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Piano wire

Piano wire

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Piano wire, or "music wire", is a specialized type of wire
A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Standard sizes are determined by various...

 made for use in piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

  strings, as well as many other purposes. It is made from tempered
Tempering is a heat treatment technique for metals, alloys and glass. In steels, tempering is done to "toughen" the metal by transforming brittle martensite or bainite into a combination of ferrite and cementite or sometimes Tempered martensite...

 high-carbon steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

, also known as spring steel
Spring steel
Spring steel is a low alloy, medium carbon steel or high carbon steel with a very high yield strength. This allows objects made of spring steel to return to their original shape despite significant bending or twisting.-Grades:...


Manufacture and use

General-purpose, high-carbon steel, drawn music wire (such as ASTM A228) is manufactured in both inch and metric
Metric system
The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement. France was first to adopt a metric system, in 1799, and a metric system is now the official system of measurement, used in almost every country in the world...

 music wire gauges (m.w.g.) in diameters as small as 0.006 inch up to 0.192 inch (0.15 to 4.8 mm). A small number of companies produce the tough, high tensile polished wire intended for limited music instrument markets, which is manufactured from steel of a specific composition by cold drawing
Drawing (manufacturing)
Drawing is a metalworking process which uses tensile forces to stretch metal. It is broken up into two types: sheet metal drawing and wire, bar, and tube drawing. The specific definition for sheet metal drawing is that it involves plastic deformation over a curved axis...


Piano strings are among the most demanding of all applications of steel. Placed under high tension, they are subject to repeated blows, they are stretched and slackened during tuning and are still expected to last for decades. Similar challenges arise in plucked instruments, along with the additional demand of being bent when plucked.

Piano wire must also be extremely consistent in size: variations greater than 0.0003 inch (8 μm) will produce audible falseness in modern instruments.

Piano wire is sold by weight and packaged in tight coils. It springs back to a gentle curve but can be straightened using a series of opposed rollers. It requires careful handling for safety and appearance, since it can be marred by perspiration, and it requires special cutters, as the hardened steel will otherwise quickly dull the cutter.

Other applications

Piano wire is also used in the fabrication of springs, fishing lures, special effects in the movie industry and for cutting soap. It is also commonly used in hobby applications such as model railroading and both control line
Control line
Control line is a simple and light way of controlling a flying model aircraft. The aircraft is connected to the operator by a pair of lines, attached to a handle, that work the elevator of the model. This allows the model to be controlled in the pitch axis...

 and radio-controlled aircraft
Radio-controlled aircraft
A radio-controlled aircraft is controlled remotely by a hand-held transmitter and a receiver within the craft...



The oldest record of wire being made for musical instruments is from Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

 in 1351; this probably predates the harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...

 and may have been wire for a psaltery
A psaltery is a stringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family. The psaltery of Ancient Greece dates from at least 2800 BC, when it was a harp-like instrument...

. Earlier wire, used in harpsichords, was of brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 or iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...


Starting around 1800, the piano began to be built ever more ambitiously, with sturdier (eventually, iron) framing and greater string tension. This led to innovations in making tougher piano wire. In 1834, the Webster & Horsfal firm of Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 brought out a form of piano wire made from cast steel; according to Dolge it was "so superior to the iron wire that the English firm soon had a monopoly." But a better steel wire was soon created in 1840 by the Viennese
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 firm of Martin Miller, and a period of innovation and intense competition ensued, with rival brands of piano wire being tested against one another at international competitions, leading ultimately to the modern form of piano wire.

The technological developments also benefited from demands of consistency from other special wire products like telegraph and barbed wire
Barbed wire
Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

. Innovative piano makers kept pace with these advances by augmenting metal framing in their instruments and increasing tension of their strings.

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