Who Invented the Piano? Most give the credit to the italian Bartolomeo Cristofori who invented the instrument around 1700 when he put hammers instead of pleckra (which pluck the string) on a harpsichord. Other inventor-musicians were working on similar inventions at around the same time.
What kind of piano should I buy? Buy the best piano you can afford and one that fits your needs. You can find good pianos in all sizes, from 36” spinets to 9 1/2 foot long grand pianos. Just because a piano is small does not mean it will sound bad: it just means it will sound small. There are some great-sounding spinets and console pianos made by Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Everett and others. Contact us if you have a specific brand in mind. Don’t let the nomenclature confuse you. Pianos are classified by how big they are. Here’s how to know what you’re getting:
Spinet = about 36-38” tall.
Console = 38 – 42” tall.
Studio Upright = 42-48” tall.
Full Upright = 48”+
“Upright grands” are a fiction and were a marketing ploy of the early 1900’s. To qualify as a grand, additional action parts are needed, which require the piano to be horizontal to the floor. Still, most of these behemoths sound as good, and sometimes better, than a “petite” grand less than five feet long.
Why does the piano have 88 keys? Pianos developed over the centuries since 1700 to accommodate the needs of the musical culture in which they thrived. Harpsichords have 60 keys. As the new pianoforte (“soft-loud”) swept Europe in the late 1700’s the keyboard expanded now that it was able to be more resonant in greater and greater musical ranges. The expansion stopped at 88 notes because it was generally determined my musicologists and the public that the low A, which vibrates at 27.5 beats per second and the highest C, which vibrates as a an amazing 4186 beats per second, where about as much as anybody needed. Plus, we humans couldn’t distinguish one note from another beyond those two extremes.
Should I Buy New or Used? Buying a new piano is always nice, but like a car, you’ll pay a premium for the “showroom shiny.” An excellent resource for those considering a new piano is Larry Fine’s The Piano Book, which details current makes and models. Buying a used piano can be a great way to stretch your dollars and there are plenty of them available. Check the local papers, Craigslist, Ebay, and bulletin boards near campus to see what’s available, then let PianoWorks help you assess your find.
How Can I Determine the Value of My Piano? Piano prices, like everything, are subject to market fluctuation. If you don’t mind a little internet research and want to do it yourself, try this: check the local markets of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, and Austin for pianos of similar size, age, and condition to the one you are evaluating. Check out the search engine Adhuntr.com to see Craigslist listings nationwide. In just a few minutes, you’ll be able to see what others are asking for their pianos.
How do you tune a piano? Tuning a piano professionally requires a skill set that is developed over time. There are no shortcuts. The difficulty lies in the wide expanse of the musical range covered by the piano and the concept of inharmonicity inherent in the musical scale. Professional tuners tune by intervals. For example, within an octave (C-C there are two contiguous intervals, a fourth (C-F); and a fifth (F-C). When we tune a perfect fifth interval within that octave, we are leaving the contiguous fourth interval a little out of whack. The trick is to know how much out of whack is acceptable to the human ear. Multiply that interval problem by 88 notes and you have an exponentially difficult task. If you don’t get those intervals perfect in the middle of the piano, where we set the "temperament" octave, by the time you expand that interval to the higher and lower octaves, you have a truly objectionable sounding piano, but when you get them just right, nothing sounds better or more satisfying!
What about digital keyboards? The big difference between digital keyboards and acoustic pianos is that with a digital keyboard what you hear is a single electronically-generated pulse at a specific frequency. On a piano what you hear is a variety of complementary harmonics all vibrating in perfect resonance – and that’s only when you play one string! Multiply that musical complexity by the number of notes you use in a single chord and you have a musical sound that is infinitely more interesting and satisfying. This can be proven by holding down one note on a piano with your left hand (ex. Middle C), thus opening the string to vibrate freely. Now with your right hand, quickly strike several notes from the same chord family (ex. C above middle C, E, G). When you remove your right hand from the keyboard, you will hear the entire chord you just played, all vibrating in the middle C string! A final word about digital keyboards: it would be nice to have both, but if you have to choose, for superior ear-training and pure musical enjoyment, stick with acoustic instruments.
How Often Should I Have My Piano Tuned? Pianos go flat about 5-10% per year (100% being any two adjacent half-steps) due to seasonal fluctuations in temperature and humidity. This is true whether the piano is played or not. If the piano falls below 10% flat, then a tension adjustment or “pitch raise” is necessary before the piano can be stabilized at concert pitch (the A below middle C = 440 hz.). Most manufacturers recommend bi-annual tuning. In the real world, the average in-home piano can be get by with tuning once a year. It all depends on your need for refinement! Concert artists and recording studios have their pianos tuned much more frequently, sometimes before each concert or recording session.
How Much Will It Cost to Fix My Old Piano? PianoWorks works on lots of beautiful old pianos. When I see a piano for the first time that has been neglected or left alone for an extended period of time it will typically need one or two pitch raises and a few weeks to settle before a fine tuning will be stable. If an antique instrument needs replacement parts that are no longer available, I have quite a collection of harvested parts. When we’re done you’ll have a fully functional piano.
PianoWorks recommends that you play the piano for six months and decide if you really love it before you increase your investment in things like new strings, new hammers, keytops, or other major repairs. Get it in working condition and play for a while first! These older pianos are great fun, have tons of character, and, in my opinion, cannot be equaled by modern equivalents. What they lack in sensitivity and responsiveness because they are older, they more than make up for in character, sheer craftsmanship, and play-ability. I tune for a number of studios and local artists that have chosen to keep their old upright instead of buying a new piano.