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Wood from a piano?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Bardolph, Nov 16, 2002.


  1. Bardolph

    Bardolph

    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    My girlfriend's family has a very very old grand piano and they are just going to get rid of it. The wood it is made of is walnut and I wanted to know if you guys think that wood used for a piano would be worthy for making a bass body (I was thinking of using the big cover thing over the keys). I don't know a lot about wood and I don't know if the kind of walnut for a piano would be different than that for a bass or if there's not really a way for you to tell me. :confused:
     
  2. BassAxe

    BassAxe

    Jul 22, 2002
    Culpeper, VA
    A drummer friend/coworker of mine is convinced that the more a musical instrument is used, the more the sound vibrations shape its molecular structure. As a result, older instruments will sound better than brand new ones.

    Personally, I think his theory ranks up there with Cold Fusion, but it's better to see a musical instrument reincarnated than lost forever.

    I say go for it!!!
     
  3. Bardolph

    Bardolph

    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Hmmm, good point you brought up. Another thing I'd like to say is I'm building a fretless and I don't want it just to be totally experimental. I'm looking for a decent sounding bass to use often.
     
  4. BassAxe

    BassAxe

    Jul 22, 2002
    Culpeper, VA
    If you have never built an instrument before, than you can consider this an experiment whether you can seriously use it often or not.

    The tonal range of a piano is broader than a bass. If it is good for the former, than it is probably good for the latter.

    Here's the page from Warmoth's website which discusses the different woods of their bass bodies.

    http://www.warmoth.com/common/frames/bassbodies.htm

    When it's done, I want to see PICTURES!
     
  5. pkr2

    pkr2

    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    Be sure to save the keys. Good ebony and ivory source for small parts like nuts and thumbrests. Ivory inlay work can be beautiful. And you can no longer get ivory.

    Pkr2
     
  6. BassAxe

    BassAxe

    Jul 22, 2002
    Culpeper, VA
    Good point. In fact, save as much of that piano as possible. If your first effort turns out well, you might be able to make more instruments with it or sell the wood to other luthiers.
     
  7. Well, you mention that it is a grand-piano, but you don't mention the make. I wonder if it might be an antique, or might be the work of a famous maker, and could be worthy of a restoration project. Someone already mentioned salvaging the ivory in the keys (if it is indeed that old - ivory is no longer used as elephants are now a protected species). There are also small lead-weights in the hammers.

    Another thing - in a large piano there is a considerable amount of well-seasoned wood, an increasingly rare commodity in our modern world - my bass-luthier has an arrangement with the local piano manufacturers/restorers, who give him all their "off-cuts" and small pieces which aren't big enough for them to use, but are very useful for him for patches/cleats/small-repairs etc.

    One more thing - check out the short story "Parson's Pleasure" by Roald Dahl (from his "Tales of The Unexpected") - an interesting story about antiques, with a great twist in the tail.

    Good Luck -

    - Wil
     
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Well, that market might get a little softer in due time.
    FWIW from MSNBC.com, 11/15/02;

    "MEETING IN Santiago, Chile, delegates to the U.N. Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, took actions...
    On Tuesday, CITES delegates agreed to let South Africa, Botswana and Namibia make one-time sales of 30, 20 and 10 tons of ivory, respectively.
    The ivory has been stockpiled from elephants that either died of natural causes or were culled because of crowding in certain areas. Any exports will have to be certified as having come from those stockpiles...."


    As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister of Norway was nailed trying to sneak in two tusks of ivory. returning from a trip to Africa.

    Also from that meeting;

    "Mahogany. Delegates on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to limit trade of bigleaf mahogany by listing it as a threatened species.
    Brazil, Bolivia and Peru - the countries with the largest mahogany reserves - opposed the initiative, saying their conservation measures were sufficient to protect the tropical hardwood tree, which has been decimated in recent decades...."
     
  9. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    The first choise should be to keep it as a piano, if it works! Those really old grand-p's have an incredible lot of personality and grandeur to their sound, like old violins.

    If you can't keep the piano, for some reason, (and if the piano is OK, can't find a buyer):
    get rid of the strings and string frame, and keep the rest!

    Superb tone wood. Ebony. Ivory. Supreme class brass. There are many kgs of material, that will be veeeery good in other instruments. Lika a bass...
     
  10. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Replace the strings with tines & tonebars, stick some pickups in there and turn it into a Rhodes.
     
  11. Not as far-fetched as you think. Rick Turner for one has done research in this area and at least one other well known acoustic maker actually "seasons" his creations by strapping them to a transducer and inducing vibrations to the instrument to simulate years of playing in only a few hours. He claims good results. If I could remember the guys name I'd tell you - I swear :)
     
  12. Bardolph

    Bardolph

    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    So with that theory would auditoriums gradually start to sound better as they got older?
     
  13. :D

    Or, run the strings lengthwise along the keyboard and turn it into a Clavinet!
     
  14. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Some makers of violins do this also.
     
  15. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    (Now that I'm back home a month later and catching up with TB) -

    Ham is dead-on.

    Steven Rabe of SWR fame and R. Turner formed a company, Timbre Tech, that improved the sonic performance of guitars with a shaker table (below) that was like a speaker with a 7500W amp and a magnesium plate instead of a speaker cone (see the guitar in the machine?) -

    [​IMG]

    The reasons why the process worked (and why players pay top dollar for the tone produced by well-played, older, instruments), is the improvement due to subtle changes in the stiffness/flexibility within the cellular structure of the wood, the hardening of natural resins/oils within the cells, and making minute cracks in the finish as the plasticizers in it become brittle over time.

    Eddie Van Halen and members of Aerosmith were among those who had their instruments go through Timbre Tech's process. Jackson Browne's immediate comment after he had his new Gibson Roy Smeck go through the process was, "WOW!"

    Below, is a graph showing how the process changed the frequency response of an acoustic guitar, measured at the headstock.
    The straight line depicts freq. response BEFORE the process.
    The jagged line depicts freq. response AFTER the process -

    [​IMG]

    I read somewhere that Timbre Tech isn't around today because the venture wasn't panning out financially. Not all instruments/woods improved dramatically after the process.
    Also, I read Rabe was working in 1997 with people at M.I.T. to see if there are observable changes in wood after the process. I never heard what the outcome was.
     
  16. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Small correction. According to the article, it was Michael Tobias and Steve Rabe, not Rick Turner.
     
  17. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Whoops! Good catch, Peter. I looked at my old print-out of the article and noticed the magazine article was BY R.T.
     
  18. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Yeah! Actually, I do gotta get a Clav some time. See if I can find a second hand D6 or somethin'. It's another one of those sounds that (IME) sampled ones on sound modules don't do justice. Not quite as bad as the Rhodes though.