Wurlitzer 210 Electric Piano
The first electric pianos from the late 1920s used metal strings with a magnetic pickup, an amplifier and a loudspeaker. The electric pianos that became most popular in pop and rock music in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Fender Rhodes use metal tines in place of strings and use electromagnetic pickups similar to those on an electric guitar. The resulting electrical, analogue signal can then be amplified with a keyboard amplifier or electronically manipulated with effects units. Electric pianos are rarely used in classical music, where the main usage of them is as inexpensive rehearsal or practice instruments in music schools. However, electric pianos, particularly the Fender Rhodes, became important instruments in funk, jazz fusion and some rock music genres.
Electronic pianos are non-acoustic; they do not have strings, tines or hammers, but are a type of synthesizer that simulates or imitates piano sounds using oscillators and filters that synthesize the sound of an acoustic piano. They need to be connected to a keyboard amplifier and speaker to produce sound (however, some electronic keyboards have a built-in amp and speaker). Alternatively, a person can practice an electronic piano with headphones to avoid disturbing others.
Digital pianos are also non-acoustic and do not have strings or hammers. They use digital sampling technology to accurately reproduce the acoustic sound of each piano note. They also need to be connected to a keyboard amplifier and speaker to produce sound (however, most digital pianos have a built-in amp and speaker). Alternatively, a person can practice with headphones to avoid disturbing others. Digital pianos can include sustain pedals, weighted keys, multiple voice options (e.g., sampled or synthesized imitations of electric piano, Hammond organ, violin, etc.), and MIDI interfaces. MIDI inputs and outputs allow a digital piano to be connected to other electronic instruments or musical devices. For example, a digital piano’s MIDI out signal could be connected by a patch cord to a synth module, which would allow the performer to use the keyboard of the digital piano to play modern synthesizer sounds. Early digital pianos tended to lack a full set of pedals but the synthesis software of later models such as the Yamaha Clavinova series synthesised the sympathetic vibration of the other strings (such as when the sustain pedal is depressed) and full pedal sets can now be replicated. The processing power of digital pianos has enabled highly realistic pianos using multi-gigabyte piano sample sets with as many as ninety recordings, each lasting many seconds, for each key under different conditions (e.g., there are samples of each note being struck softly, loudly, with a sharp attack, etc.). Additional samples emulate sympathetic resonance of the strings when the sustain pedal is depressed, key release, the drop of the dampers, and simulations of techniques such as re-pedalling.
Digital, MIDI-equipped, pianos can output a stream of MIDI data, or record and play via a CD ROM or USB flash drive using MIDI format files, similar in concept to a pianola. The MIDI file records the physics of a note rather than its resulting sound and recreates the sounds from its physical properties (e.g., which note was struck and with what velocity). Computer based software, such as Modartt’s 2006 Pianoteq, can be used to manipulate the MIDI stream in real time or subsequently to edit it. This type of software may use no samples but synthesize a sound based on aspects of the physics that went into the creation of a played note.
The toy piano, introduced in the 19th century, is a small piano-like instrument, that generally uses round metal rods to produce sound, rather than strings. The US Library of Congress recognizes the toy piano as a unique instrument with the subject designation, Toy Piano Scores: M175 T69.In 1863, Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, which plays itself from a piano roll. A machine perforates a performance recording into rolls of paper, and the player piano replays the performance using pneumatic devices. Modern equivalents of the player piano include the Bösendorfer CEUS, Yamaha Disklavier and QRS Pianomation, using solenoids and MIDI rather than pneumatics and rolls. A silent piano is an acoustic piano having an option to silence the strings by means of an interposing hammer bar. They are designed for private silent practice, to avoid disturbing others. Edward Ryley invented the transposing piano in 1801. This rare instrument has a lever under the keyboard as to move the keyboard relative to the strings so a pianist can play in a familiar key while the music sounds in a different key.
The minipiano ‘Pianette’ model viewed with its original matching stool; the wooden flap at the front of the instrument has been dropped revealing the tuning pins at the front.
The minipiano, an instrument patented by the Brasted brothers of the Eavestaff Ltd. piano company, was patented in 1934. This instrument has a braceless back, and a soundboard positioned below the keys—meaning that long metal rods pulled on the levers to make the hammers strike the strings. The first model, known as the Pianette,’ was unique in that the tuning pins extended through the instrument, so it could be tuned at the front.
The prepared piano, present in some contemporary art music from the 20th and 21st century is a piano with objects placed inside it to alter its sound, or has had its mechanism changed in some other way. The scores for music for prepared piano specify the modifications, for example instructing the pianist to insert pieces of rubber, paper, metal screws, or washers in between the strings. These either mute the strings or alter their timbre. A harpsichord-like sound can be produced by placing or dangling small metal buttons in front of the hammer. Adding an eraser between the bass strings produces a mellow, thumpy sound reminiscent of the plucked double bass. Inserting metal screws or washers can cause the piano to make a jangly sound as these metal items vibrate against the strings. In 1954 a German company exhibited a wire-less piano at the Spring Fair in Frankfurt, Germany that sold for $238. The wires were replaced by metal bars of different alloys that replicated the standard wires when played. A similar concept is used in the electric-acoustic Rhodes piano.