Piano Glossary

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Piano Glossary

The following are terms used by knowledgeable piano tuners and rebuilders. Sources: Forte Piano Company, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Action: A collection of levers, primarily consisting if the hammers, dampers, and all other moving parts and supporting rails found above the keyboard.

Agraffe: brass string guide with a bridge that spaces and levels the string.

Aliquot: Steel-bearing piece that frets off treble strings in some grands.

Boston fallboard: Hinged key-covered on uprights that folds down twice.

Barring:A term for the system of strips or bars of wood glued under the soundboard to enhance its mode of vibration when the strings vibrate. This is crucial to the tone of an instrument.

Bracing: The internal construction of a piano FRAME by which the tension of the strings is supported.

Bridge: The surface on which the strings bear; the bridge determines their speaking length. The long bridge-attached to the soundboard-is made of a hardwood such as beech. The top bridge has a metal bearing surface either cast into the iron frame or set within an agraffe.

Bridge pin: A small metal pin driven into the wooden bridge to determine the string spacing upon it.

Capstan: A domed screw inserted into the back of the key. Usually made of brass, it is regulated in height to fill the gap from the back of the key to the heel of action. Its wooden form is called either a pilot or a dolly, depending whether it is lubricated or covered with cloth.

Capstan screw: A regulating screw, with the head cross drilled so that it can easily be turned from the side. An example in modern actions is the screw at the end of the key which transmits the movement of the key when it is depressed, thereby activating the action.

Cast iron plate: (also known as the harp) Gold painted iron support in modern pianos.

Concert pitch: When a piano's A note above middle C, makes a tone at 440 Hz or cycles per second. Concert pitch has evolved from as 380 Hz in the 1600s to the modern standard of 440 Hz today.

Damper: A soft felt-covered action part that stops the vibration of the strings.

Damper pedal: Right pedal that lifts the entire damper assembly to sustain the tone. Same as the sustain pedal.

Escapement: The disengagement of the hammer from force of the key and action levers. Also called set-off.

Fallboard: Key cover on the piano.

Front-touch rail: The foremost rail of the keyframe which governs the depth that the keys can travel.

Fully weighted touch: Refers to the resistant feel of the keys. Acoustic piano keys have a weighty (52+ gram down weight) resistant fell, as well as a feeling of a hammer moving toward the strings.

Hammer: The part of the piano action that strikes the strings of an individual note. The hammer shanks are usually made of wood; before c1830 most hammer heads were covered with leather but since they have mostly been made of densely packed felt. (See also BEAK.)

Hammer butt: The part of the upright piano hammer that is pushed by the jack.

Hammer head: The primary part that distinguishes the piano from the other stringed keyboard instrument. It consists of a wooden moulding covered at one end with dense felt that strikes the strings.

Hitch pin: A steel rod driven into the iron frame around which the non-tuneable ends of the strings are seated.

Hitch-pin plate: [hitch-plate]. The plate into which the hitch-pins are driven.

In regulation: Regulation is a process in which a technician makes a dozen or so critical adjustment to each of the 88 key mechanisms. The goal is to bring each key mechanism to factory specification and to have all the key mechanisms consistent with each other. When this process has been completed satisfactorily the piano is said to be in regulation.

In tune: A piano is considered to be in tune when its concert A note delivers a tone that is at 440 Hz or cycles per second, and the tone of the rest of the scale of the piano is consistent with itself.

Iron Frame: A cast metal component of the piano structure that is responsible for withstanding the strings tension.

Jack: A boot-shaped wooden lever that connects the lower parts of the action through to the hammer and forms an essential part of the escapement mechanism. In earlier actions it is called a hopper.

Keyframe: A wooden framework on which the keys operate, consisting of the back-touch rail, the balance rail, and the front-touch rail.

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF): High quality, fine grained, particle board frequently used in upright piano cabinets. It is chosen for its stability and flatness under veneers.

Moderator: A stop that places a thin strip of celeste felt between the hammers and the strings to soften the volume. Operated by the middle pedal on most upright piano's, it can also be called the celeste or practice pedal.

Musical instrument digital interface (MIDI): Standardized computer connections that enable synchronized communication between computers and digital pianos.

Over-damper: An upright piano action in which the damper operates above the hammer head.

Overspun string: A metal string that has a thin ductile wire wound around it, so as to increase its mass while avoiding the loss of flexibility found in a plain wire of the same mass. The bass strings of a piano is overspun with copper wire.

Overstrung: A term applied to a piano in which the strings are arranged in two nearly parallel planes, with the bass strings passing diagonally over those of the middle range.

Pedal: A foot operated device that either activates a particular component of the piano action or modifies its mode of operation so as to alter the tone-colour or volume and produce expressive effects. 18th and early 19th-century pianos often had a variety of pedals and hand stops, but on modern instruments there are usually only two or three. See SOSTENUTO PEDAL, SUSTAINING PEDAL , UNA CORDA.

Pin block: Laminated hardwood block in uprights that tuning pins are driven into.

Player piano A piano which automatically plays music recorded, usually, by means of perforations in a paper roll. In the 1890s, the mechanism (piano player) was in a separate cabinet, pushed in front of an ordinary piano.

Practice mute: Found in upright pianos. Activated by lever or middle pedal. Provides muffled softer play for practice purposes.

Rebuilt piano: A used piano rendered to like-new condition. Rebuilding typically includes a new cabinet finish, plate regilded. new strings, new hammers, new dampers, replaced or repaired action parts.

Reconditioned piano: Piano cleaned, adjusted, and lubricated. Broken parts repaired and replaced. Tuned, regulated, and voiced.

Refurbished piano: Somewhat nebulous term, often used to mean reconditioned.

Registered Piano Technician (RPT): A member of the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) who has passed a rigorous testing and certification program for most aspects of piano technical and tuning work.

Regulating button [regulating screw]: An adjustable screw used to alter various required tolerances throughout the piano mechanism.

Regulation: Adjusting of the key-action assembly, damper assembly, pedal functions, and string seating and leveling to promote performance and consistency. See also in regulation.

Scale design: A calculated combination of a string's diameter, speaking length, flexibility, and tension to give the best resulting tone,volume, and sustain.

Scaling: The relationship between the sounding length of the strings and their pitch. Modern pianos have scaling that is gradually shortened throughout the range from treble to bass.

Serial number: Discrete and sequential number given to every piano as production is completed. In uprights, it is usually found printed onto the plate near the tuning pins or embossed into the wood or nameplate on the back of the piano. In grands, it is usually found near the front under the music desk printed onto the plate near the tuning pins. Nearly every retail dealer has a book that sources this number to a year of manufacture.

Sostenuto pedal: Middle pedal or performance grands that captures and sustains notes selected before pedal is depressed. Found on a very few upscale uprights.

Soundboard: A plate of wood made of spruce that vibrates at the same frequency of the strings and so amplifies their volume.

Spine:The long side of a grand piano case, opposite to the bentside.

Strung back: The part of the piano responsible for producing and amplifying the sound, as well as supporting the high amount of tension produced by the strings.

Sustain (loud) pedal: Right pedal that lifts the entire damper assembly to sustain the tone.

Tuning: Precise adjustment of the string tensions to proper pitches and consistencies by turning the tuning pins, using a tuning hammer. This is done aurally or in conjunction with an electronic tuning device (ETD) that shows graphic representations of pitch. These ETDs may also store tuning properties of dozens of specific pianos for future reference.

Tuning hammer: or lever. A device with a handle that holds a socket-wrench type tip on it that fits over the tuning pins. Pitch is adjusted by turning and setting the pins; movements are minute and hammer technique is critical.

Tuning pins: Steel pins approximately 2 and one-half inches long and one-fourth inch in diameter found near the top of a vertical piano and toward the front of grand pianos. Piano strings are wound around the tuning pins and the pins are driven into the tuning block. The tuning pins hold tension on the strings. This tension is adjusted up or down during the tuning process.

V-bar: Ridge cast into the iron plate on upright pianos to fret the strings just before the pressure bar.

Voicing: (tone regulating). Process of shaping, hardening or softening hammer felt consistency to adjust tone.


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