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The environment in which you place a piano is very important. Remember this is a wooden instrument with thousands of parts essentially hiding inside a piece of furniture. Extreme humidity changes can affect the moisture content of the wooden parts causing them to swell or shrink. This may also cause the finish to crack and chip, the string tension to change so as that the piano requires more frequent tuning and the critical tolerance of action parts to be distorted or possibly the soundboard to crack.
Generally an atmosphere that is not comfortable for people is not very good for pianos either.
Therefore it is best to keep sudden changes of temperature and relative humidity to a minimum. Avoiding temperatures above 90 and below 60 and relative humidity below 40% or above 60% will help provide the proper atmosphere for your piano.
And at all costs avoid placing your piano near any heating source or steam radiator. It is also advisable to keep your piano away from direct sunlight in order to better maintain the finish. Every piano should be tuned at least four times the first year if new and twice a year thereafter. This is not only better for your ears but also for the longevity of the instrument itself.
(From an article by Dr. William Braid White, Principal of the School of Pianoforte Technology, Chicago, Ill., on the Steinway Website reprinted with permission from the Piano Trade Magazine, Chicago, Ill.)
In the piano the function of the soundboard is to take up and repeat the vibratory motions of the strings, and thus to set up in the air sound waves of vastly greater size and power than could be generated by the strings alone. The more faithfully the soundboard performs this function, the better soundboard it is.
The layman will better understand this amplifying function of the soundboard if he will think of the relatively enormous area of the board when compared with the very small area of all the strings taken together. Hence, when the piano is played, the soundboard, repeating the vibratory motions of the strings, sets in vibration vastly more air than could the strings themselves.
The more than two hundred strings that constitute the tone-generating element of the piano are stretched, at high tensions, over wooden bridges, or supports, which are rigidly fastened to the surface of the soundboard. Thus, within a small fraction of a second any motions of the strings are transmitted through the bridges to the soundboard, which as it were, accepts them, and faithfully reproduces them over its entire surface. These tiny but intensely complex motions, originating at the strings, are transmitted to the large body of air surrounding the front and back surfaces of the soundboard, thereby setting up powerful sound waves which immediately register on the ear-drums of all within hearing.
So faithfully does the soundboard perform this difficult function, that no matter how many strings may be sounding at one time, their almost incredibly complex motions will always and unfailingly be taken up and reproduced. Thus, the soundboard of the piano acts just as does the parchment head of a drum or the thin steel diaphragm of the receiver element in a telephone. It should be remembered, however, that it is the strings, and not the soundboard, that originate, by their vibratory motions after they have been struck, the sound which the soundboard amplifies.
Construction of the Soundboard
In order to obtain these very remarkable effects of amplification, the soundboard of the piano must be constructed with exquisite skill. Its length and breadth depend, of course, upon the size of the instrument, while its thickness, with some variations between one end and the other, averages one-quarter inch. The pieces of sprucewood from which it is made are matched in such a way that the grain runs roughly parallel to the line of the great bridges upon which the strings rest.
Facts Little Understood
It is strange but true that these simple facts about the effect of the strings upon the soundboard and about the soundboard's responses to the strings, are still very little understood. Thus there persists a common notion that a crack in the wood must in some way cause a deterioration of the tonal output. Actually, no such effect is to be expected.
The erroneous idea that a crack in a soundboard reduces the tonal output is undoubtedly due to the equally erroneous theory that sound "vibrations" in some way travel transversely across the soundboard. But, as has been shown here, the movement of the board is that of the movement of the strings, up and down in the case of a grand, backward and forward in the case of a piano of vertical construction. The glued-up strips of thin spruce, reinforced by bridges and ribs, which constitute the soundboard, become in fact a single unit, so that the whole board vibrates with the playing of even one single note anywhere in the scale.
Effect of Cracks and Checks
For this very reason a crack or check in a soundboard reduces the soundboard's ability to amplify the vibrations of the strings only to the extent to which the crack reduces the vibrating area of the board.
Soundboard areas vary with the size of various pianos, but consider for example a board with an area of 4,000 square inches, counting both surfaces. Now assume that there is a crack in this board 35 inches long and one-eighth inch wide, which would be an enormous crack. That crack would have an area (counting both surfaces) of 8 3/4 inches, and so would reduce the air disturbing area of the board by less than 1/4 of one per cent, an amount utterly negligible.
Here we have considered the effect of an enormously big crack. A dozen ordinary cracks, even if they extended from end to end of the soundboard, the crack or cracks might have about as much effect, certainly no more. So long, in fact, as the structure of the soundboard remains solid, with ribs and bridges adhering correctly to the surface of the soundboard, and with the entire periphery rigidly fastened into the frame of the piano, the question of cracks is utterly unimportant.
Effect of Atmospheric Changes Greater
As a matter of fact, the tonal output of any piano, with no cracks in the soundboard at all, is subject to vastly greater change with every change in temperature and humidity. The alternate absorption and evaporation of moisture affects the soundboard, and therefore the tone of the piano, to a far greater degree than any crack or accumulation of cracks, yet few persons complain of this or even appear to notice it.
I have gone into this matter at some length because the public, and some piano men, are misinformed on the subject. To correct the difficulties that arise out of public misunderstanding of this matter has been the object of this article.
(Reprinted from an article by Larry Fine)
If you're looking for a piano made within the last few decades, there is usually a plentiful supply of used Yamaha and Kawai pianos originally made for the Japanese market. However, there has been some controversy about them. Sometimes called "gray-market" pianos, these instruments were originally sold to families and schools in Japan, and some years later were discarded in favor of new pianos. There being little market for these used pianos in Japan — the Japanese are said to have a cultural bias against buying any used goods — enterprising business people buy them up, restore them to varying degrees, and export them to the U.S. and other countries, where they are sold by dealers of used pianos at a fraction of the price of a new Yamaha or Kawai. Used Korean pianos are available under similar circumstances. (Note: The term "gray market" is used somewhat erroneously to describe these pianos. They are used instruments, not new, and there is nothing illegal about buying and selling them.)
Yamaha has taken a public stand warning against the purchase of a used Yamaha piano made for the Japanese market. When Yamaha first began exporting pianos to the United States, the company found that some pianos sent to areas of the U.S. with very dry indoor climates, such as parts of the desert Southwest and places that were bitterly cold in the winter, would develop problems in a short period of time: tuning pins would become loose, soundboards and bridges would crack, and glue joints would come apart. To protect against this happening, Yamaha began to season the wood for destination: a low moisture content for pianos bound for the U.S., which has the greatest extremes of dryness; a higher moisture content for Europe; and the highest moisture content for Japan, which is relatively humid. The gray-market pianos, Yamaha says, having been seasoned for the relatively humid Japanese climate, will not stand up to our dryness. The company claims to have received many calls from dissatisfied owners of these pianos, but cannot help them because the warranty, in addition to having expired, is effective only in the country in which the piano was originally sold when new.
My own research has led me to believe that while there is some basis for Yamaha's concerns, their warnings are exaggerated. There probably is a little greater chance, statistically, that these pianos will develop problems in conditions of extreme dryness than will Yamaha's seasoned for and sold in the U.S. However, thousands of gray-market pianos have been sold by hundreds of dealers throughout the country, in all types of climates, for many years, and I haven't found evidence of anything close to an epidemic of problems with them. In mild and moderate climates, reported problems are rare. There are, however, some precautions that should be taken. (as with any piano new or used)
These pianos are available to dealers in a wide variety of ages and conditions. The better dealers will sell only those in good condition made since about the mid-1980s. In some cases, the dealers or their suppliers will recondition or partially rebuild the pianos before offering them for sale. Make sure to get a warranty that runs for at least five years, as any problems will usually show up within that period if they are going to show up at all. Finally, be sure to use some kind of humidity-control system in situations of unusual dryness. Remember that air-conditioning, as well as heating, can cause indoor dryness.
It's not always possible to determine visually whether a particular instrument was made for the U.S. or the Japanese market, as some original differences may have been altered by the supplier. The dealer may know, and Yamaha has a utility on its website that will look up the origin of a particular Yamaha piano by serial number.
The Pianotek Company has been selling the very finest in pre owned Yamaha so called "grey market" pianos for over 17 years. Our pre-owned Yamahas receive the most extensive refurbishing anywhere money can buy. We stand behind these pianos for ten years with a parts and labor warranty. As seasoned piano technicians we are convinced our pianos are quite possibly the best piano value on the planet. Read our testimonials from people around the country and beyond to see what people are saying about our "grey market pianos". Hire any technician of your choosing to examine our used Yamaha pianos. And if you are still not convinced after reading this article please check out a Plano System which can inexpensively control and protect against excessive dryness or moisture and ask about our special in store pricing!
(Reprinted from an article by Larry Fine)
Solid spruce soundboards swell and shrink with seasonal changes in humidity and, over time, can develop cracks. One of the problems that comes up most frequently in buying a used piano is judging the significance of a cracked soundboard.
Contrary to popular belief, cracks in the soundboard, while often unattractive, are not necessarily important, as long as the tone is acceptable. Very extensive cracking, however, can indicate that the piano has suffered great climatic extremes, and that its life expectancy may be short. In such a case, other symptoms of this will usually be evident elsewhere in the piano. If the cracks have been filled with wooden shims, this means that, at some point, the piano was rebuilt and the cracks repaired.
The ribs run perpendicular to the grain of the soundboard, and therefore perpendicular to any cracks. Any separation of a rib from the soundboard at a crack is a potential source of buzzing noises. A piano with a cracked soundboard should be carefully checked for rib separations before purchase. Repair of rib separations can usually be done at reasonable cost without rebuilding the piano.
When manufactured, the soundboard has built into it a curvature or crown. In a traditionally made, solid spruce soundboard, the crown is maintained by the compression of the wood fibers, whose elasticity causes the crowned soundboard to push back against the downbearing pressure of the strings on the bridges. Together, these two opposing forces enhance the tone of the piano. Over many years, because of the drying out of the wood and the loss of the wood's elasticity, the soundboard loses some or all of its crown, a condition that can be accompanied by the appearance of cracks.
A related condition is that of compression ridges. When a soundboard's compression exceeds the elastic limit of the wood fibers, those fibers may become crushed, producing slightly raised ridges in the soundboard's surface. This can happen, for example, in humid climates, or due to conditions related to the soundboard's manufacture. Compression ridges are quite common, and do not necessarily affect the piano's tone. However, when crushed, wood fibers lose their elastic properties, so the compression ridges are likely to turn into cracks as the soundboard's crown diminishes over time.
Although, in theory, cracks and a loss of crown should result in a deterioration of tonal quality, the actual results vary greatly from piano to piano; therefore, the tone quality of each such instrument must be evaluated on its own merits. In addition, your tolerance for such imperfections will depend on how expensive the piano is, and on your use of and expectations for it.
For more information on this subject, see The Piano Book.