Sunday, 8 December 2019

Lirika Rebirth

Rodrigo Putting in Tuning Pins

A much awaited update.

Recognise this lovely instrument? 

It's our original Lirika. The 1968 Soviet piano we took apart to learn how pianos work. We're starting to put her back together. Painted black with a purple frame. Fresh tuning pins are being put in and then she'll come to mine for stringing. We'll be using the same red leather as our new build piano and even attaching some candle sconces. She's having quite a makeover. Even contemplating replacing the white key tops with mirror plastic, just for fun. But we'll see where we get to. If you missed it, the original Lirika bass strings were turned into a giant treble clef.



Saturday, 7 December 2019

African Mona Lisa

We've posted before about talented Rwandan artist Ishumwe Dady. We love this portrait he painted of musician Clement Iradukunda, prominently featuring piano keys. You can see more of Dady's work here.

African Monalisa

Saturday, 16 November 2019

From Russia With Love

A couple of months back, Marion's cousin Tamsin was travelling in Tajikistan with her partner, Guido. They went to Khorog museum and found this piano:

This fascinating Soviet-style old-school museum exhibits crampons and the first Russian piano to arrive in Badakhshan (10 Russian soldiers spent two months carrying it over the mountains from Osh in 1913) along with portraits of Stalin and the basket of a collective farm's star potato-picker. The dilapidated collection is in need of a good dust but that rather adds to the charm. - Lonely Planet

It's an J. Becker. We initially assumed it was named after John J. Becker, an American composer, but a piano forum suggests otherwise:
The Piano Atlas indicates that Jacob Becker went to St. Petersburg in 1841 (from Germany by other sources) where he began what became the high end piano maker for the Czars and their retinue. This Russian maker whose name as J. Becker was known on the fallboards appearing in the best homes of Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in both conservatories where the formidable Russian school of pianism began and was fostered. Becker was apparently a pretty good piano maker until the Soviet era. Their output was always pretty small. - David Burton, Piano World

Unfortunately, this one now appears to be used to store cleaning equipment...

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Drop That Bass

Wanted to share an incredible piece of artwork we've just acquired. 

Back in 2017, when we first took the strings off the Lirika, it was quite an emotional moment. It had taken Marion years to find a piano, so to take it apart with no guarantee of ever being able to put it back together was a bit of a momentous occasion. She didn't just want to throw the strings away. Instead, she had the idea of turning them into a treble clef - a work of art to display at future events. Her friend Ivy put her in contact with a local artist called Rukundo Nyawe, who took up the challenge. 

Our friend Emmy came to deliver it last week, and it's truly impressive. 

Rukundo used every piece of string we'd saved: bass, steel, even the little pig tails we'd trimmed from the tuning pin ends. No waste. And it looks utterly amazing hanging on the wall. A really fitting tribute to a beautiful piano that gave us our start at building one. 


Sunday, 3 November 2019

Rust Damage

This is a pretty devastating post to have to make. The piano has been stored at the workshop for many months now and was protected by waterproof sheeting, however on inspection a couple of weeks back, it turns out that water has affected around seven choruses in the midsection and one bass string. 

We have enough string to restring the midsection and a replacement bass, but it's really undone a lot of hard work and will take time to fix. An issue we'd really hoped to avoid. 

We're now making plans to return the piano to Marion's house where it can be protected from further damp and have the repair work done.

In other sad news, Désiré's workshop was broken into last week. Thankfully the thief was caught by police and nothing from the piano project seems to have gone missing, but it's set back work a little.

The wet season is a particularly difficult time for piano building in Rwanda.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Rwandan Rhapsody

So, we've been on a three-month hiatus. 

Sorry about that.

A combination of many factors: Désiré becoming a dad again, having a lot of other projects he had to complete to bring in money, Marion's parents visiting for three weeks, and a bout of malaria. Things kind of ground to a halt.

We're gearing up again, though.

Starting out with a little post about a concert we helped with last month. British musician Ian Sheppard was visiting Rwanda and played two gigs at CasaKeza in Kacyiru.

Marion provided her Young Chang for the event, but it took a bit of getting over there.

We put the piano on the porch and opened it up, partly to let the sound out and partly because it looks extremely cool. You can still see the size tag on a newly-strung bass string.

Many people have never seen the working action inside a piano before and it drew a lot of excitement. Pianos here are really rare and, 'Ooh, there's a piano!' was a regular exclamation as people walked out to the garden. We left it unlocked most of the time so people could come and have a go. Quite a few musicians pass through CasaKeza as they regularly have live music, so there was a real eclectic mix. It was great to see, as most musicians only have access to electric keyboards and playing a full-on acoustic piano is a whole other experience.

One day, we'd love to build a public piano for the pedestrian area of Kigali town centre.

Anyway, Ian is extremely talented and great at getting the audience to join in. Here's his rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019


Oh, happiness. Two months and one week later, our pins arrive!

Front rail and balance pins. 

They're sitting in Dés's workshop ready to go into the keyboard. Then the keyboard will go into the piano, and the Lirika action will hopefully go on top of that - and we'll hear what our piano sounds like.

What a terrifying thought.

Had an interesting experience yesterday. Doing some final adjustments to the Kimball we've been working on. A couple of the keys were catching, likely due to exposure to damp in the past, and it was making them impossible to play. Had a good look at them, but it was quite hard to tell exactly where they were catching. For lack of chalk, Marion waxed the keys to protect them, then coated a thin layer of concealer across them. She popped them back int he piano and had another play. The concealer highlighted the areas that were rubbing and she got to work with the sandpaper.

When needs must.

It took a lot of sandpapering, and they're not a hundred per cent, but they're much better than they were and you can now play all the keys. We'll monitor the situation and maybe break open the power sander later down the line.