How Pianos Are Made

Piano History

Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori (1655-1731) is credited with inventing and constructing the first piano in 1709. He called his first model “gravicembalo col piano e forte,” which means harpsichord with loud and soft. Over time, the name was shortened to ‘fortepiano’ and eventually ‘piano.’

Interestingly, Cristfori was employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, as the Keeper of Instruments. He used his knowledge of the harpsichord and its mechanisms to craft the functionality of his new creation.

The fortepiano was unknown and unpopular for several years until an Italian critic, Scipione Maffei, published an article about the new instrument in 1711. The article, which included a diagram of the mechanism was subsequently translated to German and became widely distributed. For the next generation, many craftsmen developed similar instruments based upon that article.

Piano Construction

Before discussing the steps in making a piano, it is important to know the raw materials used in its construction. Some of the materials used in piano-making include high-quality wood, metal, steel wire, and molten iron. Wood is primarily used in crafting rim and patterns of the piano parts. Metal is used to build the cast iron plate and molten iron is required for casting. Sand is mixed with Bentonite and is required for casting the molds.

In modern designs, essential materials are used by engineers who determine the proper measurements depending on the type of piano being made. Although the outward aesthetics of grand pianos and upright pianos are very different, the internal mechanics of the instruments are quite similar.

The Piano Building Process

Making the Rim

The rim of the piano is made of high-quality wood to give it a good appearance as well as strength. Many top manufacturers prefer to use spruce and maple varieties because of their excellent tonal properties. These wood species are also dense and hard. Making the rim requires bending the wood to achieve the desired shape.

The grand piano rim involves an inner and outer rim. Layers of wood are glued together and bent through a metal press to form a continuous rim shape. The wooden sheets are then passed through an industrial process to achieve the conditions for perfect shaping. The inner edge is specially designed with additional components such as a pin block, cross block, and braces to form the structure of the piano with features to support the soundboard.

The inner and outer rims are then sanded and lacquered. Next, the inner and outer rims are joined together through a process of high-frequency induction heating. The final step of the rim making process is completed by spraying an undercoat and keeping it warm to hasten the drying and hardening process. A final top coat is added and polishing is added to the finish to make it attractive.

Making the Structural Piano Components

The pin block and the cast iron plate make up the framework and are suitable for supporting the tension of the strings. The pin block is made from the layers of the maple that are joined together in an industrial process.

The orientation of the pin block system in a grand piano is different from that of the upright piano. The upright piano has a pin block that is vertically oriented while a grand piano has a pin block that is horizontal.

The cast iron plate is specially designed by engineers using various raw materials such as metal, molten iron, and sand molds. The match plates are constructed from metal while the sand molds are utilized during the casting of the plate. The sand molds are designed from the match plates and the molten iron is allowed to pass through the molds. Then, the molten metal is allowed to cool and harden, resulting in a plate. That plate is then removed from the molds and sand is incorporated on the plate by use of steel grit. The plate then undergoes a drilling process where holes are made for the tuning pins, hitch pins, nose bolts, and bolts to the frame. Lastly, the plate undergoes the finishing procedures before it is fitted to the rim.

Making the Soundboard

The soundboard represents one of the essential components of the piano that determines the quality of the sound produced. The soundboard of the grand piano is horizontally oriented and projects the sound waves in an up-and-down manner. For the upright piano, the soundboard is vertically oriented and is positioned behind the strings and the frame.

The soundboard is made of spruce and consists of a thin layer of a wooden sheet. The wood for the soundboard undergoes a mechanical process to achieve a particular moisture content through air drying and kiln drying. The spruce is then cut into strips, edges glued, pressed together and dried.

Finally, the soundboard is then designed with a pattern according to the specifications of the piano model. The ribs are then attached to the lower side of the soundboard using industrial glue. Then the soundboard is passed through the curving procedure to produce the desired sound.

The Bridge

The bridge is responsible for the passing of the string vibrations into the soundboard, which allows the soundboard to resonate and produce the sound.

Piano Strings

Steel wire is used in the making of piano strings. In the making of a grand piano, the resulting strings are longer than those used in the making of an upright piano. However, the strings in both piano types consist of varying lengths and diameters to produce different tones across all 88 piano keys.

Piano Keys

The classic song “Ebony and Ivory” is a reference to black and white piano keys. Traditionally, the black keys were made of ebony while the white keys were covered with thin ivory strips. Underneath those strips were keys made of sugar pine in the early days of pianos. More recent models – especially high-end pianos – have white keys made of durable ivory-like plastic.

The Piano Keyboard

The piano keyboard represents the most recognizable part of the piano. The keyboard consists of the individual piano keys laid out in a scheme that makes the instrument playable.

In the making of the keys in the keyboard system, the lightweight wood is cut into the required sizes and then kiln-dried. The same material used in the making of the soundboard can also be used to construct the piano keys. The keys are covered with black and white plastic as opposed to the past when ebony and ivory were used.

The plastic-covered keys undergo molding and each key is specially designed and cut. Holes are then drilled on the underside of the keys to fit the guide pins. Capstan screws are then used to fix the keys in place. Next, the 88 keys are cut, sanded and polished. The staining of the keys then takes place with the sharp and flat keys being painted black.

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