The highest C hasn’t worked on the piano for at least seven years. I have been hanging on to the piece needed to repair it for all that time without doing anything about it. (I mean really, aside from toddlers and concert pianists who actually plays the highest C?) Repairing it just didn’t feel critical. But lately, for various reasons, I began to think that my luck in keeping track of this random little hammer was about to run out.
In the process of stripping my old Everett down to its metal harp so that he could repair and replace the hammer, Joe Morocco gave me quite an education both about my piano and the world in which it was constructed.
Five Reasons My Everett is an Endangered Species
1) Based on its serial number (31862), my piano was built in 1901 in a piano factory on Washington Street in Boston and sold on Boylston. Only 800 Everetts were built that year, and relatively few remain in the wild today. So in that sense, my piano is an endangered species. But not nearly as endangered as U.S. piano manufacturers themselves. In 1901, all pianos were made and sold locally. There were 300 piano manufacturers in Boston alone, and countless others in places like Chicago, New York City, and Cincinnati. Today there is only one piano manufacturer in the entire United States — Steinway.
2) Piano manufacturers in the 1900s preferred to make piano strings out of copper, because copper creates a superior tone. But a copper shortage around the time my piano was constructed forced Everett to use copper strings for the ten lowest tones only, and steel for the rest. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the change in sound quality between the notes. (The steel strings have a more nasal tone.)
3) The sound board in my piano is made of spruce wood with at least 13 sap lines per inch. The number (and straightness) of the sap lines matters because it affects the sound board’s ability to vibrate. Someone somewhere figured out that at least 13 straight sap lines per inch were required to produce the Everett sound, and that was the standard to which all Everett pianos were built. (Oh, and that buzzing sound you hear when you play the F sharp below middle C? That’s because my sound board is cracked. Bummer.)
4) The sound boards in modern pianos are built to support an A440 standard pitch (essentially this means that the A above middle C is set to a frequency of 440Hz, and the other notes on the piano are tuned accordingly).
Setting a standard pitch for the A above middle C enables instruments from around the world to play together without setting off a chorus of protesting cats in the alley behind the concert hall. The sound board in my Everett was built to support an earlier standard, A435, the pitch standard recommended by the Austrian government in 1885.
5) But what really makes my piano an endangered species is the fact that its tiger grain mahogany veneer is made of Honduras mahogany (Swietenia humilis). It’s not exactly an extinct species, but the Honduran mahogany stands were logged so extensively over the past few centuries to meet demand for mahogany furniture in the United States and Europe that Honduras mahogany is considered commercially extinct today. Although stands of this slow-growing tree still exist, Honduras mahogany is heavily regulated and no longer widely used to make furniture.
And that means, instead of dragging The Six-Year-Old to the Arnold Arboretum to hunt for endangered species on Endangered Species day, I could have simply walked her into the front room and introduced her to our very old piano.
- The Six-Year-Old celebrates Take Your Tiger to Work day (Caterpickles)