is one of each perched on steel pylons high over the roof of the museum.

At 17h00 we continued on south, and reached our hotel in Tuttlingen (just 10 – 15 minutes from Spaichingen) around 19h00.

Ulrich fetched us from the hotel at 09h45 on Monday 17th March. And spent the rest of the day with us. He is such a kind and hospitable person.

About two weeks ago Alvin told me that there were two strungbacks from which I could choose. However once my visit to the factory was confirmed it was decided to use those two strungbacks for a couple of Vivace’s, and start on a new one, timed for my visit.

And so we wandered up to the factory floor, to look for parts of my Omega 220. The first thing we found was the soundboard. It had been mated to its bridges and inner rim, and the bridges were in the final stages of being notched.

We then found the outer rim. The veneer I had selected was bubinga, and it looked beautiful even before staining and varnishing.

Next to be found was the iron frame. It was in the process of being prepared for varnishing. Frame preparation includes removing all the casting burrs by chiseling or sanding, drilling all the holes, filling the surface to achieve nice smooth surfaces, and finally priming for painting.

We then went for lunch.

Sometime after lunch we went back into the factory, and I discovered (to my excitement) that the soundboard had just had its final sanding done. And the bridges had also been pinned. As we walked away after admiring the soundboard, Ulrich gave it a thump near the middle with bottom of his clenched fist. The soundboard went “BOOooonnnnng!” like a very big drum. “Good soundboard!”, said Ulrich, and turned and walked away. Of course, Alvin and I couldn’t resist giving the soundboard a few thumps ourselves!

And yet later in the afternoon, on my third visit to the factory floor, I found that the soundboard had made its way to the spray shop. There I watched the extra register lines being applied, and then the soundboard being sprayed with a special sealing varnish.

Around 17h00, Alvin and Ulrich were busy with business matters, and we were all waiting for Russell, Bill and ‘Mike’ to arrive in Spaichingen and join us for dinner. They had spent the day visiting the Steingraber and Blüthner factories.

So I went into the showroom and noticed that the Concert 275 had been wheeled back in. I opened up the grand, set my music folder down on the unopened music desk, and played the first dozen bars or so of Beethoven’s Op.27 No. 2 (Moonlight) sonata. I could feel goosebumps rising as this rich yet clean and delicate sound murmured and shimmered out of the piano. Each note was distinct through the long pedaled phrases.

I was sighing to myself, thinking how wonderful it would be if I could have the Concert 275 in my home. Then I raised the music desk. And I was completely stunned to see the Greek ‘Omega’ symbol inlaid on it.

I just sat there flabbergasted, not quite able to believe that I was going to have one of these exquisite (Turandot calls them disturbingly beautiful) pianos in my home. Unprintable words were flashing through my mind.

Unfortunately, delivery of the Omega to Singapore will be delayed by another couple of months, with arrival anticipated in the first half of June 2008 instead of end-April. Just before we left for dinner, Ulrich suggested that the custom veneer work that Alvin and I had asked for was not going to be visually as pleasing as we thought. After some discussion we decided to change the veneers on the underlid and fallboard. But since these were in process (though we didn’t find them during the factory tour) the changes meant that new ones would have to be made. And hence the delay.

Pictures are HERE. Guest password: ‘digit’. When in slideshow viewing mode, hover your mouse pointer over the comment below a picture to see the full comment (if there is one).

I occasionally felt obliged to ask if I could take pictures in the part of the factory that we were in. There are “No Photography” signs all over the place. This is the result of a visit to the factory by a group of Chinese after one year’s Musikmesse. The second they stepped onto the factory floor the group dispersed through the factory, taking pictures of any and everything. I am therefore all the more grateful to Ulrich, who allowed me to snap away, and only gently suggesting at a couple of locations that I shouldn’t take pictures of what the craftsmen were doing.

There are also “No Smoking” signs everywhere but that’s another story!

And here is where I publicly thank Ulrich Sauter, his staff, and Alvin for their kind hospitality and the time they spent making my visit so exciting and memorable. I could not have had a better visit to the Musikmesse and the Sauter factory.

I learned a lot about the art and science of piano design and piano manufacturing, and what makes a Sauter piano so special. I now understand why Ulrich is not losing any sleep over the Chinese copycats, because there is absolutely no way they can replicate the sound and feel of a Sauter piano. This is a good example where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

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One response

  1. Pingback: Iñaki’s blog « The Piano Chronicles

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