What is a Grand Piano?
“Grand Piano” is a commonly used expression, and is used to describe a piano which is a delight to play.
Example goes: “This is a grand piano to play”.
It is also the name given to pianos (everywhere else in the world) where the strings are arranged horizontally, leading away from the pianist. This produces a long wide piano, and can be manufactured in various lengths. Up to 5′ (Baby), 5′ to 7′ (Boudoir), 7′ to 9′ (semi concert), and 9′ and over (full concert). Generally the longer the piano, the greater the volume, and the better the tone.
This refers to the alignment of the piano strings on the harp. The base strings lie diagonally over the treble strings. This allows for longer base strings than a straight strung piano, and consequently will produce a richer, more pleasing tone. Most grand pianos are over strung, and so the term is not usually associated with them.
Note. The use of this phrase is not to be confused with the expression “highly strung”.
This is the general term given to all the moving parts of a piano. Keys, Dampers, Hammers, etc.
There are about 17 separate moving parts for each piano key in the average upright, or grand piano.
The operation of the piano action is a lot more complicated than might first be thought.
The piano action needs to operate the hammer with enough speed and force to strike the string and produce a strong vibration, whilst only having a small and light movement in the key.
After hitting the string, the hammer must be free to bounce off the string, even if the key is still depressed, so that it does not remain in contact with the string and dampen the note.
The hammer must be held, after striking the string, to prevent it bouncing back onto the string and producing double striking.
The action must be silent in operation.
The action also needs to operate the dampers when required.
This is the reason the piano action is so complicated, when all it needs to do is activate a small hammer.
This is when all the piano strings lie along side each other, and do not cross each other, as opposed to over strung pianos.
These are steel wires that are tensioned between the wrest pins and stringing studs, across the bridges. The tension, length, and diameter of the wire all determine the sound that will be produced when the string is struck by a hammer. Treble strings are usually arranged in sets of three strings per note, and base strings in either pairs or single strings. The multiple sets of strings are used to increase the volume of the note, and help give a richer tone. Each individual string needs tuning separately in a piano (approximately 250 strings).
Over a period of time, the sound from each key will change slightly, due to mechanical strain (tensioned strings might stretch, or the harp might distort). A piano consists of many tensioned strings, which are struck by hammers. The note produced by this action is determined by the length, diameter, and tension of the strings. The dimensions of the strings are determined by the piano manufacturer, but the tension is variable. It is by slightly altering the tension of the strings, by turning the tuning pins, that a piano is tuned. There are two distinct methods of piano tuning, by ear, and by machine.
Most piano tuners tune by ear, when the tuner compares the sound of the individual strings to either a calibrated tuning fork, and to other strings in the piano. This is an extremely skilled work, taking many years of training, and practice, but the results are very pleasing to the ear.
The machine method, and uses an electrical instrument that compares the sound of the string with an electronic reference, and indicates whether the string is correctly tuned or not. This method is arguably more accurate than tuning by ear, but usually produces a less pleasing sound, as the piano tuner,tuning by ear,can take into account other factors such as piano, and room acoustics.
Pianos can also be tuned to different standards (called pitches) depending on the quality, and condition of the piano. Concert pitch being the higher standard (same tuning pitch as most instruments used in an orchestra) and is achieved by higher tensions on the strings. Some pianos will not be able to maintain these tensions for long, due to age, or quality. Also lesser pitches are more suited to vocal accomplaments and, so an experienced piano tuner will use their experience to determine which pitch is better for the customer.
This is also the metal frame inside a piano that the strings are fastened, and tensioned on. The harp needs to be extremely strong, to avoid distorting due to the many highly tensioned strings across it. If the harp distorts just a faction of a millimetre, then all the notes will become out of tune.
The strength of the harp determines, to a great degree, the quality of the piano, as it will determine if the piano will maintain its pitch. High quality pianos often have very substantial, and heavy iron frames (harps).
These are small metal parts, that are used to lock the lids, and covers on a piano to prevent unauthorised use of the piano (especially useful if there are very young children around).
Also refers to the black and white parts on the front of the piano, that when depressed operate the piano action, and produce the note. All the keys are manufactured from wood, the black (sharp) keys are stained wood (often ebony) and the white keys covered in either Ivory (old pianos only) or a plastic material in more modern pianos.
The quality of the keys are very important, as these are the physical interface between the pianist, and the piano action which produces the sound. The interaction of the keys and the rest of the piano action will determine the “feel” of the piano, and distinguish quality pianos from the rest.
This type of piano have its strings arranged vertically, facing the pianist. The keys are arranged near the mid point of the strings.
This type of piano occupies a very small space, and consequently are very popular where space is limited such as in the home, or small concert pits.
There are several variations on the upright piano, including over strung, under damped, and mini pianos.
This is a word that is often used to try and distinguish between good quality pianos, and the rest. However tone is very subjective, and what appeals to one person, might not to another (such as trying to distinguish between good art, and bad).
There are three basic elements that can be used to describe the tone of a particular note.
This is he initial sound that is made when the hammer hits the string, and only last for a fraction of a second. This is most notable in the high treble, or low base, when the sound might not be very clear (more of a banging, or thudding, than musical). These notes are not often used, so might not be a problem to you.
This is the sound that is made after the string has been struck (without releasing the key) as the note fades away. This is the most subjective interpretation of tone, and gives the piano its characteristic sound. The quality of the sound is dependent upon the individuals opinion, but the tone should be uniform across all the notes, especially where the transition is between the treble, and base strings.
Brightness (or volume)
A well designed, and manufactured piano will generally have brighter sound than a low quality piano, but this is not always the case.
It is the combination of the above three items that gives a piano a particular tone, and is is design, and manufacture of the piano that dictates these characteristics.
Tone is very subjective, and only by listening to several pianos, can an appreciation of tone quality be gained.
Remember, however, tone can also be affected by other parameters, such as room acoustics and tuning.
At the end of the day, a piano with a good tone, is one which YOU find pleasing.
To produce notes lower in the scale, the string lengths need increasing (for each octave lower, the string length doubles). However, if a piano was made this way, it would need strings over 25′ (8m) long! Fortunately, the string can be shortened by increasing the wire diameter, and tension. However if the string is made to thick, it becomes to heavy, and stiff, to vibrate and will not produce a good tone. For this reason base strings also often have an additional wire wound around it, in the form of a spiral, to effectively increase the wire diameter, without making it too stiff and rigid. Base strings are often angled over the treble strings, so that longer strings can be accommodated in smaller case sizes (overstrung).
These are the strings struck by the hammers of the piano action to the right of the piano. The strings are generally manufactured from copper coated steel wire. They produce the higher pitch notes in the piano. In most pianos the treble strings are arranged in groups of three (to increase the volume to match the volume of the base strings) and the three strings must be tuned exactly the same as each other, and are said to be in unison.
This is a part of the piano action which is used to stop the strings from vibrating, and producing a tone. When a key is depressed, immediately before the hammer hits the string, the damper is lifted off the string, allowing it to vibrate, and produce a note. When the key is released, the damper is released and held against the string, deadening the vibrations, and stopping the sound. Therefore the note can be heard only while the key is held down. However, the dampers can all be lifted together, off the strings, by operating the sustain pedal, allowing the notes to decay over a longer period of time, after releasing the keys. This changes the whole sound effect of the piano.
This is a tool used for making fine adjustments while tuning a piano see Tuning Hammer.
This is also the part of the piano action that strikes the string, after the piano key has been depressed. It is constructed from a wooden mallet, covered with layers of dense felt, attached to a hammer shank.
Wrest pin (or tuning pin)
This is a steel pin, inserted into the wrest plank, around which the piano string is neatly wound. They are usually a blue colour, due to heat treatment, but can also be plated in zinc. By turning this pin (using a tuning hammer), each string can be tensioned, and allow the string to be tuned. Each string has its own wrest pin. The pins are a tight fit in the wrest plank, so that they do not rotate due to the tension on the string, but not so tight that they can not be easily adjusted by the piano tuner.
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These are pieces of wood, usually laminated, near the tuning pins, over which the strings are tensioned. The distance between the bridges and the aliquot is what determines the resonant (or active) length of the string (the note produced is determined by string length, diameter and tension).
The bridge also usually have pins fitted, which locate the strings, and ensure that the length of the string is accurately determined.
The quality of the bridge is a major factor on the quality of the piano tone, as it is this that transmits the string vibration to the sound board. A vertically laminated bridge is preferable to a horizontal laminated, or solid bridge, but be careful, as some quality pianos put a wooden cap on vertically laminated bridges, making them appear solid.
This is an essential tool for the piano tuner who tunes by ear. It is a metal object, that closely resembles a two pronged fork. When it is struck in a certain way, it vibrates and produces a tone, or note. This is usually A or C. A piano tuner can then use this precision tone, and compare it with the equivalent note on a piano, and make a judgement about whether the note is at the correct pitch or not. For a really precision tuning, the piano tuner may use a selection of tuning forks, at different pitches, to check all the notes are accurate.
This is the name given to the pitch of a piano when middle C is tuned to 523.3 Hz. This is determined by comparison to a tuning fork that is precision made to this pitch. This pitch is very significant, as it is the pitch that most other instruments in an orchestra are tuned to, and so a piano tuned to this will not sound flat in a concert. Concert pitch can be quite difficult to achieve, especially in older pianos, and additionally concert pitch is usually too high to sing to (unless you sing soprano), so it is often beneficial to tune to a lower pitch for a domestic piano.