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Why Reed Organs Were Made from Hard Woods

Parts of a Tree

Many people who own antique reed organs are not always aware of the true value of the woods that were used in building their reed organ.

Back 100 plus years ago, trees like the oak and walnut were fairly common and were much larger than what we have today. Over the past 80 years most of America’s largest and prized Walnut and Oak trees have been cut down.

A hundred years ago most reed organs made in this country were built almost exclusively from oak woods (both light and dark) and walnut. However, some organs were also made out of mahogany and a few were covered in beautiful burled wood inlay.

In that era, reed organ manufactories, including most piano builders in this country, understood that the hardest woods produce the best musical sound qualities. They always tried to use the “heartwood” (which can be seen in the diagram above), because it is the hardest part of the tree.

As an example, and on a personal note, when my wife and I decided to purchase a piano that I would later restore, we bought a six foot grand that was built in 1919. The piano was a beast to move and the five professional piano movers, who struggled to get the piano off their truck and through our front door, later expressed gratitude that they didn’t have to deliver many pianos like ours. It weighs well over a thousand pounds and was built with the hardest woods that were available in 1919. Unfortunately, most of those beautiful hardwood trees are long gone.


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