The essence of a pianos sound comes from the vibration of the strings – the quality of the pianos strings is of vital importance for the pianos tone production and quality. At Shackleford Pianos, We work to keep the best quality of the pianos.
Early stringed instruments used gut, iron and brass as materials for their strings, all materials that had low tensile strength, poor resonance, and durability. Over the last 140 years piano makers have embraced the advances in metallurgy where new technology has utilised new materials and methods to constantly advance the production of stronger, more durable and resonant music wire. Today’s piano wire is made from high tensile carbon steel, this material must have the lowest possible content of phosphorous, sulphur, copper, nitrogen, and other impurities and must be consistent in density.
When drawn (the method for producing wire) piano string must be uniform in diameter and capable of meeting stringent tests for tension, hardness, bending, recovery and durability. Resistance to high impact and corrosion is also important.
There are 220 to 240 strings in the modern piano. Three strings per key are generally used for the middle and treble sections with up to 30 different gauges of wire utilised. The bass section has two strings with the lowest octave generally only having one string per key. This configuration has been developed to achieve an overall volume balance. The strings in the bass section are wound in copper, brass, or steel to add mass to the string so that it will vibrate at a low pitch while being under high tension. A plain steel inner core wire has one to two layers (windings) off copper etc wrapped around it. These windings enable bass strings to have enough mass, tension, and flexibility to produce powerful volume, tone and sound duration.
Like all other string instruments, pianos will need the strings replacing over the course of their lifetime. Over time the pianos strings will lose their vibrancy due to a number of factors and the performance of a piano will be greatly enhanced once it has been restrung.
Factors that contribute to the degradation of the pianos strings –
String tension.Each string on a piano is under a considerable amount of tension. This tension gradually causes the string to stretch and lose its shape. Tuning does help to remedy this but over a long period of time the density of the wire reduces and the string starts to lose its resonance.
Age.Music wire is a very high grade of steel, a much higher grade than most wire you find being used in other applications. Like all steel, this wire degrades in quality over time resulting in strings that are liable to break when used heavily, or display poor volume and resonance.
Usage.Strings are more liable to break on a piano that is receiving heavy usage, this can best be explained by using the bending of a piece of wire back and forth analogy – you constantly bend a piece of wire back and forth and it will eventually weaken and break. This is the same with a piano that is being heavily used – the hammer hitting the string causes the string to flex which is just like a string being bent back and forth, eventually causing it to break. A piano that is hit very hard (in an attempt to produce greater volume) is also liable to have frequent string breakages due to the shock of the hammer hitting a string far harder than the piano was ever designed for.
Poor string quality at point of manufacture.Sadly, many piano makers use or have used, very poor quality music wire in the construction of their pianos. Replacing these strings greatly improves the quality of sound that the pianos produce and can often make a bad or average piano into a good one.
Bass strings.These often degrade more quickly than plain wire music strings. This is down to the fact that the copper (the most commonly used string winding, brass and steel have also been used) and the wound material loses its tension on the wire string, resulting in dull sounding strings.
Repairs needed to other areas of the piano.If a piano has need of repairs to the following areas the strings will have to be removed to achieve the repairs – naturally the strings will then be replaced with new strings. To repair splits in a soundboard, replace or repair a cracked or split pinblock, repair cracks to a bridge, or cracks to a frame, the strings will have to be removed to allow access to the damaged or failed part.
Moisture damage.Piano wire will corrode if exposed to high moisture levels. This corrosion will reduce resonance and effect tonal quality. Sometimes this can be cleaned off the string but often it is easier and more effective to replace the strings. Bass strings that are exposed to excessive moisture will become very dull sounding and when this occurs the strings must be replaced.
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