Monday, 16 July 2018

Pipe Down


Sorry we've been so quiet. Marion's in the UK at the moment and Désiré is busy with his carpentry business. Here's a little video clip Marion made from Hollowell Steam Rally last weekend, which is the next village along from where she grew up. Some nice shots of musical organs, but also serves to illustrate the difference the steam age made to industrial progress. Piano posts to follow shortly.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Earth School Wurlitzer

Picture of Désiré putting our new scroll saw to good use. Also got some better shots of the bridge he's made, so you can see how intricate it is.

Truly a work of art. Unfortunately, we're still a way off stringing yet. Securing the soundboard and inserting the tuning pins is going to take a bit longer. Meanwhile, Marion's off to the UK for a few weeks. Chillington are working on a quote for the action frame for us. Bahoro bahoro, as we say in Rwanda - slowly slowly.

In other news, we were at The Earth School in Kiyovu on Tuesday to tune their Wurlitzer console. It definitely wasn't an easy one to work with. Lot of dust and spiders inside, and the screws on the action frame were a bit stuck until the oil worked its magic. The action really didn't want to go back in again afterwards, so one of the teachers was drafted in to help.

It wasn't easy finding the serial number, either. We think this is it in the bottom left of the frame. Hard to read, but looks like 372718, which would place it roughly around 1948, we think.

Along with spiders and rusty strings, a mouse has also had a go at C8 and its bridle strap.

The biggest issue is the worn hammers and dampers. The dampers are so worn that it sounds as though the sustain pedal is down, even when it's not.

It's a nice instrument, though. Despite the worn hammers, it sounds clear enough. We gave it an overpull and will fine tune it once Marion's back. Also going to test out our ironing equipment to try to buff the hammers a little.

And as it was one of the teacher's birthdays, there was also cake. Piano tuning and cake - always a good combination.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bridge to the Other Side

We've been holding off posting for a while in the hopes of making a big announcement about stringing, but it's taking longer than expected. Marion is off to the UK for a few weeks and we're trying to get to the stage where we can string up the prototype before she leaves. That will give the new strings time to stretch and settle, so that we can tune them on her return.

The bit that's been taking a while is getting all the pins aligned on the bridges. Désiré has been working overtime to craft these complicated parts, which keep the strings evenly spaced and taught. 

Example of bridge pins from this site.

Now that they're almost finished, it's a case of mounting the string frame and hammering in the tuning pins using these pieces of equipment from Howard Piano Industries. The black one is a tuning pin punch, which goes over the pin to protect it when you hammer. The silver one is a tuning pin setter, which helps to ensure that all the pins go in at the same depth. We're talking around 220 tuning pins, so it takes a while to do by hand.

Friday, 18 May 2018

88 and Out

Finally taken all 88 hammers off the action frame last week and delivered it to Chillington to see whether they can replicate it. 

Started by taking each hammer, damper and whippen off one by one and labelling them, then discovered it was easier just to do six or seven hammers, then dampers, then whippens, then labels. Sped things up a bit. Whole process took about five hours.  


Gave the whole thing a bit of a wipe down. Fifty years of dust in between the pieces.

Not to mention a wee eight-legged friend. Not sure how long she's been there, but we hope she owns earmuffs.  

Popped the frame out in the sun to dry.

Then, the next morning, Marion sat the frame on her lap and took it by public moto to Chillington. Public motorbikes (motos) are the fastest and most convenient way of getting around the city, and the frame was surprisingly light with all the hammers removed.
Public Moto
Piano Action on a Moto

Now it's just a case of waiting to hear what Chillington say.

Monday, 30 April 2018


This beautiful piece, Requiem Pour Pianos by Romain Thiery, reminds us of our recent trip to DRC and all the pianos we've seen that have been relegated to mere decoration.

You can find more beautiful pictures of abandoned pianos here and here. Every one of them still has a melody resonating within.

Here's Marion playing an old piano she found under a tree in her home village years ago. Please, if you know of a broken or abandoned piano in Rwanda - call us. Investing in a piano is investing in all the music inside it, now and for generations to come.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Not a Catastrophe

Two of the Kigali Keys rescue cats, Gizmo and Howl, explaining to Marion how to take the hammers off the action.

Oh, no, wait, that was Désiré. These guys were just there to help.

Things are getting interesting. Whilst we wait for Dés and his team to prep the piano for stringing, Marion decided to take a crack at removing the hammers from the action frame. Once we've stripped the frame, we can take it down to Chillington to see if we can replicate it.

Some pianos, including the original Lirika, have three pedals. Some have two. The current thinking on ours is to go with two - the sustain and half-blow - and ditch the mute. The mute places a strip of felt between the hammers and the strings, which makes the piano play quietly. Useful for practising when you don't want to annoy your neighbours. But mutes are fiddly to construct and sometimes the hammers get caught in the felt. Marion recently removed one from a piano because it had that problem.

We're definitely keeping the other two pedals. The half-blow raises the hammers closer to the strings, also creating a quieter sound, and the sustain - everyone's favourite pedal - lifts the dampers so that the notes keep resonating over one another. The pedals are connected to the action frame using poles. This is the half-blow and sustain in action.

Taking the action apart has been particularly terrifying. It always is when you start to deconstruct something complicated, because you worry whether you'll ever be able to get it back together again. Thankfully, it looks a lot harder than it is.

We've done a little video.

So, we think we're on solid ground.

As well as the three main parts, there's also a little let-off button, which (to put it simply) regulates the hammer timing. This has a tiny screw, which requires a special screwdriver to remove. One of the most nerve-racking issues is making sure we collect up all the tiny little screws. Losing them would make it very hard to put everything back together again in the future.

Removing the Let-off Screw

And the Let-off Button.

Let-off Screw

Let-off Button

Each key we remove goes into a paper envelope with the number of the key (1-88) and the note (A0-C8) on the front.

L-R: Damper, Whippen, Hammer
The top treble section doesn't have dampers.

The 87th note, B7

Thankfully, the makers of our piano very helpfully branded each hammer with its position number.

Then, all of the envelopes go into a box with a cat.

The cat is very important. 

Couple of cool techie shots...

Damperless Treble

It's going to take another week or so before it's completed, due to other commitments, but there's more exciting news to come soon.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Kigali Keys In Action

It's been a busy week this week. 

We received a donation that has allowed us to purchase a scroll saw and sander which will make it a lot easier to finish the keys and give them a better finish. We're extremely grateful to the Schofields for their support, and you can find a full list of our donors on our Hall of Fame page.

The above is a set of custom-made tuning bits which Alex donated. We're getting closer and closer to stringing. 

Marion's also been out and about helping to fix some problems with pianos across the city. We were back at the Korean Church in Kinyinya, checking out a sticking key. We received some very yummy Korean chocolate mud pies as a thank you. Nomnomnom.

We're also starting work later this year on the Japanese piano from Nagasaki. Starting with a full clean-up, then moving on to rebushing some of the flange pins and perhaps replacing a hammer. We need some equipment for this, though. It takes a while for parts to arrive, so we'll do the clean-up in May, then probably set to work on the rest in August.

In the meantime, Désiré has given Marion a tutorial on removing the hammers from the Lirika action. We're taking them all off so that we can take the action frame to Chillington to see if they can replicate it. We'll also be taking the action parts around town to find a laser cutter that is capable of manufacturing everything we need. We've got a supply of hammer springs and bridle straps, but the rest needs making.

Once the bridges are in place, the idea is for Marion to start stringing whilst Désiré completes the keys and Chillington figures out the action frame. Should help speed things up a bit.

Watch this space...