Eight years ago, my 10 and 12 year old son and daughter were taking piano lessons. Both were doing very well, but my daughter was beginning to really display a talent for piano, so I decided to buy a piano. We generated a lot of good Father/Daughter memories shopping for a grand piano, and, it seemed like she played every brand on the planet, new and used. After concluding we could only afford a used piano, it quickly became apparent that cracked and collapsed soundboards were common in used pianos.
As an engineer, I set out to learn everything I could about piano brands, history, construction, and technology. What I learned is that the piano has not significantly changed in 130 years. Here is a picture of the first piano ever built.
The goal of the Evolutionary Piano Project is to build the most technologically advanced custom grand piano in the world with an expanded compass, all the latest technologies, and most importantly, a ribless, carbon fiber soundboard, optimized with evolutionary computing techniques. Why?
Unlike wood, carbon fiber is unaffected by moisture, so it will sound the same, stay in tune longer, and never collapse or crack. The superior properties of carbon fiber should make the best soundboard possible, and allow the reinforcing ribs on all wooden soundboards to be completely eliminated, vastly improving the treble.
I am most excited about using evolutionary computing techniques to discover the optimum shape and material properties of a piano soundboard. For manufacturing convenience, piano soundboards follow the shape of the case and the scale. Why on earth did anybody think that shape would result in optimum acoustic performance?
Answer: they didn't think! Instead, imagine a soundboard evolving in a computer the way living organisms evolve in nature, perfectly adapting to its environment and performing its purpose. When this project is finished, we will all finally get to see what a perfect piano soundboard looks like!
I will use my mechanical engineering background to create a project plan that begins with a series of computer simulations that will deliver the optimum shape and material properties of a piano soundboard. That data will be used to build up to 3 composite soundboards. David Rubenstein, of Rubenstein Pianos, will build a custom 10 foot grand piano using this soundboard. Delwin Fandrich, the legendary piano engineer will design the scale and guide the project to success with his decades of experience. In addition to the carbon fiber soundboard, bridge agraffes, a welded-steel string plate, and a monolithic stack of laminated panels , all optimized for maximum stiffness and minimum weight, will replace the traditional cast iron plate and inner rim-and-strut construction. Wessel, Nickel and Gross actions with glass and carbon fiber reinforced parts will provide consistent, high performance. And finally, an expanded compass beyond the normal 88 keys will push this piano to the current limits of modern design and materials, and issue a challenge to piano composer’s to write for it. All of these features will combine to yield quite possibly the most technologically advanced piano in the world, and a design process to adapt any piano to carbon fiber composite soundboard technology.
- Frequent project updates ($10, no limit)
- Audio files comparing the Evolutionary Piano with a Steinway Model D plus reward 1 ($25, no limit)
- An Evolutionary Piano Paracord Bracelet plus rewards 1-2 ($50, Limit: 1000)
- A DVD of a documentary by film maker Harry Bramley Davenport of the development of the Evolutionary Piano plus rewards 1-3 ($250, Limit: 1000)
- An invitation to one of several receptions around the country to hear and play the Evolutionary Piano plus rewards 1-4 ($1000, Limit: 500)
- A 2-hour professional audio/video recording session conducted by Harry Bramley Davenport of you playing the Evolutionary Piano or David Rubenstein's 12 foot 2 inch R-371. You will receive a professionally edited video you can use on your personal website to promote your music career.
The piano came into its own during a time of slow, expensive, build-it-and-break-it design cycles, way before computer optimization. The consensus seems to be that the piano was perfected 130 years ago, and is as good as it can be. I find that attitude to be close-minded and repulsive! Nothing built with 130 year-old technology is as good as it can be! Let's face it, piano manufacturers are never going to take any genuine risks to improve their product. If piano enthusiasts like us don't fund this project, the world may never see and hear what modern materials and computer optimization can do for pianos. Let's break this cycle together. Please contribute to this project, and, LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN!