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A few years ago I encountered an old worn piano that had a completely disintegrated bass bridge cap. As a kind of experiment I tried to fashion a new cap out of bamboo. It admittedly was probably not high grade material as it was salvaged from bamboo flooring. All went well until I finally brought tension up on the strings and then the bridge split completely along its length along the line of the grain. The force differential direction between the upper and lower row of pins was enough to shear the bamboo. I then tried it again but formed the cap from three seperate sections so that the grain did not line up. Then it was successful. The conclusion from this was that we must be careful with bamboo not to assume that it is strong in all directions of the grain.


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I have played Bamboo flute (Bansuri) for several years. Judging from those experiences, Bamboo is very susceptible to micro-fissures - I have had more than a few flutes completely ruined because of these. There are probably ways to work with Bamboo given its strengths and limitations - but it is probably not as straightforward as just replacing one wood with another.

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I very much appreciate all of the responses. It is clear that Bamboo is quite the sustainable material and has some amazing properties. It, however is its own kind of material and has to be treated and explored on that basis. The purpose of starting this topic has been to discover what is already known and being done and those responses have been very encouraging.

There are always positives and negatives. A new material always needs research and development as well as adaptation to it. My hope is that Piano Manufacturers will see these blogs and be inspired to engage in the very necessary research and development. So, please keep the comments coming. Google picks up on them.

For the countries and areas of the world where Bamboo Cultivation can solve Flooding and Deforestation problems, I hope that this blog also contributes to the idea that Bamboo Cultivation can go a long way towards solving them both in the short and long term.


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I wonder if anyone has tried to cultivate bamboo and select species qualities that could be developed/enhanced into a product more suitable for construction materials???


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One of my adept from Russia, Grigory used a laminated dried lake cane to strengthen a pin, which by its characteristics is close to bamboo, I believe. He said that he glued the cut pieces of thick 5-7 layers of reeds used PVA glue and dried them. Then he made 4mm shims. He believes that the friction is larger than the cardboard. I asked him to send a video. He has not done this until now.
saxaul would be best material for manufacture piano because it's wood very hard. Especially for making a pinblock, I'm think so
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haloxylon_ammodendron

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Interesting discussion on bamboo as a building material. Need to see prototype. Bamboo is very common in places like scaffolding in Hong Kong and many places in S-E Asia. It is very strong and durable. To use it for piano building you probably need to get the Chinese involved as partners. They still have a passion for acoustic pianos from their 2 concert pianist idols "Lang Lang" & "Yundi Li".

There are already a number of people including myself who are not exactly a fan of electronic keyboards but because of cost and other considerations cannot have an acoustic at home. Being part of a music group I need my instruments to travel around. And living in a high-rise it gets impractical to move a piano up & down an elevator even when the cost of an instrument is not a concern.

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Laminated bamboo may be a good material for music instrument. But who care the cost of material and sustainability? Its easier to market a crapy "solid wood" sound board piano. Even plastic parts not generally accepted in piano. Sales and marketing cost most. For a bamboo piano, will push up the marketing cost. Sorry I don't see there is future for bamboo piano.


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Originally Posted by Weiyan
But who care the cost of material and sustainability?

You, manufacturers, and I will all care quite a bit once the wood's all gone...!

Have a look at this graph: https://imgur.com/a/hWOw8

This graph can give us a bit of insight as to how some of these woods and grasses might perform as soundboards. It shows the relationship between R, the radiation coefficient of a material, and Z, its impedance (both of these metrics being factors of the material's Young's modulus and its density).

Materials with a high radiation coefficient should be good transducers in the first place (I think...someone please correct me if I'm wrong about that), and those with low impedance will offer longer decay times. Add to that the requisite density of a material to support the strings' tension, and you begin to see how these materials stack up.

As expected, spruce and pine occupy positions that imply reasonable compromise. Bamboo is in an area close to those two, but, at least by these equations, might have less efficiency overall in a soundboard application.

This graph represents the characteristics of raw materials themselves, and doesn't reveal the performance of a finished soundboard itself, which combines other materials (glues, varnish, etc.) and construction that might alter the aforementioned properties significantly.

Last bit: Hanika, a boutique guitarmaker in Germany, has made and sold a guitar out of bamboo: https://www.hanika.de/en/news/newsreader/bamboo-164.html. For whatever it's worth, they claim it had good performance. I'm looking for proof of this...

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To add to that last bit -- and I apologize for getting far afield by including guitar material on a piano board -- here is an independent foray into building a bamboo guitar by a fellow in Australia: https://mwguitars.com.au/2013/08/13/a-bamboo-guitar-part-1-why-bamboo/

His motivations for answering the bamboo question are similar to mine: to test a possible sustainable building material, and to test the power of suggestion -- to wit, that only certain woods are good for certain things, vis-a-vis piano construction.

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mcontraveos, Thank you for posting the bamboo links. Very interesting.


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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
mcontraveos, Thank you for posting the bamboo links. Very interesting.

Yes. Interesting stuff. Too bad the last entry is 2014...


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I believe bamboo is a good sound board material for it has long fibre. But its not easy to be generally accepted. There is bamboo speaker cabinet which has good reputation in enthusiast electronic forum, but it still not common. Still a long way to go.


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To cite bamboo guitar making is not off topic because so far, making a piano from bamboo is only a theoretical idea (other than some small parts such as hammer shanks and moldings that are already being made). The question has been if bamboo might make a good soundboard. Since no one has made one yet, we do not really know.

Therefore, if someone makes another kind of acoustic instrument from bamboo and it has any kind of reasonable success, it demonstrates that it is worthy of research and development.

I searched "Bamboo Guitar" on You Tube and found two interesting videos. These are both prototype guitars but they both do demonstrate that bamboo can work.

The first shows a guitar that has a very warm tone but a rather short sustain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2I0no2PUE

The second shows a much brighter sounding guitar with very good sustain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nACbZOHHFNM


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Originally Posted by Bill Bremmer RPT
To cite bamboo guitar making is not off topic because so far, making a piano from bamboo is only a theoretical idea (other than some small parts such as hammer shanks and moldings that are already being made). The question has been if bamboo might make a good soundboard. Since no one has made one yet, we do not really know.

Therefore, if someone makes another kind of acoustic instrument from bamboo and it has any kind of reasonable success, it demonstrates that it is worthy of research and development.

I searched "Bamboo Guitar" on You Tube and found two interesting videos. These are both prototype guitars but they both do demonstrate that bamboo can work.

The first shows a guitar that has a very warm tone but a rather short sustain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2I0no2PUE

The second shows a much brighter sounding guitar with very good sustain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nACbZOHHFNM


But... is the difference between the two guitars not mainly the difference between nylon and steel strings?

I agree that usage of bamboo in guitars if very much related to the topic. Here is commercial use of bamboo in guitars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-mupQDBOJU


I would be interested in doing a bamboo soundboard if I could afford the research costs.


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I figured that there must be some differences between the two guitars but I didn't notice that the second one had steel strings. I didn't look long enough but I had noticed that the first had nylon or gut strings. I do not know enough about guitars to know if that also makes a difference in the sustain. Just the recording techniques can also make a difference in the sound that we hear.

I have read that bamboo has a tensile strength higher than steel. If clothing is being made of bamboo fibers, could not guitar strings also be made from it?

I thought that the combination of using bamboo for the back, sides and neck of the guitar but still using spruce for what we would think of as the soundboard was interesting. It is as if the maker had predetermined that bamboo would not work or maybe had tried it and didn't like the result so a compromise was made.

Ultimately, that could be the case for pianos, at least until spruce becomes so rare and expensive that some other material becomes more practical. In a previous post, I likened the use of bamboo for a soundboard to the use of laminated soundboards in affordable, post WW II pianos. It worked but those pianos always had that laminated board sound.

At this point, we simply do not know. The answer has to come from manufacturers whose pockets are deep enough to do the research and development. They will have to manipulate bamboo in specific ways that it has not been so far. Bamboo flooring material would not work as a piano soundboard, I do not suppose.

What I can see happening is bamboo slowly and incrementally working its way into piano construction. Certainly, vertical piano sides, panels and keybeds. Small grand rims. legs, lyres, lids, keybeds and keyframes. One person on another forum commented about backposts for verticals and beams for grands. He indicated that it takes such bamboo timber a few years to cure but that would be no different really than other wood conditioning processes.


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Originally Posted by Bill Bremmer RPT
I thought that the combination of using bamboo for the back, sides and neck of the guitar but still using spruce for what we would think of as the soundboard was interesting. It is as if the maker had predetermined that bamboo would not work or maybe had tried it and didn't like the result so a compromise was made.


That could be. It could just be my unbridled enthusiasm talking, but it might have been because it wouldn't be profitable to make under the manufacturer's current business structure, given the popular opinion and preconception of bamboo as soundboard material in the popular opinion.

Originally Posted by Bill Bremmer RPT
What I can see happening is bamboo slowly and incrementally working its way into piano construction. Certainly, vertical piano sides, panels and keybeds. Small grand rims. legs, lyres, lids, keybeds and keyframes.

Weiyan's concerns about marketing are not to be taken lightly, and I think this might be one of a few lower-risk ways to introduce bamboo into the building process.

Originally Posted by kpembrook
I would be interested in doing a bamboo soundboard if I could afford the research costs.

kpembrook, I'll PM you about this.

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Interesting discussion.

There are, as Bill has pointed out, a number of places where bamboo could be used in piano construction. This is a discussion I've had with several different manufacturers but have received mostly blank stares in response. Part of the reason for those blank stares is that there is less R&D going on in piano factories than we would like to think. Some, to be sure, but much of that is going into manufacturing technologies.

Before bamboo is accepted as a mainstream material, manufacturers are going to have to have a lot more experience with how it reacts in a number of different applications. Bamboo is not a magic bullet. Yes, it does have many attractive mechanical features but, from the manufacturers standpoint, it also has several significant drawbacks. It does not take kindly to screw fasteners. Even with properly sized pilot holes it tends to split readily. And, if it doesn't split today, it might well do so next month or next year. And, when I say split, I mean split! That split can extend the full length of the piece being worked. Piano makers use a fair number of flat head screws. These don't work well in bamboo for the same reason -- the wedging effect of the screw head tends to crack the stuff. To be sure, fastening systems can be developed to overcome this but it is one more difficulty to be overcome before the material come into common use.

Like wood, bamboo changes dimension along with variations in moisture content. With (most) woods, however, the amount of dimensional change is consistent along its length. Not so with bamboo -- the expansion and contraction characteristic varies along its length. This is not a catastrophic flaw, but it is something piano makers will have to learn to work with. Fortunately, like wood, bamboo can be formed into laminates which, just like wood laminates, improves their dimensional stability.

I do believe at least some varieties of bamboo -- like wood, there are many varieties of bamboo -- are suitable for use in pianos. The difficulty is that no one wants to be first. And for good reason. Modern pianos carry long warranties. No one wants to introduce a relatively untested material and take the chance that eight years later something is going to crack. Or split. Or something. A mistake could put the company out of business.

My recommendation so far has been to start with something simple. Something like the core material for a soundboard, for example. This is less risky than it sounds. To be sure, the soundboard is a critical component of the piano. But a thin -- 5.0 mm -- layer of bamboo sandwiched between two layers of spruce veneer would really be quite safe. I'm a little skeptical of using "solid" bamboo for making soundboard panels. I have not been able to track down reliable statistics on the "perpendicular-to-grain" tensile strength of bamboo but, given its propensity to split when a normal screw is driven into the stuff, I'm skeptical. I'd like to set up a long-term test cycling a constrained bamboo panel through atmospheres with a relative humidity varying from, say, 10% to 80%. The results could be either discouraging or encouraging; in either case they would be enlightening.

ddf.


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Interesting discussion, Del. I believe bamboo, when used for flooring and other applications, is highly processed. I don't exactly how it's done, but it involves cutting the bamboo into strips and then gluing them together. If the strips are thin enough, and the glue strong enough, this process might eliminate the splitting problem you mention. I happen to have a bamboo cutting board, and FWIW, it sure is hard and durable. As you say, laminating thin panels with some desirable angle between them would further decrease splitting and anisotropy. I could perhaps imagine laminated bamboo making an exceptionally hard and dense grand rim.

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I suppose that blank stares is better than rolling eyes. Thank you for the input, Del. What you say about splitting seems to rule out bamboo action rails. However, just as Roy has been, I have been impressed with the cutting board I received as a gift some 10 years ago. It dulls knives which can hardly make a scratch in it. It has been through the dishwasher hundreds of times and has never deformed or delaminated in any way.

This made me think that it could be good pinblock material but when I read what you said about splitting, I wondered again. Still, I wonder about what Roy says, about what happens when bamboo is highly processed and compressed. Something like what happens when coal is turned into a diamond when there is enough heat and pressure applied.

I am just dreaming, of course but what fuels that dream is the foundation: the fiber. What happens to it when it is processed sufficiently? Is the cutting board so rigid and durable mostly because of the heat and pressure or is the adhesive that is mixed in also a factor and does the combination of the two provide for the ultimate properties?

If an ultimately useful material is the result of a combination of materials, then that is what needs to be looked at. What is the adhesive? Is it expensive? Is it toxic? Can the starch that is removed from the raw material actually be part of the adhesive? In other words, take it out, process it and put it back in some way that really binds those fibers together in a way that will not result in the kinds of failures that were described.

Some examples of combination materials are carbon added to iron to make steel. Synthetic fibers combined with natural to create a product which is superior to either. Steel reinforcement of concrete. Adhesives and pressure applied to wood particles that otherwise would be waste materials to make a strong, rigid and durable product.

One of the problems with high density particle board is the very heavy weight of the material. Some of these piano lids, while they remain nice and flat, are so heavy that it takes a fairly strong person to lift them. Yes, there are now hydraulic hinges that help but they add a lot of cost to a modestly priced piano.

What if bamboo were processed in the same way as wood particles? In other words, forget about the linear fiber. Chop it up, glue it together under high pressure and then what would it be like?


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Originally Posted by Bill Bremmer RPT
This made me think that it could be good pinblock material but when I read what you said about splitting, I wondered again. Still, I wonder about what Roy says, about what happens when bamboo is highly processed and compressed. Something like what happens when coal is turned into a diamond when there is enough heat and pressure applied.

I don't think this is a catastrophic issue. Lots of wood species are also prone to cracking and/or splitting. With experience we have learned to live with this. And devise methods that work to overcome the problem. But somebody is going to have to do the hard work of finding efficient (i.e., economical) solutions.

Quote
I am just dreaming, of course but what fuels that dream is the foundation: the fiber. What happens to it when it is processed sufficiently? Is the cutting board so rigid and durable mostly because of the heat and pressure or is the adhesive that is mixed in also a factor and does the combination of the two provide for the ultimate properties?

Don’t know. I rather suspect that, as the common wood species we have grown to depend on become more expensive and as their quality goes down, some innovative companies (not in the piano industry) will start to work on this.

Quote
If an ultimately useful material is the result of a combination of materials, then that is what needs to be looked at. What is the adhesive? Is it expensive? Is it toxic? Can the starch that is removed from the raw material actually be part of the adhesive? In other words, take it out, process it and put it back in some way that really binds those fibers together in a way that will not result in the kinds of failures that were described.

Some examples of combination materials are carbon added to iron to make steel. Synthetic fibers combined with natural to create a product which is superior to either. Steel reinforcement of concrete. Adhesives and pressure applied to wood particles that otherwise would be waste materials to make a strong, rigid and durable product.

One of the problems with high density particle board is the very heavy weight of the material. Some of these piano lids, while they remain nice and flat, are so heavy that it takes a fairly strong person to lift them. Yes, there are now hydraulic hinges that help but they add a lot of cost to a modestly priced piano.

What if bamboo were processed in the same way as wood particles? In other words, forget about the linear fiber. Chop it up, glue it together under high pressure and then what would it be like?

Again, I don’t know. You have brought up one of my favorite materials to hate, however: MDF (or medium density fiberboard). It’s called “medium” only because it is moderately less dense than HDF. In making these products, the weight of the fiber is not the issue; it is the weight of the adhesive. While an MDF panel is inherently flat and the material is reasonably stable (as long as liquid water is kept away) it is heavy. So heavy that the lids of even small grands can be difficult for some people to lift. This seems counter-productive to me—why make a product some percentage of your potential market cannot comfortably use?

Grand lids seem to be a logical place to start. Some species of bamboo are quite light. I should think that the material could be processed into laminated panels that should be stable. A suitable hardwood strip could be set in where the screws need to hold. And normal humans might be able to lift the damn things.

I’m not trying to be negative about this, I’m just pointing out some of the issues that are preventing pianomakers from running headlong into accepting it.

I mentioned the possibility of using one of the lighter species of bamboo as a core material for laminated soundboard panel construction. I think it could work. It will take some development but I don’t see any insurmountable problems. Now, can you imagine trying to sell a piano equipped with such a soundboard panel?

At least as much effort will have to be put into marketing as in the actual development of these materials.

ddf


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