During the mid to late 20th century, British piano manufacturers were once fulfilling large orders from local educational authorities across the county. The most common examples found in schools and colleges across the country are made by Danemann and Knight, but many can also be found from Welmar and Kemble.
The biggest customers of the Danemann Piano Company were by far local education authorities, with school pianos accounting for approximately 80% of the company's annual production, during the 1970's.
(photographed; 1970 Danemann school piano)
These pianos, manufactured especially for schools, were made to be as durable as possible in order to withstand the heavy wear and tear and frequent use which was expected of them.
The former London County Council laid out very rigid specifications, in which the pianos had to satisfy.
The pianos were required to be based on a substantial six-post braced back (photographed), with solid oak case components, while meeting a minimum height of 122 cm.
The pianos were also equipped with built-in safety features, such as a folding fall to prevent the entrapment of fingers, solid toe-pegs located at the front and rear of the piano to maintain the instruments balance while it was being wheeled across a school hall and solid oak foot-guards between the castors to prevent injury to a person's feet.
Double rubber safety castors (photographed) were also installed so the piano could be wheeled around a school hall and over small thresholds with ease. Domestic counterparts typically either have sliders or decorative castors made of brass.
Authorities also stipulated that these instruments must be strung with a zinc plated music wire, because of its corrosion inhibitive properties; although this wire was tonally inferior to the commonly used polished wire of German origin.
Makers were also forced to use very hard felt for their hammers, in order to circumvent the acoustically deadening properties of solid oak, even though this created a very harsh tonal quality.
Although these school models are renowned for their sturdy build quality, they tend to have a strident tone which is often described as "unpleasant" and "overbearing".
The strict criteria for school pianos was eventually relaxed. A six -post braced back was no longer required and makers were free to use veneered material, rather than solid oak.
This opened the door for makers of cheaper pianos, such as Bentley, to start producing their own educational models and other manufacturers such as Kemble and Welmar also took advantage. The casework was typically a veneered particleboard and always lacked any wooden back braces (photographed).
Although these examples were not built to the same high standard, they were cheap enough to be very attractive to the educational authorities.
School pianos are subjected to heavy use - and often abuse - in the school environment.
Usually, school pianos are way past any point of economical repair, and even those in good condition do not compare to their domestic counter parts; which often have a richer, warmer tonal quality; which is much more fitting for a home instrument. This is why Sykes & Sons does not stock ex-school/college pianos.