Newsletter May 2010
My Soundboard is cracked!! My piano is ruined!
This is another of the great myths of the piano. While cracks, or more accurately: breaks, are unpleasant cosmetically, they usually are meaningless musically.
But before we go any further we must be sure we all know where and what is a soundboard. If you look under your strings in a grand piano or at the back of your upright, behind the posts you will see the soundboard.
This mysterious piece of vegetative product is the most misunderstood part of our favorite instrument. The soundboard is made up of fletches of quarter sawn Sitka (usually) spruce, each about 3” wide. Traditionally tight grained spruce is preferred but with the loss of such trees wider grain spacing has been used with no appreciable loss of sound.
The ribs run approximately perpendicular to the grain direction; or in more sophisticated soundboards, they will run perpendicular to the bridge. They have several functions. They support the soundboard against the downward pressure of the strings and they help move the energy from the strings across the grain of the panel. Sound waves travel much faster along the grain than across the grain, so the ribs minimize this discrepancy.
The function of the soundboard is to take the energy from the string through the bridge and transduce that energy so that enough air is moved we can hear the sound. It doesn’t amplify the sound. Amplification implies energy being added to the system. The soundboard actually increases the rate in which energy is used. Without it, the string would vibrate for a very long time, slowly using up its energy. The soundboard uses the energy given to the string by the hammer at a faster rate allowing a large enough mass of air to be moved to produce an audible sound.A crack in a soundboard is a very normal consequence of certain design features common to most piano makers. To summarize a rather complex process: The raw panel is dried to an equilibrium moisture content (EMC) of about 4%. This represents the
moisture content which would be present in a very low humidity environment. The effect of this drying is to shrink the board.
When the board has reached its target EMC it is taken out of the hot box and the ribs are glued on. The ribs are usually flat on the glue surface. As the board reabsorbs moisture it begins to expand. But because the ribs are glued to one side, that side is unable to expand as much as the top side. This creates the crown of the soundboard. The wood cells on the rib side are compressed by the presence of the ribs. Even though the top surface is crowned, the cells on the top are also still under compression because they are unable to expand completely back to their original size.
Once this compressed soundboard experiences its first hot and humid summer its cells have been compressed even more. Two things can happen. 1) A grain line can be pressed up away from the rib, relieving some of the compression. This is called a compression ridge. 2) Permanent compression set takes hold. Compression set will occur when the cells have been compressed beyond their limit and become permanently deformed or permanently compressed.
Next comes a bone dry winter and the soundboard dries down. But now it has a compression ridge and compression set cells. And now here come the cracks.
So what?! The ribs are still present to move the sound energy across the grain and the cracks may represent a 1/2% loss of surface area of the soundboard.
Yes, in time excessive cracks are symptomatic of a dead soundboard. The key word is excessive. A crack or two is nothing more than, again, the normal process of a piano’s soundboard.
I must warn you though, this is a far more complex question than I can even begin to address in a few hundred words. It is best to have a technician look at the piano in question to determine the cause and effect of any cracks present.
By Sarah Jett Flanagan
Life has been very exciting lately! This past March 27th, I married the man of my dreams, my best friend, Peter Flanagan. We had been engaged since last October and planned our wedding for spring time because it’s our favorite time of year. The spring colors, the newness of life, and the promise of warmer temperatures are things we both look forward to every year. Why not plan a wedding right there in the midst of it all? It turned out to be a beautiful spring church wedding and a wonderful time we’ll never forget.
One of my favorite parts about our wedding is that we kept our expenses much lower than the average couple. I have always been a penny pincher. Peter is more generous than I, but even so, he has been saving for bigger and better things like a future home in the suburbs (he first needs to sell his condo at 200 N Jefferson, downtown Chicago, if anybody needs a great new home). We endeavored to find ways to keep our costs down. We printed our own simple invitations from Walmart ($20 for 50), we printed our own wedding programs ($25), we hired friends for music and for photography, we went with a simpler cake, and we had the wedding early in the day so the reception could be quite simple too.
The savings list goes on, but the one thing I bought that I was most proud of was my wedding dress. The place I bought it was a consignment shop and I paid a consignment shop price for it. I couldn’t have received more compliments on it though! I had found a dress that fit me perfectly (no costly alterations needed), that was less than 50% of what the normal cost would be for buying it new (saving over $500), a dress that was perfectly clean, and that had the unique styling that fit my personality (no offense to anyone, but I didn’t want a run of the mill look).
When I bought my dress, I was thrilled with my purchase! I was also happy knowing that the original owner of the dress would receive some of their money back from their purchase and I was perfectly fine with the fact that the consigner would get a small share in it too. Benefits for everyone!
All of this to say – don’t be afraid of consignment. Whether you are the consigner, the consignee, or the potential buyer, consignment can be a pretty good deal. Let’s look at it in the context of pianos at ANR Piano. Did you know you can consign a piano with us at ANR? Did you know that some of the pianos in our showrooms are consigned?
Here is a workup of the benefits and obligations of Consigning a piano.
For the Consignee
For the Buyer
For the Consigner