Describing sound is a bit like describing wine, or colour; we all wind up using describing words which attempt, as best as possible, to match an abstract experience with something we can relate to. Learning to understand how one piano’s touch and tone is different than another can be an important and satisfying part of selecting your new instrument, and the following list discusses some of the more commonly used terms and their general meanings.
A bright piano is normally a description of a sound which heavily emphasizes the top of the EQ range. Think of this as boosting the treble in your car or home stereo; there may be mid and lower tones which are in the sound, but they are much quieter than the higher frequencies, giving the sound a very piercing, sharp tone. This can be caused by a number of factors in a piano, such as a fast strike speed (of the hammer), the hardness of the hammer, the tension of the scale design, or poor manufacturing (many false beats will cause a sharpness of tone as well).
A dark or muffled piano is normally a description of a sound in which the lower range of the EQ range is emphasized. Think of this as turning down your treble on your stereo, and turning ONLY the bass and little mid up; you will get a less defined, more boomy sound. This is generally a symptom of cheap or ill-prepared hammers, though it might also be a symptom of scale design as well.
Metallic or percussive piano tone is a combination of both a ‘bright’ sound, as we discussed above, but also a very fast and hard impact by the hammer. In an ideal situation, when the hammer hits the string, the sound is produced, and there is a nice even ‘dying out’ of the sound. In a percussive hammer, there is a very dramatic rise and fall in the volume as the hammer hits the string, but the longer ‘dying off’ sound is much quicker and softer than the initial hit.