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#320829 - 06/05/05 03:17 PM Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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lilylady Offline
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While exploring the world of pianos this last month, I have noticed some differences in piano 'KEYS'.

I did a search for archived messages on PW, but didn't see anything related to this.

Even if it has been mentioned, I thought this might be a good topic to discuss. If "I" notice some differences, maybe others do also.

Although I am looking for a quality upright, I am now exploring grands as well. Your answers might be about one or the other, so please let us know of which you speak.

There seems to be a standardized WHITE piano key. Yes or No, and please share info about this.

When did the standard get set and to what?

While the white keys do not seem different, the black keys do. The length? The width? The edging?

What about the finish - smoothness, slipperyness, etc. for different brands ?????

I have noticed a key extension sometimes - beyond the back of the keys on some pianos. This helped me not 'bang' into the back with my finger tips while playing. I like to play IN the black keys, not just on the edge of them.

Is this a design of certain pianos? Which pianos?

I thought at first it might be only on the grands, but I did play a grand with no extension. And it was top of the line.

Another thought -
I was very taken with the Mason Hamlin black keys which were stained brown on the sides. VERY VERY classy. I remember the shock while beginning to play on a BB and looking down and seeing this. And then such a comfort thought - Oh, is this classy or what?

Are keys all made of solid wood with a plastic top now?

Any other input you can share?

Roberta


"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."
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#320830 - 06/05/05 06:05 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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TomtheTuner Offline
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Techs call the black thingies "Sharps".

Some are plastic, some are wood. The wood is almost always ebony. All white key tops are plastic. Ivory is illeagal to import. There are variations in lengths and widths, but not by much.


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#320831 - 06/05/05 06:53 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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George K Offline
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My 30 year old Baldwin Hamilton has "short" keys. I occasionally find it frustrating

One trick I learned is to take a dollar bill, and put it up against the fallboard. See how far down the bill the key goes. It *should* go to the margin where the ink ends.


As I said, my piano's keys are short - about 1/4". bah


George


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#320832 - 06/05/05 07:54 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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As for slipperness, it seemed to me that Kawai keys were grippy, Yamaha keys were slick, and Charles Walter keys were just. right. *happy sigh*

laugh

A great topic for discussion, Lilylady. I did actually find that the feel of the keys was strikingly different to my newbie hands when I was piano shopping. Of course, I didn't try out any grands (with my budget it would have been pointless), and I'm only now learning to play so I didn't notice anything in particular about key length.


Deborah
Charles Walter 1500
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#320833 - 06/05/05 08:09 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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George K Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by dh:
As for slipperness, it seemed to me that Kawai keys were grippy, Yamaha keys were slick, and Charles Walter keys were just. right. *happy sigh*
Yamaha's keys (or keytops) are made of a subtance called "Ivorite." I've spoken to one rebuilder that wanted to buy the material for his own rebuilds, but Yamaha wouldn't let him purchase it.

It's also (if I recall correctly) only on the C-series, and only on the C-3 and up.


George


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#320834 - 06/06/05 10:45 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Casalborgone Offline
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Roberta--

It would be interesting to read about your impressions of the "touch" or the performance of the actions in the vertical pianos which you play. Perhaps especially so since, as I recall, you are a piano teacher. I think many readers here do not have positive notions about the touch of vertical pianos and I do believe that there are important distinctions to be made here. Many vertical piano actions may perform very well for most players.


Mike
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Member Piano Technicians Guild
Not currently working in the piano trade.
#320835 - 06/06/05 11:08 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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piano_deb Offline
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Quote
George wrote:

Yamaha's keys (or keytops) are made of a subtance called "Ivorite." I've spoken to one rebuilder that wanted to buy the material for his own rebuilds, but Yamaha wouldn't let him purchase it.
That's interesting, George. Walter describes their key covering material as, "ivorine (acrylic resin)" for the white keys and "Phenolic resin" for the black keys. I suspect that Ivorite and ivorine are just slightly different acrylic resins. In practical terms, the difference between acrylic resin and Phenolic resin seems to be in the texture. On my CW, the white keys are slicker than the black keys which are, not exactly grippy, but just not-slick, if you know what I mean. (I think a lot of manufacturers do this sort of thing to help pianists better handle those black keys. I dunno. I'm so new at this, I'm lucky to find the right white keys.)

And now for a confession ... I suddenly thought last night, after I'd posted above, "Hey, what if it wasn't the Yamaha with the slick keys? What if it was the Rostenstock or the George Steck ..." My swiss-cheese memory. Someone who actually has a Yamaha ought to maybe chime in and let us know how the keys feel.

lilylady, what Walter says about key length on their verticals might interest you:
Quote
Longer overall key length (one to three inches longer than most other pianos) provides better control, greater sensitivity, and minimizes the variation in touch weight between the front and back of the key. Grand size key covers enlarge the playing surface for those accustomed to performing on grand pianos.
Btw, the CW keybeds are poplar (wood).


Deborah
Charles Walter 1500
Happiness is a shiny red piano.
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#320836 - 06/06/05 11:10 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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A local rebuilder and friend (at least I think he's a friend even though I didn't buy one of his pianos)swears by bone keys. They felt "just right" to me and looked very classy. Do any manufacturers regularly use bone? thumb

#320837 - 06/06/05 12:45 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Quote
Originally posted by gtrhack:
A local rebuilder and friend (at least I think he's a friend even though I didn't buy one of his pianos)swears by bone keys. They felt "just right" to me and looked very classy. Do any manufacturers regularly use bone? thumb
I forget where I read it but I believe that several German makers use bone as material for their keys now - for example, I believe that the Leipziger Pianofortefabrik (Rönisch (www.roenisch-pianos.de/) and Hupfeld (www.hupfeld-pianos.de) - identical pianos but the Rönisch page is the most comprehensive) and the Thüringer/Eisenberger Pianoforte (also known as Wilhelm Steinberg these days - www.wilh-steinberg.de) both use bone keys.. smile

#320838 - 06/06/05 02:49 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Add Fazioli, Blüthner, and Steingräeber to the list of pianos that have keyboards available in fossilized mammoth bone.


G.Fiore "aka-Curry". Tuner-Technician serving the central NJ, S.E. PA area. b214cm@aol.com Concert tuning, Regulation-voicing specialist.
Dampp-Chaser installations, piano appraisals. PTG S.Jersey Chapter 080.
Bösendorfer 214 # 47,299 214-358
#320839 - 06/06/05 02:58 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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My Yamaha U5 upright has Ivorite keys and ebony sharps and I love them. I went to albuquequre to try out a new Steinway Grand (S) and did not like the feel of the keys at all. My hands sweat when I play in front of salesmen and the Stienway keys felt like little Slipery Slides. As well, on close inspection I found the finishing of the key materials of less quality on the Steinway than on my Yamaha. AND,,, for only an additional $24,000.00 I could have traded in my 52" U5 for the 5'1" S.

No Chance! No Way! No How! My U5 blew it away.


WHAT???????
Yamaha S6, U5C, P120
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#320840 - 06/06/05 03:02 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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mikhailoh Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by TomtheTuner:
Techs call the black thingies "Sharps".
Silly Tom.. everyone knows those black thingies are 'Flats'. laugh laugh laugh


Michael

====

He is so solemn, detached and uninvolved he makes Mr. Spock look like Hunter S. Thompson at closing time.'
#320841 - 06/06/05 03:34 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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tyrri Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by curry:
Add Fazioli, Blüthner, and Steingräeber to the list of pianos that have keyboards available in fossilized mammoth bone.
My understanding was that e.g. Wilhelm Steinberg's keys were actually taken from cow horns - and that that was part of the "eco-concept" in using readily available "bone" for them - but I could be wrong..

#320842 - 06/06/05 03:58 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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lilylady Offline
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Responses:

Silly Tom the Tuner and Mikhailoh.....

Sharps and flats can also be WHITE KEYS!

(it only means a half step higher, or a half step lower)

But I smiled at both of your fun responses. ;-)

---

I had not heard of 'bone' before. Interesting. Tell us more if you can.

---

Casal B -

I will need to think upon the TOUCH more before responding.

I was asking more as a new explorer of all these wonderful piano makers and what their keys 'felt like' than how I applied playing them.

I have noticed while exploring that I slipped off some black keys, felt some black keys were thinner, and thank goodness many had more space behind the playing key before the back wood, which was so much more comfortable to play as I did not hit my long fingers against the wood.

---

I, also noticed that black keys had more grip to them, than white keys on several makes.

---

Hope we continue to hear 'your' experiences.

What does your piano feel like?

Is there space behind the 'high playing part' of the keys?

Are some black keys actually thinner?

Do the side chips off the black keys (I think this was on the Yamaha U 5) hinder or help?

When WAS the standard key size started?

My mind wanders....

Roberta


"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."
#320843 - 06/06/05 05:14 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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curry Offline
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Tyrri, cow bone is also used as an alternative.


G.Fiore "aka-Curry". Tuner-Technician serving the central NJ, S.E. PA area. b214cm@aol.com Concert tuning, Regulation-voicing specialist.
Dampp-Chaser installations, piano appraisals. PTG S.Jersey Chapter 080.
Bösendorfer 214 # 47,299 214-358
#320844 - 06/06/05 05:51 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Del Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by lilylady:
Responses:

Silly Tom the Tuner and Mikhailoh.....

Sharps and flats can also be WHITE KEYS!

(it only means a half step higher, or a half step lower)

If memory serves the black natural and white sharp arrangement was also common on harpsichords and fortepianos. (Don't quote me until you have checked with an expert on these instruments, however.)

Del


Delwin D Fandrich
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#320845 - 06/06/05 07:23 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Quote
Add Fazioli, Blüthner, and Steingräeber to the list of pianos that have keyboards available in fossilized mammoth bone.
Gee whiz, how many fossilized mammoths have been dug up over the years? And, um, shouldn't they be saved for museums and scientists and such?

Kidding aside, this idea of using mammoth ivory really caught my attention, so I went to the manufacturer sites. The results were mixed, to say the least. Fazioli hates my browser and won't work right for me but I eventually Googled up a page with specs for the 308, and it said the white keys were covered with a "Non-slippery and non-reflecting composite material." Bluthner said of their grands, "The sharps are made of ebony and the white keys are covered with acrylic." Steingräeber was the only one that mentioned mammoth, in reference to their Concert Wing E272: "The keyboard is always overlaid with mammoth-ivory."

I had to find out more, so I Googled up this page about <a href=http://www.sparklz.com/info/ivory.htm target=new>ivory, bones and substitutes</a>, which is pretty interesting.

Who knew?

:p


Deborah
Charles Walter 1500
Happiness is a shiny red piano.
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#320846 - 06/06/05 07:26 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Axtremus Offline
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Ramdom thoughts and observations on piano keys:

1. Key widths are not exactly the same for all pianos, not even the white keys. (There's an old thread where people shared their measurements of keyboard width and you can see many different measurements.)

2. I have generally observed that older pianos have shorter keys.

3. Yes, some pianos have thinner black keys and some have wider black keys. Pianists with wide fingers do have a higher risk of having their fingers "caught" in between black keys.

4. I do find that Yamaha generally rounds off the tip of their black keys more than other pianos. Not a problem for me, but I've heard other pianists complain about the higher probability of slipping off the black keys because if this.

5. Personally, I rather like the feel of Yamaha's "Ivorite" white key surface. I like it more than real ivory, more than my own piano.

6. I much prefer genuine ebony to everuthing else on the black keys.

7. There's an old thread discussing glissandi (on white keys as well as black), some comment came up on why glissandi had to be so painful -- two suggestions were offered: (a) play glissandi with the meat side of the fingers rather than the nail side (especially for black key glissandi); (b) I suggested that keyboard makers could consider rounding off the side edges of the keys more to cut down on the pain for all sorts of glissandi.

8. Just for fun, look up the " Janko Keyboard ."

9. I have always wondered what "piano" literature might look like had the ancient masters standardized on anything other than the 7-White/5-Black arrangement. What if the piano got standardized on 6-Black/6-White, or 4-Red/4-Yellow/4-Green layout? Chopin's Etudes that are so useful to train pianists to play a 7-White/5-Black keyboard would be completely useless on any other layout. What if there are a few competing layouts? We might be arguing over which layout is superior rather than grey market pianos and high/low tension scales.

#320847 - 06/06/05 07:30 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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pete Offline
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Baldwin has a great idea: sharps in any color you want:
http://www.baldwinpiano.com/customgrands/level4.html

#320848 - 06/06/05 07:44 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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curry Offline
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Deborah, there is actually quite a bit of mammoth bone to be had. It's not as rare as one would think. A lot gets dug up in Siberia.
Steinway was offered a large amount a few years back, but declined to purchase it for whatever reason.
Many things are'nt mentioned on manufacturers web sites, but can be found on their piano specification sheets. From Fazioli's spec sheet.
Black keys: Ebony wood
White keys: Plastic or fine cow bone or Mammoth from Siberia. Ivory is used where permitted to import.
From Blüthner: The exposed part of the key is covered with acrylic material that accommodates the pianist's sense of touch. Special coverings can be requested of fossil tusk materials. Sharps are solid ebony. A rosewood-ebony combination can be requested, also.
If you've got the money, you can have just about anything you want on a keyboard.


G.Fiore "aka-Curry". Tuner-Technician serving the central NJ, S.E. PA area. b214cm@aol.com Concert tuning, Regulation-voicing specialist.
Dampp-Chaser installations, piano appraisals. PTG S.Jersey Chapter 080.
Bösendorfer 214 # 47,299 214-358
#320849 - 06/06/05 08:40 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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I had ivory white keys and ebony black keys on my previous piano. (It was made in 1932, so ivory was legal at the time.) One of the white keys broke and my tech replaced it with a synthetic ivory keytop. The appearance was extremely similar; it didn't stand out among keys that were slightly different colors already, which is to be expected in a natural material with some age on it. The synthetic keytop didn't feel different under my fingers, either. At least, not different enough to bother me while I was playing.

I really liked those ivory keys, and I felt that anything I got on a newer piano would be a step down. Nevertheless, the rest of the piano would be enough of a step up to make it worthwhile. While shopping, I played two brands of pianos with synthetic ivory keys: Yamaha and Kawai. I liked the feel of the Kawai keys a lot, but I didn't like the Yamaha ivorites. The edges of the keys felt sharp and rough. They felt harsh on my hands. Perhaps they would have smoothed over time. I don't know.

As it turned out, I bought a used Yamaha C7 that was made before they started using Ivorite, so the keys are basically plastic. I got it for the price of a C2, so I figured I could tolerate lesser keys for nearly 2 extra feet of piano. laugh

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I liked the plastic keys. Now, I've played less expensive pianos with really awful-feeling plastic keys. The whole key, not just the keytop, feels too light. I don't know if the difference is in the key itself--maybe the better feeling keys are made of heavier wood?--or in the quality of polymer used in the keytops, but the difference is noticeable. I don't stick to my keytops like I do on some pianos. The action is light, the way I like it, yet the keys have "heft."

If anybody knows what the difference in plastic keys is, I'd love to hear it.


Mary Anna Evans
Author of the Faye Longchamp mysteries
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#320850 - 06/06/05 09:26 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Del Offline
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For what it's worth -- we are often asked to make plastic keys a bit less slippery (and shiny). It’s a fairly easy task with an orbital pad sander mounted upside down in a special fixture, sanding the tops with 220 grit to 600 grit (depending on the desired result) and then lightly buffing them (not enough to polish them again, just enough to take off the matte sanded finish and give them a soft luster. The effect is quite nice and seems to last a reasonable length of time.

Del


Delwin D Fandrich
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Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon
#320851 - 06/06/05 09:29 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Axtremus Offline
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Del,

That's interesting! Does that mathod works on just about any kind of plastic key tops used in production today, or only on certain types of plastic key tops? Thanks. smile

#320852 - 06/06/05 10:07 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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BDB Offline
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I heard an interview with Henry Steinway who said that when they found a plastic keytop that seemed good, they put it on the concert grands they sent to Tanglewood for the summer. When they got the pianos back, they asked what people thought of the keytops. The response was that it was the first time they had no problem with the keytops. So they switched their production to plastic.

It's not just the initial cost. The warranty expense must have been significant.


Semipro Tech
#320853 - 06/06/05 10:14 PM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Del Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Axtremus:
Del,

That's interesting! Does that mathod works on just about any kind of plastic key tops used in production today, or only on certain types of plastic key tops? Thanks. smile
We've used it on most everything. Some require a more delicate touch if the melting point is on the low side. (Don't ask....)

Del


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
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(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

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#320854 - 06/07/05 06:34 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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I heard that Bösendorfer changed from plastic (I think) to whatever it is they are using now. I believe they are still using plastic although the keys have more of a satin finish, and they are more of an off-white, rather than the bright white, usually seen with plastic keys.

I never found plain old plastic to be a problem, however I find the satin finish to have just the right "friction factor"; the plastic keys now feel a bit "grippy".

Derick


Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.
#320855 - 06/07/05 08:05 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Quote
Originally posted by dh:
[QB] [QUOTE]George wrote:

[b]Yamaha's keys (or keytops) are made of a subtance called "Ivorite." I've spoken to one rebuilder that wanted to buy the material for his own rebuilds, but Yamaha wouldn't let him purchase it. Someone who actually has a Yamaha ought to maybe chime in and let us know how the keys feel.

My C3 has the ivorite keys and ebony sharps. The feel is gripping, so that combined with the light action, the fingers don't slip away. It's another of my favorite features in the better Yamahas.

My U3 has typical plastic whites and blacks. It isn't as comfortable as the Ivorite/Ebony of the upper C series.


I. Bruton
B.A. Music Composition
M.M. Music Education
High School Choral Director
Church Music Director
Pianos owned: Yamaha C3
Pianos at work: Yamaha P22, Kawai K3, Steinway B
#320856 - 06/07/05 08:23 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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piano_deb Offline
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piano_deb  Offline
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Posts: 787
Memphis, TN
Quote
curry wrote:

Deborah, there is actually quite a bit of mammoth bone to be had. It's not as rare as one would think. A lot gets dug up in Siberia.
Steinway was offered a large amount a few years back, but declined to purchase it for whatever reason.
Many things are'nt mentioned on manufacturers web sites, but can be found on their piano specification sheets. From Fazioli's spec sheet.
Black keys: Ebony wood
White keys: Plastic or fine cow bone or Mammoth from Siberia. Ivory is used where permitted to import.
From Blüthner: The exposed part of the key is covered with acrylic material that accommodates the pianist's sense of touch. Special coverings can be requested of fossil tusk materials. Sharps are solid ebony. A rosewood-ebony combination can be requested, also.
If you've got the money, you can have just about anything you want on a keyboard.
After I posted, it occurred to me that bone/mammoth was probably more of a custom option than a regular feature — and that money sings as loudly as a concert grand. smile Thanks for the additional information, curry.

Perhaps Steinway didn't go for the mammoth bone because of warranty/replacement costs (as mentioned earlier on the thread).


Deborah
Charles Walter 1500
Happiness is a shiny red piano.
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#320857 - 06/07/05 09:16 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
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Roy123 Offline
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Roy123  Offline
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Massachusetts
It's interesting that key spacing is almost, but not quite standardized. Historically the key compass (distance from the left of key 1 to the right of key 88), of Steinway and Baldwin has been 47 7/8 inches. I verified this on a Steinway L. Yamaha uses 48 1/4 inches, with Kawai between 48 1/8 to 48 1/4. Supposedly, European pianos use 48 1/2, but I haven't tried to verify it.
It always struck me as odd that Asian pianos, where people tend to be smaller than Americans, make pianos with slightly wider keys.

#320858 - 06/23/05 11:16 AM Re: Piano keys - the actual keyboard "keys"  
Joined: Dec 2002
Posts: 422
victor kam Offline
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victor kam  Offline
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Posts: 422
Malaysia
Has anyone retrofitted their plastic black keys with ebony? Where does one get ebony sharps in this case? Thanks.


vk
NY Steinway D 423118 (rebuilt by Roy Peters, OH)
Yamaha UX 2499771; Casio PX-3 keyboard
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