Tuesday, 21 May 2019

In Bed with Kigali Keys

We have a key bed, more or less.

This is the original:


As you can see, we're lacking rail pins, both balance and front. We were going to attempt this ourselves, and in the long-term hope to find a local solution, but in the interests of finishing the project sooner, we're ordering them from Howard in the US.


So, what does this mean for the project?

Well, once the pins arrive and we have them installed, we can mount the keys.  

That's when it should get exciting. Once the keys are mounted, providing everything's built to scale, we should be able to place the Lirika action inside our piano and, with any luck, it'll line up. This would let us test whether our own strings hold, tune the piano, and test our flip-flop hammers

That's when we're going to know whether this is a viable business or not. If we encounter serious problems at that stage, we might not be able to continue, as we couldn't afford to rebuild from scratch. But if only minor adjustments are required, we'll make those and move on to tackling the action. The action is extremely complicated, so it's only worth us attempting if we're likely to mass produce in the future. 

Exciting times.

If we can get the piano playing with the Lirika action, we could also display at this year's Made in Rwanda Expo.

We're currently funding this with our own time and money, so we're always extremely grateful for any contributions. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019


Shout out to all our fellow Game of Thrones fans. 

Fun fact - Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a UN Goodwill Ambassador and visited Rwanda earlier this year.

Yes - Jaime Lannister... a peace envoy.

Enjoy the finale everyone!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Pride, Prejudice and Pianos

The Hamilton action arrived in Kigali and we've set to work on it. We measure time by how many movies you get through whilst you work. It's been nice listening to the piano music in Pride and Prejudice whilst putting one back together.

It's the long wet season at the moment:

But when the weather's nice, we sometimes work outside.

With the help of assistants.

Akantu ('little thing') and Gizmo

The main problem with the piano action is sticking hammers. It came from Tanzania where it caught a bit of humidity. The hammers move forward and backwards on tiny metal pins. The pins sit in holes padded with felt. If the felt gets damp, it expands, and this causes the pins to tighten up and the hammers to stick. One way to check for sticking hammers is to push the hammers forward and see how smoothly they return. This Kimball is in good shape:

If they return slowly or not at all, there's probably a tight pin. Though also check the hammer hasn't just got caught on the damper felt, which can happen if the action is out of the piano.

Fixing sticking hammers can be quite an undertaking and requires removing the hammers from the action frame.We made a little video on how to do that here

We also had to replace 35 bridle straps, which had been chewed on at some point in the past.



It's important to number everything with pencil or chalk as you take it out, so you remember where to put everything back. Things can get complicated quickly...

And a little bit of Blu Tack can go a long way. Especially in stopping errant screws from rolling across the floor and disappearing under couches.

Once the hammers were off, we used this handy pin poker and bushing broach kit to loosen up the felt. The poker pokes the pin out of the hole, which can be quite tough if it's in really tight. Pliers help once the top of the pin is far enough out. Then the broaching kit is made up of thin pokers with a rough edge to brush the felt loose. After that, you can gently tap the pin back in and the hammer should move smoothly again. 

1.27 mm/0.05" Flange Pin
Broaching Tool, Brushing the Felt
This has worked well for most of the faulty hammers, all except one which has too loose a flange. This means the felt isn't tight enough because it's worn down, resulting in a hammer that wobbles from side to side and doesn't strike true. 

Unfortunately - we have a problem. We tried re-felting the hole with the thickest felt we had, but this wasn't enough to solve the problem. It needs a larger pin. That's something we haven't got access to. Online shops sell bags of centre pins for around $11 before postage, but the sizes are so exact and if we order a big bag of the wrong size, and they don't fit, we have no other use for them at the moment. We're appealing to piano refurbishers to post us a selection of sizes. Every piano we encounter here comes from a different part of the world, with different specifications. We could really do with a little collection of centre pins for emergencies. The pin we need to replace is 1.27 mm/0.05", so the next two sizes up from that would be helpful, and then whatever else you have to spare.

Our address is:

Marion Grace Woolley
PO Box 5145

It can take several weeks for things to arrive, but we're always extremely grateful.  
We've done all that we can outside the piano now, and need to return it to the instrument to check whether the fixes have worked. 

On a final note, we found this on the back of the action. The Piano Age Calculator reckoned this was made between 1947-52, and this appears to back that up. It seems to say 8.12.52 - EW. This might be the first time it was tuned, but it's compelling evidence that the instrument was indeed around by 1952. As it's an American make, that's probably 12 August 1952, rather than the British date system of 8 December 1952.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Hamilton Hospitality

An absolutely lovely day on Wednesday. Marion met the owner of Bugesera Lodge a while back, and was invited to come check out their piano. Jocelyne and her husband brought it with them from Tanzania and it was a little worse for wear. But before taking a look, they fed her the most amazing four-course meal!

The lodge is a thirty-minute moto ride from town, set in a wonderful green area just before Nyamata. Their piano is an American Hamilton, built somewhere between 1947-52.

It wasn't in playable condition, but the issue was with the action, so Jocelyne is going to drop it off in Kigali and we'll see whether we can get it playing again.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Purple Frame

Work has begun on reconstructing Lirika. As mentioned, we're going for a slightly Gothic rebuild, and in the midst of the rainy season, we've opted for a purple frame.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Getting Gothic With It

Thanks very much to Peter Woolley, Marion's dad, for sending out these gorgeous candle sconces!

Marion has always wanted a piano with candle sconces, so we've decided to have some fun with the Lirika rebuild.

Remember this beautiful piano...

Well, it doesn't really look like that anymore. Her parts are scattered across the workshop, her frame has been poked and prodded by Chillington, and her action is in pieces in Marion's front room. However, now we have the pattern sorted with Chillington, we can start to rebuild her.

We're in the process of spray-painting the frame purple, which should go nice with the red leather detail, and stripping off the veneer to stain the wood black. There is some debate about replacing the white keytops with mirrored plastic. Still to be decided, but Marion is attempting to learn (at least part of) Victor's piano solo from Corpse Bride to have something to go with the candle sconces. 

Our Kigali Keys piano will be a show piece once it's built, but Lirika will be theatrical. 

Just for fun.

Lots of fun things happening over the next few months.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Secret Key

Had a call out to assess a 1981 Kimball last week. It belongs to a family who have lived in Kigali for around sixty years, and the son has recently returned from the UK and wants to take up playing. 

Marion went on Monday to perform an over-pull, as it's very out of tune. The piano was perhaps the easiest she's ever tuned. It seemed to want to find the right pitch.

It also has a very clever fallboard, which is the bit that closes over the keys. You could either rest it back without it leaning against the hammers, or you could slide the whole thing back to create a table to rest your tuning tools on.

Very nice design.

Unfortunately, it appeares that someone had tried to force the topboard off at some point, breaking the catch. It had then been nailed into place to prevent the topboard falling off. We removed the nails and Dés has taken it to the workshop to repair the catch.

Down below, we found somebody's writing, explaining that the light bulb is 25 watts. It's a funny piano, as it does feel a bit older than 38, and the writing looks like something you'd find in a Wild West saloon, but perhaps it's just well travelled.

The dampers are quite worn on this piano, causing it to sound as though it's on permanent sustain. We're going to look into ordeingr replacements and perhaps giving the hammers a buff. 

Along with tuning and dampers, the keys need a bit of attention. There were quite a few sticking, so when you pressed down, the hammer didn't come back, making it impossible to double-strike.

Marion started by checking the action, but that wasn't the problem as all the hammers fell back smoothly.

This meant that it was probably the keys themselves. So, Marion took up the keys to take a look, and found this...

What a lovely mystery. It seems unlikely it could have fallen in there, so perhaps it was deliberately placed. The key to a magic kingdom, perhaps?

The sticking keys have been eased with the help of Beeutiful Creations beeswax on the balance pins, and brushing the balance felt. Beeutiful Creations make the best honey in Rwanda at the moment, and their wax melts to the touch. Going to give the whole piano a rub-down with it.

For now, the owner is going to give it a play and check that the key fix worked, and identify any remaining sticking points. We'll return for a fine tune in a couple of weeks.