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#187904 - 09/25/08 02:32 AM Are old piano strings dangerous?
Avantgardenabi Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/08
Posts: 496
Hello, everyone.

My old Knabe piano will be delivered to my (new) home this Friday, and currently I am very worried yet excited at the same time. (I guess almost everyone here went through the same emotions!)

Even when it is in sad and unplayable condition, it will be nevertheless my first grand piano.

(I wish I can be there when it is being delivered, but I can't... \:\( )


Just out of curiousity, does an old piano string pose a danger when it breaks? I cannot get this idea out of my head (piano string hitting my eye, a haunted piano's first stroke!), and I was wondering if I should be careful when opening my piano's lid.


Thank you. \:\)

P.S. I will post the pictures!

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#187905 - 09/25/08 02:50 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
BDB Online   content
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It can poke you, but they usually go away from the keyboard. (I think Mythbusters was testing whether a broken cable could cut someone in half tonight on one of their reruns.)
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#187906 - 09/25/08 09:42 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2629
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
It can poke you, but they usually go away from the keyboard. (I think Mythbusters was testing whether a broken cable could cut someone in half tonight on one of their reruns.) [/b]
Aha! I saw just a bit of that very segment. They did not cut a pig in half with a cable stretched to 30K lbs and cut, but it slapped that poor carcass pretty hard when it snapped.

To the OP, I'd suggest eye protection. I myself need reading glasses so I'm protected when I play my piano.

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#187907 - 09/25/08 09:48 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
the nosy ape Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/10/08
Posts: 681
Loc: Westford, MA
A piano string stretches very little as tension is applied to it. This means that there is very little energy stored in the string and there would be little or no danger when that energy is released if it were to break.

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#187908 - 09/25/08 10:08 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
BDB Online   content
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 Quote:
A piano string stretches very little as tension is applied to it. This means that there is very little energy stored in the string and there would be little or no danger when that energy is released if it were to break.
The steel in piano wire is some of the most elastic material used in manufacturing. A bass string can shoot across a room when it breaks. The only reason it does not happen with treble strings is that they are tied down better.
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#187909 - 09/25/08 10:09 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Steve Cohen Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
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Loc: Maryland/DC/No. VA
In over 50 years in the business I have never heard of such an injury.
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#187910 - 09/25/08 11:00 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
pianobroker Offline
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Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 4309
Loc: North Hollywood CA.
The known associates of the Gambino crime family state that piano wire has miminal elasticity for their application. \:D and in itself not dangerous
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#187911 - 09/25/08 11:07 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Mark... Offline
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Registered: 11/27/06
Posts: 4372
Loc: Jersey Shore
You'll shoot your eye out...

Sorry, just love that movie... \:D

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#187912 - 09/25/08 11:52 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
the nosy ape Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/10/08
Posts: 681
Loc: Westford, MA
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
 Quote:
A piano string stretches very little as tension is applied to it. This means that there is very little energy stored in the string and there would be little or no danger when that energy is released if it were to break.
The steel in piano wire is some of the most elastic material used in manufacturing. A bass string can shoot across a room when it breaks. The only reason it does not happen with treble strings is that they are tied down better. [/b]
While the wires may be very elastic for steel we are still talking about a few inches tops that the string stretches when it is brought in tune. This is small compared to some other forms of mechanical energy storage like a bow and arrow where the draw force is applied over a couple of feet. While I can easily believe that a bass string (which would have more total stretch due to its length) could have enough stored energy to accelerate its own mass sufficiently for it to travel several feet, it would not have enough energy (velocity) to do any harm to you unless, as you said, it serendipitously impacted you in a sensitive spot with a sharp end, kind of like Ralphie with the Red Ryder.

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#187913 - 09/25/08 01:23 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
David-G Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/06
Posts: 1227
Loc: London
I can believe that on old string might break while being tensioned e.g. during a pitch raise. But would one really be likely to break during playing?

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#187914 - 09/25/08 02:02 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Gonzo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/22/08
Posts: 55
Loc: Orange County, CA
Have never had a piano string "snap" on me, but I can tell you that when a guitar string breaks while being played, it doesn't snap at you really at all....it kinda just gives way....now that might be partially because your finger is still bending the note while you're doing your best Guitar Hero pose!

I remember breaking a string on an Fender PBass in high school when I was too cheap to buy new strings for it, and it kinda just gave way as well (and I don't remember a snap)....not quite piano bass string, but much thicker than a guitar string.

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#187915 - 09/25/08 03:05 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by David-G:
I can believe that on old string might break while being tensioned e.g. during a pitch raise. But would one really be likely to break during playing?
It happened to me!

Bottom D-flat snapped on a concert grand while I was playing Chopin's 2nd Scherzo - the spot it occurred is at 1:02 in this video of Krystian Zimerman (no, the strings don't break in this video - it is just a reference... \:D ) It sounded like a gunshot and was very unnerving.
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#187916 - 09/25/08 03:29 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
John Citron Offline
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Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
I've never had piano strings snap, but they sure scare the snot out of me when I've had them break on my clavichord.

I've noticed that before they break, they can't seem to stay in tune. Then SNAP! and I jump out of my skin when they give way at the tuning pin.

John
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#187917 - 09/25/08 04:56 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Aley Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/17/08
Posts: 82
Loc: Albuquerque, NM, USA
I've seen various numbers for the tension in strings, ranging from 180 pounds to 400 pounds. For the sake of argument, let's use 400 pounds.

We'll make the assumption that the wire is stretched to 95% of its ultimate tensile strength (which is probably on the high side), and that the wire is AISI 1060 steel with an ultimate tensile strength of 135,000 psi and a modulus of 29 million psi. Total elongation, assuming a 60" bass string, is 0.265 inches.

The energy stored in the string is 53 foot pounds, which is 70.8 joules.

We'll assume now that when the string breaks it'll transfer all of its stored energy into kinetic energy; this is a conservative assumption in that some will be dissipated as sound energy, some will go into distorting the wire end at the tuning pin, etc., but we'll ignore all that. Assuming (we're doing that a lot here!) the string is 1/16" piano wire double wound with 1/16" copper wire. A 60" long string of this construction will have a mass of about .531 kg.

Based on that, the velocity of the string will be 11.5 m/s, which is about 38 feet per second, which is about 26 miles per hour. That's like being hit by a piano string dropped from a height of 22 feet. It might hurt, if the end is sharp you might get cut, but it's unlikely to do major injury unless it does happen to hit you in the eye.

Smaller, lighter strings will naturally travel faster, but they're still unlikely to cause life-threatening injuries.

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#187918 - 09/25/08 04:59 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20757
Loc: Oakland
 Quote:
I've noticed that before they break, they can't seem to stay in tune. Then SNAP! and I jump out of my skin when they give way at the tuning pin.
That comes from the thinning of the wire when it starts to deform. That makes it stretch a lot all of a sudden, and it is much weaker. Then the string breaks. I hop that those break when I am tuning, because I prefer to have it happen when I can fix it. It does not always happen that way. Sometimes they just go bang.
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#187919 - 09/26/08 08:41 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
88Key_PianoPlayer Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/02/02
Posts: 1904
Loc: El Cajon, CA
First few strings I broke on an old upright I used to have...

the VERY first one, I had the bottom board off, and was probably fishing something out of the bottom of the piano, I don't remember. Well, I lightly brushed up against the rightmost string on the bass bridge (right string of B-2 in this case), and it snapped at the end of the hitchpin loop. Funny thing was it just kinda gave way, and didn't go flying. Probably because it was like 90 years old and had totally lost its elasticity.

As for strings not holding a tune before they break, I've had something similar happen once. While I was playing a tune one day several years ago, I noticed middle C was a little more out of tune (like probably a few cents, maybe about 1bps give or take, whereas it had almost been in solid tune just a few seconds before). Next time I played that note, in the same song? *SNAP!*

Am I the current record holder for having broken A-0 (lowest note on the piano) the most times in the shortest period of time? I've lost count of how many times I've broken it. I've spliced it a few times and replaced it a few times, in the past 8 or so years. I also frequently broke A#-0, C#-1, D-1, and D#-1, but not nearly as much as A-0 - maybe about 1/3 as much or so. I've also broken A#-1 once or twice on the piano I had.
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#187920 - 09/26/08 09:10 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
David Jenson Online   content
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Registered: 10/22/06
Posts: 1947
Loc: Maine
" Probably because it was like 90 years old and had totally lost its elasticity." 88Key ...

Yup! Old strings don't fly around much. A newer bass string, on the other hand, is a whole different animal.

I have clients who break bass strings regularly, and so far the strings have taken off away from the player ... so far! Rock-on visitor to western ranch who doesn't know much (dude).
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#187921 - 09/26/08 12:56 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
Horowitzian Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
 Quote:
Originally posted by David-G:
I can believe that on old string might break while being tensioned e.g. during a pitch raise. But would one really be likely to break during playing? [/b]
It happened to Horowitz while he was playing Rachmaninov's second piano sonata in a Carnegie Hall recital on Nov. 24, 1968.

After his technician replaced the string, he backed up a few measures from where he stopped, and proceeded to give what many critics consider his greatest performance of this work.

Thread in Pianists Corner Look for the posts by Thracozaag.
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#187922 - 09/26/08 01:05 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous?
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
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Loc: Oakland
Two or three broke at a show I was at several years ago. It was a piano that was about due for retirement anyway. (Longevity was one of the problems with the Yamaha CFIII, and why I appreciate the CFIIIS so much.)

Usually I try to break the strings before the show starts.
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#2190351 - 11/30/13 01:10 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
E. Christensen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/13
Posts: 38
In my experience it seems that the strings are pretty stretched out by the time they actually break so much of the tension is already released. This makes it pretty unlikely that any real damage could be done.

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#2190354 - 11/30/13 01:16 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: E. Christensen]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20757
Loc: Oakland
Originally Posted By: E. Christensen
In my experience it seems that the strings are pretty stretched out by the time they actually break so much of the tension is already released. This makes it pretty unlikely that any real damage could be done.


I do not know why you would want to revive this old topic, but you are wrong. A piano that is tuned has strings that are at the almost exactly same tension as when they were new.
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#2190363 - 11/30/13 01:51 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
rxd Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/11/09
Posts: 1680
Loc: London, England
Congratulations to pianoworld!

Resurrecting an old thread containing players who speak with pride about their 'skilful' ability to break strings shows how much more educated the readership of pianoworld has become over the years.

Here's to pianoworld for promoting more enlightened attitudes. I know they filter into the larger world of pianos.
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#2190370 - 11/30/13 02:23 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
PhilipInChina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/19/13
Posts: 417
Loc: China
My grandfather saw a man killed when a cable snapped in a coal mine. They were pulling something using a "Sylvester" which was a tatchet operated wire pulling machine.
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#2190430 - 11/30/13 07:13 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
Ed Foote Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 982
Loc: Tennessee
Greetings,
Interesting old discussion. However, it looks like a lot of theory and not so much practical events. A C1 string on a Mason and Hamlin CC has enough energy in it to drive the ragged end almost 1/4" into a lid support when it breaks at the bridge. I know this because I have seen it. It isn't uncommon for bass strings to leave a significant dent in the inside of the rim when they let go at the agraffe, too. Is this enough to cause injury? EYE think so.

A cable will cut a man in half, if it is big enough. A phosphate plant I know of spent millions converting a cable system to chains,(which do not spring), after a man was killed by a cable flying. My friend there said it didn't actually cut him in half so much as shredded his torso.

The age of the wire will have nothing to do with the tension, if the wire is at pitch.
regards,

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#2190451 - 11/30/13 08:37 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4393
Loc: San Jose, CA
"...does an old piano string pose a danger when it breaks? I cannot get this idea out of my head (piano string hitting my eye, a haunted piano's first stroke!), and I was wondering if I should be careful when opening my piano's lid..."

Strings usually break when they are being tuned, or played really hard. Just opening the lid does not expose you to much risk--- as you have probably found out between 2008 and 2013--- unless the lid itself injures you.

There are always safety goggles, for the especially cautious. Playing with the lid closed, or on short stick, and with the music rack opened, there is practically no risk; if you wear reading glasses, even less.

A meteorite could always fall from the sky and squash player, piano, bench, and all, so the baseline is never zero. However, if you survive, you would get a very good price for the rock and the smashed piano.
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#2190460 - 11/30/13 09:14 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
Rickster Online   content


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8072
Loc: Georgia, USA
Well, I've never broken a string while tuning, but I have broken an upper treble string while playing some hard pounding boogie-woogie. The awful sound alone was enough to scare me... smile

Piano wire is tough and hard to work with. I would imagine it could be dangerous if it breaks pretty close to a person's face; real dangerous.

Rick
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#2190527 - 11/30/13 11:56 AM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1463
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
While you are playing the piano, it is almost certain that if a string breaks it will be at the tuning pin end, thus the vector of motion for the released energy will be carried away from the player.
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#2190536 - 11/30/13 12:15 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20757
Loc: Oakland
Almost, but not 100%. However, there is stuff in the way the makes injury to the player unlikely.

Someone standing behind the piano is the one most likely to get hit by a broken bass string.
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#2190540 - 11/30/13 12:21 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
Minnesota Marty Online   content

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Registered: 05/15/12
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Nonetheless, I am going to ask my tailor about a Kevlar tux and shirt.

I am concerned about the visual effect of a concert ready swat team helmet, however.

crazy
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#2190604 - 11/30/13 03:32 PM Re: Are old piano strings dangerous? [Re: Avantgardenabi]
John Pels Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/31/07
Posts: 1253
Loc: Tomball, Texas
I don't know friends! Is this what we've come to, where we worry about an event so fractionally small percentage-wise that we keep the lid down to avoid the potential of a string exiting the piano? I don't know how many strings I have broken over the years, but I sure as the dickens don't worry much about it. If statistical data actually existed showing otherwise, I'd give it half a thought....but not much more than that. Maybe it will get to the point that given the new and silly healthcare nonsense, that if you own a piano you will pay a higher premium because of the potential for a string injury??? I know of folks that have been struck by lightning twice, but still no string injuries.

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