Can Science Build a Better Piano?

August 18, 2014  By Richard Rejino

Photographer: Chris Payne.

Out near Laguardia Airport, in Queens, is the Steinway piano factory. It smells like sawdust and lacquer. Some 1,500 pianos leave this factory every year. And Wally Boot plays every single one.

“I’ve been here for 52 years,” he says. “And I love every minute of it. I’m tone inspector. I’m the last one to test the piano before it leaves the factory.”

Boot “voices” the piano. It’s not tuning. It’s finding the piano’s sound.

“My job is, I get the piano, and I listen to it. And the piano tells me where it want to go, because you don’t want every piano to sound the same. If somebody’s playing jazz, they like a bright piano. If somebody’s playing chamber music, they want a more mellow piano,” he says.

Boot adjusts bright and mellow by making small changes to the felt hammers inside the piano, which hit the strings. Sometimes, a hammer is too soft. So he applies a lacquer solution to make it harder.

“And if it’s too hard, I got a tool over here with needles in it, and I poke little holes in the top of the hammer, and that’s going to break up the density of the felt, and make a softer sound,” says Boot. “The thing is, I’ve been working on pianos so much, I look at a piano and can tell if something wrong, out of place. You know, because you see the piano every day, you know that something’s out of place, you can tell right away.” To continue reading, click here.

1 Comment

I want to know why technology in piano making has not advanced to the point in which the metal plate inside the grand piano is not made with a lighter weight substance with equal strength. Pianos are far too heavy. If the same sound could be produced with a lighter weight board, that would be revolutionary. Has anyone experimented with that?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Story
A Piano for Every Child May Sound Impossible, but It's Happening! Gowing up, Lisha Lecari studied piano, listened nonstop to Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, and Bach, played guitar, and attended...