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The organ is a truly epic instrument, being enormous, capable of outputting sound volume surpassing a whole symphonic orchestra… having multiple keyboards, including pedal keyboard, and additionally a number of switches or pulls of who-knows-what purpose…

Well, I had an idea to make a similarly epic instrument, ‘epic’ in terms of size, complexity, and power, however based on a grand piano, not on pipes. Does this idea of mine of ‘pumping up the piano’ make any sense musically?

  • Assuming we just make an enormous grand piano, as large as the organ, would it be capable of producing interesting sound? Or would it be impossible for such large strings to play well? What about tuning? EDIT: OK, I get it that making the strings that huge is practically unfeasible. So, what about multiplying strings instead? Instead of making one huge string producing a particular sound, make a number of strings of normal size and put them in a row.
  • One obvious problem is that the hammers of such a piano would have to strike the strings with enormous force… Hopefully however this problem is solvable, and in a number of ways: • by employing another person to pull some kind of a weight to give the instrument enough kinematic energy; • by including some wind-up mechanism to store the necessary potential energy for later use while playing; • by powering the instrument with a water turbine, wind turbine, with a little more advanced technology with a steam or gasoline engine, and nowadays, of course, with electricity?
  • Would it make sense to add greater complexity to such a piano? For example, borrowing the idea of organ stops, combination actions, multiple keyboards, etc.,, we could include multiple sets of strings in such a piano, with each set producing a slightly different tone; and we could have one keyboard per set of stings. Each key could be connected to a number of strings, allowing us to control the exact sound of a note or even play whole chords with one keystroke; switches would control which strings are connected to which keys while playing. Like in organs, presets could be made and remembered either mechanically or electronically, and these presets could be switched while playing.

I guess the imagination can go ad infinitum here… yet such an instrument is absent in real life. Is it absent because no one has ever seen the need for it (especially taking into account how costly it would be to manufacture it, and how difficult would designing such an instrument be), or is it maybe absent because the whole idea makes no sense?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you want to try asking on Music: Practice & Theory? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ Based on factors like string length and the size of the piano, perhaps the only real way to make it sound "epic" without making a cumbersome monster is to build the enclosure differently to act as a sound box or natural amplifier. Don't forget the piano itself is based on the need to make the harpsichord create enough volume to fill a larger room, so strings were struck rather than plucked. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides: I thought that the motivation for the development of the "pianoforte" (literally "quiet loud") was that it allows the loudness of notes to be varied. And for the OP, imagine mechanically-activated hammers striking the supporting cables of the Golden Gate Bridge :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ The ability to vary the tone was a useful side effect of changing from plucking the strings to striking them, but the initial motivation as I understand it was to move from small chambers into larger ensembles playing in halls, requiring more volume. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 5:28

2 Answers 2

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A piano: This is an instrument that produces its sound when a hammer is slammed down upon a string corresponding with the note that's been pressed. Scaling up a piano would mean larger strings and larger strings lead to a lower pitch of sound according to its "scale length" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale_length_(string_instruments) ) for more information about this.

Realistic depiction of upscaled piano: With it being established that the longer string gives a lower pitch sound it can be compensated by putting tension on the strings as is done with a guitar, though this causes more stress on materials as well as the strings losing tension causing the instrument to go out of tune hindering its practicality.

Complexity: Adding complexity to your device as in more keyboards and other tools present on an organ but not a conventional piano would vastly increase the range of tones you would be able to play with the instrument, leading to the possibility to compose unique sections of piano music playable despite potential massive tone difference between them. (Whether this is beautiful is a second, it's just possible).

I hope this answers your question to some extent.

Edit: As mentioned before in the complexity bit, adding more strings to produce different sounds at the same pitch is very feasible granted your materials can handle the stress from so many strings.

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  • $\begingroup$ A small consideration on the strings would also be the sheer amount of tension held in a piano. In a regular sized piano there is equivalent force of a small bomb ~35000 pounds $\endgroup$
    – Casey B.
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I get it that making the strings that huge is practically unfeasible. So, what about multiplying strings instead? Instead of making one huge string producing a particular sound, make a number of strings of normal size and put them in a row? $\endgroup$
    – gaazkam
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ And perhaps use switches or something along those lines to regulate which of the array of strings is hit by the hammer when a corrosponding key is pressed to produce the exact sound that is desired. You could theoretically build several different sounding pianos into one and combine their sounds. Granted you find a way to deal with the massive amount of stress on the materials as mentioned by @CaseyB. $\endgroup$
    – Hyfnae
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ Note that "longer strings"="lower pitch" isn't necessarily a showstopper, if your setting contains sapients with a hearing range extending well into the human infrasound. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 21:19
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Such a piano has already been made in real life. It is Klavins Klavier Modell 370 by David Klavins:

enter image description here

(the above image is from Wikimedia Commons by Maximilian Schönherr, licensed under GFDL 1.2 or any later, or under CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5, CC BY-SA 2.0, and CC BY-SA 1.0)

This vertically laid-out piano is 370 centimeters tall (hence the name), spans two floors, and its longest bass string is 3.03 meters long, which is around three times longer than in an ordinal piano. As of 2012, it is the world’s largest piano.

Also see Wikipedia article and documentary by Deutsche Welle.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome. Answers should contain actual answer - without need for interaction with outside sites. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ interesting , picture, some kind minidocu interesting, worth watching. David Klavins looks at organ as example and will get max from piano - exactly OP's situation. Looks like strongly related. Looks like page for project klavins-piano-manufaktur.com/e/index.htm yhea. Actually interesting baking by reality, could be good answer. But interesting to know it exists, also valid. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:52

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