The C. Bechstein Concert Series grand pianos represent the pinnacle of piano building. Not a single design or material decision has been made with cost in mind. Virtually every inch of the piano is hand-made to the Nth degree. And while other instruments may feature one or two similarities, not a single production competitor comes even close to consistently selecting the very best at every turn.
At a commanding 7’8”, the C. Bechstein C 234 is the second-largest grand piano of the legendary Masterpiece/Concert Series. This is an instrument capable of both the subtlest of nuances, and serious, room-filling power. The C 234 sounds very similar to its older sibling, the C. Bechstein D 282 9’ concert grand, and shares all of the same features such as a soundboard of Val Di Fieme Spruce (same wood source as the Stradivarius violins), Dark Walnut Double-felted Hammers, and a treble-bell, designed to create and preserve proper crown in the treble-section of the soundboard, and also adjustment hardware to tweak the overall soundboard tension at the factory.
Built with fanatical precision, it takes over 15 months and close to 700 work hours to build this instrument. Despite high praise of the entire Masterpiece series, Larry Fine singles out the C 234 in the Piano Buyer Guide profile on C. Bechstein, specifically for its wide dynamic range, tonal color, and responsive action. For anyone seeking the best of the best when it comes to the Semi-Concert grand size, look no further than the C. Bechstein C 234.
C. Bechstein reserves its finest action for their Masterpiece series uprights and grand pianos. The C 234 features Bechstein’s “Gold Action”, which indicates both the level of regulation and voicing this action receives, the precision of the componentry, and the hammers which are used. These actions are built to extreme tolerances, and undergo many hours of refinement at the factory.
As a result of the fanatical attention these actions receive, they are near perfect out of the box.
Perfectly balanced, beautifully fluid, and capable of the most subtle nuance without being lightly weighted or timid when pushed.
Only the most elite and enduring piano builders have a specific sound associated with their name, and the “C. Bechstein Sound” has long been known for refined clarity and a veritable kaleidoscope of colour. The C 234 perfectly exemplifies the classic Bechstein sound better than any other instrument they build, with the exception of the D 282.
What this clarity of tone actually means is that all harmonics and partials within a note are even, without phase, and consistent from note to note throughout the entire range of the instrument. This is only achieved through precision of construction and design. Even if you took the finest materials possible, if the design is lacking and the construction is not perfectly executed, this level of clarity will simply not be achieved.
This precision is clearly reflected in the bridge design; the bridge is made of high-quality vertically laminated sycamore maple layers using state-of-the-art CNC technology. Precision down to a hundredth of a millimeter guarantees every ounce of subtlety is captured from the strings.
C. Bechstein’s commitment to ensuring as much control over the entire manufacturing process is like few others in the industry, and really shines through when it comes to the hammers. Bechstein is the only European manufacturer who produces their own hammerheads. Not only do they produce their own hammerheads, but every instrument throughout their lineup features a set of hammers custom-tailored to that specific instrument. To do this, Bechstein built their own hammerhead production facility from the ground up located in Germany, which is of course highly unusual in a globalized world culture.
The C 234 features hammers of a dark walnut core, covered with New Zealand wool utilizing a top-secret, traditional proprietary method. The hammers are individually voiced by hand by expert technicians before the piano leaves the factory. The result of manufacturing their own hammers which are then each individually hand voiced? Greater dynamic range and spectrum of tonal colors.
At the center of the C 234 and the main reason for its specific tone is it’s Italian Red Spruce soundboard, from the famed Val Di’ Fiemme in Italy, grown slowly at elevations of 1,000 meters and higher. This same source of spruce that Stradivarius used for his violins, and C. Bechstein are one of only 2 manufacturers who utilize this exclusive wood for their grand piano soundboards, the other being Fazioli.
The soundboard design itself is also very interesting and one of the main causes of the “bloom” like nature of the tone; each soundboard is tapered and fashioned as a membrane with its projection surface adjusted to the pianos specific acoustic assembly, like in violin-making. This membrane design makes the soundboard responsive to the slightest of vibrations without energy loss, allowing for maximum resonance.
C. Bechstein’s core design philosophy revolves around the idea of activating the entire structure, including the frame and cabinet and minimizing energy loss as much as possible. This is done through triple joinery, long-aged woods which are highly stable and precision fitted, and using a mix of hardwoods to ensure that no biasing occurs.
The inner rim is made of massive horizontal mahogany and red beech layers.The combination of the soundboard, ribs, and the bridge is inserted and glued into the inner rim, which is then adapted so that it supports the board’s crown. This complex procedure contributes to the optimization of the soundboard’s resonance.
The outer rim consists of vertical and horizontal beech layers that are glued together and shaped to achieve optimum solidity. The material is carefully selected to ensure that the case remains highly stable, and perfectly frames the soundboard.
The pinblock needs to be mentioned here as well. The pinblock found in the C 234 is one the most advanced in the world, utilizing a combination of thick and thin solid plains of beech, mahogany, and maple woods, all at alternating angles. It creates an incredibly even tension on the pin which remains consistent in different climates, and with superb durability.