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What are Piano Hammers?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 23, 2024
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Piano hammers are small felt tipped hammers located inside a piano. A piano is a percussion instrument, which means that sound is produced by vibrations made when two things strike one another. Inside a piano are many strings resembling a harp. When a piano key is played, it forces a small hammer into the strings to make a noise.

A piano works through a series of mechanical actions. First, a player strikes a key. This causes a hammer to fly upward and strike a string or set of strings. The hammer then falls back away from the string, leaving the string vibrating. This is called escapement.The hammer needs to fall away in order for the strings to produce the resonating musical sound that is associated with a piano. If it did not fall away, there would be a dead sort of "bonk" noise produced instead.

The part of the piano referred to as the "hammer" is only the felt tipped head that hits the strings. There are other parts connected to the hammer that are essential for it to function. Piano hammers are connected to a shank, or the area that would be the handle on a standard household hammer. This shank is connected to a flange, or the device that throws the hammer forward. If a shank breaks, it is possible to repair it with a specially made brass cover. If the hammer breaks, the best option is usually a full replacement.

Each instrument has a particular tone, or distinct quality of musical sound. When a piano is played very frequently, the felt on the piano hammers gets squeezed down and the tone of the piano can change. Professional piano tuners can loosen these felts with needles to keep the sound sweet.

There are other ways in which piano hammers can influence the tone of a piano. The type and tightness of felt or other material used to cover the hammer is the most obvious influence. The hardness of wood beneath the felt covering, the size and weight of the hammer, and the placement of the strike zone on the string can also change the tone.

Replacing piano hammers is a complex job. If all of the felts and hammers need to be replaced, it is recommended to replace the shanks and flanges during the process. If hammers are worn enough to warrant replacement, chances are the other parts of the device won't be far behind. Addressing all of these parts at once will save money in the long term and can improve the tone. Experts say that new hammers can create a darker sweeter tone even on the oldest of pianos.

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