This is an example of a significant crack in the soundboard of a small baby grand piano. I am asked often about soundboard cracks, and often by people that have heard it’s a “death sentence” for the piano, or that it means the piano “can’t be tuned.” Neither is necessarily true at all.
While soundboard cracks are obviously undesirable, and in some cases can cause serious problems, they are quite common in old pianos and they are usually repairable. Depending on the nature of the crack, it may not even need any immediate intervention, but simply analysis and monitoring. Soundboard cracks are generally most harmful when they cause the soundboard to separate from the ribs which stabilize the soundboard and give it the appropriate crown. (The ribs are approximately 1-inch wide tapered wood beams that can be seen running diagonally on the back of an upright, or underneath a grand.) In these cases, a repair is necessary to reattach to the rib, stabilize, and fill the crack.
Another serious concern is if a crack runs into, or underneath, the treble or bass bridge. These are wooden mounts on the strings’ side of the soundboard, where small bridge pins terminate the speaking length of the strings (clearly visible running up the right side of the picture above). This can present stability issues and may involve a more extensive repair if the stability of the bridge is compromised.
In milder cases where the crack does not affect these things, it may be enough to simply monitor the crack and ensure it does not grow larger. On the piano in the picture, despite the significant length of the crack, it is not currently affecting the stability of the bridges or the soundboard’s attachment to the ribs underneath, so I am simply monitoring it at each visit.
If you notice a soundboard crack in a piano you are looking to buy, be sure to have a qualified piano technician look at it first (a good idea to begin with when buying a used piano). I typically do this free of charge for existing customers or new prospective customers. If you already own a piano with a cracked soundboard, don’t despair. Ask about it at your next tuning or when scheduling your appointment.