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Author Topic: Piano strings breaking  (Read 11379 times)
NetherMagic
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« on: July 02, 2003, 01:56:25 AM »

Hey everyone I was just curious.  Piano, after, is classified as a string instrument I believe (I hope my theory's right! ) and that other instruments like guitar and violin are no doubt string instruments as well.  As you know, guitar and violin strings can snap and break, sometimes giving the performer minor injuries like cuts if they are unlucky enough to be close to the breaking.

I was wondering if it's possible for the strings in a piano to break.  Especially a grand, think of how long those strings are!  I bet I'd go blind if a piano string ever snapped at me.  Anywayz, please tell me if it's possible, and if it is, if it's very dangerous (probably not)

Grin
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rachfan
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« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2003, 05:13:21 AM »

Hi Nether:

Yes indeed, piano strings (actually wires) do break.  If it is properly mounted on the tuning and hitch pins, correctly bridged, and has downbearing pressure per specification, it is a mystery as to why it happens.  Most believe that it can be a very minute flaw in the drawing of the piano wire during manufacture, causing a weak spot.  When one goes, it sounds like a snap or if a high note, a ping, and most of us remember what we were playing.  I broke the lowest E string on my Baldwin Model L grand playing Schumann's Novellette in F.  That's the only incident I ever had in all my years of playing.

Piano tuners break their share of strings tuning during their careers.  I asked one about it once, and he reported that for a few seconds it feels like a dog bite.  The pianist is positioned at the keyboard, so is out of reach and never directly imperiled by a breaking string.  It happens back inside the case.  The real nightmare is having one break during a recital or concert.  At home you just have the aggravation of waiting for the replacement to arrive from the piano company to be installed.  
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dinosaurtales
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« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2003, 08:14:41 AM »

Holy mackerel, RachFan!  I've never busted a string!  That would definitely get my attention!  The funny part is the comparison with a dog bite, like most folks would know what that feels like (I certainly don't!).  What a crack up!

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Brian Lawson, RPT
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« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2003, 09:47:57 PM »

I've only broken two bass strings when tuning (when my attention was elsewhere) but I've had many strings break while tuning.  When they break (on uprights/verticals) they drop to the bottom of the piano and do not fly out an eat you!  On a grand, similarly they stay in the piano, as least when the break at the tuning pin coil. It may fly back if it breaks at the hitch pin ( thats near the tail of the grand).
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NetherMagic
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« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2003, 10:54:35 PM »

hey then where do you get new strings and stuff to replace the broken ones?
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Brian Lawson, RPT
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« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2003, 10:59:44 PM »

Other piano techs who have bass string winding machines or piano wire from piano supply houses.
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Brian Lawson, RPT
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NetherMagic
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« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2003, 11:02:55 PM »

how much does a string cost?
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Brian Lawson, RPT
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« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2003, 11:18:29 PM »

I assume you are in the US, I'm not so I dont know what techs charge there, but for one bass string I charge about a third of my tuning fee, as I have to get it made, fit it and return again to tune it as new strings stretch and go out of tune.
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rachfan
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« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2003, 06:23:13 AM »

Hey Brian, I know exactly what you mean when you say "when my attention was elsewhere".  I don't tune for a living, but have done it a few times for friends.  (I don't tune my Baldwin L though except to take the buzz out of a note here or there between tunings--otherwise I wisely leave it to the pro!)  

Anyway, I was tuning a Whitney promotional piano, which is largely untunable anyway--i.e., you can't even reconcile the 3rds and 5ths on it, not to mention the instrument's(?) close and sloppy string spacing, (please, stop laughing Roll Eyes ).  My friend starting gabbing and I became distracted.  I was wondering why--when my attention was divided--the string's pitch would not come up.  Thought maybe the wire was slipping on the pin, so tugged harder on the tuning hammer.  Boing!!  The string on the adjacent note snapped, of course.  I must say though, the sound of that note was far more pleasing afterward without the string.  Ha!  It was a bit embarrassing naturally.  But it was motivating enough for them to junk the Whitney and buy a Yamaha C2 grand.   That one I left to the pros.    Grin
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driz
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« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2009, 03:41:47 AM »

But what if it tore at the person's eye while he was playing? is that even possible if nothing is covering the strings?
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richard black
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« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2009, 08:36:54 PM »

Quote
But what if it tore at the person's eye while he was playing? is that even possible if nothing is covering the strings?

I've seen a few strings break and they never fly far. Since they almost invariably break at the keyboard end, you'd have to be at the tail end to catch the string in your eye anyway, even if it did fly out
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« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2009, 08:49:59 PM »

I just finished a 2 1/2 year apprenticeship for piano tech. Only have a few customers so far. I have a career so I'm just doing this because I love doing it.
Old strings on a rusty V bar can snap. A little WD in advance will help if your doing a pitch raise. Lets face it. Old is old and old breaks.
Strings can be spliced. Just a fancy knot that tightens up with tension. Don't blame the tuner if a string snaps. If its old, you will have to pay a little extra to have it spliced or repaired.
 I know a gospel choir director that just loves snapping strings. He bangs the hell out of the piano. There's only so loud one can play before becoming abusive.
I snapped one of my own strings once. Same reason as above. Not paying attention. They don't really fly in your face.
As for cost, 20 bucks for a single bass string. I restrung my little 1850 Baldwin spinet. The set of bass strings was about 280. You're paying for the labor from a tech and rightfully so. There's a lot of prep work involved and its not that easy.
Piano wire is reletively cheap too. Unless you've studied with a tech or went to school for it, dont do it on your own.
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quantum
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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2009, 09:45:37 PM »

I've broken something like 4 or 5 strings.  3 of them were on my old upright.  Those don't really fly at you, they just drop to the bottom of the piano.  The rest were on grands in university.  In all cases the string broke at the tuning pin side.  Even on the grands they didn't whip across to the tail end and mostly stayed in place. 

The tuner I've hired to replace my own strings will discount the price if I deliver the broken string to his shop.  It saves him a trip across the city. 
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2009, 02:27:46 AM »

Piano, after, is classified as a string instrument I believe
The piano is classified as a percussion instrument because we don't actually normally touch the strings with our hands. Usually when a piano string breaks you have to restring the whole thing (especially if it is an older piano) otherwise it will sound strange with different aged/quality strings.
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richard black
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« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2009, 07:56:40 PM »

Quote
Usually when a piano string breaks you have to restring the whole thing (especially if it is an older piano) otherwise it will sound strange with different aged/quality strings.

If one string breaks you will never restring the whole instrument unless either you were planning to do it anyway, or a close inspection reveals that all the strings are rusty and knackered. Yes, a new string may sound noticeably different from aged ones around it, but on a piano that old the tone will almost certainly be a bit uneven anyway. What is noticeable is when you replace a poor quality (but not necessarily very old) string with a better made one. A friend of mine has a big Yamaha upright and as usual the bass strings are pretty poor. One of them broke for no obvious reason, so my friend's tuner (who makes his own strings) replaced it. He apologised for the difference in sound, saying 'I never did master the art of making bad strings'. It's true - that's the only note in the bottom octave that's ever properly in tune!
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2009, 03:42:36 AM »

If one string breaks you will never restring the whole instrument unless either you were planning to do it anyway, or a close inspection reveals that all the strings are rusty and knackered. Yes, a new string may sound noticeably different from aged ones around it, but on a piano that old the tone will almost certainly be a bit uneven anyway.
I guess it depends on the person. Some people cannot hear the difference, others can. I had a student with an old Petroff grand and a string broke. The technician replaced the single broken key but it sounded different to the rest of the notes. My student and myself noticed it, so she decided to get the whole thing restrung. If you have a cheap piano then just doing one string should be fine, its not like you need to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a piano which is worth not even that!
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quantum
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« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2009, 10:57:31 AM »

If one string breaks you will never restring the whole instrument unless either you were planning to do it anyway, or a close inspection reveals that all the strings are rusty and knackered. Yes, a new string may sound noticeably different from aged ones around it, but on a piano that old the tone will almost certainly be a bit uneven anyway. What is noticeable is when you replace a poor quality (but not necessarily very old) string with a better made one. A friend of mine has a big Yamaha upright and as usual the bass strings are pretty poor. One of them broke for no obvious reason, so my friend's tuner (who makes his own strings) replaced it. He apologised for the difference in sound, saying 'I never did master the art of making bad strings'. It's true - that's the only note in the bottom octave that's ever properly in tune!

I can attest to that.  Broke a couple bass strings on my old Kawai upright.  The new strings sounded different the the rest, but they were of a much better tone!
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« Reply #17 on: May 27, 2009, 12:49:48 PM »

Church pianists, especially in gospel music where you hold the pedal down and play the bass, ah........firmly! break strings constantly. 
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« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2009, 01:40:16 PM »

Your student restrung the whole piano because of one outstanding note? Your a piano techs dream come true. The happer could have been revoiced where it makes contact with that one string. Also, depending on where it broke, it could have been spliced for 20 bucks and you wouldn't have noticed a thing.
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destinysora
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« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2010, 07:27:15 AM »

i broke a piano string yesterday from playing beethovens pathetique sonata... Shocked first time in my life that happened...
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jesc
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« Reply #20 on: January 31, 2010, 08:33:48 AM »

Any idea on the rate piano strings break?

I can't count the number of times I broke my piano strings. Mine is an upright Samick . I just got back to playing the piano and started with Chopin's Scherzo No. 2. Last year, I broke 2 strings. This year, just this January, I broke 3. All of them on the high octave.

This never happened before. Usually I would break strings but in between years, not weeks, not months. I'm starting to think that the tuner intentionally stressed the strings, sabotaged the piano so that we'll keep calling him to fix it. Any basis or other explanation on why the strings started breaking?

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richard black
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« Reply #21 on: January 31, 2010, 11:59:38 AM »

Sounds as if your Samick is using cheap and crummy strings. If the tuner was doing something like that (pretty unlikely, anyway) you would first notice it going catastrophically out of tune shortly after each tuning.
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« Reply #22 on: January 31, 2010, 12:43:00 PM »

Thanks for the tip about the change in tune. No, it didn't do that so probably my tuner is innocent Smiley

Most probably the strings are low quality indeed. Maybe I'll have the next repairman replace a batch of them. It's really annoying every time a string has to be replaced. I'll have to wait a month or so for the new string to go out of tune (i.e. fully stretch), then have the tuner go back and tune it the final time.
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keys60
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« Reply #23 on: February 08, 2010, 11:27:23 PM »

I really can't understand why the Samick strings are breaking. Are you an extremely forceful player? I've tuned some seriously old crap and have yet to snap a string except for a bass string on my own piano because of low light and tightening the wrong pin once.
Samicks are not of the highest quality, but their not exactly on the bottom of the list.
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jesc
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« Reply #24 on: February 09, 2010, 12:36:31 PM »

Update:
I'm not exactly sure either. But I had it repaired recently, actually just yesterday. The tuner suggested the following reasons.

------------------
Pressure-bar (IIRC) was pushed way back. Probably contributed to stressing the strings.

The metal railing the strings are resting on the top most part (the railing directly below the pressure-bar) was very sharp when he inspected it. All of the string that broke in January snapped at  exactly the point in contact.

Rust on the strings directly on the sharp railing. (Another possible explanation he put forth was the warm climate and the air conditioning I have - probably too cold then some moisture after it is turned off)

And..... ok, and I have to admit. I don't hold back when playing the loud parts (full force). It's a way of venting my anger onto something. IIRC I knew I broke the strings for 3 notes but he corrected me and said that I actually broke some... 6 strings. The repair totaled 14 including the ones he identified as "about" to break.
-------------------

Currently the Pressure-bar was loosened a bit and he filled the sharp edges of the metal railing the strings rested on. Ironically, this changed the quality for the upper octaves and I have to play Chopin's Scherzo no 2 with more force on the higher notes. (This is the piece that broke all of them this January)

I'll have to ask him to make some adjustments when he returns to re-tune the piano, feels like the piano was split into 2 different personalities.
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richard black
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« Reply #25 on: February 09, 2010, 11:27:13 PM »

Quote
The metal railing the strings are resting on the top most part (the railing directly below the pressure-bar) was very sharp when he inspected it.

That'll certainly do it - and it comes under the heading of 'poor quality control'.

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« Reply #26 on: February 19, 2010, 05:16:30 PM »

Jesc,

 Do you live near salt water? I've even seen a Steinway go to hell and back within a few blocks from the beach.

The pressure and V bar are about the most common breaking points. Especially of there is a coating of rust on them. The pressure bar is easily removed and can be cleaned up with some emory cloth. To clean the V bar, the strings need to be removed. A little 3M oil, and I do mean a LITTLE, can free up some sticking points, but that's usually prior to tuning so the string doesn't stick and snap. Well, as long as you have a good tech, I'd have to go with what he tells you.

Remember, you're not going to get out of your piano more than it was meant to give. Lighten up a little.
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silverwoodpianos
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« Reply #27 on: February 22, 2010, 05:07:45 PM »

Hey everyone I was just curious.  Piano, after, is classified as a string instrument I believe (I hope my theory's right! ) and that other instruments like guitar and violin are no doubt string instruments as well.  As you know, guitar and violin strings can snap and break, sometimes giving the performer minor injuries like cuts if they are unlucky enough to be close to the breaking.

I was wondering if it's possible for the strings in a piano to break.  Especially a grand, think of how long those strings are!  I bet I'd go blind if a piano string ever snapped at me.  Anywayz, please tell me if it's possible, and if it is, if it's very dangerous (probably not)

 Grin

Piano strings break for many reasons. Mostly because of too much friction at the bearing points, those points being the tuning pin becket, or the agraffe/pressure bar area. Not very often will a string break at the tied end of the plate hitch pin.

Piano wire, when up to the pitch of A440, is only pulled to 60% of its tensile strength. Most of the time when piano wire breaks it is because of a fault in the wire, corrosion preventing the movement or adjustment of the wire (tuning) or the molecules have deteriorated (metal fatigue).

Using WD40 as a lubricant is not a good idea. Oils tend to migrate down the strings in a vertical at times and contaminate the damper felt.

On a grand the oils will still migrate by vibration to other areas not affected by rust or other contaminants.

If you feel compelled to use a lubricant use one of the lubes sold by the supply houses.....Protek CLP comes to mind......

Usually when a string does break, the plate bars above the strings in a grand keep the string inside the instrument for the most part, unless the lid happens to be raised, then it might travel out onto the floor in front of the instrument.
Cheers,
Dan Silverwood


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« Reply #28 on: February 28, 2010, 04:09:59 PM »

Remember, you're not going to get out of your piano more than it was meant to give. Lighten up a little.

I will  Grin . especially after reading the thread "powerhouse" players, I saw one link to a vid where the pianist was totally bashing the piano...

Restraint: something I learned from this forum
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« Reply #29 on: February 28, 2010, 05:45:47 PM »

Using WD40 as a lubricant is not a good idea. Oils tend to migrate down the strings in a vertical at times and contaminate the damper felt.
Cheers,
Dan Silverwood

Hey Dan, you are 100% right. WD40 is NOT a lubricant! It will do a lot of jobs, loosening rusted parts and dissolving battery acid corrosion to name a few but it will not lubricate. The plant that makes WD40 is about 5 mins from me and we share techs. WD40 came up with a light lubricant under another name that performed perfectly but the market crowded it out.

A piano (or other musical instrument) with a mixture of metal and wood at stress points presents special challenges. Once my Chickering 1/4 grand wouldn't hold a tune. I assisted my tuner in turning it upside down to put a few drops of some sort of special fluid in each pin hole. That house was just too dry for the peg board.

That tuner told me he always sits sideways when tuning because once a string broke and hit him while facing the piano..
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« Reply #30 on: March 05, 2010, 09:39:03 PM »

You can use automotive Liquid Wrench on the contact points, not WD40. I mistakenly wrote 3M which was of the top of my head. I apply it with a cotton swab or you could use the hypo oiler bottles from the piano tech supply. Its a very controlled small drop. And of course, don't let it run to any other area, especially the pins.

 This advice came from Jim Coleman's video on pitch raising. Jim is one of the top techs in the country. If its good enough for him.......
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« Reply #31 on: March 08, 2010, 04:34:01 PM »

Hey Dan, you are 100% right. WD40 is NOT a lubricant! It will do a lot of jobs, loosening rusted parts and dissolving battery acid corrosion to name a few but it will not lubricate. The plant that makes WD40 is about 5 mins from me and we share techs. WD40 came up with a light lubricant under another name that performed perfectly but the market crowded it out.

A piano (or other musical instrument) with a mixture of metal and wood at stress points presents special challenges. Once my Chickering 1/4 grand wouldn't hold a tune. I assisted my tuner in turning it upside down to put a few drops of some sort of special fluid in each pin hole. That house was just too dry for the peg board.

That tuner told me he always sits sideways when tuning because once a string broke and hit him while facing the piano..

Hello keys60,

Most likely the product used on the Chickering was CA glue or some other type of tuning pin lightener.

 The product WD-40 is not sold as a  lubricant, I think if you look up the category of that product you will find it classified as a rust inhibitor. Sure it has some lubricating qualities but this is characteristic of most petroleum based products.
 
Folks can see fit to use whatever product they would like to, including Mr. Coleman.

 For myself, and my clients, I do not use lubricants to tune a piano. If the string is rusty and has excessive friction causing the wire to fracture, then I am of the opinion that the string should not be in the instrument in the first place. Remember that when tuning the wire is only pulled to approximately 60% of its tensile strength. If the wire is rusty and cannot hold 60% of its value, in reality it requires replacement.



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« Reply #32 on: March 19, 2010, 05:50:28 PM »

Mr. Silverwood.

Thanks for the reply.

True, if the tensil strength of 60% is no longer, replacing strings is an option, however, I don't (unfortunately) know too many customers willing to invest that much in their old console or spinet.

I restrung my Baldwin 1950 spinet just for the learning experience. Came out ok. Sounds great. I wish I didn't use the pin tightener that went bad over the winter while sitting in my teachers car. That lead to a problem. But since its mine to tune, its my fight.  =)
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