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#2224930 - 02/03/14 12:00 AM Sharp Shapes and Sizes?
Ed McMorrow, RPT Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1879
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
As a piano technician/rebuilder I have been wondering what preference pianist's have concerning the way the black keys are made.

I am not asking about ebony verses plastic but would like opinions about the width, tapered or not-tapered height, etc.

I have noticed the shape, size and texture of the naturals seems to elicit more opinions than the variables found in sharp key-tops.
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#2224988 - 02/03/14 03:30 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
phantomFive Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1148
Loc: California
I find narrower widths harder to play on, because it requires more precision to hit them quickly.

I imagine if I were Rachmaninoff, with his large hands, I would appreciate as much space between the black keys as possible, because sometimes it's hard to fit your fingers between the spaces of the black keys.

Semi-off-topic, I would love to play a piano with the black and white keys reversed.


Edited by phantomFive (02/03/14 03:31 AM)
Edit Reason: To clarify why I find narrow widths harder to play on
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#2224994 - 02/03/14 03:40 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: phantomFive]
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
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Originally Posted By: phantomFive
Semi-off-topic, I would love to play a piano with the black and white keys reversed.


Do you mean 5 flat keys to 7 raised keys? That does not work!

If you just mean that the colors are interchanged, it seems like a strange desire, but you could get some paint and have at it, as long as it is your piano!
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#2225034 - 02/03/14 08:09 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Rich Galassini Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 9134
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
As a piano technician/rebuilder I have been wondering what preference pianist's have concerning the way the black keys are made.

I am not asking about ebony verses plastic but would like opinions about the width, tapered or not-tapered height, etc.

I have noticed the shape, size and texture of the naturals seems to elicit more opinions than the variables found in sharp key-tops.


In my experience Ed there are as many opinions on that issue as there are options. Pianists tend to like what they know, so many people will just enjoy something similar to what they are used to, with very little consideration of something different.

Those that do express an opinion fall into two camps:

1) Wide sharps with lots of bevels

2) Thinner sharps, tapered - bevels optional

I think it has to do with size of hands and repertoire played. IMHO, getting a consensus on this is about as likely as getting a consensus on which shade of stain is best to use on a mahogany veneer.

It is a good subject for a thread though and I look forward to other responses.

My 2 cents,
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#2225036 - 02/03/14 08:11 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7239
Loc: Rochester MN
If the keys are too sharp, you can cut your fingers.
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It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2225074 - 02/03/14 09:09 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Rickster Online   content


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8403
Loc: Georgia, USA
I like for the sharps to have a good key-level position. In other words, I've seen pianos where the sharps would bottom out below the neighboring white keys. This can happen when the white key-tops are replaced and the sharps are not leveled in proportion to the white keys properly.

I also like a sharp with a flatter, smoother top rather than the oval or tapered top surface.

Well, that's my .02. (FWIW smile )

Rick
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#2225076 - 02/03/14 09:12 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: phantomFive]
bkw58 Offline

Silver Supporter until December 19, 2014


Registered: 03/14/09
Posts: 1626
Loc: Conway, AR USA
Originally Posted By: phantomFive
I find narrower widths harder to play on, because it requires more precision to hit them quickly.

I imagine if I were Rachmaninoff, with his large hands, I would appreciate as much space between the black keys as possible, because sometimes it's hard to fit your fingers between the spaces of the black keys.

Semi-off-topic, I would love to play a piano with the black and white keys reversed.


The JA Stein fortepiano had the B&W reversed. Good luck in trying to find one to play. Replicas of these and similar are around. These may be easier to find. Permission to play may be another thing.

Good observation on the Rach.

To the point in question:

The variety of shape and size is incredible.

You wouldn't think that sharps could fall off (or get whacked off) and get lost very often, but it was quite surprising how many calls we received to this effect. (Mostly from high schools. Perhaps that should not be surprising at all.)

Consequently, mobile inventory included sharps of all size and shape - plastic and ebony. With ivory reclamation we salvaged sharps when possible. All necessary just to find a match especially on some of the really old and obsolete instruments.

All indicative of no attempt ever at industry standardization perhaps due in part to varying pianists' preference and technique (or the lack thereof.)

One reason we like our Hamilton grand is the size and shape of the sharps: plenty of flat surface (not too narrow), all beveled, and plenty of space in between. Ebony has a little texture, somewhat akin to the ivory, and we like that too.

Just right for us, but maybe not Rach.






Edited by bkw58 (02/03/14 09:21 AM)
Edit Reason: clarity
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#2225126 - 02/03/14 10:23 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: bkw58]
Karl Watson Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/20/11
Posts: 288
Friends:

In my experience, no sharp key has ever rivaled the old Masons for comfort. However, I'm told that some pianists with esp. thick fingers get them caught between keys.

I played a glittering Fazioli some years back whose sharp keys were positively painful.

Karl Watson,
Staten Island, NY

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#2225140 - 02/03/14 10:51 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Karl Watson]
Keith D Kerman Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/12/03
Posts: 3303
Loc: Gaithersburg, MD (Washington D...
Originally Posted By: Karl Watson
Friends:

In my experience, no sharp key has ever rivaled the old Masons for comfort. However, I'm told that some pianists with esp. thick fingers get them caught between keys.

I played a glittering Fazioli some years back whose sharp keys were positively painful.

Karl Watson,
Staten Island, NY


I love the feeling of the big fat old Mason sharps when playing them. I hate the lack of space when playing naturals between them. The extra short naturals on the old Masons forced one to play deep into the black key area more than other makes with longer naturals.
I think it more important to have the space between the sharps.

Current Kluge sharps are a good standard.
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#2225206 - 02/03/14 12:44 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: BDB]
phantomFive Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1148
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: BDB
Originally Posted By: phantomFive
Semi-off-topic, I would love to play a piano with the black and white keys reversed.


Do you mean 5 flat keys to 7 raised keys? That does not work!

If you just mean that the colors are interchanged, it seems like a strange desire, but you could get some paint and have at it, as long as it is your piano!


Like this guy:



I grew up playing mostly Yamahas, and the first time I ever played a Steinway, I remember being intimidated by the narrow width of the black keys.

A good pianist must adapt to whatever he has, though. smile


Edited by phantomFive (02/03/14 12:45 PM)
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#2225322 - 02/03/14 05:57 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Most harpsichords and fortepianos, and many old style organs have the reverse color scheme of what modern piano keyboards have.

You can get a piano keyboard this way if you like, just talk to Mike Morvan

http://www.pianoandorgankeys.com
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#2225351 - 02/03/14 07:05 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: Reseda, California
Ed, to me the biggest problem is the width of my fingers. I drew up a keyboard in AutoCAD with the sharps 0.300" wide, a minimum of 0.700" between them, and the total width for 88 keys under 48.5", just like most existing keyboard instruments.

It would also be interesting if the sides of the sharps could be undercut rather than beveled, to give you even more room. On some older pianos they are -- not intentionally, but as the result of years of players' fingernails taking out little nicks. (Of course I'd want a lot more undercut than that....)

Some day I'll get my machine shop out of storage and find a junker digital keyboard to try this on....


Edited by JohnSprung (02/03/14 07:07 PM)
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Knabe Grand # 10927
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#2225359 - 02/03/14 07:19 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: JohnSprung]
iLaw Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 168
Loc: Chicago
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

Ed, to me the biggest problem is the width of my fingers. I drew up a keyboard in AutoCAD with the sharps 0.300" wide, a minimum of 0.700" between them, and the total width for 88 keys under 48.5", just like most existing keyboard instruments.....


... or talk to David Steinbuhler. If he can fix you up with a 7/8 keyboard I bet he could do a 9/8!

Larry.

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#2225370 - 02/03/14 07:38 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: iLaw]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21271
Loc: Oakland
Originally Posted By: iLaw
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

Ed, to me the biggest problem is the width of my fingers. I drew up a keyboard in AutoCAD with the sharps 0.300" wide, a minimum of 0.700" between them, and the total width for 88 keys under 48.5", just like most existing keyboard instruments.....


... or talk to David Steinbuhler. If he can fix you up with a 7/8 keyboard I bet he could do a 9/8!

Larry.


That might work but one has to be aware that the width of one's fingers and the width of one's hands are two separate measurements, so widening the keyboard may mean that more people will not span an octave on it. It is one of life's compromises.
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#2225378 - 02/03/14 07:48 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: BDB]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: Reseda, California
Aye, there's the rub -- I can span an octave, but at the edge of discomfort. A 9/8 board would be a pain for playing stride -- a goal of mine. Length of arms becomes a problem there, too.
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Knabe Grand # 10927
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#2225399 - 02/03/14 08:36 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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Piano Forte Supply
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#2225400 - 02/03/14 08:36 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: BDB]
phantomFive Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1148
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: BDB
Originally Posted By: iLaw
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

Ed, to me the biggest problem is the width of my fingers. I drew up a keyboard in AutoCAD with the sharps 0.300" wide, a minimum of 0.700" between them, and the total width for 88 keys under 48.5", just like most existing keyboard instruments.....


... or talk to David Steinbuhler. If he can fix you up with a 7/8 keyboard I bet he could do a 9/8!

Larry.


That might work but one has to be aware that the width of one's fingers and the width of one's hands are two separate measurements, so widening the keyboard may mean that more people will not span an octave on it. It is one of life's compromises.


Nearly a decade ago I read about a concert pianist who had small fingers, and got a piano with smaller than normal keys (both black and white). She said it improved her technique tremendously.
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Poetry is rhythm.

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#2225421 - 02/03/14 09:06 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
DanS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/12
Posts: 550
I used to practice on an old Steinway B that had great big huge square black keys. I loved it. I used to find thinner keys intimidating, but I've gotten used to them, and sometimes find them easier to play on, depending on what I'm playing.
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#2225549 - 02/04/14 01:48 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
michaelha Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/05/13
Posts: 781
I recently played a Hailun 178 and one of the things that stood out to me was I thought the sharps were too wide. I had other nits with the keyboard, but the wide sharps gave it this unrefined feel. My hands aren't that big so I don't think I'd have problems fitting my fingers in between them, but it just seemed clunky and unnecessarily wide. And I've played many other pianos and haven't complained about the sharp's dimensions before.

I was going to say I like my RX5's keyboard, but not sure if that's part of the reason why I bought it or I'm just used to it.
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#2225696 - 02/04/14 10:12 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: michaelha]
Karl Watson Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/20/11
Posts: 288
re: the RX5 (sounds like a major appliance) - funnily enough, I was practising on a small Kawai grand, recently, and found the keyboard and esp. the accidentals to be very comfortable.

Kawai pianos often seem to have little touches that endear one; the pedals like old-time Bechsteins are quite nice.

Karl Watson,
Staten Island, NY

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#2225764 - 02/04/14 12:55 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Dwscamel Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/22/13
Posts: 448
I have smaller hands. I prefer less space between the sharps rather than more.

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#2225810 - 02/04/14 03:08 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Dwscamel]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1879
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
Dwscamel,
Is this because you prefer the wider playing surface of the sharps when the spaces between sharps are bigger?
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In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2225996 - 02/04/14 08:08 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: Reseda, California
Oooh! The light bulb just went on:

Make a keyboard with interchangeable sharp tops of different widths. It would have to be some kind of secure snap-on interface. Ed, can you do that?



-- J.S.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2226018 - 02/04/14 09:10 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: JohnSprung]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1879
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
JohnSprung,
Your idea sounds interesting. Having the sharp held firmly to the key-stick enough by some snap-on mechanism and not be jarred lose by FFFF blows might be difficult. Plus any looseness would make clicking sounds when playing. If you made the action "LightHammer style" which significantly reduces the desirability for key weights, this might allow for screw fasteners up into the sharp. This way sharps could be changed without too much time. The sharps would have to have sides that extended down along the key-stick to eliminate any discontinuity between the side of the sharp and the side of the key-stick.
_________________________
In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2226024 - 02/04/14 09:20 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
dynamobt Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/07/13
Posts: 644
Loc: NH
I've got skinny fingers but still prefer meaty sharps. I think that's another feature of my M & H that attracted me to it. Lovely rounded edges. Very comfortable under the fingers.
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#2226130 - 02/05/14 03:11 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: Reseda, California
OK, I see what you mean about looseness. It would be more expensive to make, but perhaps the tops could be held on by a gib lock, with the body of the sharp expanded by a couple of set screws.

As for discontinuity at the boundary between the permanent body of the sharp and the interchangeable top, if it's high enough and far enough inboard, you'd never notice it. That may not be clear in words, a picture would be better.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2232338 - 02/15/14 11:46 PM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1879
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I have had very few pianists complain about sharps that are significantly rounded from playing.

I have had pianist mention that they disliked the narrow, almost "square" sharp used by NY Steinway and others in the 1970's and 80's.

I wonder if sharps should be made rounder on top to begin with?
_________________________
In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2232407 - 02/16/14 04:00 AM Re: Sharp Shapes and Sizes? [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: Reseda, California
I'd say give it a try. The ideal thing would be to modify some digitals as prototypes.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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