Heretic Piano // BFA Final Project

Hey all,

After several months of researching musical instruments, I am beginning the design phase of my Senior Project. I started out for about 6 weeks researching violins, and then researched pianos for a while. I decided to go forward with a piano because acoustic violins have rigorous form constraints and have been explored more than pianos have. There are a handful of crazy piano designs (a whole other thread I’ll have to start when I have more free time), but they are mostly sculptural. I wanted to approach things from a practical as well as aesthetic perspective.

I decided to post a rough research presentation here in the hope that I can get some broader feedback with the actual design. I am not a mechanism expert, and my design will probably involve some industrial modular functionality for easy piano moving.

Thanks in advance. Hopefully this turns into a fun thread.

One of my aesthetic stories.

The functional / second aesthetic story.

I have a question or two.

With your proposed arrangement of the soundboard, is there a means to show it will produce a superior sound (or conversely an inferior sound) other than making an actual soundboard in the proposed arrangement?

If the only way to test your idea is to make an actual soundboard in the proposed arrangement, do you have an idea to cost? (You will also need to let me know the going shop rate for a piano fabricator, as I have no idea.)

On a side note, very interesting research. It must have been fun to find this stuff.

Thanks for responding iab.

Not really. To be honest, though, I doubt this would significantly improve acoustics. The difference would probably be barely discernible if at all. I decided to do it more for aesthetics and to have a more accurate mental model of the function by highlighting the part that contributes to 95% of the acoustics.

I don’t. I suspect that the only additional cost involved would be related to flipping the ribs and the bridge, since they could still be cut out with existing templates. My plan was to brand this project with Kawai, since they pioneered most of the synthetic material innovations in piano actions over the last twenty years (working against the ‘all plastics are cheap’ prejudices from WW2), and their motto is “the future of the piano.” My design will be a performance piano for them, so it has more flexible cost constraints than a typical piano. It should be much less than 100,000 euros though (the cost of the Audi piano).

I has been a blast. I initially picked musical instruments because I thought they would make for some challenging research, since they haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. To my delight, once I got past some dogma and talked to piano tuners who dispelled some myths, I could actually change more than I anticipated.

I ask about cost because it is an interesting idea to change the position of the soundboard. If I were your boss, I would have no problem with you trying the new position unless it were cost prohibitive. Try to use some of your contacts to get a ballpark figure and add it to your presentation.

If the accoustic change is negligible with the new arrangement, what is your target audience to buy into the change. I am guessing that piano purchasers tend to be on the conservative side. I’m sure you could sell of few to the Liberace buyer, but is that enough to sustain production? I would recommend a bit of market research to determine if that feature is marketable.

nice to follow this along from your previous post and see you took my suggestion of the modular idea. Help yourself to it. Interested to see how this turns out and hope you post frequent updates.

Could be an awesome project. Difficulties in proving audio quality, aside. (There must be some sort of high end Pro/E plugin such as the moldflow ones, ever looked into it?). Also would be great if you could partner with an actual piano maker to get proof of concept feedback - have you looked into that?


Thanks R.

I haven’t talked to manufacturers, but I have spoken with several professional tuners/repairers with decades of experience. These guys are the experts on audio stuff, since it’s been basically their entire career. Even the most closed-minded of them admits that the soundboard itself is 95% of audio quality.

The other 5% relies on the rim (the giant curved piece of bentwood laminate). It doesn’t really matter what the rim is made of, as long as it doesn’t absorb energy from the soundboard. My plan is to get rid of the visually heavy rim and design some sort of modular metal truss system that enables a stage crew to easily turn the piano on its side and move it from place to place. I ran this idea past the closed-minded old-timer tuner and he didn’t have an issue with it.

I’ve done a few rough sketches as I’ve had these ideas during my research. I’ll post those tonight.

This is super interesting so far, I look forward to seeing it progress!

‘Sketches to make sure I wouldn’t forget ideas I had during my research’ Part 1:

‘Sketches to make sure I wouldn’t forget ideas I had during my research’ Part 2:

‘Sketches to make sure I wouldn’t forget ideas I had during my research’ Part 3:

Here we go. The ones that seem to float or cantilever "Modrian concept for example) are very striking. The framed out ones definitely fit the “heretic” idea, but I think they might be over bearing when scaled up to full size? Pianos naturally dominate rooms and this would push that to the max! Maybe a good thing based on your objectives though.

When you get to a more advance point in the process, it might be worth it to do illustrator/photoshop rendered concepts of 2-5 ideas and then print them out full size! That would be pretty awesome to see how they impact a space before moving to a final design.

Good Idea on the printouts, Yo. Thanks.

I am definitely headed in the cantilever truss direction. This will be a performance piano, so it will need some presence, although I agree that bright shiny metal may be a little much. Maybe the truss stuff will be black and subtle.

I still need to learn more about one of the piano moving products - the ‘piano horse.’ This is the one that looks like a steel frame with a curved radius that helps the piano be tilted on its side. Naturally, the product has almost no branding or web presence, so I have to do find out about it the hard way.

This is a really cool project. Any chance you can make a recording once it’s finished and post it up so we can hear what it sounds like?

I’m afraid I won’t be building one. Normally my BFA class is two 3 credit hr classes, but I’m only doing the first one since I’ll be graduating soon. I don’t really have the space or money, plus, I’m a horrible craftsman. =)

More thinking sketches. Any ideas or resources for mechanisms bearing 1000 lbs that can pivot like this?

At the very least, you could probably build a 100% scale mockup in corrugated cardboard. That would be useful at lest for the massing and physical size.

Also, as an aside, what about somehow looking at a hybrid design between an upright and grand piano? I have no idea about the internals or acoustic quality, but perhaps there is some room to play there. For example, if you angled the soundboard 45degrees to the ground, (an upright I’m guessing is 90degrees) you could significantly reduce the floorspace needed. Or perhaps considering some sort of method to get a the sound of a grand from an upright, with some fancy mechanism,(imagining a harp here with a 90degree switch in key position). Heck, you could perhaps even consider a full 90degree shift of the soundboard so it points straight up. sorta like an upright, but instead of the soundboard being behind/below the keys, it would be above. might have an issue with ceiling height, but could be explored…


That’s a good idea R. You are not the first to have it!

In fact, upright pianos were originally called upright grands, and were laid out exactly like you say. Early versions were nicknamed ‘giraffe’ pianos because of their goofy vertical shape. Only in the past century were upright pianos designed to be more simple and practical.

There was a custom piano company in Salt Lake City called Astin-Weight that came up with an innovation of an extra-large soundboard for upright pianos. Essentially, a bigger soundboard just means more sound, not better sound. The actual reason performance grand pianos have a little better quality sound is because their ideal string length isn’t compromised.

I have decided to stick with the traditional horizonal arrangement because I am designing a performance grand piano. Performance grand pianos are extra long (that string length thing again) so the horizontality goes well with the stage and creates a bold composition. The horizontal arrangement also is most convenient for moving, which is the functionality issue I’m addressing.
astin weight.JPG

The thing which i adore about my yamaha grand is the subtlety of the design.

Yes its essentially a big black heavy box which makes music, but it entices you to touch it, to play it. I leave the lid open so when i have friends over they are encouraged to play it and get to know it as i have done.

I know it sounds overly romantic, but I get up in the morning to work out better ways for people to connect with everyday objects, musical instruments are something which interfaces with both sides of your brain in terms of interpretation and learning. I would personally focus on a design which is less brutal, industrial and try and find something which entices people to create music with your redesigned piano, the aesthetics are quite important for this.