A customer recently asked us to service his Bechstein grand.
The sad thing about it was that this piano had been ‘restored’ recently (about 8 years ago) and the piano was not coping – it was literally coming apart at the seams causing chronic tuning instability, poor tonal response getting worse… a tragedy? Yes indeed.
When asked about remedial work to rectify the problems, we advised against it – the cost was going to be prohibitive and economically nonviable. It woiuld involve undoing much of what had been done, stripping it back to its bones and starting again – probably in excess of $40k!! well beyond his budget needless to say.
So, when I then suggested turning it into something else, his eyes lit up. He was attached to it and didn’t really want it to end up as Landfill. I mentioned that I had turned several nonviable heirloom pianos into digital pianos and he got quite excited!
Sacrilege! I hear you say – but seriously, this piano was absolutely coming apart – at least this process keeps it as a musical instrument. I wouldn’t suggest it to a classical musician, but this client is a jazz player, and this will suit his needs well – and he gets to keep it!
Long story short, he accepted the quote and we got talking about the details.
- How was he going to use it? Studio mostly, but also as a gigging instrument for big shows, productions and festivals – or for a residency. It is now light enough that moving isn’t nearly as hard as a real one.
- Does he sing? the reason for that question will become obvious later…
- How obvious did he want the conversion to be? It is very old style, so having lot’s of lights and speakers etc very visible might be a bit confronting visually
- The type of keyboard to install? Flexibility to change that keyboard out for another?
so then it arrives at Touchstone Pianos to undergo the transformation.
Here we can see the strings have been removed, the action mechanism is out and the frame is being removed. I had to be sure the cavity was wide enough to take a keyboard (we’d chosen a Kawai MP7 with allegedly 5 mm to spare – let’s just say it’s snug…) but we found that the keyboard was sitting too high with it resting on the existing keybed.
The old keybed was removed as close as possible to the edge or rim, giving us lots of room to move inside the cavity
I then routed the edge of the cut to make sure the steel plate we were going to fit was flush and didn’t alter any of the heights of legs, keys etc and gave me an surface to fix the plate to.
I also had removed a couple of the pieces of backpost beams to make room for the fairly large speakers – it then got a coat or two of black paint inside to tidy things up. removing the soundboard makes a bit of a mess at the edges, and there’s also a variety of fittings, different wood edges exposed and cutouts and other untidiness that was nice to see but didn’t need to be obvious.
The next stage was the plate fitting and re-fitting of the support rail under the keybed
Now for the exciting bit – fitting the KRK powered monitors… aside from sound quality being important, some of the other considerations were size – who wants the bottom of a speaker enclosure poking out of the underside of the piano? The sheer bulk of these was why I had to remove some of the backposts. I still wanted as much of the backbone of the piano there, especially given that the rim was so unstable. Part of this process included a heap of screws fitted to the rim perimeter to help stabilise it.
The wooden blocks you see around the upper rim edge are there to support the speaker grille – yep – a giant speaker cover to hide the openness of the structure and to hide the speakers and wiring.
I marked out the inside edge of the rim as well as the lines created by the backposts, most people will never realise why, but I didn’t want the supports in the speaker cover sitting over the top of the speakers, and I kinda liked the lines created by the backposts, it tied in nicely top to bottom. Design and detail…
The frame of the speaker cover was then painted black and covered with speaker cloth.
I then re-fitted the music rest in a more permanent way and installed a small mixer. The mixer allows the player to run a microphone through the speakers as well and have volume control of everything from the playing position. It was the smallest (budget) mixer we could find that has effects for the vocals, the number of channels is a bit overkill, but if needed a synthesizer could easily be rested on top for a multi keys setup or even working with a singer/guitarist – the brief for flexibility is well and truly fulfilled
I also fitted a strip of LED lights under the pinblock (where the tuning pins were, because once the keyboard is slid into place, the buttons and their markings became invisible, and in a dark venue the keys are well lit too.
Even the original pedal works – rather than pull apart the lyre and fit the pedal to the box at the bottom, I just fitted a block of hard felt to the Kawai pedal and mounted it up under the keybed – simples…
Overall, I’m very happy with the result, it plays well, has plenty of get up and go. It is far and away the tidiest install I’ve done, each one gets more refined. It helps when your client appreciates the details. He is adding a bluetooth receiver to the mixer, so that he can use the speakers for background music in the breaks between sets.
The MP7 is a really useable keyboard – great value, easy to use and easy to get around on-the-fly.
I’ll put up a video of it being played a bit later, maybe after it’s delivered – if the owner will consent to that…