Sunday, 23 September 2018

Safety First

Cat toys, talcum powder and rum.
Recipe for success.

Massive shout out to our friend Ineke, who brought us a gift package from Belgium. We used to be able to buy safety goggles from Nakumatt, but they're having supply issues at the moment and no longer stock them. Tried a few other places, but no joy. 

Thanks to Ineke, we're all stocked up on safety goggles, dust masks and talcum powder.

We get through so much talcum powder whilst stringing.

You have to make sure your hands are really well washed and completely dry whilst stringing. Sweat and water causes the wire to rust really quickly. We wear a glove on the left hand to help protect our fingers when coiling the wire around the pins, but it helps to have one bare hand free to do other things with more precision. Hence all the talc.

Honestly, so much talc.

Floor looks like a snowstorm. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Guest Stringers Part III

We welcomed our third and final set of guest stringers yesterday for F3, F3# and G3.

First up was Edward, Marion's neighbour, who has patiently put up with the twanging sound of strings these past couple of weeks.

You might recognise our second guest from the Indiegogo campaign. This is Paco, one of Rwanda's most accomplished pianists and piano tutors.

And Paco put on a second string for our friend Fabio Tedde, who really wanted to be a part of the project but isn't in Rwanda at the moment. Fabio was here last Christmas to play for Autisme Rwanda.

Now that all of our guest stringers have had a chance to take part, we're going to finish up the main stringing, hopefully by the end of next week.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Rwanda Motorcycle Company

Dés and Marion spent the morning at Rwanda Motorcycle Company. They were invited by Chris, the Director of Manufacturing, to come and see the bikes they manufacture. All of the bikes are imported in plywood crates and he asked whether it would be useful for our pianos. It's not quite right for pianos, but still useful for Désiré's other projects.

The warehouse is vast. It's based out in the Free Trade Zone, which is a massive industrial area. It's built in the midst of beautiful, green wetlands, but the rental prices are pretty steep. It was the first time we'd been out there and it was interesting to have a nose around

They mainly build three types of bike. This one is a runaround:

This one is a swanky touring bike:

And this one as a workhorse for carrying loads through the villages:

It was really good to talk to Chris about manufacturing in Rwanda. Both pianos and motorcycles face similar challenges with regard to import costs and sourcing materials. We've also joined Kigali Entrepreneurs Forum, which is where we met Chris in the first place. 

After the visit, Marion popped to Frulep to do some shopping and found this stunning Harley Davidson sitting in the car park. Quite a sight in Kigali, and attracting a lot of attention from moto drivers.


Sunday, 16 September 2018

DuncanAfrica Society

Slight divergence from pianos for a post, though the stringing is going well.

We recently received a message via WhatsApp asking whether we could mend a guitar, as someone's instrument had been damaged in transit.

We couldn't, but we endeavoured to find someone who could, which is when we made contact with the DuncanAfrica Society. They are an organisation based in Mpigi, not far from Entebbe, which produces African-made guitars. Their story is really inspiring.

Back in July, Marion had a go at restringing her first guitar. More used to working with thick piano wire, it was tricky to stop the beckets popping out, but she eventually managed to get her step-father's F. Hashimoto twelve-string up to pitch with the help of the GuitarTuna app.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Friday, 7 September 2018

Guest Stringers Part II

We welcomed our second set of guest stringers yesterday and completed two sections of the treble, each section being made up of eighteen tuning pins, six notes of the same guage wire. We've completed sizes 6.5-16, starting on 15 today.

This is our friend Chris from Kenya. She's an engineer and has been a great sounding board for discussions on alternative materials and action parts. 

Lauren is an incredibly talented violinist and a staunch member of WAG, the animal rescue shelter here. We'll make another post about that at some point as all of the Kigali Keys cats are rescue cats and WAG do excellent work. We'll put Lauren's contact at the bottom of this page if you would like violin lessons in Kigali. 

Our last guest of the day was the lovely Alex Karabona, who has been involved with this project from the start and attempted to cast our first string frame before we enlisted the help of Chillington. He also makes our custom-made tuning hammer bits which help us to tune pianos without shaving the pins.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Guest Stringers Part I

We thought stringing the piano would be a great opportunity to invite friends and local musicians to get involved with the project. Over the past two days we've welcomed our first guest stringers...

Bunani from Kigali Music School was our first stringer - B5. When we first met Bunani, he was the manager of Kigali Music School. Unfortunately, they've run out of funding and had to close, but Bunani is opening his own music school in Nyamirambo. We'll post more about that soon, but if anyone would like to offer support or instruments we can put you in contact. He also offers piano lessons - check the bottom of our Tuning and Repair section.

Ilse was next up - C6. She was extremely kind in letting children from Autisme Rwanda use her piano last Christmas for a music therapy session with Fabio Tedde.

Our third guest was André, lead guitarist of one of Kigali's best live bands, Viva Beat. They play Pacha Club in Kimironko every Saturday and will have you up dancing all night. We're really honoured that he took time out to come and string C6# for us. Beautiful people!

Monday, 3 September 2018

On with the Show

It's been a busy few days. We've managed to work out the string sizes for each section. According to Pianos Inside Out, we start stringing each section left to right, starting with treble.

The first string went on 1st September.

Then we had to take a little break because a couple of the hitch pins were tilted upwards, which meant the strings slid off when tightened. Following Chillington's advice, we hit them with a hammer a couple of times - problems solved.


Today, the first section of six notes was completed and it's time to change up a gauge. We're inviting a few friends and local musicians to come and put a string on. More about that soon.

Saturday, 1 September 2018


The leather is on. Looking smart.

Not the easiest thing to measure as it's all very curvy. 

The easiest thing to do was to cover the frame ridge with masking tape then use a pencil to take a rubbing of the shape. The masking tape then peels off and can be stuck to the leather and cut out. As luck would have it, we have a small metal ruler which is exactly the same width as the ridge, so that was handy as a guide. 

 Et voila!

Friday, 31 August 2018

Red Leather

Heehee. Here's a picture of Désiré recording the interview with BBC World Service. Due to connection problems, we still haven't heard it yet because we can't load the player, but we've heard great feedback and a friend is going to record it on their phone and send it to us.

So, what's been happening?

Well. Indecision, mostly.

In an attempt to keep things local, Marion approached Bernadette from leather company Dokmai. The idea was to replace items like the understring and pressure bar felt with leather. Dokmai make a lot of leather products such as bags and wallets, and the idea was to use any scraps from their leftovers.

Then Marion was at Union Trade Centre (UTC), one of the main shopping centres in town, and saw that Kigali Leather have opened a shop. Along with leather products, they were selling full hides. One of which was a rather fetching shade of red.


The reason this looked so attractive is that the hitch pin punchings, which are made from felt, are also red.

Gizmo helping to put the punchings in.
Knowing nothing about leather, how much it costs or how it's made, we talked it through with Bernadette. The leather manufacturing capital of Rwanda is Bugesera. However, it has had a difficult history when it comes to environmental protection. Bugasera was temporarily closed for polluting Akagera River, and other tanneries in the country have been permanently closed for similar reasons. Waste disposal is an issue for us as we want to be conscientious about where we source our materials. The other thing we learned about the Bugesera leather is that the colour is painted on, whereas good quality leather tends to be dyed.

Bernadette put us on to another supplier in Kigali called Germaine. Germaine has worked in the leather industry since leaving school - it's a family business. She makes shoes and other leather goods, importing hides from Kenya. She showed us the difference.

Bugesera leather, which has been painted.
Kenyan leather which has been dyed.
You can tell from the back of the hide which process has been used. A white, or natural-coloured back, is painted, whereas a dyed hide is the same colour on the front and back, and that colour will not fade or rub off.

The difference then comes down to price.

The Kigali Leather hide was selling for FRW 50,800 (currently around £44/$58)whereas the second, dyed leather cost FRW 90,000 (£80/$103) for slightly less. Importing the felt from America (string braid, pressure bar and understring) comes to a lot less - around $40 including postage. As post takes a really long time and we want to start stringing, we opted for the leather. As we want the prototype to look smart, we've gone for the more expensive leather. In the future, we'll revisit this decision depending on how well the leather suits its purpose and what the customer wants. For now, we can also use the leather for the action as there's enough of it.

We also bought a bottle of 'yellow glue', which is suitable for sticking leather. It cost FRW 2,500 (around £2/$3) and takes around 30 minutes to set.

the leather is going into the piano over the weekend, and stringing should start next week.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

BBC Interview

Déseré and Marion did a little interview with BBC World Service this morning. You can listen to it here. It starts around 48 mins in. Unfortunately, we can't load it with our connection at the moment, so if the link doesn't work please let us know.

If it is no longer available on the BBC, you can listen to it here.

Monday, 13 August 2018


We met up with Bernadette Umunyana from Dokmai Rwanda today. They make really high-quality leather goods in Kigali. We're trying to keep things regionally sourced, so we're asking them for help with parts that would usually be made from imported material. Bear in mind that this is a test piano, so we're taking every opportunity to see what we can do locally. Bernadette first learnt to work with leather and silk whilst living in Laos, and her items are sold throughout Kigali, with a showroom at Lemigo Hotel.

In the meantime, we've noticed a slight problem with one of the hitch pins on the midsection. It's not quite fully formed and needs to go back to Chillington for welding so that it will securely hold the tension of the string. This would have been easier to do before the frame and pins went in, but our friend Mohammad assures us this can be done without setting fire to the rest of the piano. Part of this project is to pick up any issues with the frame so that we can modify the pattern and get it absolutely right in the future.

Top middle hitch pin not fully formed.

A while back, we dropped off the action rail for Chillington's appraisal, but it's likely to be a fiddly job for them as they're used to working with large-scale industrial equipment. Fiddly tends to equal expensive, so Marion went to collect the frame today and took it back to Dés's workshop. This is how we roll in Kigali, moving piano parts around town on a moto (public motorbike)...

Whilst waiting for Désiré, Marion noticed that the guy in the shop next door had a keyboard, so she popped in for a chat. His name's Honore and he has been teaching himself to play. His friend works next door as a carpenter and had heard about the piano venture. It was really nice to hang out with them. Hopefully he can help test the new piano once it's built.