The chief points to be considered in the selection of a piano are its durability, tone, and touch. As to appearance, the buyer will please himself; but in the workmanship of the case much may be found that will help to decide its character. There is a saying that " the outside is of no consequence if the inside is good "; but a good piano is rarely put in a bad case: it will therefore be as well to notice closely the outside finish, and if any sign of rough work is perceived, not to risk becoming its possessor. It need not be very elaborate, for a cheap piano covered with carving and of flashy appearance is to be mistrusted. But, however plain it is, such work as there is should be good, and bad joints filled with cement and glazed over with polish may be taken as a sure indication of like defects in the more important parts of the interior. At the same time, there is no reason why the eye should not be pleased as well as the ear, so that there is no need to go to the other extreme of supposing that it is only the ugly which is necessarily good, for such ornaments as perforated panels, carved cabriole legs, and mouldings are now turned out so cheaply as to form only a very small item in the proportionate cost.
With regard to the important qualification of durability, it is impossible for any but the maker to pass any opinion.
The buyer had letter, therefore, place himself entirely in his hands, but in the matter of tone he ought to be able to discriminate. Sweetness must not be entirely sacrificed to power, for if the tone is what is termed "brilliant" when new, it will speedily degenerate into harshness as the hammers harden by wear. A pleasing mellow tone, with well-sustained vibration, is that which wears the best, and will eventually develop into volume, which is the quality most to be desired.
The next item, and one claiming serious attention, is the "touch," for on this depends in a great measure the pleasure and comfort of the performer. It is to be understood that at present the plain "hopper" action only is under consideration, which, for hard work and simplicity of movement, is perhaps to be preferred. The depth of the touch should not exceed 5/16 in. to a hammer motion or "blow" of 2 in. These distances are often increased, since by so doing the hammer acquires greater momentum, and consequently brings out more tone. But as this is at the cost of augmented friction, the wear of the parts is greatly accelerated. The cutting of the hoppers and their respective checks may now be examined. To test the accuracy of the first, notice that there be no play between the top of the hopper (which, it will be seen, is blackleaded and burnished to reduce friction) and the lever immediately above. To prove the checks, press down quietly a few consecutive keys, and carefully watch the motion of the hammers. These should barely touch the strings, and then fall (in a line) about 5/8 in. from them.
Particularly note, during this operation, that there requires no increase of pressure, as the hammers approach the strings, for this would indicate that the "stickers" were hinge-bound, the effect of a hard, inelastic quality of hinge leather. In pianos of a low price this fault is not uncommon, and its effects on the fingers of the performer are most unpleasant. It may be said that this will disappear with playing, and no doubt it sometimes does, but there are instances where it has been just as bad after many years' use, and the only remedy was found to be an entirely new set of hinges, so that it will be advisable to have it corrected before purchase.
Finally, the method of stringing is worthy of consideration. In instruments of the class under notice, a bi-chord is preferable, unless it may be for about one octave in the treble, principally because the tension and consequent fear of collapse is then at a minimum. Neither perhaps, though generally so supposed, is a trichord any improvement to the tone. At first sight it may appear unreasonable to doubt this, but it must not be forgotten that though there is an extra string to sound, yet owing to the further division of the blow each string is struck with less force. The effect, also, of extra weight on the vibration of the sound-board must not be underrated. In actual practice it has been found that, other conditions being equal, a bichord has an equal volume, and possesses a purer quality of tone, with longer vibration, while - and this is certainly of some consequence - it is easier and less costly to tune.
Some time before the mechanism of a piano begins to show signs of being the worse for wear, and often even when comparatively new, such contingencies as broken wires and hinges are more familiar than pleasant, and are generally evidenced by one or more of the notes becoming dumb at most inconvenient times. The former are by far the more common, and are at the same time much the easier to remedy. To be the better prepared for such casualties, it is well to provide a cheap tuning hammer, such as may be bought for Is., and a few of the treble sizes of steel wire, also a small quantity of fawn leather and parchment for the hinges, the whole costing about 3s.
To put on a string, the action must be removed, and the broken wire taken out. Even if nothing more be done, this will be a great gain, as the string will generally lie across others, causing the whole to jar. The size of the wire (music gauge) is ascertained by reference to the number written upon the plank at the treble side of the string. In most pianos it will be found that the wire passes round the hitch-pin again to the plank. By this plan, the eye at the bottom is dispensed with. Where an eye is necessary, it will be easier to make what is called a French eye. This is done by bending the wire into a loop and turning the loop end twice round just above. This end is then bent at right angles and cut off about 1/4 in. from the twist, which will prevent its running back. The top end is wound in close coils round the wrest-pin, this being hammered down to its proper level before tightening. The wire is put in its position on the bridges and tuned roughly between its two outside notes, when the action can be replaced, and the tuning finished from its octave below.