As your piano tuner Wilmington DE, I am often asked what makes a high quality piano different from a lesser quality piano. Often, the underlying question is whether it is better to buy an inexpensive new piano or a quality used piano. Before we answer that underlying question, it will be helpful to give background information on the difference between pianos of differing quality.

There are three main areas that differ between expensive and inexpensive pianos. They are:

1) Resonance of the instrument

2) Sensitivity, speed of repetition, and reliability of the piano action

3) Beauty of the tone of the instrument

We will deal with each of the three main areas in a separate article. Then in the fourth article, we will answer the underlying question about which is better to buy.

Resonance of the instrument refers to the ability of the instrument to amplify and sustain the sound coming from the piano strings. It is relatively difficult and expensive to construct a piano that is resonant. It occurs as a result of careful design and construction of the piano soundboard and bridges of the instrument. It starts with choosing and aging sitka spruce that has a close grain and which transmits sound rapidly along its grain. The spruce is planed to a 3/8″ thickness and butt-jointed to make a large sheet of wood that is as large as possible for the size of the piano. This soundboard is then placed in a bellying board and ribs are glued across the grain of the wood as the board is pushed into the bellying board with thousands of pounds of pressure. Once the glue is dry, the soundboard will have a convex crown and be a live resonant structure. This soundboard is placed in the piano, and maple bridges are installed to hold each piano string. Then, a cast iron plate is installed above that structure at a carefully predetermined height. The height is critical to the resonance of the instrument, because it will determine the height of the strings. The goal is to have the strings push down slightly on the bridges in order to communicate the vibration of the strings to the piano soundboard for amplification. The total downward pressure of the strings typically totals 500 pounds, which pushes the soundboard down appreciably.

Once the piano is strung and the height of the strings on the soundboard has changed, there is no way to adjust it; so the whole system needs to be set up carefully from the beginning, for it to result in the optimum height and therefore the optimum resonance. If any shortcuts are taken due to cost-cutting in this process, the overall result suffers and must be compensated for in other structures. We will explain more about this in the third and fourth articles.

Our next article will explain the second main area, the function of the action or mechanical part of the piano, from the piano keys to the piano hammers which strike the strings.

If you have any questions about pianos, please give us a call or email us. We are your Wilmington DE piano tuning experts. Kenneth Keith Piano Services also provides piano maintenance and piano tuning Philadelphia, Northern Shore MD and Southern NJ.