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  • Narrator: The last step of creating the perfect piano

  • sounds like total chaos.

  • The basher machine breaks in every key

  • thousands of times to ensure it all works perfectly.

  • It's the worst noise in the world.

  • Narrator: Adam Cox runs the last piano factory in Britain.

  • Here, artisans take months to thread steel strings

  • and install felt hammers,

  • tuning and testing for quality

  • at each step of the lengthy process.

  • A century ago, the UK had hundreds

  • of factories producing some of the best pianos in the world.

  • But a flood of cheaper, foreign-built instruments

  • forced all of them to close down.

  • That's why Adam opened Cavendish Pianos in 2012

  • in an attempt to save the craft.

  • Adam: It is the sort of thing that if it gets lost

  • for one generation, that's it, really.

  • It's the end of it.

  • Narrator: We visited his shop in Northern England

  • to meet the last British piano makers still standing.

  • A Cavendish piano build starts with a soundboard,

  • a flexible sheet of wood

  • that amplifies the sound of the strings.

  • Adam: It's a very thin, very light piece of wood.

  • And it needs to be, because it needs to vibrate a lot.

  • Narrator: It's the most expensive component.

  • The wood only comes from spruce trees that grow

  • at just the right altitude to produce a rich tone.

  • Adam uses wooden sticks called go-bars

  • as temporary supports to set the glued wooden ribs

  • on the soundboard's gentle curve.

  • Adam: The soundboard is not a flat assembly,

  • but it's actually got a crown.

  • And that is the all-important thing

  • for producing the tone of the piano.

  • It's like the cone of a loudspeaker, really.

  • And so that will go down onto this,

  • onto these back posts now.

  • Narrator: Factories in Asia

  • can quickly machine-press the soundboard.

  • But Adam says his customers prefer the methods

  • piano makers have used for over 100 years.

  • A piano that's made slowly will be a better piano

  • than a piano that's made fast.

  • Narrator: Adam and his team align the soundboard

  • to the back post and then attach it

  • to the heavy cast-iron frame.

  • Even Adam's helping, look.

  • The important thing is not to get your finger trapped.

  • Narrator: The frame is cast as a single piece.

  • It has to be strong enough to withstand about 20 tons

  • of pressure from all the strings.

  • About 230 strings are used to create the 88 tones

  • on an average piano.

  • Each one is painstakingly threaded through a tuning pin

  • and then hammered into place.

  • It's the sort of work that makes your fingers sore.

  • The strings vary in length and thickness

  • to create different tones.

  • Longer, thicker strings produce lower notes,

  • while shorter and thinner ones

  • reach the higher end of the scale.

  • A technician tunes the newly strung piano

  • and lets it rest several times

  • so that the instrument can adjust

  • to the new tension and hold a consistent sound.

  • Then it's time to enclose it in the wooden case

  • and give the piano its classic look.

  • Adam: If you can imagine that this was put upright like that,

  • this would be where the keys are to be played.

  • This is the leg of the piano,

  • and the caster would be on the bottom here.

  • Narrator: Adam works with a cabinet maker down the road

  • to create both standard finishes and custom designs.

  • Adam: If someone comes along and says,

  • "I want a blue piano,"

  • which is what's just happened, of course,

  • yeah, it's really nice to be able to produce a one-off thing

  • for people that they can't get anywhere else in the world.

  • Narrator: It puts more pressure

  • on the Cavendish team, though.

  • A scratched piece can't be easily replaced.

  • Adam: I don't like damaging them anywhere,

  • but I will take a little extra care

  • with this one in particular.

  • Narrator: The final components

  • are the keyboard and what's called the action.

  • This is the intricate wooden mechanism that pushes

  • the hammers onto the strings when a key is pressed.

  • Each of the 88 keys is placed in order,

  • and a technician must weight, measure,

  • and adjust every single one several times.

  • The margins are so fine with everything.

  • It's fractions of a millimeter.

  • Narrator: Hammerheads are tightly wrapped felt layers

  • that can withstand hitting the steel strings for years

  • without wearing down.

  • The heads are glued to a shank,

  • a wooden rod that allows the hammer to move.

  • But they're not one-size-fits-all.

  • Heavier shanks are paired with lower notes,

  • and the Cavendish team tests this by ear.

  • A proper hand-built action is individualized

  • to each piano frame.

  • And once all the parts are in place,

  • the piano is thoroughly tested with the basher.

  • It takes about three months to finish a piano.

  • That's why Cavendish only makes about 50 every year.

  • Pianos were invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy

  • in the early 1700s.

  • Called fortepianos,

  • they were an improvement on the harpsichord

  • because the hammers responded to a hard or soft touch

  • to create dynamic tones.

  • Classical-era composers like Mozart and Beethoven

  • popularized piano music.

  • And during the Industrial Revolution,

  • piano making spread across Europe.

  • Britain touted its burgeoning piano industry

  • at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

  • By then, London alone boasted around 200 manufacturers

  • producing 23,000 pianos a year.

  • Pianos became a must-have item in the country's households,

  • from working-class families to the upper crust,

  • for both decoration and entertainment.

  • But the 20th century brought

  • new diversions into British homes.

  • Radio in the 1920s —

  • Broadcaster: This is the BBC Home Service.

  • Here is the news.

  • Narrator: — and then television in the 1950s.

  • Broadcaster: The queen is now able

  • to receive the emblems of majesty.

  • Narrator: And in the past 40-some years,

  • consumers have preferred electronic keyboards,

  • which can synthesize a variety of sounds

  • and take up less space.

  • The killer blow for Britain's piano industry

  • came from cheaper foreign imports,

  • mass-produced instruments

  • made in a fraction of the time

  • and at a fraction of the cost.

  • Today, China, Japan, and Indonesia

  • hold over 60% of the global piano market.

  • A Cavendish piano starts at $7,500.

  • And a full-size grand piano costs $30,000.

  • That's double the price of Adam's competitors.

  • And in the beginning, that price point kept customers away.

  • Adam: Our first year, we made two pianos.

  • Then our second year we made around about six pianos,

  • and it's taken us a long time to get to

  • the stage we are at now.

  • Narrator: But the still fairly small scale

  • of the business isn't the only hurdle

  • Adam's had to overcome.

  • There are also scores of older, used pianos

  • that many people give away for free

  • just to be rid of them.

  • Or because they would be even costlier to restore

  • to their former glory than buying new.

  • Adam: Put it this way. The first half

  • of a piano's life is a lot more valuable

  • than the last half of a piano's life.

  • I know it's a little bit sad, isn't it?

  • And I'm getting old,

  • but you know, I can always look back fondly

  • to when I was younger.

  • But they're not like violins.

  • You see, violins improve with age.

  • So we have the best violins

  • in the world were made hundreds of years ago.

  • That's not true with pianos.

  • Narrator: So while the market

  • may be smaller in the future,

  • Adam wants Cavendish

  • to keep making high-quality instruments.

  • Adam: Well, it'd be nice if it carries on going after me.

  • That would be the main thing, really.

  • Narrator: He offers apprenticeships

  • to a new generation of British artisans

  • and partners with the only school in the country

  • that offers technical piano-making courses.

  • All to stay focused on what led him

  • to start Cavendish in the first place

  • not letting the craft disappear.

Narrator: The last step of creating the perfect piano

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How The UK’s Last Piano Factory Keeps A Centuries-Old Industry Alive | Still Standing

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/25
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