Estonia Piano Grand FallboardHave you ever heard of the company called Estonia Piano? Appropriately they are named after the country in which they reside. Haven’t heard of the country of Estonia? They gained independance from Russia in 1991 and eventually became part of the European Union. Situated across the water from both Finland and Sweden, Estonia has been actively making pianos since 1893. Dr Indrek Laul Estonia PianoThis month I had the wonderful pleasure of skyping Dr. Indrek Laul (CEO of Estonia Piano). Although we’ve only met twice in person, he is a pleasure to converse with and if you could only sit where I sit, you’d find that his passion for piano building shines through. But he not only is passionate about piano construction but piano performance, having obtained his doctorate from Juilliard School of Music. You can see his fantastic ability on youtube here. The following is a wonderful illustration of piano design that weaves old concepts into new told by Dr. Laul himself. Enjoy!
Team Oracle USA Ellison

“I was on a flight from Houston to New York reading this article from Wall Street Journal about billionaire Larry Ellison regarding his passion for competitive sailing. On these giant catamarans Team Oracle (funded by Ellison) had been failing against Team New Zealand despite having high tech computer sensors generating 3000 variables 10 times per second. The computers predicted the most efficient path for tacking (zig-zagging across the water against the wind). All indicators predicted victory to this high tech team and yet they consistently lost. Watching the video replays of both boats, they found that their competition – team New Zealand was tacking at a much greater angle making them go farther distances but at greater speed. When Team Oracle tried this, in the end it was discovered this “low and fast” method was superior and ultimately led them to victory of the America’s Cup. Although the computers aided much of the efficiency for Team Oracle, the last step towards the finish line, the final stretch came from sailing intuition ~ intuition which had been passed down for generations. Segue.[clearleft]


Grand Piano Soundboard ProfileWhen it came time to design two new models for Estonia Piano we decided that our starting point should be listening – listening to pianos that really moved us. Invariably the pianos that provided inspiration from the late 1800’s/early 1900’s were the ones that captivated us.
Similar to the sailing example, “the final stretch” came from pianos that didn’t have technological advances. Sometimes we need to set aside what could be deemed most logical in order to ‘experiment with joy’. We wanted to capture anew and to relive the excitement and joy of beautiful tone and in doing so we started with these living examples from yesteryear. Estonia Grand Piano Hidden BeautyWe then examined them and found that there was a common theme in soundboard construction which had major ramifications. The soundboard acts as an amplifier to the strings. There has been this movement towards tapered soundboards meaning that they are made thinner as they approach the rim (see diagram).
The reasoning is that this gives the board more flexibility to vibrate. Paradoxically however, the older instruments we listened to and enjoyed didn’t have tapered soundboards at all and yet we enjoyed them more. They were more rigid. This newer movement with tapered soundboards which vibrate freely, can also be problematic in being unwieldy and so to compensate, more perpendicular ‘ribs’ on the under side of the soundboard Estonia Grand Piano Ribsare used to stiffen it in the center. Well if you have a firmer soundboard like the pianos from last century, it requires fewer ribs. Fewer ribs reduce rigidity and rely more on the soundboard itself. So in simply redesigning the soundboard, automatically it required the spinoff effect of redesigning the amount and configuration of the ribs. I know this is technical, but ‘experimenting with joy’ can be exciting when you hear the results.
Estonia Grand Damper InstallationSo we found that if we made wider and shorter ribs – having the same mass as previous ribs except the older ones were thin and tall – we achieved better control of the soundboard. There is also a movement to placing “pre-crowned” or slightly arced ribs on a crowned soundboard. Makes sense correct to match the arc of the ribs with the arc of the soundboard? On the contrary, we discovered that flat ribs pressed adjacent to a curved soundboard created tension. This tension resulted is in an even livelier yet stable soundboard.
Estonia Grand Piano Beams

But we didn’t stop there. In these new design changes, we also examined the contact point of the bridges. We found that bevelling the edges were more conducive to sound transference. Estonia Grand Piano KeysThe ‘less is more’ idea works well here where less contact on the bottom edge of the bridge achieved maximum transference with the least amount of soundboard interference.
Finally, we re-examined the beam structure underneath the piano. With 20 tonnes of compression from the strings, we experimented with the beam structure to match that pull by placing beams in a radiated fashion to create an equal and opposite rigid design. What started with the concept of listening, abandoning any pre-conceived ideas and then re-engineering, it led us down this path of two new pianos which we are really pleased with. We are now actively implementing these concepts to the rest of our models.
Oh and to finish the story about Larry Ellison, shortly after that race he purchased a brand new model 210 Estonia grand.” ~ Dr. Indrek Laul. Estonia Concert Grand
This is such an exciting story – one that ties in modern piano construction with artisan design concepts. A special thanks to Dr. Laul for this captivating illustration. You can view all of the current Estonia models on Piano Price Point here.

More Piano Articles

Bösendorfer factory

Making Bösendorfer More Austrian

I have to admit, I let out a big sigh 6 years ago when I found out that Bösendorfer was purchased by Yamaha. Why? I have nothing against Yamaha. It’s because like many companies as of late, small piano makers are sold to larger ones and they’re dissolved into bigger corporations and it soon becomes merely a name on the front of a piano. The history, the heritage, the piano making expertise are lost and ...
Read More
What's a Piano Cloud? QRS Music

What’s a Piano Cloud? QRS Music

You get your cup of coffee and log in to your computer. “Hmmm… not a lot of practicing from these students this week. Looks like Rachel is having problems with that new scale. Braden is having trouble with timing.” This is the new look of piano teaching in the 21st century.You get off work late and think to yourself, “All I want to do is relax on the couch and watch a movie like The ...
Read More
Steinway Fibonacci Grand Piano

Steinway Fibonacci Grand Piano

In the late 1980’s, I was completing high school and thought it would be interesting to try out the new computer program called “Choices”. Our guidance counsellor had this brand new hot-off-the-press system to help determine ideal career options based on a series of questions. You would sit in this tiny little cubicle and fill in little circles with a dull pencil that marked answers to questions like “Would you rather be in the garden ...
Read More
Musical and Mechanical Basics of the Sustain Pedal

Musical and Mechanical Basics of the Sustain Pedal

I remember teaching my kids how to drive a car. At first it’s a bit daunting putting a young adult in a 2 ton vehicle controlled primarily by a gas pedal. Over time, the confidence and competence increase. What remains somewhat of an accepted disconnect, however is HOW that process works. You put your foot on a small pedal and ‘magically’ the vehicle moves. Similarly, piano pedals are like that: if you step on the ...
Read More
An Interview with Pianos Bolduc

An Interview with Pianos Bolduc

The soundboard of a piano ~ to the naked eye, it looks like a giant sheet of wood located under the strings. To piano makers, this is one of the most critical elements of science in the instrument. Why? The job of the soundboard is to transform tone of the vibrating piano strings into audible waves which also color the tone. Truly, it is inseparable from the voice of the piano. Doing some light reading ...
Read More
Pearl River New Factory Grand Opening

Pearl River New Factory Grand Opening

Pearl River Piano Group has grown to be the largest piano manufacturer in the world, producing more than 400 pianos per day with an annual production of 140,000 pianos. “Where do all of these pianos go?”, one might ask. Pearl River Piano dominates the Chinese piano market with an estimated 40% of the local market share. When you think about the population of China at a billion people, even 140,000 pianos represent but a fraction ...
Read More