Piano Panels..

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Forum topic by jeth posted 12-06-2011 11:50 PM 2155 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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262 posts in 3074 days

12-06-2011 11:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question joining piano panels movement

Hi all..

I have been asked to replace the carcass of a sorry piano whose chipboard/formica panels are disintegrating due to the humid climate here and yearly trips out to the theatre.
I had hoped to use solid wood, mainly to avoid the extra work of veneering and edging a substrate. Also because it makes sense to avoid the same kind of damage occuring again, though MDF may be a more durable option than chipboard (particle board to most of you, sorry)..

I had read up a bit online and hatched a plan based on the information I found, Unfortunately whilst disassembling this piano I found that the construction was not as expected. The original panels were glued to the main laminated frame which houses the soundboard along their length.

So, do I go to the bother of lamiinating up some panels, or will the solid panels be safe if they are fixed for about a third of their width (4”) along one edge with the remainder floating?
Another option could be some butterfly/dovetail cleats to hold the side panels on to the frame without gluing solid. I prefer to avoid modifying the frame if possible, not least because I would have to do any work to it on site, and it is very large and heavy… routing dados with it stood on edge would be no fun.

Any thoughts or alternative ideas??

8 replies so far

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262 posts in 3074 days

#1 posted 12-07-2011 05:24 PM

Thanks for the interest CR1.. well, as it happens, the vast majority of pianos are made of MDF/particle board panels veneered either with solid wood veneer or formica.. Actually whilst taking measurements and thinking this through ysterdayu I realised that the side panels have real wood veneer rather than formica.
In my hunt for info I was pointed toward a piano forum where my search for information relevant to this job called up a thread about just this.. that even the “prestige” manafacturers knock out chipboard cases for their instruments. Apparently only one or two manafacturers bother with higher quality ply veneered panels, on their pricier models.

As for value, well, discussions of percieved value of our work and the differences in the economic situation north/south of the border should probably be reserved for another thread, one hidden behind a “offtopic content, enter if you you’re looking for trouble” tag…
Suffice to say it’s worth them paying me to fix it so they don’t have to buy a new one, like most luxury goods a piano costs a lot of money and as a “manual” trade woodwork is paid at rates that would make you cry, or at least wonder why I bother.

I have a few pictures, though mostly post demolition .. I’ll upload a couple now…

In the pic above you can see one of the side panels in place, and the frame it is glued to. The panels are a touch under 12” toital width and were fixed along a 3 1/2” wide strip on their back edge.

And in this one the frame structure with one of the panels still in place on the far side (before I seperated it with my mallet :)
Basically the problem is fixing solid wood panels in their place, avoiding movement issues and hopefully not having to mess with the piano frame itself (150Kg +)

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5849 posts in 3821 days

#2 posted 12-07-2011 05:28 PM

I thought all the piano players were playing electric keyboards owing to the great saving in weight and price also the technical advancements we have today with micro chip technology. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

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262 posts in 3074 days

#3 posted 12-07-2011 05:41 PM

Well yeah Alistair, I know what you mean…

...that’s probably why the chap who is flying in from the capital to tune this up once I’m done can charge more for his hour than I can for my week :( I will be forever in need of more tools for my trade, he shows up with a little metal fork and walks off with the loot… I’m in the wrong trade…
And I used to have a good ear, before screaming routers and roaring table saws took their toll…

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Bill White

5148 posts in 4196 days

#4 posted 12-07-2011 06:26 PM

Most of the old pianos I used to restore were made from a secondary wood core (usually poplar) with veneer applied. The poplar was edge glued 3” to 4” pieces that would minimize movement in the wide panels. Of course the veneer wasn’t .0005” thick either like some of the veneered crap that is out today.
You could use an exterior grade MDF with veneer, a laminate, or even paint.


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3044 posts in 2656 days

#5 posted 12-07-2011 08:21 PM

My experience with pianos reflects Bill’s—that is, they use lumber core plywood cases. (You can still buy it.)
The case, in addition to the sound board is needed to amplify the vibration of the strings and comprises the final step in the accoustic mechanism of the piano.

The only PB or MDF core I’ve seen are on modern digital pianos where the case isn’t part of the sound mechanism. (The electronics and speakers are mainly responsible for the sound reproduction.)

Particle Board is horrible for piano cases as it is accoustically dead and should be avoided, if at all possible, on a stringed piano.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

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262 posts in 3074 days

#6 posted 12-07-2011 09:57 PM

Thanks folks for further replies…

DS, Interesting that you bring i}that up as the thread I found on “pianoworld” where all the piano people hang out was talking about exactly that issue. They indeed commented that the majority are made with sioild core ply, but the general consensus is that the same majority are now using far cheaper quality ply which is not so durable and can have voids etc… I guess it’s the lower end models that are chipboard, but everything imported here is low end, but priced high end…
Voids are a bad thing.. because you want an acoustically dead material. They suggested solid wood panels would likely reduce volume a little, as the sound would not trravel as fast through it as a denser/stiffer material such as play or MDF. This rings true to me from my knowledge of sound reinforcement design and construction, I learnt to work with “wood” building speaker boxes and audio is my other passion.
They also generally agreed that the change in timbre between materials would be barely noticeable and that the case itself is not, or should not, be oart of the resonant structure of the piano.

CR1, ply is out of the question as the only stuff available to me is cheap construction grade that warps more than sundried softwood. MDF is not really desirable because of the humidity and the fact this piano gets moved at least once a year (moved without due care >dinged MDF open to atmospheric conditions >swelling >veneer peeling >general disaster)
So, if you were to use solid wood, as I originally intended, then would you just glue that 3 1/2” wide band along the back or would you work out how to rout dados for cleats on the side of a 5 ft solid frame that weighs over 150KG?

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3044 posts in 2656 days

#7 posted 12-07-2011 11:01 PM

I was given a piano once that survived a house fire. It was a mess, but played okay. Having cost me nothing, I used cheap materials to build a new cabinet on it. (Read chipboard, or particle board with wood veneer.)

I was amazed at how much the materials I selected killed the sound quality. The piano was handed down to someone else at no cost when I was able to afford a new piano.

The making of Steinway L1037 is a great documentary. Some would claim that not only the cabinet, but the hall in which it is played will affect the tone quality of an instrument.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

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262 posts in 3074 days

#8 posted 12-07-2011 11:18 PM

Yep, that’s acoustics for you, even the shape of your head and the bones in your inner ear affect the nature of what you hear.. That’s why, outside of handcrafted one offs that seek that individual sound and character (think of something like a didgeridoo, made from a termite hollowed log with it’s random channels and troughs which shape the sound as an extreme example) manafacturers of instruments want neutral materials and not to be paying cabinet makers to assemble panels and carcasses only to scrap half of them because they don’t quite sound right…

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