Pianotech

  • 1.  Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-25-2023 11:14

    Thanksgiving dinner with some vegetarians brought to mind a client with an unusual request.

    This gentleman has an old baby grand piano, and he has been vegetarian for many years. He is now inclined towards going vegan. That is why he contacted me about replacing his ivory keytops (many of which are chipped) with plastic. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I mentioned that swapping out the elephant DNA for petrol-products will not bring back the animal that was killed for its tusks over a century ago. 

    Moreover, ivory is hardly the only animal product found in pianos, particularly older ones. There is the leather on knuckles, backchecks, repetition levers and elsewhere (which these days is increasingly being substituted with ecsaine). If money were no object, it would be possible (at least in theory, if not particularly practical) to separate all the glue joints, remove the animal hide glue that holds EVERYthing together in pianos as old as his and reaffix with an adhesive that would meet with vegan approval (assuming that there IS such a glue). 

    But what about the wool contained in hammer, damper, key-end and other felts, and in action cloth? Wool does not pass vegan muster (just ask the costume designer of Ridley-Scott's just-released "Napoleon" about vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix's refusal to wear a wool hat in the title role), and we would be hard-pressed to come up with a substitute for it. 

    Ivory may have fallen out of favor as a piano building material, ecsaine may be replacing leather, and other adhesives may have supplanted animal hide glue in many applications in today's pianos. But pianos without wool? Could it be that wool is the most unreplaceable material in the piano as we have known it for well over a century?

    After considering possible options further with my client, it occurred to us that even plastic is, technically, also an animal product (from ancient reptilian critters that eventually became the petroleum from which plastic is made). 

    So, if for no other reason than just for the sake of mental exercise, I pondered (as I munched on my turkey sandwich) whether or not it is even hypothetically possible to make a vegan piano…

    Happy Thanksgiving (or whatever you may prefer to call it), y'all!

    Alan



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    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 2.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-25-2023 18:59

    Alan,

    Having had two vegans in the household (now one), I have learned a thing or two about this subject. For one thing, just as there are numerous sects of the same religious denomination in Christendom (and elsewhere), there are likewise various "sects" of veganism. Some are totally "orthodox" and others have various allowances or limitations and thought processes in their practices. 

    Often they will "allow" things that have already been killed and used (whereas they themselves will not kill the animal to use the hide, etc, nor have it done). Others will not tolerate this. Some will allow minute cross contamination of cooked food, whereas others will not. Etc. Etc.

    So, if you have not done so already, find out if this individual is a diehard or just health conscious. How does he think about things in this arena (and you must be as detailed and picky as possible, but in a nice way). 

    This subject came up on another forum so I had a little time to think about it. Everything but the wool felt could be dealt with. But...I was informed that silicone comes in many different densities (WNG is using itnin their knuckles now). I'm thinking that hammers could be made with silicone, as well as all the felts (or nearly so) using various densities (Kawai now has a synthetic hammer rail material, etc.). 

    I think it could be done, though it might not sound or play quite like what we're used to. But if this fella wants to pay for it...go for it! It would be interesting! 

    Peter Grey Piano Doctor 



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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    (603) 686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 3.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-25-2023 20:17
    I just asked my son, who is a vegan, about your customer's concerns. He says he has a pair of leather shoes and a wool sweater, but he's had them since before he became a vegan. His attitude is the same about the ivory keytops. He would not buy a pair of leather shoes or a wool sweater, but he won't throw the ones he has out, either. 







  • 4.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Posted 11-25-2023 20:39

    It seems to me that a good case could be made for using wool because it really is healthy for sheep to be sheared. It doesn't harm them and in fact helps them. But as Peter pointed out, it certainly depends on the vegans attitude. 



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    "That Tuning Guy"
    Scott Kerns
    Lincoln, Nebraska
    www.thattuningguy.com
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  • 5.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-25-2023 21:30

    Scott,

    That's the way I see the wool issue. However, activist level vegans contend that sheep are being harmed in the process of shearing, etc (hard to crack that one). It does depend on the reasons why a person is vegan (or plant based). 

    Peter Grey Piano Doctor 



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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    (603) 686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 6.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-25-2023 22:18
    My son's reason for being a vegan is because he doesn't like the cruel way animals are treated in the process of providing food and materials for us. While milking a cow doesn't hurt the animal, the conditions in which cows are kept to produce the milk, he says, is barbaric. The same for eggs, beef, chicken, lamb, etc. 





  • 7.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-26-2023 00:34

    It seems like this discussion is more about the spiritual than pianos. 

    If I'm a guest in someone's home, I'm not going to purposefully insult them, but… I'm also going to do the job they hired me to do, the right way. If they don't like that, they probably shouldn't have called in the first place. *shrug*



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    Benjamin Sanchez, RPT
    Piano Technician / Artisan
    (256) 947-9999
    www.professional-piano-services.com
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  • 8.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Posted 11-26-2023 01:07

    The conditions that a wild animal normally lives in are also barbaric! 

    Constantly searching for decent food, being infested with parasites, diseases attacking with every encounter with other animals and constant threats or attacks by preaditors. 

    A wild animal is guaranteed to die a horrible death, either by parasites, disease, starvation or being eaten by a preditor (often while you are still alive).

    A farmed animal is essentially guaranteed the most idyllic life and death possible.



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    Blaine Hebert RPT
    Duarte CA
    (626) 390-0512
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  • 9.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-26-2023 16:19

    These type of discussions too often turn into a rather downhill direction as everyone has an opinion, some more extreme than others. There is usually at least a grain of truth to each one.

    Personally, I think that if someone is willing to pay the price to develop such a thing I'd go along with it. But if they want it on a shoestring...forget it (whichnis usually where this ends in my experience).

    IIRC Steingraeber has an "all natural" piano they will make. Precisely what that means I don't know. I'm sure a "vegan friendly" instrument could be constructed. The problem is that the market for such things is so tiny that it's not commercially viable. Thus the need for a very wealthy and determined vegan to fund the research. 

    EDIT: We can all thank Walt Disney for making us think that animals are like people. (Walt had some "interesting" ideas of his own too). 

    Peter Grey Piano Doctor 



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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    (603) 686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 10.  RE: Vegan pianos?

    Posted 11-26-2023 21:43

    Peter,

    I agree, this is not an argument that can be won (can any argument ever be "won"?).

    If someone wants a vegan piano, go for it!  Learn to love ecsaine!



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    Blaine Hebert RPT
    Duarte CA
    (626) 390-0512
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