Pianos are 85% wood. Musical instruments of finer quality are manufactured with quality hardwoods and tone woods. Woods are chosen for their beauty and tonal properties. The types of woods referred to as “musical grades” are getting harder to find and more expensive every year.
When a note is played, the string vibrates. Those vibrations are conducted through the bridge into the sounding board. The vibrations run through and across the grain. The ribs attached underneath the sound board “telegraph” the vibrations across the grain and support the sounding boards curvature or “crown.” The string’s energy is dispersed throughout.
Think of thousands of tiny ping-pong balls bouncing off the rim, back toward the center, and back to the rim 10,000x per second! If the rim is maple, walnut, or beech the vibrations will bounce back with even more energy.
If the rims are made porous material, the energy is absorbed and dissipated more quickly. The soundboard does not generate sound; rather it amplifies the string’s energy. The sound board vibrates, moving the air, which moves the ear drum. It is that simple.
Hardwood trees are described as having broad, flat leaves as opposed to coniferous needled or scaled foliage. Another name for a hardwood tree is appropriately called broad-leaf. It is easy to tell a hardwood from a conifer. The density of hardwoods can very. Here are some examples of hardwood found in piano building:
Beech. Birch, Cherry, Ebony, Honduras Mahogany, Maple, Oak, Poplar, Rosewood, Walnut
In piano construction, hardwoods add longevity and serve a musical purpose. Common uses for hardwoods in pianos are for:
Rims, Bridges, Pin Block, Action parts, Key beds, Case parts, Support beams, Belly bar,
Stretcher bar, Legs, Back post, Filler blocks, Liners
Mahogany, also known as Honduras mahogany is a tropical hardwood indigenous to South America, Central America and Africa. There are many different grades and species sold under this name, which vary widely in quality and price.
Mahogany which comes from the Caribbean is thought to be the hardest, strongest and best quality. Logs from Africa, though highly figured (meaning having a pattern) are of slightly lesser quality. Some other species of Mahogany include:
Lauan (also spelled Luan). The price of a piano can vary greatly depending on the quality of the hardwoods and tone woods.
Lauan is another term for Philippine mahogany but is not really mahogany at all. It is a much less valuable wood, being less strong, not as durable or as beautiful when finished. It has many home and hobby applications and is readily available at lumberyards and home improvement stores.
Suppliers of Hardwoods and Tone woods
Piano manufacturers don’t usually own forest land or cutting rights to timber. They rely on companies that harvest hardwoods and tone woods. These companies harvest a wide variety of wood for furniture to musical instruments.
Naturally, the more rare, the beautiful, and perfect the stock the higher the price. Suppliers have worked out a grading system for their product lines. Veneers are a thin decorative covering of fine wood applied to a core of somewhat lesser attractive material. Some veneers are so expensive they can add from 10% to 50% more to the price depending how exotic they may be.
Marquetry or inlay is a tremendous enhancement of the beauty of any piece of furniture. Pianos with inlays are usually priced at the high-end of the market depending on the extent of the workmanship. Marquetry can be handmade of cut out by a laser and they put together like a jigsaw puzzle.
As you can see there are several things that can enter into the price of an instrument.