Some extremely old pianos have only 85 keys, ranging from A0 to A7. These pianos are no longer existent today. What's the reason?

  • 2
    Not so very old. Cheap 85-key pianos were still being made up to the 1990s, at least, by the likes of Wagner. Perhaps someone knows of more recent examples?
    – user48353
    Mar 21, 2019 at 9:38
  • Heck, you can get cheap electronic KBs with far fewer than 80. Mar 21, 2019 at 12:57
  • I have an 85-key C-to-C piano. Built in the 1940's (I think). It's noticeably smaller than regular upright pianos, and I believe that's why my grandmother chose it for her living room. Mar 21, 2019 at 17:46
  • 85 key is A-to-A, not C-to-C, normally. I've only seen A-to-A models.
    – user53472
    Mar 22, 2019 at 1:48
  • 1
    Yes, it's like an 88-key piano but without the lowest three notes. Mar 24, 2019 at 0:23

2 Answers 2


Piano started with way less keys, the first models ranged on five octaves, being derived from harpsichords. Then in the Baroque period the keys increased to 85 keys. The shift to 88 keys happened because Steinway made an 88 key piano, and some composers, like Debussy, started to use it in the 20th century. The extra string also affects a bit the timbre of the piano because aren't dampen, so there's sympathetic resonance.

  • 1
    85 keys was a mid-Romantic period range for the piano. Haydn/Mozart/early Beethoven wrote for a 5 octave piano; Schubert and late Beethoven wrote for a 5 1/2 or occasionally 6 octave piano. Mar 21, 2019 at 20:02
  • Beethoven's piano ranged from C1 to F7. The 88 keys are from A0 to C8, as everyone knows.
    – user53472
    Mar 22, 2019 at 1:59
  • Pianos did not have 85 keys until the invention of the iron frame in the 1800s — well after the Baroque era.
    – Aaron
    Aug 6 at 1:18

I have a Yamaha piano with 85 keys. Excellent upright. I was told that this is an old piano, and by having 85 keys instead of 88, it wasn't classified as a "piano" and therefore got around some tariff fees. Who knows?

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