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Why Are The Dampers Important On A Piano?

The Dampers are the part of the internals of a piano which stop the notes ringing on after you play them. Without them, the notes you play would all blur together and create a very displeasing effect. Read more to find out the intricacies of dampers.

Damper Systems

There are three different types of Dampers depending on what type of piano you have. The first is an underdamper, which is the damping system on a modern upright piano. These are situated at the back of the piano action underneath the line of hammers you see if you are looking down from the top. They press vertically against the string.

Why Are The Dampers Important On A Piano?
Dampers on a modern upright piano

The second type are the dampers which you see on a Grand Piano. These are much more obvious as they sit on top of the strings which you can see when the piano lid is open.

Why Are The Dampers Important On A Piano?
Grand Piano dampers sitting on top of the strings

The third type of dampers are from more old fashioned upright pianos and are called over dampers. These sit on a rail above the hammers unlike in modern pianos. They are generally considered less effective and harder to work on than modern dampers which is the main reason that piano design moved on.

Why Are Dampers Important On A Piano?
Over Dampers on an old upright piano

Types of Damper Felt and Placement

There are also three general types of damper felts in the set which are used respectively depending on if there is one string to damp, a bichord with two strings or a tricord with three strings. The respective damper felts are the correct shape to mute the strings effectively. It is important that these damper felts are installed properly to begin with not only to create the correct aesthetic, but also because they can be nearly impossible to regulate properly if first application is incorrect.

You will notice that dampers do not go all the way to the top treble section. This is because it is generally understood that the shorter strings do not resonate for long enough to cause "muddy" issues and that some resonation in the treble when playing can actually add to the colour of the music. There are different opinions on this but usually there are only dampers up to approximately key 60.

How Do They Work?

All damper systems work on the same principle:

Once the key is depressed a chain reaction occurs wherein the damper begins to lever off of the string. The hammer hits the string and rebounds. When the key is released the chain reaction reverses and the damper returns to the string muting the resonating strings to silence.

If the dampers are not working properly the string will not stop resonating once the key has been released causing a discordant and muddy sound. Although a pianist can use the pedal to deliberately create a resonant effect when they wish or the piece calls for it, if the dampers were not working or lifted all the time the piano would be effectively unplayable.

For this reason it is important that the dampers are working properly. This might be as simple as having the dampers correctly regulated - set up - to the strings and the pedal/key lift. Alternatively, there may be greater issues such as broken or loose flanges on the pivot points, hard felt causing buzzing sounds or fatigued metal making the dampers difficult to regulate just to name a few. It is important that an experienced piano technician assesses and does any work on the dampers in order to make sure that they work properly and the pianist can play correctly. There are few things more annoying to a pianist than dampers that do not work properly!

How Do I Keep The Dampers Working Properly?

The easiest way to keep the dampers working properly is to let your piano tuner/technician know if and when they don't seem to be working properly. As with many things piano related if you keep on top of them they are often quick easy fixes in the home.

The easiest fix would be just one or two little regulation tweaks on individual dampers while in some cases a full regulation of the dampers might be necessary. That being said with wear and tear and environmental factors dampers will eventually need restoring just like anything else.

In upright pianos the springs which lever them can become fatigued over time and need replacing, and the felt can become old, hard and irregularly shaped. In a grand piano the felts can gain the same wear and tear as in uprights, and the damper wires and gauges can become dirty and sticky making them hard to move. This would require each damper to be removed and cleaned properly before replacing, and in some cases for the damper wire gauges to be reamed - cleaned - or rebushed/replaced. Needless to say, as these fixes are more expensive and extensive it is better to keep on top of the problems as soon as you notice them.

Why Are Dampers Important On A Piano?
Grand Piano Dampers drying on a rack having had their felts changed

We hope you have enjoyed this blog post on Why Are Dampers Important On A Piano? and that it has given you a basic understanding of what dampers are, what they do, and problems that can occur if things aren't right. Please note that this is brief and not an exhaustive post on dampers and is intended for the general public to understand. Tune in for a more extensive post in our Technical Series at a later date.

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