Rock 'n' molar: Bite marks on Steinway grand piano likely to have been made by Thomas Edison, who used to ‘hear through his teeth’

He’s gone down in history as one of the early pioneers of sound recording, but American inventor Thomas Edison was actually hard of hearing. This being the case, it seems that he came up with a typically ingenious way of experiencing the sound of the piano - he’d bite it while it was being played.

The revelation has come to light via Robert Friedman, a buyer and seller of Steinway pianos who recently took ownership of a Model B Ebony model that Edison purchased in 1890 for $725. And, sure enough, the wooden frame of the piano has what appear to be teeth marks in it.

According to the Associated Press, It’s said that, as someone would play, Edison would lean in close and bite the piano, enabling him to feel the vibrations.

Although it can’t be determined with any certainty that the teeth marks on this particular piano are Edison’s, the fact that he owned it and they’re present seems like pretty compelling evidence.

Thomas Edison

(Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In fact, Edison is quoted in Edmund’s Morris’s 2019 biography as saying: “I hear through my teeth, and through my skull. I bite my teeth into the wood and then I get it good and strong.”

Friedman reports that he’s come into contact with “a few thousand” Steinways down the years, but has ever previously seen marks like these. He purchased the piano for $45,000 in January 2021 and didn’t initially notice the marks, but when his friend Charles Frommer, a musician and recording enthusiast, came to his house to tune the piano, he said: “those are Edison’s bite marks.”

What will happen to the piano now remains to be seen; Friedman says that, given its historical significance, he doesn’t want it to fall into private hands, so is looking to sell it to some kind of historical institution.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.