Grand Pianos: Why Are They Expensive?
Updated: Jun 1
Are you wondering why grand pianos are expensive? This article will answer your question.
Grand pianos are so expensive because they're made from better quality materials and therefore last longer. As well, the process involved in the making of a grand piano is very complex.
So, what is a grand piano?
A grand piano is a precision musical instrument that needs to meet exacting standards if it is to be able to sound its best. These standards result from years of research by piano manufacturers who want their instruments to be enjoyed for decades, if not centuries.
A grand piano is comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of components. Each component needs to be manufactured to a very high standard.
What is a piano made of?
The piano's frame needs to be made from solid and stiff wood enough to withstand the tension exerted on it by the strings. A grand piano may have as many as 200 strings, which exert a stress of 200 tonnes, making it one of the world's most stressed structures.
Most grand pianos are made from either maple or spruce wood, solid yet flexible enough to withstand this force. The action is also made from wood, usually hardwood.
A piano's movement needs to withstand the tension of these strings, up to several tonnes in some cases. It also requires both flexibility and precision to allow the notes to be played accurately and with a range of dynamics.
The metal used for piano strings is made from tempered steel, solid yet flexible. This metal must maintain its strength when put under tension and be able to return to its original shape after each note has been played (which involves it being deformed and then returning to its original form.)
Most grand pianos have wooden keys covered with a strip of felt; the position of each hammer is carefully measured and then calibrated. A complex action mechanism (known as the keyboard) allows these hammers to hit the piano strings at precisely the right point so they will sound their correct tone.
How the strings are mounted to the soundboard also affects tone quality. Strings that are not perfectly aligned with the soundboard will not produce their intended tone. Thus, excellent skill is required to create a grand piano that makes the best sound.
Beautiful cabinetry is a hallmark of a fine piano. The cabinet must protect the instrument from extreme temperature and humidity and add to the overall aesthetic appeal. Fine grand pianos are made from solid hardwood, often highly polished to show the wood's beautiful grain.
Grand pianos are priced according to:
The materials used in their construction
The workmanship that has gone into making them
In general, grand pianos that are larger and made from better materials will be more expensive. For example, a concert grand (the most prominent grand piano) will cost more than the average upright (the smallest grand.) The materials used in a concert grand are usually of superior quality, often evident in the more ornate cabinet work.
In addition to being more prominent, a concert grand piano will typically have a longer string length, which will result in it having a richer tone. String length is the distance from the bridge to the hitch pin where the string is attached.
Concert grands are usually made with spruce soundboards with a longer lifespan than the more common maple soundboard. Spruce soundboards are stronger than maple, and they produce a warmer tone.
Grands built with rosewood will also command a higher price than those made with less luxurious woods.
Some manufacturers charge extra for features such as an adjustable-height keyboard or an extra octave in the bass. Also, different types of pianos may command a higher price. For example, Bechstein grands tend to be more expensive than Steinway because of their superior tone quality.
What are the two methods of building a piano?
Note, workmanship will affect the price.
A lovingly handcrafted piano will be more expensive than a machine-made piano. Grands are usually assembled by hand, and this process requires a high degree of skill and care. The back and front sections of the soundboard are all made from solid wood planks which must be carefully matched to ensure that the instrument has a rich and consistent tone.
The action mechanisms, such as the keys and hammers, are also made from wood. The cabinetry must be perfectly fitted, with no sharp edges or exposed staples. The finishing touches (inlaid marquetry and mother of pearl embellishments) add to the overall cost.
A piano that has been hand-finished will cost more than one which has been painted.
Grand pianos are also priced according to size. The larger the instrument, the more expensive it is. The number of keys also influences the price of a grand piano. For example, grands with three octaves (88 keys) will be more expensive than ones with only two (83 keys.) An 88-key piano, known as a full concert grand or a parlor grand, usually has a string length of about seven feet. A piano with 83 keys, known as an orchestra model or US standard, usually has a string length of about six feet.
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