I will go to my grave arguing that horizontally laminated bridges are the WORST thing possible on a piano. Sometimes my blog is informative while today i just need to rant. Yesterday i tuned a brand new piano (which will remain nameless) and i thought to myself – i’ve tuned pianos that are 100 years old that are better than this #$%[email protected]#. What is WRONG with this piano???? So i guess a wee bit more description would help: It was a continental style upright. Continental means it has no front legs and is rather narrow front to back. Rather narrow usually means short key sticks. Short key sticks means it usually doesn’t feel very balanced. Check mark. Then i noticed that the dampers were lifting AHEAD of the hammers. WHAT???? The damper blocks dampen the sound and should be removed from the strings about halfway through the key stroke. Instead, they were lifting BEFORE the hammers were even moving. Ridiculous! In addition to lifting at the wrong time, the damper springs were so heavy that it made any kind of delicate playing impossible. OK wait… there’s more. So about 2 octaves above middle C, the tone just decided to take a left turn and sound like a tin can on steroids. But the Pièce de résistance in this piano was the lack of sustain. I took one look at the bridge (pictured) and added it to my list of bad pianos of all time. I have NEVER NEVER NEVER played a piano regardless of name brand that has a horizontally laminated bridge. WHY? Because sound will not travel through 14 layers of glue. FOURTEEN!?? Yep. Fourteen. I counted.
So if you have no idea what i’m talking about, a bridge (like that on a guitar) is the part on the piano where the strings transfer energy to the soundboard. If you look at the picture, you’ll see the strings crossing over the bridge pins onto this piece of wood. In this cheap piano, they made it out of layers and layers of glue… errr i mean wood. It is my experience that bad bridges are bad for business. The pianos ALWAYS sound terrible.
Now i understand the need for cost effective manufacturing and maybe this is my ignorance in woodworking but if you need to make a cheap bridge, why not turn it 90 degrees and do a vertically laminated bridge so that the sound is running down the individual strips of wood? The big boys (those who build $100,000 plus pianos) usually have a solid one piece with a cap for structural integrity resulting in great transference but also crazy costs. But i’ve also played really great pianos with 5 ply vertically laminated bridges. That is my guess at why i can play a 100 year old Bechstein that sounds wonderful (on today’s list of tunings) and why this piano that is brand new plays like dirt. Manufacturers need to wake up and realize that if there are corners to be cut, tone is not one of them. This week a piano tech said to me “The road to hell is paved with shortcuts”. Truly this is one of them.