Glossary of Terms

You may come across these terms while shopping for or investigating the purchase of a piano.
Please contact us if you have questions or found a term that is not in this list that you would like clarification on.

Action – the mechanical part of the piano that transfers the motion of the fingers on the keys to the motion of the hammers that strikes the strings. The mechanical parts that lift the dampers on a grand piano are sometimes refereed to as the ‘back action’.

Baby Grand – A small grand piano, usually less than 5 foot 6 inches long. Piano technicians prefer the term small grand. The phrase ‘baby grand’ is more of a marketing term used for sales.

Bridges – Narrow hardwood strips, against which the strings press, that transfer the strings’ vibrations to the soundboard.

Console – A vertical piano usually from 40 to 44 inches in height, with a compressed direct blow action.

Caster Cups – Small wooden or plastic cups placed under the piano casters (wheels) to protect the floor or carpet.

Dampers – Felt-covered action parts that stop the strings from vibrating when keys are released.

Duplex Scale – A scale design in which the ends of the strings, normally muted with cloth, are allowed to vibrate sympathetically, adding tonal colour.

Fallboard – The part of the piano cabinet that covers the keyboard when the piano is not in use.

Grand Piano – A piano whose strings are stretched horizontally, parallel to the floor.

Grey Market Piano – Pianos originally made for and sold in the Japanese market, later sold in North America as used pianos.

Hammers – Felt covered wooden mallets that strike the strings to produce musical sounds.

Key Blocks – The wooden blocks at the two ends of the keyboard. They are decorative in a vertical, and they position the action in relation to the strings in a grand.

Key Slip – The decorative wooden strip that runs the width of the piano in front of the keys.

Key Tops – The plastic, ivory, or wooden coverings on the playing surfaces of the keys.

Lost Motion – Slack in the action or trapwork, resulting in part of the motion of keys or pedals being wasted in taking up this slack.

Lyre – The assembly on a grand piano that descends from the case bottom and holds the pedals.

Pedals – Foot operated levers, two or three in number, that perform special operations, such as sustaining or softening the piano’s sound.

Piano Life Saver System – A built-in climate control system that uses a constant cycling of humidification and dehumidification to maintain a stable overall humidity level within a piano.

Piano Tuner – A person who tunes pianos. Typically, a piano tuner will only tune and perform small basic repairs on a piano.

Piano Technician – A person who tunes and repairs pianos. A technician is formally trained to perform all types of work on any make of piano (includes repairs, regulation, replacement of all parts, reconditioning, and rebuilding).

Pin Block – A Laminated hardwood plank in which the tuning pins are embedded and held by friction.

Plate – The primary structural framework of a piano, made of cast iron, across which the strings are stretched.

Practice Pedal – The middle pedal on some vertical pianos. Pressing the pedal lowers a strip of felt between the hammers and strings to muffle the sound.

Rebuilding – A complete restoration of the piano, putting it in like-new condition.

Reconditioning – A partial restoration of a piano, replacing or repairing worn and aged parts to return the consistency of play and sound.

Regulation – The state of adjustment, proper or improper, of the piano action.

Spinet – A small vertical piano, usually 36 to 39 inches tall, with an indirect blow action.

Sostenuto Pedal – The middle pedal on most grand, and a few vertical, pianos. It sustains only those notes being played at the moment the pedal is pressed.

Soundboard – A large, thin wooden diaphragm that amplifies the strings’ vibrating energy into sounds that we can hear.

Studio Piano – A vertical piano, usually from 43 to 47 inches tall, with a full size direct blow action.

Trapwork – The assemblage of levers, dowels, and springs and connect the pedals to the action.

Tuning – Adjusting the tension of the strings so they sound in harmony with each other according to certain laws and customs.

Tuning Pins – Metal pins around which one end of each string is coiled. Turning a tuning pin adjusts the tension at which a string is stretched.

Una Corda Pedal – The left-hand pedal on most grand pianos. This pedal shifts the action slightly so that the treble hammers hit only two strings each, softening the overall sound.

Vertical Piano – A piano whose strings are stretched vertically, perpendicular to the floor.