The Falcone Piano



The Falcone Piano Company, which was located in the 1980's at 35 Duncan Street, Haverhill Massachusetts, produced a remarkable series of hand-made grand pianos in sizes of 6'1", a middle size 7'4" and the magnificent 9' Concert Grand. These were instantly recognized as superior instruments in regard to their tone, their responsiveness to nuances of touch, and the quality of the overall craftsmanship. A series of a few hundred pianos followed from this workshop after 1980 under the direct supervision of Santi Falcone, but it was not possible to continue the fine quality of this work in an increasingly expensive manufacturing world, and 1995 saw the last Falcone pianos coming from the Haverhill factory. Of the factory and the fine work done there by some of the most skilled instrument workers in the country, there is by now just a frail memory. But here is a TOUR of the Falcone factory from around 1985, which gives a good perception of what making a high quality, handmade piano requires in terms of space, equipment and dedicated workers.



A Factory Tour in 1984

FALCONE pianos are made on six floors of a converted shoe factory in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Raw materials and parts - - - Clear White Spruce, White Rock Maple, Mahogany, Birch and other premium woods, the finest German actions parts and music wire, rough cast-iron plates, fittings, finishes and so on - - - are brought in at the street level. Work begins on the first floor, and the FALCONE piano begins a six to nine month journey up from floor to floor. When it arrives, complete and gleaming, at the sixth floor Gallery, it must pass the inspection of the man whose name it bears.

The First Floor

Here the "bones" of the piano emerge through rough-sawing, shaping and planing of the woods. New England's largest bandsaw (two stories high) slices Rock Maple into thin layers which will be bent up into the inner and outer frames. The massive bonding forms for the rims and bridges were designed and made by Falcone. When the rim is bent, it is given a number, and the life of an individual piano begins. Rims go to the second floor to cure.

The Second Floor

Falcone's artisans fashion the "body" of the piano here. At one end of the floor the cast-iron plates are ground smooth and carefully marked and drilled for the tuning and hitch pins. Then a pin block is precisely fitted to its matching plate- - - a crucial step considering the 40,0-00 pounds of pressure it must withstand. After the plate is fitted to the case, it is taken to the fifth floor while the case goes to the third. At the other end of the second floor, the piano case is assembled. There, massive inner and outer rims are fastened together with the "belly rail", the support beams, and the keybed. Also at this point, Falcone's patented "soundboard calibrator" is installed.

The Third Floor

This is where the "skin" of the piano is smoothed and prepared for finishing. The inside of the rim receives a veneer of beautiful Mahogany, and the pianos - - - most of them destined to be ebony in color - - - are hand-sanded to perfection. Mahogany, Cherry, Walnut, and Rosewood cabinets are also prepared for finishing here. All cases then go to the fifth floor spray booths. Also on the third floor, sound boards of supple clear spruce are stored and crowned (curved). Crowning the board and attaching the ribs (reinforcing bars) is completed in one operation. The bridges, through which the sound of the string is transmitted, are individually shaped to fit the crown of the board. Once they are attached, the soundboard - - - also numbered - - - is fitted to each case. Finally the other cabinet parts (pedal lyre, lid, fallboard, and music desk) are test-fitted prior to being finished.

The Fourth Floor

On the fourth floor, each piano gets a "voice". The numbered, finished plate is united with each case and then the piano is strung. As yet the piano has no action or hammers, and the tuner must pluck the strings with a chip of wood, giving this step the name "chipping". Next the action and key assemblage - - - also built up here and pre-destined for this particular piano - - - are installed. Finally, the pedals and dampers are added, and the piano is nearly complete. Each instrument then goes through a long period of testing, retuning, and fine adjusting. By the time it is ready to leave the fourth floor, any Falcone piano has had more attention lavished upon it than any other piano in the world.

The Fifth Floor

Pianos are "dressed" here. The ebony and natural wood cabinets receive a hard polyester finish that is the equivalent of thirty coats of lacquer. Then they are hand-rubbed to a shimmering satin finish or buffed to a brilliant high shine. In a separate operation, the cast-iron plate and bracket (up from the second floor) are gilded and lacquered. Cabinets and plates descend to the fourth floor for final assembly.

The Sixth Floor

Here in the Concert Gallery, Falcon pianos await final attention and approval of Santi Falcone. Each piano is regulated and voiced to meet the new owner's preferences for touch and tone. Some are made to sing with a bell-like clarity, other are given a mellow, shaded sound. Keys and hammers respond with the utmost sensitivity and uniformity. When all is done, each and every Falcone piano delivers what which only a Falcone can . . . . with the acoustics of the grand pianos known for warmth, and the sound of the great pianos known for power.



William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris