Wayne Stuart is a proud Australian who has created the most outstanding revolution in grand piano design in generations.
He is the master designer and manufacturer of the Stuart Grand Piano that adds a dimension to the capability of the traditional name brands such as Steinway and Yamaha by expanding the normal octave range. Stuart & Sons is his moniker.
Wayne Stuart is an elegant man of uncertain years, greyed and bearded, as one would expect from a native of Van Dieman’s Land: he is a Taswegian from Tasmania. Wayne transported himself to the mainland and finally, well maybe, has located his life and business on a 13.5 acre farm just east of palindromic Tumut.
It is at one of the river exits of the giant Snowy Mountains scheme of southern New South Wales, and is served by the Tumut River. Whether it is coming into town from the west or leaving town to the east, looking forward or back, it is still Tumut, and it now has a new icon.
I had the fortune to meet Wayne in the company of one of his masterpieces at a concerto at the Peter Crisp Galleries about 90 minutes north of Tumut. We spent time chatting about small farms and good soil before I asked him for his tale. He started by telling me that he is a progeny of Gough Whitlam, that giant of a man and a revitaliser of Australian politics in the few short years he was Prime Minister in the mid 70’s.
Wayne was granted funding in 1976 to spend a year in Japan, enhancing his skill in the trade of grand pianos. Subsequently he had further international experience in Europe before adding his own spirit and artisanal expertise to the design of grand pianos in Australia, commencing manufacture of the Sturt Grand Piano over 20 years ago.
Wayne Stuart produces something unique in a grand piano, as well as adding a quizzical twist. On each Stuart grand piano is the name of the manufacturer, Stuart & Sons, followed by the rest of the brand name – ‘Terra Australis’.
He laments that the great composers for the piano were restricted by Steinway et al to an 88 digit ambitus (frequency range) losing the scope for a vast new array of composition. The obvious answer to this conundrum was achieved by Stuart through extending the range to 102 keys. This was achieved through collaboration with music wire makers to produce a super strong carbon steel wire.
My aim here is to share my feelings, not to give an engineering treatise. I wish simply to encourage the lover of piano music to seek out one of the 55 Stuart grands produced thus far and marvel at the sound quality and dynamic range of the instrument.
I asked Wayne what timber he used for the sound board. I am not sure that he gave a direct answer (but the answer is spruce), as he immediately enthused about the future of pianos from materials other than wood, about composite sound boards with spherical sound creation and the role of composites in the structure.
I reminisced about my many years in developing underwater sonar devices using just these sorts of materials, while still offering some defence for the ‘Stradivarian’ solution to sound creation from a stringed instrument. It seems that acceptance for such a radical change to creation of sound from a piano may be, as Wayne Stuart says, a generation away, but if anyone is going to leap that hurdle from this life or even the next, and bring sonar technology into the musical world, Stuart and Sons are highly likely to be at the forefront.
It will be an exciting afternoon later in November when Peter Crisp Galleries hosts a performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto with two grand pianos, the Stuart in one corner of the hay shed and a much smaller Yamaha edition in the opposite, and the music filling the skies. We hope it is recorded or possibly you should fly from anywhere just to be there.