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Are pianos designed to fail? #2952567 02/28/20 01:08 PM
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pianoloverus Offline OP
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I am not clear what this phrase means when applied to pianos. I have heard it a lot on PW and it has been frequently used by one of the most IMO esteemed dealers/rebuilders on PW.

Is this just another way of saying that due to the way pianos are built, it's highly likely that certain parts like the soundboard, pinblock, and action will severely deteriorate or completely fail after 75 or 100 years? For me, the trouble with the phrase "designed to fail" is that it sounds like pianos are designed that way on purpose, almost as if piano builders could design pianos that wouldn't fail if they wanted to. I'm guessing that's just my incorrect interpretation of that phrase but I'm looking for clarification.

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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952570 02/28/20 01:22 PM
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Quite. In my mind I interpret 'designed to fail' as a bit of frustration in the author that pianos aren't designed to last longer, even in this cynical modern day and age I don't think that pianos are (yet) designed to quickly fail and generate a need for repurchase.

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952574 02/28/20 01:30 PM
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Agreed! Designed to fail, to my ear, refers to things that could be designed to last longer, but are not designed that way for the sole purpose of creating the need for future purchases of the same item.

If this is what is meant by "designed to fail" then it's not right to describe pianos that way. But it is accurate to say that there are many piano parts which eventually wear out. Not because they are designed that way, but because that is the nature of the product. It's like car tires, which are not designed to wear down, but it's just an unavoidable feature, as a result of a combination of the materials used for the product and the way the product is used.


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952614 02/28/20 03:53 PM
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If you read PIano Tone Building, edited by Del Fandrich, you will realize an interesting thing. If you told the piano makers of that day, the early 20th century, that we would still be talking about working on those same pianos now, they would have been astonished. None of them thought they would last more than a few decades at most. They were a manufactured good and as such had a expected life. It's a testament to them and their materials and skills that these pianos survived this long.


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952616 02/28/20 03:56 PM
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I am more used to the expression 'designed to fail' in relation to vehicles, which are intentionally made to sacrifice their own structure by crumpling and crushing, thereby sparing the passengers from receiving that force in their own bodies of protoplasm and pain-conducting nerves.

In previous iterations of the car, design philosophy held that the sturdier and stiffer the body was, the better-protected the passengers were. And, many passengers believed that it was better to be thrown clear of the wreck, rather than to be trapped and burned. Silly, of course. Projected face-first through a windshield and sailing through the air at, oh, call it 55 mph, to fetch up on a tree stump or a Speed Limit 25 sign, rather than to stay in your seat confined by the safety harness and to collapse onto a balloon. Thank you, but no. You'll get some bruises, of course, but that's still better than having your face grated off by coasting along the pavement in free-fall. And cars whose stiff bodies survived long enough became obsolete anyway, desired by very few, except junkyard owners.

Like jet aircraft, pianos run pretty close to their firewall, or close to the limit of what their materials can bear. And like aircraft, they (at least, good ones) have to be maintained to close tolerances (and within rigid relationships to each other) so they don't fall out of the air, with all souls lost.

That even some of them can have any sort of musically useful lives at 50 to 75 to 100 years, even with the loving care that a lot of them don't get, is the amazing thing to me. Look at the delicacy of the parts, the relationships of force and friction. We're talking about felt parts, tiny little pins and fabric bushings; wood structural members supporting tens of thousands of pounds of force for decade after decade, metal fibers very close to their elastic limit of deformation. All these, existing in a caustic atmosphere varying, sometimes drastically, in pressure, temperature, and water content; atmospheres which can contain creatures such as mice, moths, and people who like to pound and touch the strings with their fingers.

The world of a piano can be dangerous enough, it would seem, standing still at zero MPH. Short of a house fire, the end of their life typically comes with someone being called in to take the carcass to the dump (except for those which are acquired by MIT, to be contenders in an annual contest where students devise mechanical means of chucking them off a classroom building's roof).

I think they're designed to, pretty much, do the best they can, not to fail. Even pretty bad specimens can delight some young musician, and be the first stepping stone up the piano food chain. If you skipped from the first paragraph to the last, well, good. You got the whole message anyway.


Clef

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952634 02/28/20 04:21 PM
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"Designed to fail", referring to pianos, suggests to me that it is not a cynical effort on the part of piano makers to build them to fail, but it is the intrinsic structure of the instrument which contributes to its decline over the years. The main design conundrum is the massive forces of the strings weighing down on the bridges of a slightly curved wooden sound board. Even the most skilfully made boards are not able to withstand this pressure for too long. The sound board eventually loses its crown and beautiful, singing notes can become lifeless plonks. Of course, there is also other age deterioration, but the gradual degradation of the "soul of the piano" is certainly a failure.

Regards,
Robert.

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952640 02/28/20 04:46 PM
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I think the answer is "purpose".
If the purpose is longevity, then you could build everything out of high tech composites, massive steel, make the soundboard resemble a tabletop, but you probably won't like the way it sounds.

If the purpose is a beautiful tone, then you would construct it in such a way that enhances tone. The compression soundboard does this. By taking advantage of the Hygroscopicity of Spruce wood creates a lightweight and stiff structure that is time tested and accepted by professional pianists over the past 100+ years.

If you compare that 100 year lifespan to other items, it really is an amazing accomplishment.
-chris


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952652 02/28/20 05:19 PM
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I think “designed to fail” with regards to pianos is a statement about an acoustic piano’s high number moving parts made of wood, felt, plate and tensioned strings that it’s incredible that pianos last many years before needing a complete rebuild. Looking at the complicated diagrams of a piano’s insides it seems miraculous that pianos last as long as they do.


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952690 02/28/20 07:40 PM
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I have owned my acoustic piano for 15 years. In that time, we have gone through 3 cars. And now the management wants yet a new one. Pianos designed to fail? I don't think so.


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: j&j] #2952701 02/28/20 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by j&j
I think “designed to fail” with regards to pianos is a statement about an acoustic piano’s high number moving parts made of wood, felt, plate and tensioned strings that it’s incredible that pianos last many years before needing a complete rebuild. Looking at the complicated diagrams of a piano’s insides it seems miraculous that pianos last as long as they do.

I agree it is remarkable !

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: Jeff Clef] #2952704 02/28/20 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Clef
That even some of them can have any sort of musically useful lives at 50 to 75 to 100 years, even with the loving care that a lot of them don't get, is the amazing thing to me. Look at the delicacy of the parts, the relationships of force and friction.

or 215 years in the case of my square... (!)

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952926 02/29/20 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I am not clear what this phrase means when applied to pianos. I have heard it a lot on PW and it has been frequently used by one of the most IMO esteemed dealers/rebuilders on PW.

Is this just another way of saying that due to the way pianos are built, it's highly likely that certain parts like the soundboard, pinblock, and action will severely deteriorate or completely fail after 75 or 100 years? For me, the trouble with the phrase "designed to fail" is that it sounds like pianos are designed that way on purpose, almost as if piano builders could design pianos that wouldn't fail if they wanted to. I'm guessing that's just my incorrect interpretation of that phrase but I'm looking for clarification.

You have started a thread but failed to qualify where you "heard a lot" about "designed to fail". I would like to know the origin?
Ian


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: Beemer] #2952931 02/29/20 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Beemer
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I am not clear what this phrase means when applied to pianos. I have heard it a lot on PW and it has been frequently used by one of the most IMO esteemed dealers/rebuilders on PW.

Is this just another way of saying that due to the way pianos are built, it's highly likely that certain parts like the soundboard, pinblock, and action will severely deteriorate or completely fail after 75 or 100 years? For me, the trouble with the phrase "designed to fail" is that it sounds like pianos are designed that way on purpose, almost as if piano builders could design pianos that wouldn't fail if they wanted to. I'm guessing that's just my incorrect interpretation of that phrase but I'm looking for clarification.

You have started a thread but failed to qualify where you "heard a lot" about "designed to fail". I would like to know the origin?
Ian


I have been on this forum, reading daily, since 2001, and I don't recall any frequent references to "designed to fail" in my readings. There are undoubtedly references to pianos which need work over time, which is expected of any mechanical product and some more than others depending upon maintenance or lack thereof. There have been comments on the expected life-span of pianos; there again, it's a question not only of manufacture but also of maintenance. Still, frequent "designed to fail" comments have escaped me.

Regards,


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: BruceD] #2952932 02/29/20 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Beemer
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I am not clear what this phrase means when applied to pianos. I have heard it a lot on PW and it has been frequently used by one of the most IMO esteemed dealers/rebuilders on PW.

Is this just another way of saying that due to the way pianos are built, it's highly likely that certain parts like the soundboard, pinblock, and action will severely deteriorate or completely fail after 75 or 100 years? For me, the trouble with the phrase "designed to fail" is that it sounds like pianos are designed that way on purpose, almost as if piano builders could design pianos that wouldn't fail if they wanted to. I'm guessing that's just my incorrect interpretation of that phrase but I'm looking for clarification.

You have started a thread but failed to qualify where you "heard a lot" about "designed to fail". I would like to know the origin?
Ian


I have been on this forum, reading daily, since 2001, and I don't recall any frequent references to "designed to fail" in my readings. There are undoubtedly references to pianos which need work over time, which is expected of any mechanical product and some more than others depending upon maintenance or lack thereof. There have been comments on the expected life-span of pianos; there again, it's a question not only of manufacture but also of maintenance. Still, frequent "designed to fail" comments have escaped me.

Regards,
Rich Galassini uses it frequently and in a recent post.

Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952955 02/29/20 03:09 PM
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There was a time that I scoured every thread. Nowadays I tend to come and go, and read only the threads with interesting subjects. Meaning, I don't know how often Rich uses the expression, but I do recall him using it some. It surprised me at first, but then he clarified. Here's an example:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...kurtzmann-baby-grand-58.html#Post2504164

Some people use the expression in terms of "planned obsolescence." Some use it to mean engineering how something ought to fail in terms of accident or catastrophe, as Jeff Clef mentioned above.

If I understood Rich correctly, his point is simply that pianos, given the nature of their materials and construction, will always ultimately "fail" at some point, meaning that some pieces or parts are going to essentially wear out.



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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: Retsacnal] #2952971 02/29/20 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
There was a time that I scoured every thread. Nowadays I tend to come and go, and read only the threads with interesting subjects. Meaning, I don't know how often Rich uses the expression, but I do recall him using it some. It surprised me at first, but then he clarified. Here's an example:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...kurtzmann-baby-grand-58.html#Post2504164

Some people use the expression in terms of "planned obsolescence." Some use it to mean engineering how something ought to fail in terms of accident or catastrophe, as Jeff Clef mentioned above.

If I understood Rich correctly, his point is simply that pianos, given the nature of their materials and construction, will always ultimately "fail" at some point, meaning that some pieces or parts are going to essentially wear out.
Thanks, that link seems to clear things up. Of course, the usage is more or less as I expected since it would be shocking if pianos could be designed to last much longer than they do and still play well but purposely designed otherwise.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 02/29/20 04:25 PM.
Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2952999 02/29/20 05:23 PM
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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2953082 02/29/20 10:04 PM
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The more accurate expression IMO is "design lifespan". The technology of pianos today is essentially the same as in the early 1800's. While materials have largely remained the same, the stresses designed into the structure have increased dramatically (due to the cast iron plate). The designers and builders take into consideration the fact that they have ZERO control over the environment that their pianos will go into. The sad fact is that MOST (though not all) piano owners abuse or neglect their instruments at some time in their life, adding to the rate of degradation. The other fact is that is that if the piano is kept in a very well controlled environment and well attended to service wise, the "design lifespan" can easily be doubled.

BTW, tires and brake shoes/pads ARE DESIGNED to wear and eventually fail. The owners manual instructs the owner as to when to give attention to things like this so that when they are getting close to their "designed failure" they get replaced properly so that other components of the vehicle do not get collateral damage due to owner neglect. Some people ignore this, others pay attention to it and take it seriously.

Pianos tend to last about one generation in general. And that's what the designers had in mind from day one.

Pwg


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2953116 02/29/20 11:17 PM
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If you bought a major brand grand piano new today and played the virtuoso literature three hours a day, in about ten years the action will be shot, and many makes would also have many strings breaking.

If the piano was configured with idealized string terminations, light hammers, and properly fit key bushings, it would sound even better than when it was new and would only need some light maintenance.

If either of the pianos was kept in an unchanging humidity environment, protected from direct sunlight, and not exposed to cooking fumes; the soundboard would most likely still be as good as new.

If it is built correctly and taken care of; it a fine piano will last a lifetime


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Re: Are pianos designed to fail? [Re: pianoloverus] #2953287 03/01/20 03:10 PM
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Hi all,

Geez, I should have opened this thread earlier. Thank you pianoloverus for asking the question. I suppose I may have been unwittingly misleading some people here for years. Of course I do use that phrase occasionally. My goal is using it is to let people know that manufacturers intend on their pianos to have a finite life. Many newbies and a surprising number of "professionals" believe that a piano that is regularly tuned will serve for their lifetime.

As Ed has pointed out, that is sometimes true, but in my real life experience, it is not the norm. A fifty year old top tier piano that has not been carefully maintained and placed in a place that is "piano friendly" will generally need substantial work to bring to a level one would expect from a top tier piano.

I feel like I have arrived late to this party and a lot has already been said for me - and Retsacnal already used my OWN words to speak for me. wink

... but at least I arrived. Now, where is my piece of cake? It isn't a party without a piece of cake.


Rich Galassini
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