As your piano tuner Wilmington DE, I am often asked why different pianos have different number of keys. There are several reason, and I will cover them here one by one.
The standard modern piano of today has 88 keys, but that number has been standard only since about 1900.
When the piano was invented around 1700, it had between 60 and 70 keys. There was no standard at that time. Generally, over the history of piano making, keys have been added, in order to make the instrument have greater possibilities available to the composer. What we think of as the modern piano evolved in the last half of the 19th century. In that era, most pianos had 85-88 keys. The pianos that had 85 notes were missing the top three notes that we see on most pianos now. If you look at used and rebuilt Steinway pianos in a store, you may see model “A”s from 1895 that are modern pianos with only 85 notes. In that era, the model “A” was the smallest piano that Steinway made, so they were economizing. They put 88 notes only their larger models in the same era. Some modern pianos today have less than 88 keys, with a purpose to economize both expense and space.
Since 1900, virtually all pianos have had 88 keys. An exceptions are some larger grand pianos made by Bosendorfer. It has extra keys in the bass. The question people always have is, “Why have those keys if there is no music written for them?” Conceivably there could be music written for them in the future, but generally they are not made to be played. The primary reason for them is to have the additional strings for those notes stabilize the bass bridge. The wave lengths of the lowest notes on a piano are so large and powerful that when the strings vibrate the waves are transmitted to the piano bridge and and the whole bridge and soundboard unit is moved up and down as the string vibrates. The result is a constantly changing tension on the string, which results in the pitch going up and down as the string vibrates. On a standard 88-note piano, if you play the lowest note on the piano powerfully, the pitch actually goes up and down as the piano string vibrates. By having extra strings to stabilize the bass bridge, the Bosendorfer attempts to have a more pure and stable pitch on the lowest strings that are generally played.
If you are already a long-time customer of Kenneth Keith Piano Services and you have any questions about pianos, be sure to ask me at your regularly scheduled tuning. Otherwise, if you are in need of a Wilmington piano tuning expert for tuning or other piano services, please give me a call or contact me via our contact us form. We also serve the Philadelphia, Eastern Shore MD and Southern NJ areas.