Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pianos without a Pin Block

The traditional way pianos are built for mass production is with the tuning pins pounded into a hardwood plank, usually constructed of 3-ply maple layers cross-banded. In today’s piano building market, multiple layered pin block construction, such as the 18 layered varieties, can be found in modern piano construction. 

The tuning pin in the wooden plank is a crude arrangement, similar to the violin peg; this type of build is subject to constant changes due to the ever-changing environmental conditions, as wood expands, and contracts with moisture loss or retention. Some of the difficulty in learning to tune pianos is learning to manipulate the tuning pin correctly in the wooden plank.

There have been inventions that were improvements to this area of piano construction. Unfortunately due to cost and other factors, many of these ideas fell by the wayside and have been long forgotten.

Here is one of the inventions that removed the wooden plank from the construction of piano building.

This is a piano built by Victorian piano builder John Brinsmead & Sons. On the 21st of May 1881 Brinsmead patented a piano so designed that the stress was horizontal. An extra perforated metal flange in the cast frame took a hollowed out threaded rod through which the string passes. To hold the rod in place there are two hexagonal nuts. On both sides of the frame there are two brass washers located on the frame, underneath the nuts, that allow the threaded rod to remain in place while tuning.

 The tuner needed a special T-shaped tool.  The tuning is much smoother and easier to accomplish than the tuning pin in the wooden plank. When applied to uprights, this kind of piano construction was called a "top-tuner" as the pins were above the plank, pointing upward instead of forward in the usual way. This type of piano build creates a “geared tuning” similar to guitar machine heads.

 Over the years Brinsmead made many improvements to this design. Because the strings are fixed in an entirely different way, many technicians refused to replace broken strings or wire in these instruments.
 Many technicians of the day and in later years refused to work on them at all. This resistance to change, along with the cost of production, where most likely the main reasons that inventions such as this did not become mainstream in piano building. In my view this idea not becoming mainstream in piano construction was unfortunate; every piano should have geared down tuning.

 These instruments are not rare or valuable; thousands of them were made in the 1880-90’s and still remain in Britain. Most of them today could be purchased for under $100.00. 

The Brinsmead’s called this the Patented Tuning Device. Here are some photos of the Brinsmead invention on a grand piano. This instrument remains in tune for long periods of time; I have only tuned this instrument twice in the last 20 years. Enjoy the photos below at this link provided.


Also, here is a link to some history of the Victorian piano maker John Brinsmead & Sons. Happy reading...

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