A 3D-printed scale model of the mechanism inside a grand piano.

Printed Piano Mechanism Sure Is Grand

Do you know how a piano works? Sure, you press a key and a hammer strikes a string, but what are the finer points of this operation? The intricacy of the ingenious mechanism is laid bare in [Mechanistic]’s 3D-printed scale model of a small section of the grand piano keyboard. The ‘grand’ distinction here is piano length-agnostic and simply refers to any non-upright. Those operate the same way, but are laid out differently in order to save space.

The keys of an acoustic piano are much longer than just the part that shows — they are long levers that do a lot of work, including working their own sound dampeners. The really interesting part is the mechanism that allows a note to be played repeatedly without first releasing the key. This same mechanism also lets the pianist play softly, loudly, or somewhere in between based on the amount of pressure applied.

So you know that the hammer strikes the string (or in this case, the rod), and you can probably figure that it backs off to let the string ring out. But there’s also this whole system that keeps the hammer close by for repeated strikings, as long as the person is holding down the key. Be sure to check it out in the build video after the break.

[Mechanistic] must be going for the standing ovation, because they say in the video’s comments that they will release STL files when they’re finished writing the assembly guide (!). What an encore that will be.

There are many ways to hack an acoustic piano, but don’t go thinking you can sub in guitar strings.

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Continuous Excitation Piano Machine Looks Nervous, Sounds Grand

It’s not every day we see a grand piano with a Raspberry Pi inside, let alone one with 96 motors, but sometimes we get lucky. The contraption in question is one developed by [Konstantin Leonenko], as part of a collaboration with composer [Patricia Alessandrini] for a piece she created inspired by Ada Lovelace. Specifically, [Patricia] was inspired by Ada’s idea that an “analytical machine” would, someday, be able to create music on its own. [Konstantin] and [Patricia] worked together to make a machine that would learn from it’s human co-performers and create music with them.

Their creation, rather than just one tricked-out keyboard, is actually a portable attachment that can be easily fitted to any grand piano. Each of the device’s 96 motors drives a plastic “finger” that excites the piano’s strings. The result is a sound unlike any other — and you really need to experience it so click through that link at the top for the demo video.

Rather cleverly, the fingers are designed such that their dynamics help to mask the sound of the motor (a must for performances) while simultaneously enhancing the string’s timbre. Like any project, this one went through a number of iterations over the two-year design process, and even spun off into an entirely new, glove-based version.

We’ve seen some awesome music tech hacks, and this one fits right in with the rest. It’s always exciting to see an instrument as ubiquitous as the piano be used in new and refreshing ways. Be sure to check out the link at the top for a video of this incredible instrument in action!