A TO Z OF THE PIANO
History of the Piano
The story of the piano begins in Padua, Italy in 1709, in the shop of a harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori (1655-1731).
Eventually, a family of stringed instruments with a keyboard evolved in Europe in the 14th century. The earliest of these was a dulcimer, a closed, shallow box over which stretched wires were struck with two wooden hammers. The dulcimer led to the development of the clavichord, which also appeared in the 14th century. These were followed by the spinet, virginal, clavecin, gravicembalo, and finally, the harpsichord in the 15th century.
Despite many improvements during the past 300 years, it is truly astonishing to observe how similar Cristofori’s instruments are to the modern piano of today.
Piano is a stringed instrument. Its many parts are organized into five general structural and mechanical areas of either grand or vertical pianos. These are: the case of the wing-shaped grand piano (or the cabinet of the vertical or upright piano); the soundboard and the ribs and bridges that are its components; the cast iron plate; the strings; and, collectively, the keys, hammers, and piano action or mechanism. The case has many structural parts for attaching legs and tuning pins, but perhaps the rim and the key bed or shelf where the keys and piano action will be installed are most important. The soundboard amplifies the vibrations of the strings, which are transmitted through bridges.
TYPES OF PIANOS
Names for pianos usually indicate their sizes as you can see below:
- Grand (wing-shaped) pianos range in length from 4 ft. 7 in-9 ft. 6 in (1.4-2.9 m) from the front of the keyboard to end of the bend.
- The “baby” grand is 5 ft.-S ft. 2 in (1.52-1.57 m) in length; smaller grand pianos are called “apartment size.” The larger sizes are the medium grand and concert grand.
- Modern vertical piano AKA Upright Piano design has changed little since 1935. Verticals range in height from 36-52 in (91-132 cm) with small variations in width and depth. The
five standard sizes from smallest to tallest are the spinet, consolette, console, studio, and professional pianos.
Pianos are frequently chosen for appearance, and cabinets are available in most furniture styles and finishes.
Pianos are made of the finest materials, not only for appearances but for excellent sound production. The long fibers of maple wood are strong and supple for construction of the rim, but long fibers of spruce are needed for the strength of the braces. Wood is also needed for making patterns of other parts. Metal is used for a variety of parts, including the cast iron plate. Sand is needed for casting molds. The character of the sand is modified by using additives and binders such as bentonite (a type of clay) and coal dust. Molten iron for the casting is made of pig iron with some steel and scrap iron to add strength. Strings are made of high tensile steel wire that is manufactured at specialized piano string mills.
Pianos are designed by specially trained and educated engineers called scale engineers. Scale engineers choose the materials, create the designs and specifications, and develop the interactions of the parts of the piano. Perhaps the most important aspect of design relates to the structural strength of the piano. About 160-200 lb. per sq. in (11.2-14 kg per sq. cm) of tension is exerted on each of the 220 or more strings in the piano. The piano must perform well, but it also must remain stable over time as changing conditions affect the many materials in the piano differently.
Pianos would not exist without quality control in all aspects of production because the instruments are too sensitive and dependent on the interaction of many parts and materials. For example, quality begins with the scale engineer’s design. Metallurgists check the metal content of the iron plate; chemical analyses are made of the other contents, including carbon, sulfur, phosphorus, and manganese. Temperature is also critical; the molten iron is 2,750°F (1,510°C), and founding or hardening temperatures are also carefully monitored. String is similarly controlled and tested during manufacture for elasticity, resiliency, and tensile strength.