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What is Piano Wire?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Piano wire, or music wire, is the wire used for the internal strings of a piano. These wires are commonly made of metals and alloys such as aluminum, brass, copper, or stainless steel. The thickness of piano wire can range from 24 gauge, or 0.022 inches (0.5mm), to 6 gauge, or 0.192 inches (4.8mm).

Replacing a piano wire is not a difficult task, but for a layperson it can be a dangerous task. It is recommended that one hire a professional if your piano needs some work. On virtually all pianos, replacement involves loosening the two tuning pins which hold the length of wire in place — this is done by turning the pins approximately four full turns each, alternating between them. Once loosened, the length of wire is loosened from the pin, and removed entirely. This may require some cutting, depending on how securely the wire is attached. The removed wire is then measured against the new length of wire (adding some length for any that was broken off during removal), and cut. The new wire is then connected by tying it to the tuning pins, which are then turned four full turns to clamp the new wire in place. The final task is making sure the string is properly tuned, which is done by trial and error and turning the pins ever-so-slightly. Properly tuning a piano can be a difficult task, and is usually best achieved with the help of a professional.

Piano wire is associated in the popular zeitgeist with the weapon of an assassin. Used as a garrote to choke a victim to death silently, piano wire first debuted in this role in the public eye in the James Bond film From Russia With Love, used by the villain Red Grant, and hidden in a normal wristwatch. Since then, the piano wire garrote has made innumerable appearances, from cameos in popular fiction such as The Skin Palace to video games such as the Hit Man series.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By siliconsnail — On Jul 11, 2010

@vanderson - No, you're not getting ripped off. In fact, I think my piano tuner charges the same thing. I've never completely understood what makes it so expensive, but I know it has to be able to withstand very high tensions. Perhaps it has to undergo some sort of special manufacturing process in order to allow it to withstand these high tensions?

The good news is that piano strings, unless they are very old, will usually do their job quite well. In the past three years of getting my piano tuned, I can only recall strings breaking on a couple of occasions, and my piano was manufactured in 1950. In general, I wouldn't be too intimidated about the price unless the strings on your piano are defective.

By vanderson — On Jul 11, 2010

I recently had someone tune my piano and charge me $15 for every string that broke. That struck me as quite a bit. Am I getting ripped off or is piano wire just really expensive?

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