How to Build an Upright Grand Piano
Written by Will Browar
April 1, 2023
When I work on a maker project I usually like to take a lot of photos and write up a blog post to document the process. This is usually done within the weeks following the project because at that point a lot of details are fresh in my head and I can recall the new things I’ve learned along the way.
Today I noticed a folder full of images on my computer from a few years ago. It contained photos of a piano, and with this being a maker blog, I can only guess that at some point I had made my own upright grand piano 🤷♂️
I don't recall much, so here's my best guess at how it all went down:
Pardon my dust. My first step in this process was to get the back portion of the piano all done. As you can see here it looks like I started with a frame and some beams for support.
The frame looked easy enough to manage. Just needed to hammer a few things into place and we’re all good.
Piano Heavy Metal
Okay so I am still fuzzy on what exactly happened here, but I definitely remember this piece—and so does my back.
One thing about pianos is that you need this heavy plate of iron to hold up to the intense amount pressure the strings put on it. This is like the skeleton of the piano, providing the structure that everything else is built around.
So I flipped the backing frame over and set in some guides to support the iron plate.
A perfect fit.
Next up came adding the tuning pegs. The pegs went through the metal plate and into a piece of wood that was predrilled with holes for each peg.
I remember starting off screwing these by hand, but I found the right drill bit to use and that sped things along greatly.
I guess you can order just about anything online these days because I got this box full of perfectly sized piano strings.
One important thing to note here is that messing with piano strings on a piano is no joke. Although the metal plate is strong, you can feel the tension change as you loosen and tighten sections of strings. For this next part I made sure to wear eye protection, gloves, and long sleeve clothes for protection.
With the strings attached to the pegs, all I had to do next was lift the piano up onto its feet. Up you go!
To make it easier to move the piano around, a pair of handles were added to the back.
The Key Takeaway
So what’s a grand piano without a set of 88 black and white key? And what’s a set of keys without a place to put them?
First things first, a tray and support structures are added to to the frame of the piano.
Within the tray go a bunch of pegs that are used to hold up the keys. The keys sort of do a balancing act on these pegs.
Just like the strings, I got a box of keys over here. Shipping must be great around here because these are perfectly organized!
Next up came the module that contained all of the hammers and the connections to the keys.
That is set in place and a keylid is installed to protect the keys when not in use.
From there, a cover with some sweet carvings on it is added. I’m just going to assume that I did these carvings. Like freeform sketching, but in wood.
And from there I guess we're done...?
So making a piano probably wasn’t all that hard to do. If you have a free afternoon to spare you can probably follow this guide and throw one together for yourself. Happy pianoing 🎹
Okay, so here’s the thing. When we bought our house it came with this piano. While my wife and I thought this was a bonus, that we’d fix it up and hire a tuner to come in and help us get it working, it turned out to be a much larger undertaking than we thought.
The piano was unplayable and several of the keys were misaligned. I took apart the piano enough to find that a lot of the leather straps that connected the keys to the hammers were so old that many of them had disintegrated. A few key pieces of wood were cracked—maybe damage caused by moving it at one point. We didn't know the history behind this piano but it seemed like it was moved into the house by the previous owner but that it hand't been used in decades.
First we tried to figure out what it would take to fix it. Lots of parts would need to be sourced or custom made. There were so many parts that were worn down that it seemed like we'd be replacing a lot of the internals. The cost and the time commitment were a lot for a couple that just gave birth to their second kid.
Our next step was to find a new home for the piano. I posted on Facebook groups and online marketplaces and found that not only did our piano not gain any interest, but there were also many other folks struggling to offload pianos that were in even better shape than this one. Local organizations that resold donated furniture only took working pianos and the local music-related organizations I checked with didn’t want to fund the repairs or tuning needed to get the piano back into working condition.
We decided to get the piano out of the house, but the only way to remove it would be to tear it down into pieces the garbage collection would take. I found a friend who just happened to be looking for a set of piano keys for a project so I gave those to her, and the heavy metal iron plate went to a guy who takes metal scrap to the junkyard. As far as the wood in the piano goes, I still have a lot of it and have used some of the support frame as part of my work bench and for a few other things.
It would have been cool to get the piano working again, but during the teardown process I got to learn a lot about the inner workings and the details put into a piano like this. I can imagine the people who originally put it together took several weeks to get all the precise mechanics in the right place. Here are a few more shots I got before demolition to appreciate some of the piano’s details: