Posts tagged energy

Floating Piano Soundboards… What’s all the hype?

So the concept is not new… but rather new to ME. In January, i decided to interview all of the manufacturers at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants). It took me 3 days to get through all of the pianos and speak to everyone at this large trade show. One of the companies that caught my attention due to design implementation was Young Chang. Speaking with designer Del Fandrich, we looked at “floating” soundboards. But before we get into floating soundboards, let’s first look at soundboards in general.
A soundboard appears to be a big flat sheet of wood (usually spruce) underneath the strings on the piano. The soundboard isn’t actually flat but slightly curved under compression. The purpose is that it acts like (what i would call) an amplifier… technically speaking my engineering friends would call it a transducer – transforming energy into sound. We hear the piano tone primarily because of the vibration of the soundboard.
So what’s a ‘floating’ soundboard then? Well pianos have two battling elements – string length vs. soundboard flex. What do i mean by that? The longer the strings are, the deeper the sound of the piano. That’s why 9′ long concert grands sound magnificent! They have lonnnnnnng strings. So if you were to stretch the strings in a short piano to the very edge of the rim, you would think that you would have this marvelous tone right? Wrong. See that’s where this battle goes on. Think about diving boards for a moment. The closer you are to the edge of the pool, the less the diving board will move. Why? Because it’s attached to the side of the pool (which is rigid). The farther out over the water, the more the diving board will flex. So back to pianos, the closer you get to the rim, the more the rim ‘stifles’ the sound vibration. Ideally the bridge of a piano should be some distance away from the rim. Enter the floating soundboard concept. So… what happens if you could have the best of both worlds? What happens if you have long strings AND flexibility? That’s what has happened with Young Chang’s latest design. If you look straight down in the bass section on their latest pianos, the soundboard is not attached to the outside rim for the entire bass section. The advantage then is that you can have longer strings and still have decent vibration of the soundboard in the bass because it is not attached. Kudos to Young Chang for being not necessarily the first to the finish line but being one of the largest piano companies in the world to embrace this advance in technology and build bigger sounding pianos.

Rotational Inertia…Kinetic Energy

rkeI’m the first to admit, i’m not into physics – not to say i don’t enjoy it, but i’m untrained in the area of advanced physics.  What i AM interested in though is the practical application of physics – more specifically the touch of the piano.  A few years back i had a Yamaha C5 in my shop.  Beautiful instrument.  It was apparent however that the touch was simply ALL WRONG.  It had been monkeyed with.  So i applied usual regulation specs and it turned out nicely.  However, there was one niggly thing sitting in the back of my head that just wouldn’t go away… and that is that the instrument felt somehow sluggish.  At the same time i had been looking over some ideas on key weighting which is the concept of adding/removing lead weights into the keys to achieve a more balanced keyboard.  For those who are unaware, key weighting is a common practice in MOST pianos.  The key weighting is part of the balancing of the equation to achieve a certain initial weight at the outset of the key.  (And if you don’t believe me, next time you’re near a grand, press down a key and look at the neighbouring keysticks – you may just catch a glimpse of a circular led weight inserted into the key. )  Anyhow, for kicks i thought that i would key weight this C5.  Sure enough the touch improved dramatically.  End of story? Nope… i was still bugged by that same sluggish feel.  So i rechecked my work and i must say that at soft playing, the piano was EXCEPTIONAL.  It wasn’t until you hit the fast notes that i noticed the problem.  Well… the piano ended up selling but that problem lingered in the back of my head. 

Fast forward 3 years.  I have a client who is an engineer.  We were speaking about physics, touch of the piano… and he just so happened to mention Kinetic Energy.  I had a small epiphany… i thought to myself… IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER HOW MUCH KEY WEIGHTING HAPPENS BECAUSE THAT ONLY REPRESENTS THE HAMMER AT REST POSITION.  AHA! No wonder that piano felt great at soft volumes – there was little inertia and the key weighting was ‘closer’ to the ‘at rest’ weight.  So… the ONLY way then to affect touch is to change the mass.  Ok gears turning here… if i could measure the velocity of the hammer in travel (ie radar, infrared beam etc) and the weight of the hammer i can measure… then i would be able to calculate the Kinetic Energy.  What that means then is that one could ‘reverse’ model the ‘feel’ of great pianos.  The rotational radius is similar as pianos have become more standardized.  The combination then of calculated KE and key weighting would make for an undeniable touch don’t you think?  So if KE=1/2MV2… we know mass… if only i could determine velocity… hmmm… thinking thinking… could i borrow my cop friend’s radar gear? lol.

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