Pianos come in a wide variety of designs and styles, and yes, it is a consideration when buying one. More often than not, people look into the features that it offers. The structure and piano finish for aesthetic purposes to determine if it would complement the furniture and color scheme of the room where one plans to put it. When choosing the type of piano finish that you prefer, it is best that you know the kind of care and maintenance it would require before you make the decision.
Know About The Piano Woods
Different kinds of wood can be used in making the piano. Aside from the availability of the wood and its cost, that should factor in, the properties of wood are also important in determining which one ought to be used for a particular part, such as spruce for the soundboard, maple for the bridge, beech or maple for the pin block. When it comes to the exterior case and cabinet, one might think that the most commonly used is ebony wood, but it is not – it is only a veneer that is painted black. Woods that can be used for the outer layer include the maple, mahogany, rosewood, cherry, and oak. The inner core is covered with layered veneer with the grain at right angles to each other to reduce the risk of warping.
It is a given that the wood used in the frame, casing, and legs be sturdy and durable enough to support the dense and heavy gray cast‑iron frame from which the strings are tightly stretched over to provide tensile strength. Another important thing about wood is that it should be good enough to take the varnish, polish, or paint to achieve great aesthetics and protect the wood from damage and degradation.
Types of Piano Finishes
1) Lacquer Finish
Lacquer is derived from the French word, “lacre,” which pertains to some sort of sealing wax, and it is applied to wood. It has been used since the 1920s, and up to this day, you would find materials with a lacquer finish because it is easy to use, dries fast, lasts longer, looks good, and not expensive. It can be clear or colored that dries through a curing process or solvent evaporation, which results in a finish that is durable and hard. The lacquer sheen can go from least shiny to most shiny, and its appeal differs from person to person. A lacquer finish can be glossy (semi-gloss or high gloss), matte, eggshell, flat, and satin depending on what the manufacturer calls the type of sheen on their wood finish. The most commonly used lacquer in North American pianos is high-gloss, semi-gloss, and satin or dull sheen.
It is considered more beautiful than other wood finishes, but it can be susceptible to scratches and discoloration over time. Knowing the lacquer sheen finish used on the piano is important in how you would properly care for your piano. Using the wrong type of cloth or polish, and the manner of doing it may damage it. Dusting requires the use of a feather duster or a soft damp cloth to pick up the dust, followed by a dry cloth to remove any moisture left. Using a dry cloth first to wipe away dusts, which are abrasive, might leave marks on the finish, so it is best to avoid doing this.
2) Satin Finish
A satin finish gives a more natural and smooth look. It has about 35% to 40% sheen, so it does not reflect light directly, which means that it will not show scratches or other imperfections like those with a higher percentage of sheen. However, it is likely to have fingerprints or smudges on it because body oils can be trapped in the grooves, and it cannot be removed by simple dusting. It will require polishing, but be careful of using products such as the typical furniture polish that might leave a wax residue. It will continue to build up over time and would likely require a professional to remove it. You can use a mild soap solution applied to the cloth and wipe in the grain’s direction. Avoid wiping in a circular manner as it is likely to cause the grooves to become uneven, thus ruining the satin finish.
With this type of finish, multiple layers of high gloss material are applied and left to cure before starting the rubbing process, which makes use of steel wool or another abrasive material such as 600-grit sandpaper along with a rubbing lubricant and water to serve as a buffer. It is done in one direction or the direction of the grain in order for the hand-rubbed finish to have tiny grooves that will disperse or diffract light. The high gloss is removed leaving a somewhat dull but elegant finish. It can be any color such as black, mahogany, walnut, and cherry. Matte is a variation of the satin finish, and it is completely flat and does not reflect light.
3) High-Gloss Finish
A piano with a high-gloss finish would reflect light and image as well as add clarity and depth. This type of finish makes use of polyester, shellac, or lacquer. The surface needs to be flat and smooth to reflect light because if it is uneven or has scratches, the light would be diffused. The pores present in open grain are usually filled up with water-based pore filler after applying one layer of coat. If the pores are filled with a finish, it will shrink later on, and the wood would end up with an uneven surface. When the final coat is dry, the next step is sanding and buffing; this can cut through most water-based and oil-based coating, leaving what they call puddle-shaped outlines, but with lacquer or shellac, each layer of the coat would just melt with the previously applied one leaving one thick layer with no annoying lines.
Proper care for a high-gloss finish usually entails wiping it with a damp cloth followed by a dry one. If it has fine scratches, a high-gloss polish can be used to bring back its luster.
4) Polyester (Polymer) Finish
A high-gloss finish using polyester makes the surface act as a mirror. This is said to be the most durable among all finishes for the piano as it is resistant to cracks and solvents, which incidentally makes them more difficult to repair in case of damage. It is nonporous, so a small amount of water spillage would not harm it, but it is best to wipe it immediately if it does happen. It is hard, so it is not susceptible to scratches and dents. Since it is dark, it would be easy to spot dust, but this is easily remedied using a soft duster. After that, apply a high-gloss piano polish on a microfiber cloth and wipe the surface. Do not substitute a furniture polish for this, and do not directly spray on the piano.
5) Open-Pore Finish
An open-pore finish is basically a thin layer of lacquer that keeps the natural pores of tonewoods exposed. Unlike the other piano finish, the grain or pores are not filled to create a smooth surface. It is also not rubbed, but a sanding sealer is used on the polyurethane or lacquer that will result in a sheen that is between matte and satin. Petroleum‑ or oil-based product can be used to maintain the quality of the finish. When a conditioning polish is used, make sure that any excess is removed to prevent the buildup of grime and dust. There are also products that can help restore the condition of the finish when it becomes worn or when it started showing scrapes.
It is not that used as often as the other piano finishes. Still, it is used as a substitute for satin on Europe-made musical instruments and other furniture from coffee tables to headboards.
How to Choose the Right Product for the Piano Finish?
Some people think that regular furniture polish can be used on anything made of wood, such as the piano casing and cabinet. However, this is something that piano owners should not do. When you are about to buy a piano or already have one, make sure that you inquire about the type of finish that the piano has and its proper care and maintenance. Do not attempt to polish it without knowing the finish used.
Before applying polish, use a mild soap solution to remove dirt and previously applied products. If the piano finish is shiny and it reflects light and image, it is high gloss, so get the appropriate high-gloss polish that is water-based with no harmful additives. A satin finish is not that glossy as it is a bit dull, reflecting light but not image. A mild cleaner specifically made for this finish is used. It is best to avoid over-wiping or over-polishing this one because it might lose its original luster. Oil‑based conditioning polish is used for the open-pore finish.