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The Knight K15 and what makes it special

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

The Knight Piano Company was one of Britain's most recognised manufacturers of fine, high-quality pianos, which are famous for being extremely well-made, with only top-quality materials used in their construction. The K15 is from the 'K' range and is one of the most iconic pianos from Knight's lineup. It is widely regarded as one of Alfred's most notable triumphs in piano engineering and design.

Unlike most UK based manufacturers, Alfred Knight wanted to export to the vast American piano market. The company introduced this new model of piano, the K15, that was carefully designed and externally clad in a spinet style case; which was extremely popular in the USA during the 1950's.

Standing at less than a meter tall, the K15 was the smallest piano Knight had made so far.

Although the K15 was originally styled for the American market, it became a popular choice on both sides of the Atlantic because it has a level of sound and performance that can easily rival that of much larger instruments. This achievement is owed to a combination of Knight's own unique and patented designs which enabled the unparalleled utilisation of the piano's dimensions.

After the K15's success in the USA, Canada and the UK, Knight produced two more models in the same style; namely the K20 which was based on the K6 and the K30 which was based upon the K10.

All Knight models in the 'K' range have a Knight-designed, full-perimeter frame which was built on the girder principle.

These frames reportedly have twice the strength of frames fitted to the average piano and the extra strength of the frame allowed Knight to dispense the brace bar which is normally found in the treble section of upright pianos.

A brace bar requires a notch in the long bridge for it to pass through, and this notch (a gap in the bridge) can cause tonal discrepancies in the notes either side and can weaken the structural integrity of the bridge. This Knight design claimed to have eliminated those "bad notes" and resulted in a more even tone. The frame is anchored to a four-post quarter-sawn hardwood back, with the soundboard secured between it and the full-perimeter, iron frame. This exceptionally sturdy method ensures superior tuning stability and strength.

Light European mountain grown spruce was used to fashion the soundboards in all of Knight's pianos from the 'K' range. The close grained wood used by master luthiers has more resonant characteristics than any other timber. The finished soundboard was air seasoned, kiln dried, then coated with a special moisture resistant varnish, which also enhanced the tonal properties. Knight used a double carved main bridge that was laminated and capped with quarter sawn beech. This method of construction eliminates dissipation of the vibrations, which take the line of least resistance, and follow the laminations.

Knight was able to use a larger soundboard and longer strings in their pianos with this frame design, which is what gives the pianos from the 'K' range their renowned power and tonal qualities. Knight also created a wholly unique action for the K15, using their own-designed drop-action that allows for an identical mechanical geometry found inside of the larger models that Knight produced. The Knight-designed drop action in the K15 uses the same high-quality components which are found the rest of Knight's instruments, which were made in-house at the British Piano Action factory (a subsidiary of The Knight Piano Company). This drop action performs in the same way as the actions found in every other Knight piano, maintaining the high level of responsiveness which Knight were known for.

Spinet pianos usually have compressed actions, stubby strings, small soundboards and oddball designs, which make them difficult to work in and not very enjoyable to play. The K15 breaks away from those stereotypes and is in a league all of its own. Knight prioritised serviceability and performance, and as a consequence the K15 completely exceeded the expectations of technicians and pianists.

The foundation of every K15 is exactly the same, but the model came in several variations, with differences in the style of leg and music desk.

Every photograph in this article represents a different style.

The three main variations in the legs are square tapered, round tapered and Queen Anne style.

The K15 was also available in a wide variety of different veneers, such as American mahogany, Brazilian walnut, French walnut, Burmese teak, Brazilian rosewood and many more. Knight ensured the most attractive casework through rigorous quality control and the matching and cutting of these exotic veneers by skilled craftsmen. Knight gradually perfected the cabinets through their method of using high-quality selected veneers on shaped and banded core stock. Modern, synthetic glues were used throughout and represented an enormous improvement on the old animal glues, which are subject to deterioration. Some K15 pianos only come with two pedals, whereas some were made with three (including a celeste which allows the player to lower the volume of the piano for more private and discrete playing).

The cabinet of the K15 is not going to meet with every person's desired aesthetics for home furnishings. We affectionately call the K15 a 'marmite piano', because while some people are going to love how it looks, other people are going to hate it. It's a quirky design, but in the right home this model can be a wonderfully eye-catching feature and a perfect companion for the pianist.

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