Soundboard

2011-08-15 01.32

(Soundboard Restoration - Steinway A)

Replacing the soundboard in a piano is rarely a good idea. You wouldn't cut the top off a Stradivarius or a vintage Martin guitar, would you? Of course not, and a piano should be no different. The soundboard is the heart and soul of a piano. It is usually made of top quality spruce in fine instruments. In many older pianos, the wood is often virgin timber, which is no longer available. A turn of the century Steinway would have a soundboard made from Adirondack spruce. In my opinion, chucking it into the wastebin is a crime against nature, and against art as well. In nearly all cases, the old soundboard can be repaired and recrowned.

Cracks in the soundboard are not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the board still has some crown and is not loose and buzzing. In fact, Steinway cut out entire sections of a soundboard (similar to cracks but wider)and took before and after measurements with the ear and acoustic instruments, no difference could be detected!

I have worked on Steinways that have had the soundboard replaced, and they no longer sound at all like Steinways. They sound hollow and dull, nothing at all like what one expects. Properly rebuilding the board would have kept that signature Steinway sound intact.

Nevertheless, you will still find plenty of technicians eager to rip out your soundboard. One article I saw even recommended replacing the soundboard in a piano every thirty years OUT OF ROUTINE MAINTAINANCE. Folks, this is not motor oil or a set of tires. Maybe it has more to do with the balance of the technician's bank account than what is best for your piano. Malicious or not, it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

You will find numerous justifications put forward for why an old soundboard needs to be replaced, many of them technical and fairly convincing on the surface. The truth, however, is in the sound, in the tone of the piano. I have tuned over 3500 pianos in my career as a piano technician, and I have yet to encounter a piano with a replaced soundboard that did not sound absolutely awful, and this is especially true for fine quality vintage pianos like Steinway and A.B. Chase. If you are thinking about soundboard replacement, I urge you to reconsider.

© Mark Roth 2016