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Width of black keys

Posted By: sparrow

Width of black keys - 03/29/03 01:55 PM

I just discovered black keys don’t always have the same width on various brands of grands. I wonder why this isn’t a bigger issue amongst people wanting to buy a piano, as IMO a wider black key gives better accuracy when playing fast pieces. This week I was at a piano store and measured the blacks of several grands: most were a little over 9 mm (0,36 inch) and only Yamaha’s and the used oldies were about 10 mm ( 0,4 inch). It may not seem much of a difference, but it still is 10%. For people with wide fingers I suppose a piano with narrower black keys may be the better choice.

I’d be grateful if others would make the effort of measuring the black keys on their piano and post the results here. This would make my search for a new grand a lot easier, as I guess I would prefer one with the wider black keys.

Here’s my own contribution:
Calisia 20 yr old upright: 10 mm (0,4 inch)
Yamaha Clavinova CLP-170: 9 mm (0,36 inch)

Thea (…thinking of a Yamaha C5 right now…)

P.S. If there’s more to this width-issue that I haven’t thought of, please comment!
Posted By: BruceD

Re: Width of black keys - 03/29/03 04:11 PM


I played an August Förster upright several times last summer (not the German August Förster but the August Förster manufactured by Petrof and sold in Canada - see Fine's comment about this piano(fourth ed. p. 112)) and found the black keys alarmingly narrow. After getting used to it, however, it was no longer a major problem. I did not measure the width of the keys, however.

Posted By: RachFan

Re: Width of black keys - 03/29/03 07:58 PM

I'm poor at metrics, but the contact surface with of the ebonies on my Baldwin L is about 3/8 inch. I believe that's about 6 mm?
Posted By: sparrow

Re: Width of black keys - 03/30/03 09:22 AM

BruceD, the Petrof August Förster is apparently the same as Petrof. I measured a Petrof and the black keys were about 9 mm.

Rachfan, I'm not good at mathemetics either, but if an inch is 25 mm, 3/8 x 25 = 9,375 mm for Baldwin.

Thanks for your help. Anyone else, please?
Posted By: gxprice

Re: Width of black keys - 03/31/03 06:35 AM

Originally posted by sparrow:
BruceD, the Petrof August Förster is apparently the same as Petrof. I measured a Petrof and the black keys were about 9 mm.

Rachfan, I'm not good at mathemetics either, but if an inch is 25 mm, 3/8 x 25 = 9,375 mm for Baldwin.

Thanks for your help. Anyone else, please?
2.54 is the generally accepted conversion so the answer would be (rounded) 9.5mm

Interestingly enough, I played a bunch of pianos on Saturday and never thought about this until I sat down at a Steinway & Sons. The width of the top of the black notes was significantly less than all others including Faziolis, Bosey's, Schimmels, Yamaha's, Zimmermans, Pleyels etc. I didn't measure (I hadn't seen this thread in time!) but it seemed only 2/3rds of the width of the others. Personally, I had difficultly playing it correctly (I only had 3 or 4 minutes ... I guess it would take tme).

Posted By: sparrow

Re: Width of black keys - 03/31/03 11:00 PM

I found an old mail on RMMP where somebody made the same discovery I did and his measurements varied from 11/32" to 13.5/32". Translated into mms: 8,7 to 10,7 mm. Quite a difference! Unfortunately he didn’t say which brands had the wider keys…..

Anyway, based upon my last visit to the pianostore I’d half and half decided to get myself a Yamaha C5 and already made an appointment to join the dealer at the Yamaha distribution center near Hamburg at the end of April to make a selection, but my feet are getting colder and colder. Often when someone who has a Yamaha on his shortlist, asks advice on this (or other) forums, he is told to check out other brands because their quality is better. My budget is about $25k but could be stretched till $30k. So for example I could get a Yamaha C6 and a Schimmel CC213T at about the same price. I understand Schimmel is the better quality. Now that I’ve decided to let my decision be guided by the width of the black keys, I’d very much like to know if Schimmel has wide black keys. Or Estonia, or Schulze-Pollmann, or Pleyel, or Hoffmann, or Haessler.
AFAIK Petrof, Sauter, Seiler and Grotrian don’t have the wider black keys.

So if anybody with a relatively new Schimmel, Estonia, Schulze-Pollmann, Pleyel, Hoffmann, Haessler could please help me out? I haven’t read the “ban the dealers?”-thread (were they?), but I’d very much like their advice also.
Posted By: curry

Re: Width of black keys - 04/01/03 01:33 AM

The Hamburg Steinway is the only manufacturer I know of still using the the narrowest black key configuration.August Forster switched to a wider configuration several years ago.All of the rest now use a standard width,or what is considered standard,which varies by only 1mm.This is still comfortable for 95% of pianists,so no matter what make you choose, smile you should not have a problem.
Posted By: Chris W1

Re: Width of black keys - 04/01/03 01:55 AM


Some data:
'87 Schimmel 130, 12/32"
1905 Steinway, 12/32"

Of note:
When you go down to the base of the sharps, just above the surface on the naturals the width changes. The schimmel only gets 1/32 thicker, while the Steinway gets 3/32 thicker to a base thickness of 15/32.

Other things I bet may make you walk away feeling sharps are thick are a key dip that is larger on one piano than another (naturals drop further and make the sharps harder to hurdle), a lack of rounding on relatively jagged sides, or a lack of tapper to the front (some are steeper than others).

Hope this helps.

Posted By: BruceD

Re: Width of black keys - 04/01/03 01:58 AM

Sparrow :

Hello, again!

The black keys on my (relatively) new Estonia measure 9 mm in width.

I would think that your location in Europe would put you in close touch with any number of fairly high-quality European pianos at much less than we would pay for them in America and within your budget. With your budget of as much as $US30,000 I am curious why you would choose a Yamaha. This is not a judgment, understand, but a question. What makes you choose a Yamaha over some of the European makes which might fall into your price range?

Posted By: sparrow

Re: Width of black keys - 04/01/03 09:17 PM

Thanks all!

BruceD, now my feet are so cold I’m going to call off the dealer for our appointment at Yamaha’s and first make a few more rounds at other piano stores to try out more piano’s. I’ve been looking for about two years but since we’re not very close to big cities the visits were few and far between. I like Yamaha’s because their action feels great to me; they play so very easily. I don’t have an ear for the sound quality.... yet, I hope. So I was rather happy to find out about the key width difference and the not-so-smooth-aka-slippery surface of the Yamaha keys, which would make my choice so much easier. But I know what you mean: Yamaha quality is not as good as the European makes readily available over here for about the same price.

I’m beginning to wonder if this key width maybe isn’t the issue I’m making it into. Curry says 95% of pianists don’t find it important, and I guess those who do are the ones with wide fingers and want narrower blacks. Even Larry Fine doesn’t address this in his book. It could well be that when I get better at piano playing I’ll get better at swiftly and accurately finding the center of the black keys too.

Nevertheless: tomorrow I’m going to call some dealers to find out the black key width of the piano brands I’m not familiar with. I’ll tell you of my findings.

Posted By: sparrow

Re: Width of black keys - 04/02/03 08:46 AM

Isn’t the mind a weird thing? When I typed my last message it was late and I was very tired and felt really sick about this piano buying business. When I woke up this morning I didn’t know what had gotten into me: of course I’m going to see those Yamaha’s; I like them, don’t I? I suppose it’s because I’m still so unsure of myself spending a lot of money and not wanting to regret anything afterwards. I remember when I was just getting to know Nico I had a very high fever and was so very sure I would break up with him as soon as I was better; well, that was fifteen years ago and now look at us at page 5 of the Show us your picture!-thread in the Coffee Room. Happily ever after!

Posted By: Nina

Re: Width of black keys - 04/02/03 01:32 PM

Hi, Thea:

Definitely go see the Yamahas! See and play everything you can get your hands on. I bet one of those pianos will really assert itself as "your" piano.

At that price range, you'll get many years of happy playing from whatever you choose, so let your heart have an opinion as well as your mind. (Wow, I'm starting to sound like benedict! :p ).

Just don't scrimp on the "regularly scheduled maintenance" on whatever you buy. Regular tunings and some touch-ups by a qualified tech will be as important as the name on the fallboard.

Good luck, and have fun.

Posted By: sparrow

Re: Width of black keys - 04/02/03 07:53 PM

Thank you Nina! If I decide to buy through this dealer, I'm sure to get the best maintenance. He is a very qualified and talented person. In fact he's quite famous, I suppose. He's mentioned in Larry Fine's book on page 233 as the inventor of the Magnetic Balanced Action: Evert Snel. All the piano's in his store were in meticulous condition and then I'm not even speaking of all those gorgeous Fazioli's.... (Where is the drool graemlin?)

Posted By: KawaiDon

Re: Width of black keys - 04/04/03 04:48 AM


Here's a simply way to look at the differences in black key widths:

- Narrow black keys are better for fat fingers.
- Wide black keys are better for skinny fingers.

Don Mannino RPT
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