Making a Thumb Piano

AddThe most common question about these relatively uncommon instruments has to be: Are thumb pianos anything like real pianos? And the short answer would have to be: Not really. Besides the obvious size difference, the tines on a thumb piano are laid out with the scale falling in an alternating pattern while a pianoís keys are laid out so the scale moves upwards as you move to keys farther to the right. Most thumb pianos donít have accidentals (the black keys on a keyboard) so you canít play a number of songs that were composed on piano, such as Fur Elise. The thumb piano is also played with a very different technique than the piano since you can only use your two thumbs as opposed to all ten fingers. Still, itís possible to play some amazing music on the thumb piano with some serious work while also being a great instrument to leave on your coffee table and mess around with every now and then.

Design

The basic layout of this thumb piano is based off of this project: http://www.instructables.com/id/Thumb-Piano/. I decided to dress up my version with solid hardwoods and a simple yet elegant contrasting binding that wraps around all corners of the box. I also added more tines to allow this thumb piano to play two full octaves, using 15 keys in total. (Note: I was making two thumb pianos while taking the photos for this project so you will likely see parts for more than one thumb piano in some of the pictures.)

Parts and Materials

Most of the parts and materials I used could be found at your local home center. Nice pieces of walnut, cherry or maple may be difficult though. You could use some of the small precut pieces that they sell; they usually have poplar at the very least. For the top, a simpler option is to use 1/4 inch thick birch plywood since it wonít require a planer or thickness sander. Even better would be an 1/8th inch thick piece of hardwood plywood, but that is much harder to find than 1/4 inch birch-ply: A home center definitely wonít carry it. The binding is only decorative and therefore completely optional if you prefer to keep your thumb piano simple. The full parts list for one thumb piano follows:

  • Any hardwood for the tops, sides, and bridge
  • Contrasting (or complimentary) hardwood for the binding
  • 3/8ths inch aluminum rod
  • 1/16th inch brass rod
  • Rake with metal tines (tines should be about 1/32nd thick by 3/16ths wide); The rake I bought cost $8 and made keys for three full size, 15 key thumb pianos and one smaller 8 key instruments.
  • 2 #6-32 t-nuts made to be secured with brads
  • 2 #6-32 by 1.5 inch long machine screws
  • Wood glue