Robert Estrin - piano expert

Wood Piano Actions Vs. Plastic Piano Actions

Learn more about the inside technical characteristics of a piano

In this video, Robert talks about the difference between pianos with "wood actions" and pianos with "plastic actions." Watch this video and learn about an important aspect of modern piano technology.

Released on October 29, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. "Which is better, a wood or a plastic action?" This is actually a great question and brings into a lot of elements that we're going to cover today. Well, first of all, actions of pianos comprise thousands of parts. Each key has nearly a hundred parts. If you've ever looked at a piano action, it's an incredibly complex mechanism. Now, in recent years, companies have experimented with plastic parts. This started years ago. Now, early plastics had a problem because as they age, they would become brittle and break. And if you just look at pianos for the 1950s and '60s that employed some plastic parts, they could be a nightmare to work on. But of course, in recent years, plastics have come a very, very long way. In fact, there are even some carbon fiber action, which is a whole another story with companies like Wessell, Nickel and Gross. Now, most of the companies use plastic because...not because they're necessarily better, but because they're more uniform and cheaper to manufacture. Is this a bad thing? Well, not necessarily. However, the vast majority of companies that are cutting cost, using plastic to cut cost, well, they will use plastic in place of some of the action parts, but not all of them. This can sometimes cause issues.

Why? Well, of course, wood will expand and contract with the weather. Plastic does not. So when you have different parts like that, sometimes you can run with the issues particularly for the area that has wide swings of temperature and humidity. Having an all wood or even all plastic action could be better. Now, the other issue is, plastic actions sometimes employ different designs that might require different techniques and technologies. So a wood action, pretty much unless it's like old, well over a hundred years old and antiquated technology, the vast majority of piano technicians know just how to deal with them and may even have spare parts on hand, if necessary. Not necessarily true with plastic actions or even composite actions where technologies evolve. So this is not an absolute. There are some wonderful actions from Kawai and Mason and Hamlin utilizing new materials. And other companies do employ wood along with plastic and other synthetics with good results. But some of the greatest pianos in the world, the vast majority of top tier pianos, do still employ all wood actions, pianos with retro actions Dusen [SP] Opera and Humberg Steinway. So that's what it's all sort of it. Thanks for the great questions. Keep them coming in. I'm Robert at Thanks for joining us here. Also on Virtual Sheet Music. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ioannis Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on July 19, 2018 @3:30 am PST
I own a piano almost 40 years old (offenbach Sweedish made).
recently I have the problem that some keys do not play, especially when humidity goes up! is there a remedy to that?
thank you!
John Raftopoulos (
Robert A Estrin - host, on July 20, 2018 @1:20 pm PST
The best solution is to treat the room with a dehumidifier or air conditioner. If that isn't possibly, you can explore the Dampp-Chaser System sometimes referred to as Piano Lifesaver:
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on October 29, 2014 @6:23 pm PST
And how about the keys, are some manufacturers still using ivory? Is it a problem to get it legally for this purpose?
Robert - host, on October 30, 2014 @10:49 am PST
Companies stopped using ivory on pianos in this country gradually after WWII. Changes in laws prevented any ivory in pianos after 1972. Although in Europe some pianos still had ivory keys into the 1980's. Recent pending legislation may prevent the sale of any piano less than 100 years old with ivory from state to state. Currently it is illegal to ship a piano less than 100 years old with ivory keys to another country.
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