A piano in the home makes a silent statement, but a grand piano is considered the ultimate in elegance. When given a choice between a grand piano and a vertical a musician will usually choose the grand piano. Why, you may ask is the grand piano so much more desirable than a vertical piano. Herein we'll cover some frequently asked questions that can help you select the right piano for your purposes.

First all pianos are not created equal. A good quality vertical piano is better than a cheaply built grand piano. Grand pianos range in price from $4,995 upward to over $170,000. What makes the more expensive pianos better? Quality of materials, aging of woods and quality of craftsmanship to craft them. The more time the manufacturer takes to build a piano and the better felt, leather and woods used will translate to a piano that is capable of projecting sound efficiently and also better tone.

 

A piano's action (the mechanism that propels the hammers when the keys are struck) is quite intricate. The action has thousands of parts, all of which are adjusted and built to very fine tolerances. One key that has a slight variance in its action will cause that key to perform differently, affecting the proficiency of ones touch and musical dynamics. Better felts will not wear as quickly as those in cheaply made felt/leather. Further, better quality woods used in the action will contract and expand causing alignment problems and again affecting one's dynamic control.

Keys used in a piano should be made of quality wood, such as spruce, basswood AND utilize key buttons, which helps give the key stability and prevents excessive wear.

 

Tuning stability is crucial to the overall tone of the piano. The pin block, the multi-laminate plank of wood where the tuning pins reside must be made with premium woods so torque on the pins is sufficient to withstand the over 20 tons or string tension. Some pin blocks use a few, very thin laminates that are not going to hold as well as one that has multiple laminates. Hard rock maple is the most accepted pin block by major manufacturers as one that will, over the long haul maintain tight pins, helping to maintain good tuning stability.

The soundboard is the diagraph that, when the strings are stretched across the bridges oppose the strings tension, thereby amplifying the strings vibrations. Good quality bridges and soundboards are a must to again produce quality tone. Soundboards can be either laminated or solid. A Sitka spruce is considered to be the best wood for soundboards in pianos, guitars, violins and other acoustic instruments.

 

A solid soundboard is better than a laminated. Soundboard are made with edge-glued planks of spruce wood to create a large diaphragm, and then cut to fit the piano's perimeter. The solid soundboard is more flexible than that of a laminated board, (kind of like a sandwich of three pieces of spruce or other wood). The tone of a laminated board tends to have a brittle sound whereas the solid board has a more responsive tone that is much more pleasing.

An old wives tale about cracked soundboards is just that....a wives tale. A soundboard that has a crack, first in almost all cases can be repaired, IF the tone is even affected by the crack. I have tuned a number of pianos that give no indication of a problem. Now, if the ribs, (on the backside of the soundboard which helps maintain the crown or similar to a drum head) have separated from the soundboard, there may be a buzz, or weak tone. But again that is easily repaired. We repair soundboards/rib frequently. So, if a piano you are considering has a "bad soundboard" or a "cracked soundboard" let a qualified piano tuner-technician examine the piano for you. Chances are the piano is just fine.

Another note about soundboards....a grand piano that is say 60-90 years old may have a soundboard that has lost its crown. If the piano is a quality piano, such as a Steinway & Sons, Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, Bosendorfer or other quality piano, it's worth replacing the soundboard and restringing when the piano is being restored. A Steinway piano today that is rebuilt with a new soundboard can bring from $22,000-90,000 depending on the size of the piano.

 

So what kind of piano should you buy; a console, studio, spinet or grand piano? It depends on how it will be used. Will the piano be played at home, at college, a church? Each application will place varying demands on the instrument. A piano that is made cheaply will not last nearly as long in a college as it will in a home. The size of the grand piano needs to be considered. The longer the piano, the more volume and better tone quality it will produce. A piano that is too small for a church will be beat to death in an attempt to bring out more volume for choral works, or when playing with a band. So the length of the piano, which provides larger soundboard area and longer strings will be best in those instances where a smaller one will be just fine for home or studio use.

As you consider a piano even a cheap grand piano is just fine for many homes. But as the player excels the tonal and touch demands will increase. If you stick with the better quality grand pianos you can be assured that it will provide you the performance you expect. Some older pianos that are no longer in production (yes parts are readily available) such as Chickering, Sohmer, Krakauer, Cable, Mathushek are among the better built pianos that are good to consider.

 

Do remember this; a piano has a life. It's amazing to me how people will buy a piano and play, play and play it without tuning it or having a technician service the action. If it makes a noise they think its fine. But when someone who plays sits down it's all but impossible to perform properly. Pianos do need tuning and service yearly. So, if you consider a used piano be sure that work has been done or at least if the piano has great potential after repairs are made. Don't hesitate to buy from a private owner, just make sure you contact a technician before you lay out the cash.


 

The author, Keith Hutson has been a piano tuner-technician, rebuilder for over 30 years. His services have been requested by world famous musicians. He also provides consultation for those who are shopping for an acoustic piano. Visit his website http://WWW.FloridaPianoWorks.com. He can be reached at floridapianoworks@gmail.com

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