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Steinway Grand Piano Parts

"Tickling the Ivories"

In 1973 an act of Congress made it illegal to import almost all elephant ivory and objects made from ivory, including ivory covered piano keys. Nearly a decade before this important decision, Steinway had already discontinued using ivory for piano keys. High quality plastic replaced the elephant ivory, which is not only superior to ivory (plastic does not yellow, nor does it crack or curl), but it also allows Steinway piano owners conscientious, cruelty free enjoyment of their instruments.

How Many Piano Keys?

Most pianos, including Steinway grand pianos, have 88 keys. Each key is either a "natural" or a "sharp" and when pressed, animates the action which, through a complex series of movements, causes the hammer to strike the proper string or strings.

Piano Keys / The Steinway Piano Keyboard

The modern Steinway piano keyboard is in many ways much the same as it's been since the 19th century. This is a good thing in that Steinway's technological innovations were sound and strong from the beginning. But some changes were made during the 20th century. The piano action has been improved and patented. With this, the lead weights inside the keys were given more meticulous and exact placement. This refinement of the keyboard gives the piano technician and piano restoration specialist the ability to adjust each key in relation to every other. The result is tangible, offering a smooth, exquisite balance across the entire keyboard.

Another important 20th century change relating to keys and keyboard is that Steinway started using high quality plastic for the key covers (rather than elephant ivory). This animal friendly innovation was both practical, envrionmentally responsible and ahead of its time (see right sidebar).

To test the action and the keyboard, Steinway introduced a mechanized device which hits each and every key thousands of times, both to test the key's bounce and flexibility, and to season and indurate the hammer felts before shipment.

Sources (Click to reveal / conceal)

Good, Edwin M. Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos: A Technological History from Cristofori to the Modern Concert Grand, 2nd Ed. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001

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© 2008 - 2009 Michael Sweeney Piano Craftsman
Michael Sweeney is a Craftsman Member of the Piano Technicians Guild
and the Master Piano Technicians of America.

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