Fail Of The Week: Putting Guitar Strings On A Piano

The piano is a bit of an oddball within the string instrument family. Apart from rarely seeing people carry one around on the bus or use its case to discretely conceal a Tommy Gun, the way the strings are engaged in the first place — by having little hammers attached to each key knock the sound of of them — is rather unique compared to the usual finger or bow movement. Still, it is a string instrument, so it’s only natural to wonder what a piano would sound like if it was equipped with guitar strings instead of piano wire. Well, [Mattias Krantz] went on to actually find out the hard way, and shows the results in this video.

After a brief encounter with a bolt cutter, the point of no return was reached soon on. Now, the average piano has 88 keys, and depending on the note, a single key might have up to three strings involved at once. In case of [Mattias]’ piano — which, in his defense, has certainly seen better days — a total of 210 strings had to be replaced for the experiment. Guitars on the other hand have only six, so not only did he need 35 packs of guitar strings, the gauge and length variety is quite limited on top. What may sound like a futile endeavor from the beginning didn’t get much better over time, and at some point, the strings weren’t long enough anymore and he had to tie them together. Along with some inevitable breakage, he unfortunately ran out of strings and couldn’t finish the entire piano, though it seems he still managed to roughly cover a guitar’s frequency range, so that’s an appropriate result.

We’re not sure if [Mattias] ever expected this to actually work, but it kinda does — there is at least some real sound. Are the results more than questionable though? Oh absolutely, but we have to admire the audacity and perseverance he showed to actually pull through with this. It took him 28 hours just to get the guitar strings on, and another good amount of time to actually get them all in tune. Did it pay off? Well, that depends how you look at it. It definitely satisfied his and other’s curiosity, and the piano produces some really unique and interesting sounds now — but check for yourself in the video after the break. But that might not be for everyone, so luckily there are less final ways to change a piano’s sound. And worst case, you can always just turn it into a workbench.

(Thanks for the tip, [Keith])

35 thoughts on “Fail Of The Week: Putting Guitar Strings On A Piano

  1. I am in pain looking at the still in the video. In our shop one had better learn that piano wire is not to be cut with any tool in sight but a string cutter. The wire cutting bite in a good pair of vice-grips will do second best. That stuff is HARD. Face shield or goggles when unstringing, never clip under tension any wire.

    I have seen a 1810 Broadwood piano it’s the size of a computer desk. It is strung with low tension wire and the wound strings look like guitar scale. This is an old hack, as that’s where things got started.

    My sustaining steel guitar is strung with light #9 piano wire. So it goes both ways.

    1. There was actually NO reason to cut the strings. Once you remove the tension, the bottom end just slips off of its pin, and the main challenge is getting the tightly-wound string off of the tuning pin. I suspect he cut the strings only to commit to the project.

      I used to tune my own piano – had to make my own tuning “hammer”, because pre-Internet – and had to replace three strings over the years. Fortunately none of these were the copper-wound ones, and it was just a matter of measuring the diameter with a caliper, then going to the hardware store. The huge amount of tension on the strings is for a reason – it allows the strings to couple a good amount of power to the sound board. The evolution of the piano was in part dictated by the need to make itself heard in an orchestra, and the iron frame, multiple strings, and high tension all contribute to this. But all pianos are not the same. A predecessor to the modern pianoforte was a similar instrument called the fortepiano, which uses a single string for each note, and leather-covered hammers with a simpler mechanism. I’ve seen and heard home-built fortepianos, and they produce a much purer tone than modern pianos. I’m a little surprised that Mattias didn’t try using a single string per note – that would have made the job much easier. And of course, the volume can be regained by adding a few electric guitar pickups near the bridge :).

        1. Okay, this is what happens when a guitarist gets his hands on a piano. Seriously, I would not have even questioned that that was a guitar. All it needs now is the Framptaphone effect.

  2. Huh. First thought: it could be cool. Second thought: Hmm. You change pitch in a guitar by changing the length of the string (Cast Iron guitar with a huge whammy bar?). To do it by tension will require some crazy forces, or maybe string made of piano wire. Oh, right!

    1. I guarantee, if you leave out the strings, the sound will change dramatically.

      Also, you can “hammer on” notes on a guitar. Does that make IT a percussion instrument? And if you bow a steel saw or a wine glass, are these string instruments, or if not, then what?

      The taxonomy of noise making things is imprecise, at best.

    1. Just search “music wire” on Amazon. Many sizes. Much, MUCH cheaper, and no knots. But I don’t see anybody selling copper-wrapped wire. You could wrap it yourself, but that may be going a bit too far.

  3. I’ll bet this “fail of the week” took a lot longer than a week to accomplish.

    There is hacking, then there is doing it just to see if it can be done, and then there is pure kookiness.

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