Struck Grand — The Fine Art of Piano Abuse

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We all know about prepared pianos — pianos with their sound altered by the introduction of foreign objects such as screws, bolts, tacks etc. We are also aware that you don’t have to use the keyboard to “play” the piano… you can pluck, hit, scrape, brush, and rub the strings, or even just thump the soundboard.

In the early 19th century, some pianos (usually from Vienna) incorporated certain of these modifiers in their design. Georg Haschka was famous for building such instruments. His pianos had up to seven pedals for introducing various effects. For example, a “bassoon” pedal would bring a roll of parchment or silk in contact with the strings causing a buzzing, bassoon-like sound. Another pedal would induce a beater to strike the soundboard producing a drum effect. Others would trigger percussive elements such as bells and cymbals amplified by the body of the piano.

These pedals were known as janissary stops. Janissary (or Turkish) music was of a lively military style. It was popular in Europe from around 1760 to 1820, and armed with these “enhancements” the janissary piano could be used to produce this fashionable musical genre.

Janissary effects on a Johann Fritz piano (c.1815) (L); and a Haschka piano (c.1818) with seven pedal “modifiers” (R).

The piano is such a rich source of musical timbres that musicians constantly search for ways to get new sounds from their instruments. This has involved all sorts of destructive and non-destructive re-purposing of the instrument.

Samples to the Rescue

Moving into the 21st century, we no longer need to inflict untold abuse upon our own pianos in the search for unique sounds – we now have sampling.

Soundiron is a developer of virtual instruments and sample libraries. It first introduced the Struck Grand piano library in 2012, and has just upgraded it to version 2.0.

Recordings made at a small church in the hills above Oakland California of a 1926 Steinway Model L parlour grand piano (known as the Montclarion Hall piano) form the Struck Grand 2.0 library.

Screenshot showing Kontakt 5.5 with Struck Grand running.
Screenshot showing Sound Iron’s Struck Grand 2.0 running in Kontakt 5.5

The samples are grouped as follows: Ambiences, Glisses, Hammered, Harmonics, Mallets, Muted, Pedals, Picked, Releases, Scrapes, and Sustains. A series of waveforms are also included, these are for layering with the samples. The piano strings are “activated” using mallet strikes, finger mutes, plucks, steel slide bends, bass string scrapes, harmonics, metal hammer hits and other exotic playing methods. 

Over 4000 samples captured across the 88-key range of the piano feature in the library. These are uncompressed 24bit / 48kHz wav files. Original samples have been remastered for the Struck Grand 2.0 release.

Although the samples can be used in any standard wav-compatible plugin or DAW, their full potential is realised when used with Native Instruments’ Kontakt software (full version required).

Struck Grand has two new creative features that vastly extend the potential of this virtual instrument. The “Layer Builder” enables the blending of up to 12 independent sound layers. Whilst the “Gliss/Strum Creator” system performs life-like strums and string glisses. This is a hybrid arpeggiator, with key and chord constraining, stroke direction, alternation, dynamic sequencing, palm muting and more. Every parameter can be automated in real-time.

Soundiron comprises a team of creators, programmers, engineers, artists, composers, instrumentalists, writers, and videographers. It is based in Brentwood, California. The company primarily develops products for the Native Instruments Kontakt platform, and also collaborates with other music industry institutions including, Propellerheads, Ableton, Korg, Presonus, Image Line, Best Service, Time & Space, Crypton/Sonic Wire, Plugin Boutique, Kontakt Hub, Audio Plugin Deals, and Splice.

Struck Grand Version 2.0 Specifications:
No. of Samples: 4,058
Size: 9GB
Format: 24 bit/48 kHz stereo uncompressed PCM wav audio
Presets: 40 Kontakt 4.2.4 (or greater) .nki banks
System Requirements: OSX10.9 (or later); Windows 7 (or later)
Unlocked wav samples can be directly imported into wav-compatible plugin or DAW
Price: $69 ($9 for existing owners)
Website: Soundiron

UPDATE: One of our readers has kindly drawn our attention to this video featuring two Steinway pianos — one of which is muted to exquisite effect. Link… Do check out the description which explains how this effect was achieved non-destructively. It may inspire you to experiment.


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