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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.


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For the size and shape of finished product prior to gluing into larger panels I would think that a first attempt may could be a bridge cap or maybe a bridge root?
It would seem difficult to make a veneer out of the stuff.
Is there structural data out there like or modulus of elasticity etc? Of course all that changes when laminates are glued up into larger pieces.
Possibly a laminated rib???
I dont know rebuilders that do poly finishes but there must be one out there.


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Bamboo also appears to have excellent dimensional stability.

Last edited by daniokeeper; 12/06/17 02:22 AM.

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Bamboo flooring is quite common and, of course, has a polyester finish.

FWIW, concrete is flexible - just not as much as steel or wood. For example, when the Humber Bridge was being built in the UK, the 525 foot high concrete towers were bent 30 feet out of vertical before the bridge deck was loaded ... once in place, the weight of the decking bent the towers back to vertical (though these are still an inch or so out of parallel at the top due to the curvature of the earth across the bridge span).

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Bill,

Interesting. I have lately been thinking (just thinking) along the very same lines.

But the stuff needs another name.

Pwg


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Originally Posted by pyropaul
Bamboo flooring is quite common and, of course, has a polyester finish.

FWIW, concrete is flexible - just not as much as steel or wood. For example, when the Humber Bridge was being built in the UK, the 525 foot high concrete towers were bent 30 feet out of vertical before the bridge deck was loaded ... once in place, the weight of the decking bent the towers back to vertical (though these are still an inch or so out of parallel at the top due to the curvature of the earth across the bridge span).

Paul.


Thanks for that, Paul but it was my understanding that the reason so many structures failed in Hurricane Andrew in Florida and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was the lack of steel reinforced concrete.

While I know that there has already begun bamboo cultivation in Haiti, that is an example of how that particular country can recover from deforestation and poverty from a singular source. The growing plants alone can absorb enormous amounts of water from floods and also absorb twice as much carbon dioxide and produce twice as much oxygen as trees.

The raw material alone can be used to build shelter and used as the charcoal which the natives habitually used for cooking, thus depleting the precious hardwoods that used to grow there. There are places in Africa which have suffered the same fate. Cultivation of bamboo can immediately provide for such basic needs but imagine how productive those people could be if bamboo processing factories began to turn out useful building materials and materials useful for making a myriad of other kinds of products, including many of the components of pianos.

Brazil has also suffered much deforestation. Vast areas of trees cut down for agriculture but the soil quickly became depleted so more forests were cut down, leaving only fields of scrub vegetation behind. Bamboo would thrive in such areas.

There are areas in the USA where bamboo cultivation is possible: Florida and the Gulf Coast as well as Hawaii. Anywhere that coffee, tobacco and sugar cane can grow, bamboo can grow. That also means Mexico and anywhere in Central America and much of South America. Huge areas of China and Southeast Asia where bamboo is native can also benefit from controlled cultivation and the move to processing on a large scale of bamboo.

We also hear every few years of devastating floods on the Indian continent. This flooding always occurs in the same areas. If large areas of cultivated bamboo were strategically planted, they could absorb those flood waters like a sponge. The raw material alone that could be harvested in abundance from such areas would make it worth while but the prospect of also having processed material eventually develop makes bamboo cultivation a worthy endeavor.


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Bill Bremmer, I like the way you think. I think that bringing solutions to some of the weaknesses of the acoustic piano that have never been rectified, like cost, weight, tuning stability, and care and maintenance time and costs, could help breathe new life into the new piano market and the rebuilding market as well. These are the issues that electronic instruments their foothold in the market place. It may be impossible to solve all of them to make acoustic instruments as prominent as they once were, but I'd love to see a strong comeback! After all, what's inside the sound of every nice digital piano? High quality samples of beautiful acoustic pianos!!

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With the passing of innovators and true craftsman like Ron Nossman, the list of people that would dig into practical applications of a new material to acoustic pianos grows very small.
Advocates can easily expand their horizons.


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A friend of ours has bamboo growing in her backyard. It is fast-growing, invasive, and, at maturity it is virtually as hard as a rock. Stumps less than an inch in diameter will bend a steel lawnmower blade. Given the abundance of bamboo in the far east, I wonder why it hasn't been used in Asian pianos. Piano manufacturers should take a hard look at it.


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It's a fascinating thought. My Aunt had bamboo flooring laid in her lobby and living room a year or so ago, and it looks great. In China, a process has been developed to make fabrics from bamboo fibres. You can buy bamboo underwear! If anyone will try out the idea of a bamboo piano, I think it will probably be a Chinese factory. Meanwhile, here is the two hundred year old bamboo organ in St Joseph's church, Manila: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opj9ADGrieE

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Here is a website about the bamboo organ and the CD of Douglas Lawrence playing it. I have this CD. http://www.move.com.au/disc/douglas-lawrence-bamboo-organ

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Bamboo is definitely an interesting and sustainable material - but, for flooring, there are many hardwoods which are harder (on the Janka scale). Bamboo comes in about about 1180, a bit higher than American walnut which is around 1010. I have cumuru flooring with a rating of 3540 - perfect for a house with dogs!

As for concrete, reinforcement does make it more flexible, but it also holds it in place if it cracks (as in an earth quake). Every material has some flex, even ones we think of as inflexible.

For use in pianos, the problem is the bamboo plant produces only narrow stems so it's not clear how it could be used in a sound board, except if laminated ... though this is not the kiss of death that many suppose it to be. At the end of the day, the fibres are still similar to the cellulose and lignin found in wood.

For what it's worth, I've seen bike frames built out of bamboo too - but, as with many composite materials, it's the glue that's key smile

Paul.

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Originally Posted by bkw58
A friend of ours has bamboo growing in her backyard. It is fast-growing, invasive, and, at maturity it is virtually as hard as a rock. Stumps less than an inch in diameter will bend a steel lawnmower blade. Given the abundance of bamboo in the far east, I wonder why it hasn't been used in Asian pianos. Piano manufacturers should take a hard look at it.


In my opinion, bamboo's exclusion from piano construction so far is owed to historical factors and the power of suggestion. The piano, being a historically European (and American) instrument, developed in regions where the availability of wood was great compared to that of bamboo.

Further, certain musical (mystical?) properties were already being ascribed to wood and traditional, European-style construction, for the large part in absence of any objective, scientific evidence for those properties.

New producers of pianos in Asia, being good stewards of their business, eschewed the risk of using local materials (i.e. bamboo), which required innovation and straying too far from a formula that worked in Europe and North America. Kawai is slowly stepping outside that formula with its synthetic action parts; I suppose only when business demands it, manufacturers then start to look at bamboo.

That said -- this thread is full of good ideas, good intentions and a good attitude. Our current piano is marvelous, and there's plenty of room to grow.

My great thanks to Bill for putting more light on this subject again.

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Originally Posted by pyropaul
Bamboo is definitely an interesting and sustainable material - but, for flooring, there are many hardwoods which are harder (on the Janka scale). Bamboo comes in about about 1180, a bit higher than American walnut which is around 1010. I have cumuru flooring with a rating of 3540 - perfect for a house with dogs!

As for concrete, reinforcement does make it more flexible, but it also holds it in place if it cracks (as in an earth quake). Every material has some flex, even ones we think of as inflexible.

For use in pianos, the problem is the bamboo plant produces only narrow stems so it's not clear how it could be used in a sound board, except if laminated ... though this is not the kiss of death that many suppose it to be. At the end of the day, the fibres are still similar to the cellulose and lignin found in wood.

For what it's worth, I've seen bike frames built out of bamboo too - but, as with many composite materials, it's the glue that's key smile

Paul.


Yes, every material has some flex, including cast iron which is used for the piano plate because of its rigid properties. We all may have seen how a piano plate can bend just a little but beyond that point, it breaks.

Your comment about earthquake damage, however is right on the money. The buildings in Haiti crumbled because of lack of reinforcement. More recently, in Mexico City, there was more of that. The buildings that survived were more modern and had steel reinforcement.

When Andrew Carnegie was building bridges built with cast iron but wanted to build a bridge over the Mississippi River, he was told that it would be impossible because the iron used up until that time would not be able to withstand the strain.

Andrew Carnegie thought however that "Nothing is impossible". He was advised that steel would accomplish what he needed. At the time, however, the steel industry was in its infancy, mostly making imitation silver looking dinner ware. He ordered all that he could get and went into serious debt until he found the financing to accomplish his goals.

Carnegie later went on to build his own steel producing industry and produced the first high rise buildings which were called, "skyscrapers". The rest is history. Indeed, during the attacks of 911, the twin towers withstood the initial impacts but were ultimately destroyed from the fuel that was dumped into them.

The point is that Haiti, as it begins its slow recovery, has an abundant resource potential, both from raw material and the potential to process it into materials that can create buildings that can withstand both hurricanes and earthquakes.


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I very much enjoyed hearing the bamboo organ from the Philippines. It sounded like any pipe organ to me.

The Philippines is yet another excellent example of a third world country that often experiences flooding that could easily cultivate bamboo, put plantations in places where they could mitigate flood damage and produce an abundant source of raw material that would be useful to its citizens in the short term and create a productive industry through processed products in the long term.


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When I spent two weeks teaching tuning/voicing/regulating at the Kingsburg piano factory in Yantai China, the head engineer mentioned that some experiments with bamboo were being done in the industry in China. He didn't give me any more specifics than that.


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Originally Posted by mcontraveos


In my opinion, bamboo's exclusion from piano construction so far is owed to historical factors and the power of suggestion. The piano, being a historically European (and American) instrument, developed in regions where the availability of wood was great compared to that of bamboo.

Further, certain musical (mystical?) properties were already being ascribed to wood and traditional, European-style construction, for the large part in absence of any objective, scientific evidence for those properties.

New producers of pianos in Asia, being good stewards of their business, eschewed the risk of using local materials (i.e. bamboo), which required innovation and straying too far from a formula that worked in Europe and North America. Kawai is slowly stepping outside that formula with its synthetic action parts; I suppose only when business demands it, manufacturers then start to look at bamboo.

That said -- this thread is full of good ideas, good intentions and a good attitude. Our current piano is marvelous, and there's plenty of room to grow.

My great thanks to Bill for putting more light on this subject again.


Thank you for this message. I agree. The piano is not a traditional part of Chinese culture. Indeed, our local University School of Music Technician, a native of China, told me that he had never even seen a piano until he was an adult.

The transformation of the Chinese economy and culture has been very rapid, to be sure. They are now perhaps the world leaders in piano construction. In my own city, it is the Chinese immigrants who own the large, expensive houses and own the Shigerus and the Steinway Model B's.

China had to import engineers and technicians from the Western Hemisphere and Western Europe to get the knowledge of how to build a piano. They had to import woods and other resources. It is time that China, in particular, look to bamboo as a viable building material, adapt it to the processes of building pianos and proceed with it.

There is only so much spruce available for soundboards. The 1950's through 1990's American manufacturers sought other alternatives. Kimball, for example, maintained that a soundboard had a function and that its laminated soundboards fulfilled it. Despite what many technicians may think about Kimball products generally, the fact is that most of its pinblocks have withstood the test of time and the soundboards never cracked.

Those pianos of course, had other features which piano technicians love to hate but the fact is that most of what they built still survives and we have to manage them. I personally do not have a problem with a single one of them. They are what they are, I make the sound and play better with normal practice of piano technician skills. What is also undeniable is that the better of those instruments has a distinctively rich tone. That means that the laminated soundboard does what it is intended to do.

Therefore, if a soundboard could actually be fabricated from bamboo, however that may be accomplished and the results were at least as good, if not better than the laminated soundboards that Kimball produced, then the ordinary, modestly priced, consumer piano, either small grand or vertical, made mostly of bamboo products would represent a viable and sustainable product for the future.


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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
When I spent two weeks teaching tuning/voicing/regulating at the Kingsburg piano factory in Yantai China, the head engineer mentioned that some experiments with bamboo were being done in the industry in China. He didn't give me any more specifics than that.


This is good news!


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When I was living in China I was amazed at quite how strong bamboo was.


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Meantime, while we are waiting for the bamboo piano, why not wear the bamboo socks....

https://www.amazon.com/Pack-Mens-Dr...p;sr=8-12&keywords=bamboo+mens+socks

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