Archive for January, 2010
I get asked this question ALL the time: “Is this a full sized grand?” Hmmm full size… as opposed to half or quarter? lol. Well there are about three terms which get bantered about in the world of pianos and they are ‘concert grand’, ‘full size grand’ and ‘baby grand’. For those in the know, those terms DO get used, however, what is more talked about is size in feet and inches… or in europe, metres. The size is, first of all measured from the very tip of the keyboard to the very back round part of the grand piano. The width (left to right) barely changes due to the fact that there are usually the same amount of keys (88) and the rim and ‘cheek blocks’ on either side of the keys don’t vary a lot. I always count on 60″ to be safe for the width (actuals are anywhere from 57″-60″). Length, however, varies greatly. The “baby grand” term usually is defined as 4’11” to about 5’5″. The ‘full size grand’ varies greatly from 5’7″ to 6’10”. Just for interest sake, there’s a size (which is my personal favorite) called ‘semi-concert grand’ which is 7’4″ and then there’s the ‘concert grand’ size we see in concert halls at a whopping 9’4″! The biggest challenge in finding a piano is to become educated in the general categories. These have evolved into: 5′ , 5’8″, 6’1″, 6’6″, 7’4″ and 9’4″. Once you familiarize yourself with these lengths, you’ll appreciate the differences in all because they’re REALLY quite different at every stage. But don’t take my word for it… go out and try playing a few… and for heaven’s sakes… don’t ask if it’s full size… just say you’d like to try some 5’8″ or 6’1″ grands… you’ll look more edumacated…lol.
When it comes to pianos… size matters! Bigger is ALWAYS better. In pianos there are four areas where size comes into play: the soundboard, the hammers and shanks, the strings and the keystick. All of these four areas contribute to a piano sounding as rich as possible and feeling as consistent as they can be. The soundboard is the amplifier to the piano. The more square inches of soundboard, the greater the resonating area (if it’s manufactured correctly). The longer the stings on a piano (which means either length in a grand or height in an upright), the deeper the voice of the piano. The longer the shank (within reason), the better the blow distance of the hammer to the string (and also less of an arc is required). And finally, the longer the keystick, the greater the control. That is why taller uprights are considered ‘professional’ and semi-concert grands and concert grands are 7 and 9 feet long… Bigger is ALWAYS better.
Pictured are two pianos – the one above is a small upright piano. The one below is a tall professional instrument. Note that the size of the ‘action’ – the mechanism is considerably taller in one than the other. This provides better control over the keys – especially in the area of quiet playing.
Recently i had the privilege of working on a brand new piano which will remain nameless. The instrument was adequate but one problem kept cropping up – and that is that the necessary friction was all over the map. When you play a piano, in the 6000 moving parts, friction accounts for about 15 grams of touch on the instrument on average. You might think that absence of all friction would be ideal but that is not true. Some resistance is required. So what happens if the friction is excessive or absent? You get a poor playing piano with a VERY inconsistent touch. On this particular piano, the joint at what is called the flange was completely out of line. In addition, key bushings were WAY too sloppy. How does that happen when a piano is brand new? Simple. Use green lumber during the manufacturing process. Wood that has not been dried properly is known as “green”. If the wood contains too much humidity and has not been thoroughly dried naturally or in a kiln, the wood eventually will dry out and also warp. In this case, the once fitting joints obviously were not made with properly cured wood. It is difficult from the consumer’s point of view to determine this. Reputable companies cure their wood for up to 2 years before manufacturing. Companies of ill repute simply mill the wood and insert into the piano. What ensues is a whole raft of issues to deal with later. My advice? Be REALLY discerning on a new piano with regards to touch. If it feels ‘sloppy’ or wiggly or tight, there’s a good chance it has substandard parts – ones that are not correctly fitting. And word to the wise: if the wood isn’t right, there’s a good chance the felt is poor, the design is poor and other materials are also cheaply made. Buyer beware: you DO get what you pay for.
PS… the picture is one of a grand action. The red circles are joints – a steel pin surrounded by cloth inserted into wood.