There’s an easy way how to tell if piano keys are ivory: Typically, there is a fine line in the ivory tops.
As a composer and producer, having studied and worked in schools, recording studios, and venues worldwide, I’ve encountered numerous antique pianos showcasing the enchanting beauty of ivory keys alongside contemporary digital pianos featuring plastic keys. Seeing them both side-by-side, I quickly learned to tell if piano keys were ivory.
In this post, I’ll share my insights and personal experiences to help you appreciate the artistry of piano makers across different eras.
we’ll explore the distinctions between ivory keys and plastic keys, look into the captivating history of antique pianos, and examine the progress of digital pianos.
How to Tell If Piano Keys Are Ivory: Discovering the Allure of Time-Honored Instruments
To truly appreciate the appeal of acoustic pianos, especially those with ivory keys, it’s crucial to understand the history surrounding these captivating instruments.
The United States ivory ban, implemented to protect elephant tusks from being exploited for piano keys, altered the perception of antique pianos and prompted the development of creative substitutes, such as plastic keytops.
As we examine acoustic pianos, including upright pianos, the iconic baby grand, and grand pianos, you’ll see the rationale behind ivory usage, appreciate the elegance of these traditional instruments, and admire the expertise of a past era.
Identifying Ivory Piano Keys: A Closer Look
Ivory piano keys were commonly used on older pianos before the international trade ban on elephant ivory took effect. The white keys on these pianos were made from elephant tusks, while black keys were often made from ebony or sugar pine.
Humans were hunting elephants for their tusks to a point they almost were wiped out. Thankfully, eventually the international trade ban was agreed upon, and it saved the elephants! Piano manufacturers at that point had to come up with alternative materials for piano keys.
Owning a piano with ivory piano keys is fine. It doesn’t affect the number of elephants alive today and so there’s no need to feel guilty over it.
The best way to determine if your piano has real ivory keytops is by examining the fine line that usually appears on the ivory tops. This line separates the ivory into two pieces, whereas plastic keytops are typically made from a single piece.
If the keys were made in high detail, you might need a magnifying glass when inspecting your piano’s keys more closely. The natural ivory original keytops might also have a slightly uneven texture, while plastic piano keys are smoother.
If you’re still not sure, you should consult a piano technician or expert to help you identify the key type.
The Impact of Ivory Trade on Piano Manufacturing
The ivory trade led to a significant decline in elephant populations, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. A global treaty was enacted to protect endangered species, including elephants, from illegal poaching.
As a result, the use of ivory in piano manufacturing was banned in the United States and many parts of Europe.
This ban prompted a transition to different materials for piano keys, such as plastic keytops.
All new pianos today are made with plastic keys, and modern pianos no longer use ivory. The majority of Western piano manufacturers, as well as American piano manufacturers, have adapted to these changes and embraced the use of alternative materials.
Caring for Your Piano’s Ivory Keys
If you own an antique piano built with ivory keys, taking good care of them is essential to preserve its beauty and value. Here are some tips for maintaining your piano’s ivory keys in perfect condition:
Use a damp cloth with warm water and mild soap to clean ivory keys. Avoid using harsh chemicals, as they can damage precious ivory.
Gently wipe the keys, not letting too much moisture seep between them. For stubborn stains, you can use a white vinyl eraser, white toothpaste, or white vinegar and lemon juice.
After cleaning the keys, dry them thoroughly with a soft cloth or paper towel. Ensure the entire key is dry, as moisture can cause damage over time.
Keep your piano in a location away from direct sunlight and temperature extremes. Indirect sunlight can cause the ivory keys to turn yellow over time, while fluctuating temperatures can lead to warping or cracking.
Schedule regular check-ups with a piano technician to ensure your piano stays in good shape. They can also advise how to clean and maintain your ivory keys properly.
If your piano needs more than just routine maintenance, you should contact a professional piano restoration company.
With these tips in mind, you can enjoy the charm of your antique piano and its real ivory keytops, preserving a piece of history and artistry for future generations of piano players to appreciate.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to tell if piano keys are ivory?
To determine if your piano has real ivory keytops, look for the fine line separating the ivory into two pieces on the white keys.
Plastic keytops are typically made from a single piece. You can also examine the texture of the keys with a magnifying glass; real ivory keys have a slightly uneven surface, while plastic keys are smoother.
Is it legal to own a piano with ivory keys?
It is legal to own a piano with ivory keys. However, strict regulations surround the sale, transportation, and import/export of ivory items, including pianos with ivory keys. Check local laws and regulations before selling or transporting an ivory piano.
How should I clean my piano’s ivory keys?
Use a damp cloth with warm water and mild soap to clean ivory keys. Avoid harsh chemicals or too much moisture, as they can damage the ivory.
For stubborn stains, you can use a white vinyl eraser, white toothpaste, or white vinegar and lemon juice. After cleaning, dry the keys thoroughly with a soft cloth or paper towel.
Can I replace my piano’s ivory keys with plastic keys?
Yes, replacing your piano’s ivory keys with plastic keys is possible. Consult a professional piano technician to determine the best course of action and ensure the replacement is done correctly, preserving your piano’s value and playability.
What is the main reason behind the ban on ivory usage in pianos?
The main reason behind the ban on ivory usage in pianos is to protect endangered elephant populations from illegal poaching driven by the demand for elephant tusks.
The global treaty enacted to protect these species led to the ban on the use of ivory in piano manufacturing in the United States and many parts of Europe.
Do modern pianos use other materials besides plastic for their keys?
While plastic keytops are the most common choice for modern pianos, some manufacturers also use alternative materials such as synthetic ivory, miming the feel and appearance of natural ivory without contributing to the illegal ivory trade.
These materials provide an ethical and sustainable piano keys option while offering excellent playability and aesthetics.
Just like all of the human history, the story of how to tell if piano keys are ivory is a unique one.
Understanding the differences between ivory and plastic piano keys allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship and history behind these remarkable instruments.
We all should be aware of the ivory trade’s impact on elephant populations. It also gives a whole new perspective on the evolution of piano manufacturing practices.
Whether you own an antique piano with ivory keys or a modern piano with plastic or synthetic ivory keys, it’s important to take proper care of your instrument and make sure it gets regularly maintained.