Posts tagged steel

Piano Frames – Steel or Iron?

My gears about this post started in January of this year.  I briefly discussed the concept of steel frames in pianos with piano designer Del Fandrich at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim, California.  Until recently steel hasn’t been really considered as an option for a frame in a piano.  It’s relative brother iron is just so much easier to work with and cost effective… and let’s face it, the development of the piano is shrouded in tradition.  “If it ain’t broke” some would argue, “don’t fix it”.  Well enter the age of the super-piano.  Pianos designed with extreme accuracy, pianos manufactured by computer assisted tools called CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) – lathes that can cut out parts within thousandths of an inch.  We are also living in an era where there are giant piano manufacturers but also boutique makers who put out pianos in excess of $250,000.  With the holy grail of pianos much more in view than 100 years ago, mark my words that change is in the wind.  Seguay.

As a kid do you remember those REEEEEALLY bouncy small rubber balls? Do you? I grew up in a house that had a central hallway.  Well you can imagine what fun those balls were when you bounced one at any angle.  Our cat was wide-eyed and mystified at such a toy.  The success of those bouncy balls is due in part to the density of the ball but ALSO, equally important is the reflective surface.  Try bouncing it on a soft rug and all energy is lost.  So the guiding principle then is that the harder the reflective surface, the more the energy is transfered outward correct?

Pianos are no different.  Lately i’ve been working on a 1923 Steinway.  The action rail is a long rail which holds all of the hammer, shanks and flanges in place.  Interesting to note is the METAL rail.  While 98% of the companies in that day simply used wooden rails, Steinway was using cast rails.  Yamaha in about 1970 redesigned all of their pianos to have alluminum rails.  What does that mean? Well when the hammer strikes the string, it means that the harder surface (ie metal) is like the cement floor with the bouncy ball.  It pushes the energy outward.  Wood, though firm doesn’t hold a candle to metal of any kind.  With energy loss also comes sound projection loss.

Fast forward over one hundred years from Steinway’s action rail.  Now make no mistake that iron in pianos is the backbone and is the rigid frame in any piano.  But what happens if you use a substance whose strength is MINIMUM three TIMES greater than that of iron.  Back to the bouncy ball.  Firmer structures make for greater projection.  When i interviewed Petrof at NAMM, their new designs which can’t be seen are some of the more exciting changes i’ve seen in years.  One technician who was at the show told me all about the implementation of steel in their keybed.  Interesting.  The keybed is the framework around the keys.  Again… hate to sound like a broken record but… harder the surface, the greater the projection.  And now what have they gone and done? Check this out…. STEEL frame – not just iron.  Kudos to them.  Now this may not be news to some… but it’s news to me.  Change is in the wind… and we’re going to see it in our lifetime.

Oh and BTW, due to increased strength, somewhat less steel is used thus exposing more of the soundboard.  See how the frame is almost like a spider’s web? Brilliant.  The Petrof model is called the Monsoon.  When it rains it pours…

The Problem with New Piano Strings

Five.  The number is five.  In my estimation, pianos require 5 tunings to stabilize the stretch in the steel.  Did you just read correctly? There’s stretch in steel? Absolutely.  And to prove it, try tuning a piano with new strings.  The first 3 times are almost laughable how much the pitch alters.  By the fourth and fifth times the strings level out.  Why is this important? There are three applications: if you have purchased a new piano, expect to tune it more than once in your first year.  Second, if you have just restored an old vintage piano – same thing applies.  I would hope that some of (if not most) of those tunings would’ve been done prior to arriving at your house but you’d be surprised at how off pitch i’ve seen new (and even expensive) pianos after the first year.  Third, if you EVER have a string break on a piano – just remember that putting the string on is the easy part… retuning 5 times that year… more challenging.  Recently i was at a customer’s home where the family piano had been dropped by movers.  6 strings broke trying to bring it back up to pitch – apparently the sudden jolt altered it considerably.  After ordering these new bass strings, it only took me a half hour to put them on but i told this teacher that i need to stop in for just a few minutes to tune because they won’t hold for the first few tunings. Just some thoughts to remember…

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