There is really no ONE part of a piano that is more important than all of the others; however, there are TWO pieces of a piano that are absolutely fundamental to the health of the instrument.
The first piece is the cast iron plate. Structurally, the plate needs to be solid for the health of the instrument. There are over 20 tons of string tension exerted onto the plate – its integrity is essential for the proper function of a piano.
Can piano plates crack? The answer is yes. It is very rare to find a cracked plate, however, there are certain models and designs with thin sections of the plate which are prone to cracking. Also, a piano that has been dropped may suffer cracks in the plate.
If you are looking to buy a piano that has a cracked plate, it can be a deal breaker. It can be like buying a house with a crack in the foundation. It’s usually fatal unless the crack is on the perimeter of the plate and is self-contained.
There is another part of the piano that in some ways is even more important because it gives the piano its unique personality – the soundboard of a piano. The soundboard is such an important part of the piano that in parts of Europe it is illegal to put the name of the original piano manufacturer on the front of a piano with a replaced soundboard! The soundboard truly is the lifeblood of the instrument. Nearly all of the sound of a piano is produced from this thin piece of wood that is built into the rim of the piano.
What should you check for in the soundboard to make sure it’s in good condition? Well, unlike the plate, cracks are not necessarily deal breakers. Cracks in soundboards are a normal part of the aging process in most climates. About the only way to fix a soundboard with severe problems is by rebuilding the piano which entails removing the strings and the plate. This gives an opportunity to rework the belly of the piano. Generally, the soundboard is gently heated for a couple of days (usually with some 100 watt light bulbs). Then the technician will place small shims of wood into the cracks, glue, sand and refinish the entire soundboard. Most cracks can be repaired using this technique. However, there are other problems facing soundboards which are more serious. If the soundboard warps and the ribs become detached, they can cause buzzing and must be fixed. If the warping is too severe and multiple, large cracks are present, it may be beyond repair. Replacing a soundboard is very expensive and the piano will have a completely new character of sound.
One aspect of a soundboard essential for a powerful, sustaining tone is called crown. The soundboard is built into the rim of the piano under pressure causing a slight, upward arching. This is called crown which is essential for proper piano tone. While some people attempt to run a string underneath the soundboard to measure crown, the ultimate test is the tone of the piano. Usually if crown is lacking, the treble notes will not last very long. This is very disappointing since it becomes nearly impossible to get a singing melody out of the instrument.
These two parts – the plate and the soundboard of a piano – are certainly important parts of the piano – but the instrument can be compromised by many other factors. I hope you have enjoyed the video and look forward to bringing you many more in the future. If you have any questions or a suggestions for other videos, please contact me: Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729