Vincitore’s Hudson Valley Piano Center Tuned In to Hybrid Piano Trend

Hybrid pianos are taking the music world by storm

Vincitore’s Hudson Valley Piano Center in Poughkeepsie has been selling pianos for seven decades, and owner Jon Vincitore calls himself an “old-school” piano dealer. But one of his biggest sellers these days, the hybrid piano, isn’t actually what you’d call “old school.”

Like almost everything else, pianos have gone digital. On a traditional piano, the keys raise hammers that tap finely tuned strings to produce sound. On the new hybrid models, the keys trigger fiber-optic beams of light, which release prerecorded sound samples through speakers distributed at harmonically appropriate locations in the piano’s body. Sounds fancy, right?

Of course, electric pianos have been around a long time. What makes these hybrid pianos different? The exceptional sound quality. “Sampling technology has gotten very good,” Vincitore says. “Yamaha [the brand he sells] has made digital pianos for 30 years, but now the sampling is more complex, sonically and harmonically. It used to be choppy and thin, but today the cost of [computer] memory is negligible, so they can sample more tones.”

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Along with tone, Vincitore says, the touch or “action” — how the keys react to the player — is what makes a quality piano. Electronic pianos have always felt different to accomplished players, but the hybrids mimic the feel of an old-school grand piano. “These have the same action as a conservatory grand,” Vincitore says. They can even “read” how hard or soft the player strikes the key and change the volume of the note accordingly. “This is just fascinating to me,” he says.

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Tickle the ivories: Yamaha’s hybrid pianos allow musicians to plug headphones into the instrument to hear their performance; its corresponding apps enable them to easily mix their compositions and share them with others

So how does it work? The piano employs a phase-shifting mechanism that coordinates all the speakers and amplifiers (the AvantGrand N3 by Yamaha, its high-end model, has 12 and 16, respectively) so the sound shifts as the pianist moves up and down the keyboard. “For the first time, an acoustic piano has met its match,” Vincitore says.

In fact, it may be overmatched, since the hybrid can do things no acoustic can dream of. You can plug headphones into it to hear your performance without disturbing your family or the neighbors. It has apps that enable musicians to easily mix their compositions and share them with others via a thumb drive or Internet connection. You can connect to a personal computer and compare the notes on sheet music to the ones you are actually playing and see your mistakes. And, a hybrid never needs to be tuned.

The touch or “action” — how the keys react to the player — is what makes a quality piano. The hybrids “have the same action as a conservatory grand,” Vincitore says

The best feature of all, however, may be the price. A conservatory-level baby grand goes for around $30,000, Vincitore says, but the AvantGrand N3 is about half that, at around $17,000. An upright model can be had for around $7,000.

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Sales are strong, Vincitore says, especially among accomplished pianists like Harold Roeder. Roeder has a master’s degree in music and piano, has taught piano, and has given concerts for years. “I know the piano well,” he says modestly. He lived in the Hudson Valley for many years and owned a Yamaha grand that he bought in 1968. But he recently moved to a smaller home in Pennsylvania, “and it couldn’t hold that big grand,” he says. While poking around Vincitore’s one day, “I wandered over to an acoustic, nine-foot concert grand. I played that, and next to that was the Avant. When I played that, it was very difficult to tell the difference.”

Roeder says the day will come when hybrid pianos are played in the great concert halls of the world. “It is no longer a toy or some alternative,” he says. “It has become a very legitimate piano, a real professional machine.”

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