Recently, someone sent me a private message based upon comments I had made 6 years ago regarding the properties of Bamboo. The opinion I had at the time about bamboo was based upon some gifts that I had received several years earlier from my sister who had purchased them in a boutique store in California. You know, the kind of store that sells clothing made of hemp fibers and other whacky, "save the earth, polar bears, whales and elephants" type products. Nice ideas but really...
Well, we are already faced with a ban on ivory, even that harvested over 100 years ago but we are not saving the elephants because of it. What we do see in current piano construction is the increased use of particle board. Virtually any type of wood compressed and glued until it transforms into a more desirable product. But those products are the result of cutting down trees which take generations to grow. Once that tree is cut down, there is no life sustaining oxygen produced from it. If a new tree is planted in its place, it takes more decades before that tree will ever produce the oxygen its predecessor once did.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is a type of grass that grows abundantly and quickly in the poorest of soils (such as in deforested areas) and actually generates more oxygen than trees. It produces a readily useful material in its raw state for people who need it badly. The applications as a raw material are numerous and a fascinating subject in itself.
The properties of processed bamboo, however are what is most interesting. The fact is that bamboo contains strong and resilient fibers. These can be processed, much like wood, into material that has all of the properties of hardwoods but grows like a weed. Indeed, if left alone to propagate, it will become an invasive species.
Here is the answer I gave to that private message:
<<Bamboo as a material in Piano Construction:
While I have little expertise in piano design and construction, being only really a field technician, I have been impressed nevertheless by the versatility of bamboo about which I have read and some products which I have. So far, I have only seen rolling eyes when I have mentioned it but sometimes, mere ideas do, at some point come to fruition.
There are several factors to consider: All of the traditional woods used are expensive in themselves and represent a limited and perhaps finite resource. The piano itself has been in a long period of decline in general interest. If the piano is to survive as a common consumer product, it needs to be affordable and have an edge over the very cheap, electronic imitation. It needs to remain a treasure for each household who owns one, even the most modest types.
The most costly and traditionally built pianos can remain exclusive to those who can afford them and for the finest of concert instruments, yes. But for the piano to still be what an average, middle class home will own and for the children to learn to play, it has to compete not only with the electronic imitation and the abundant source of used pianos but with all other electronic distractions which so easily gain the attention of virtually everyone.
The primary beneficial feature of bamboo is its abundance and extremely rapid growth in the poorest of soils and in the poorest of countries who need a growth industry. It is a type of grass rather than a tree, will grow explosively in places where deforestation has occurred and can quickly regenerate after devastating flood and hurricane damage.
Bamboo produces a remarkably versatile material. It can be used in its raw state as a simple building material for people who need immediate shelter but also as scaffolding for large building projects.
What happens when the raw material is processed, however is far more remarkable. It has very strong and resilient fibers. When the raw material is compressed, it releases starches and liquid that can be processed for other uses, including fuel and perhaps animal feed.
When the material is compressed, it produces very strong and dense material, yet light in weight that can mimic the properties of many hardwoods.
Bamboo timbers are already a well known and used product. They are known to be stronger than steel (and many times stronger than concrete) but still have the same flexibility (which concrete does not have). They can actually replace steel in structures where steel needs to reinforce concrete for the complimentary strength and flexibility is needed.
Larger bamboo timbers can be and are already used in home building to create houses which are far more resistant to wind and earthquake damage. The entire house can actually be constructed from bamboo but not as one may think, as a primitive looking structure but a modern and elegant home where all floors, walls, the roof, cabinets, stairs and otherwise can be constructed of beautiful and durable, earth-toned bamboo products. That even goes for the kitchen counter tops and cutting boards. They are all more resilient than the most expensive hardwoods.
I digress, of course, from piano construction to plant the idea in the minds of people who are in the business of piano construction and design to imagine all of these properties being used in various ways within a piano.
Let's start with some real basics: Could not all of these properties serve to be the case and keybed of virtually any vertical piano? If bamboo material could go no further than that, would it not be worth exploring over particle board or plain wood that can warp?
I have read that bamboo does not like to be "painted" but it does have its own earth tone beauty and could possibly accept a polyester finish. That would need to be tested. It would be a question of how well polyester can adhere to and hold up when applied to bamboo.
As for a keybed. I have no doubt whatsoever that a bamboo keybed could be as solid and probably much more stable than any keybed made of plain wood.
Action rails: They have often been replaced with aluminum but if bamboo can hold up, would it not be a less costly material?
Keys: They are cut from a panel of wood but if that panel were made of bamboo, would not the keys also hold up over time actually better than plain wood and resist warping, cracking and splitting?
Pinblock of both grands and verticals: The hard rock maple pinblock is traditional but in more recent years, multi-laminate wood materials under high pressure have served to transform ordinary wood into a far more dense material. This is what can be done with bamboo fibers! The question that remains, however is how well bamboo could hold up to tuning pins. I speculate that it could be as resilient as any wood product, if not better.
Let's now consider the living room size grand piano: Legs and lyre: no problem. Rim: Certainly easily shaped material. Would it be reflective or transducer material? I do not know but likely would mimic a very dense rim that can only reflect but this is completely unknown.
Lid: The most recent lids have been made of high density particle board and that does the trick for keeping them flat and warp free but they weigh SO much that many piano owners cannot lift them. There is little doubt that a bamboo fabricated lid can remain flat and thus resist warping and it would be far lighter, maybe even lighter than traditional wood panel lids.
In grand pianos as in verticals, the question remains as to whether bamboo would make good action rails and keyframes. It looks good for both but surely metal rail combinations are are still possible.
Can actual action parts be made of bamboo? Flanges and hammer shanks? Wippens? It all seems plausible. (The kitchen utensils that I have had for more than a decade have survived the dishwasher). Certainly, current synthetically made parts can be combined with bamboo parts.
The really large question is about soundboards. The conventional wisdom is that only very select spruce would be suitable for it. That is definitely a finite product. There have been some promising synthetic products and if they can be made on a large scale at low cost, they would fit the bill.
It seems unlikely that bamboo could serve in this respect but of coarse, it has never been attempted. We do know of the many properties of bamboo. What if a soundboard panel could be constructed of bamboo material? While it could end up disastrously, we would never know unless the idea were explored.
My own feeling about it is that it could be no worse than the laminated soundboards of the late 20th Century and could serve just as well as they did (completely resistant to cracking or splitting) but may have a characteristic tone of their own that is unlike that of spruce but we would never know unless it were tried.
Could bridge roots and caps (also bridge aprons) be made of bamboo products? Certainly. Their conductivity however would need to be tested. There is little doubt that the material itself would be strong enough.
The soundboard question is the most interesting of all because it really has never been tried.>>
If you care to, you will find an explosive amount of information on how bamboo can be used as a construction material. I found this article about how bamboo can be processed into a useful building material to be particularly interesting:https://www.bambooimport.com/en/blog/how-is-bamboo-lumber-made
The above article shows and tells how bamboo is already being processed into useful building material. I challenge the Research and Development departments of such manufacturers as Pearl River, Yamaha, Kawai and even Steinway (through its Asian counterparts), to look into how they may all benefit in the future from developing Bamboo as a piano building material.
The bottom line is to be able to make a piano for the general public that is created from sustainable materials, is affordable to most people but still represents what an acoustic piano should be: a unique family treasure.
I welcome all comments other than those intended to be merely flippant or facetious.