Abel Hammer Company
- Anne Beetem Acker
German firm of piano hammer manufacturers. Helmut Abel GmbH was founded in 1982 in Frickhausen by Helmut Abel (b Sonneberg, Thüringen, 6 July 1936), who had earlier worked for Renner. His son Norbert (b Schalkau, Thüringen, 24 March 1957) has managed finances, marketing, and research since the beginning. In 1985 the business name was changed to Abel Hammer Company. Helmut Abel’s younger son, Frank (b Wernau, Baden-Württemberg, 21 Sept 1963), joined the firm in 1986. In 1993 the company moved to a larger facility in Frankenhardt. After Helmut’s retirement as technical manager, in 2001, Frank assumed that position. Norbert’s son Alexander (b Ruit, Baden-Württemberg, 14 March 1990) completed an apprenticeship as a piano technician and in 2001 entered a course to become a piano master, with the intention of joining the firm after completion.
The firm makes piano hammers based on historical methods, yet employing modern technology for consistent quality. Abel also restores and duplicates hammer parts and recovers original hammer heads, using an old Dolge hammer press imported in 1996. In 2003 the firm initiated the Biofelt Project, sponsored by the European Union, to develop better hammer felt and ecologically sound methods of felt production. Their research showed that wool is damaged by modern cleaning chemicals, resulting in more compacted felt, and consequently harder, less resilient piano hammers. Based on this work, Abel developed two qualities of premium hammer felt: ‘classic’ felt has characteristics appropriate for late 20th- and 21st-century pianos; ‘natural’ felt resembles older piano felts with high natural lanolin content and high resilience.
Despite a worldwide decline of piano sales, Abel’s annual output grew from about 13,000 sets of hammers in 1993 to more than 40,000 sets by 2011, far outpacing that of any competitor. Piano manufacturers using Abel hammers include Blüthner, Bechstein, Steinway, Fazioli, Sauter, Schimmel, Mason & Hamlin, Walter, and about 15 Asian companies.