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Pianos by the Numbers

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 4/11/2012 12:08:00 PM

1  The first piano, which is to say, a keyboard instrument with an escapement mechanism for the hammers which you could play softly and loudly, was invented as early as 1698 or as late as 1719 (scholars differ) by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, who may be a relation to your friendly dj, for my ancestry goes back to the same region – the inventor of the piano was born in Padua – and my family name was Bartolomeo until my grandfather stopped using it because it was too long to do business.

2  The number of times a piano should be tuned each year.  Yikes, our Hardman, Peck & Co. upright hasn’t been tuned in over two years.  Are we warping our children’s ears with our neglect?  But here’s a number for you.  It can run $150 to get the old box tuned, and with four kids banging on it it will be out of tune before the check is cashed.

11  The number of feet (plus eight inches) of the world’s largest piano, the Chas. H. Challen Concert Grand, made in the UK.  Challen has since moved to Malaysia.  Most of the pioneering 19th century piano makers have either gone away or gone to Asia.  In the U.S. there were once hundreds of piano manufacturers.  Today there are fewer than five.

21  The percentage of amateur pianists in the U.S. who are male; 79% female, naturally.  Where have all the manly pianists gone, the hair-swept Listzians who used to make the females swoon?  Today’s piano players are more Clara than Franz.

28  The average age of today’s American amateur pianist.  It would be useful to know if that number has been rising or falling over the years.  The former would suggest that older generations play the piano more than younger generations, thus perhaps signaling the doom of the tinkle box, while the latter would suggest that pianos are being played by young people as seniors give it up, thus giving hope to the king of instruments.  Then again, the average age may have remained at 28 since way back when Emerson remarked “It is wonderful how soon a piano gets into a log-hut on the frontier. You would think they found it under a pine-stump.”

75  The average life expectancy of a piano.  Our upright, build by a company that has been making pianos since 1842 and still is, is 85 years old, and was handed down to me from my grandparents on my father’s side.  My grandfather, a printer, could not play.  My grandmother could and sometimes did when we visited their home in South Gate.  For a kid, it was an astounding sight, my eyes hardly higher than the keyboard, watching her nimble fingers on the ivories.  Piano keys today are no longer made with ivory, proving that even a concert grand can have a conscience.

88  The number of keys on a piano, though it ranges from 44 (Schoenhut Baby Grand) to 97 (Imperial Bösendorfer).

3,080  The number of points of adjustments on a grand piano, more than 35 points per note.

12,000  The number of parts to a grand piano, 10,000 of which are moveable.

250,000  The approximate number of new pianos purchased in the U.S. in 2011.

364,000  The approximate number of new pianos purchased in the U.S. in 1911.

1,000,000  The approximate number of used pianos sold in the U.S. over the past twelve months.  But we’re keeping ours!

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  1. Helen Vartabedian posted on 04/13/2012 02:29 PM
    A very educational article. Thank you.
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