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For years I've heard rebuilders and RPT's with many decades of work experience wonder why and how it could be that pianists stretch their fingers out while playing and somehow put so many vertical scratches into the fallboard. I've heard that in conservatory practice rooms there are sometimes gouges through the finish into the wood, and that the best and most experienced piano technicians are at a loss to explain why a pianist would do such a thing, and how, and why there are so many unsightly scratches on so many fallboards...

For those assiduous, dedicated piano craftsmen who too often have fallen into restless, troubled sleep wondering about who is doing it, and how, I hereby report my discovery of the gremlin who places all those scratches on flat fallboards, especially on rebuilt grands before one buys them! It's not the family cat (especially since not everyone has one), though it may be the 9 year old child taking piano lessons. More likely it is the mother who plays with long, beautiful fingernails, or the father whose nails are just a bit longer than optimal for performing surgery or Scarlatti...

Here's how I identified the culprit(s): I opened our big, heavy, beautifully smooth Steinway D lid from the side, being careful as usual not to scrape it with fingernails or belt buckle, and then I walked around to the front to play. I kept standing to pull its music stand toward me for sight reading, and while still standing I reached down and lifted the fallboard to open it. As I lifted it just with my fingertips, as usual, my grasp became a little precarious and almost slipped, so I reached under it with both hands and lifted the rest of the way.

Suddenly I realized that my fingernails now were touching the wood, and with the natural action and speed of lifting, they softly scraped upwards along the finished surface of the wood over the Steinway logo, not just one or two, but 3 or 4 fingers on each hand in a mostly vertical direction.

Eureka!

I immediately closed the fallboard and opened it again while standing, holding my breath with excitement at the moment of discovery. Again I started as usual to lift just with my fingertips on account of the edge between the fallboard and the front of the piano being very fine and narrow. Most readers will already know that it's necessary to insert the points of soft fingertips without pushing in too hard and bending the wood, and then to flex (bend) one's fingers to start the lift.

Voila! Halfway up it felt as if it were starting to fall away from my fingertips, and the natural (and necessary) reaction was to reach under the fallboard to catch it and then to lift it the rest of the way. At that point one's fingers are curved (flexed), and one's nails start to touch and can dig into the finish. Everywhere scratches appear in the middle of the fallboard is where a person lifts it while standing in front of it!

So, that's it. The fallboard scratches happen when pianists lift it while standing up, not sitting down. Players start to lift with fingertips, but then there's not a good enough grip or proper "action geometry" to keep holding it with soft fingertips all the way up. About halfway up it's necessary to slip one's hands around its front and under a flat fallboard to lift the rest of the way. At that point the fingernails are angled forty-five degrees into it, and unless someone has just cut his or her nails, they touch the wood surface. The natural action of lifting from there on is to stroke (scratch) upwards by flexing one's fingers against the fallboard, and unless one specifically tries to be slow and gentle and pull one's fingertips back, the nails can scratch the fallboard.

Picture a weightlifter curling a small barbell but sticking his fingers out and scratching a wall in front of him as he gets the weights halfway up. Picture a traffic cop motioning you to "come on" past him, scratching the air in front of him as he flexes his wrist and fingers upwards.

Mystery solved! Pets and Santa Clause no longer need be falsely accused and can once again silently creep around at night without undue piano liability! It's not the pianists who roll their eyes and heads, flap their jaws, and throw their hands and arms up and out, nor is it careless piano movers. Small children may, however, suffer additional reprimands in the future...

Piano refinishers and technicians also can rest easily: people don't always stand up to open their piano fallboards, but they most assuredly will continue to do so sometimes, especially for grands after they've already stood to open the lid or grab some music or adjust something on the top (Yes, tristis dicere, some people do put things on top of their grand pianos...): that's when they'll be most likely to open the fallboard before sitting down. Piano refinishers thus can once again peacefully drift into gentle slumber, secure in the happy expectation to enjoy the same refinishing business for as long as there are pianos and fallboards, despite the mechanism of injury having been discovered and published here.

"All's well that ends well."

Respectfully Submitted,

PianistSurgeon

P.S. I hope to receive some academic credit for the above posting, if ever I should enroll in training to become a piano technician, or at least an honorable mention for my discovery in any RPT Hall of Fame.

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This may well be one contribution to the phenomenon -- and your contribution to our knowledge base is both needed and welcome. However...

Scratches on the front of fallboards happen when pianists play the piano -- despite their sometimes vehement denials to the contrary. They are not uniformly distributed across the surface but are clustered in alignment with the keys and are most heavily prevalent in the center of the keyboard where most of the music is played.


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Dear Mr. Akins,

Thank you for your kind reply and the two points you made.

1) You wrote: "Scratches on the front of fallboards happen when pianists play the piano -" and then contradictory information: "despite their sometimes vehement denials to the contrary."

Again, one of the reasons I wrote is that "For years I've heard rebuilders and RPT's with many decades of work experience wonder why and how it could be that pianists stretch their fingers out while playing and somehow put so many vertical scratches into the fallboard...and that the best and most experienced piano technicians are at a loss to explain why a pianist would do such a thing, and how,..."

So, I've repeatedly heard RPT's make exactly the same assertion you just made, but the same RPT's then admitted they had never actually seen it happen when a pianist plays, they had never even seen a pianist's fingernails touch the fallboard while playing, that when they told pianists they must be causing it while playing pianists denied it, and then I've heard virtually every RPT at the end wonder about how it happens and who really does it.

I would respectfully inquire as to whether or not you have any evidence that 4-6 inch long, mostly vertical, scratches actually happen as a pianist plays? Have you ever seen or documented it to happen at that moment? Have you ever seen or heard a nail scratch into the finish while someone plays? Has a pianist ever told you he or she did it, or just did it, or didn't those same pianists actually deny it?

Hence it's been a mystery, because RPT's I've heard discuss it and wonder about it all assert that it must be pianists while playing but then admit they've never seen it happen or understood how or when...

As a pianist, and organist, and harpsichordist, my very long fingers do not touch the fallboard when playing or come immediately next to it. I've seen hundreds of friends and colleagues play. Their fingers do not touch or almost touch the fallboard, much less cause scratches through its finish! Pianists thus should not be "fingered" as the culprits, especially without evidence, and since they deny it...

2) You then wrote: "They are not uniformly distributed across the surface but are clustered in alignment with the keys and are most heavily prevalent in the center of the keyboard where most of the music is played."

Your observation is correct but also entirely consistent with and necessary for my theory to be true, as I noted: "Everywhere scratches appear in the middle of the fallboard is where a person lifts it while standing in front of it!"

When one lifts a fallboard while standing, the most comfortable and natural spot to place one's hands is closest to the center near the company logo, or a little farther away from center, or perhaps a little farther than that, basically, a little bit medial or lateral to one's shoulders. Rarely does one place one's hands to lift more than halfway toward the right and left edges of the fallboard. Now look at where scratches occur: they occur in the same areas with the same frequency where a person's fingertips lift the fallboard when standing in front of it. Most fallboards have no scratches within a foot or two of the fallboard edges, even though people play a lot of big bass notes all the way down into the lowest octaves.

If your assertion that pianists while playing are also causing the scratches, there should be a lot of scratches all the way down to the bottom (Perhaps the biggest and longest should be there, where many pianists play thunderous octaves of Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Liszt.) and some at the top, but there are not.
I therefore conclude that: "It's not the pianists who roll their eyes and heads, flap their jaws, and throw their hands and arms up and out," and especially not the ones while playing Bach and Mozart with nearly motionless, classical technique. It happens just before that, and rarely, when someone is standing, opens the fallboard before sitting down, and it starts to slip from one's fingertips...

Respectfully submitted,

PianistSurgeon

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This exact same post was on the piano forum. Check that out and see if you want to contribute to this version.

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Greetings,
Umm, we are forced to consider that some erroneous assumptions have been made. I have numerous customers, professional jazz, classical, and everything in between, that have the kind of scratches you describe on their fallboards. And these are on privately played pianos in which the fallboard is never closed, hence, the opening of said board cannot be the source of the malady.

It is also noted that the aforementioned abrasions are not completely vertical, instead, found with a degree of deviation which is geographically defined. They are more organized in a pattern of curvature that seems to shadow the hands' motion to the keys from the middle outward in their descent from above.

As additional frame of reference, it is common to find that unfortunate plank bearing the cognominal burden of the maker to be suffering unguis-originated erosion located directly above the accidentals, which is no accident, given the plausibility of contact during passage work calling for playing among the keys. Indeed, one customer, a very fine classical touring artist, had practiced so much on her home piano that the indentations were un-repairable and forced to be viewed as "personality" rather than destruction, though I saw it as an obvious case of veneer vitiation.
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We're to believe that multiple RPTs and rebuilders are worried about this?
And participate in a conspiracy to blame it on pianists?
But then all capitulate and admit that they don't really know?
For years?

Who are all these RPTs?

I know a quite a few RPTs (and non-RPT techs). I've even been around hundreds of RPTs for days at a time at the PTG convention.

This discussion has never come up.


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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
We're to believe that multiple RPTs and rebuilders are worried about this?
……

This discussion has never come up.


It’s probably never come up because few would consider it to be a matter of importance in all of the many things associated with the piano.

No one will have a sleepless night worrying about the origin of the scratches.

And it is certainly not one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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Originally Posted by dogperson
It’s probably never come up because few would consider it to be a matter of importance in all of the many things associated with the piano.

No one will have a sleepless night worrying about the origin of the scratches.

And it is certainly not one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe.


Exactly!


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I thought pianists didn't have any nails


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My observations in my household where 3 of us actively play on a grand, all the scratches are caused solely by playing not from catching a falling fallboard, even with our fingers clipped short. We are not always aware of the moment our fingertips come in contact with the wood either. I have never had a fallboard closing on me not have I heard of anyone experienced it so I can’t imagine that to be a common occurrence, even without the soft close lid, not often enough to cause as many scratches as I have seen on pianos between ours and others.


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