Monday, 25 September 2017

A Grand Day Out

We are incredibly happy to be able to say we now tune grand pianos as well as uprights. Did our first one today, a beautiful Yamaha in Gacuriro. Surprisingly, grands are slightly easier to tune than uprights, although you do more standing up. Such a beautiful instrument.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Unaccustomed Beauty

Well, hello beautiful. What's your name?

It's all very theoretical to say 'we're going to build a piano,' but when you actually start to see it taking shape, it really makes you smile.

Désiré's hard at work building the body.

Meanwhile, we had a beep at the gate yesterday morning.

We raced outside and took an excited photo of Bosco, before realising he wasn't here to deliver our UPS parcel - only the customs form.

We spent the rest of the afternoon down the airport trying to liberate our parcel from customs and paying a princely sum in import duty. We're still recovering from the experience, and we're hugely indebted to Christian at Comfort at Work Clearing Agency for rescuing us from the paperwork. Unfortunately, it looks like affordable Rwandan pianos might simply be a nice dream. It would be easier to understand the rates if we were importing things instead of buying them locally, but we can't buy so much of what we need anywhere in Africa. We can't even find the parts we need to make the parts we can't buy. The high cost of import and clearing pushes the cost of manufacture significantly skyward.

Still, that's what our experiment is about - finding out whether it's feasible to build pianos here. If not, well, at least we'll have something cool to show for our efforts.
Second Mortgage, Anyone?

When we managed to get the parcel home, we opened it to find two sets of bass strings from Hellerbass. One to reconstruct Lirika, and the other for the new piano. Plus two sets of sexy, nickel-plated tuning pins. 

Extremely exciting, but we're now a bit terrified that if we can't find the steels in East Africa, it's going to cost the last of our money importing them from France. It's also put pay to the idea that it would be cheaper to buy a stringing machine and learn to do that ourselves, because even with the machine, we'd need to import the wire. It wouldn't make things any cheaper.

All problems for a later date. We haven't given up looking for a local wire supplier yet, but it's not looking likely.

Friday, 22 September 2017

PiliPili Piano

Something cool that happened yesterday. Went to check out a Sébastien Érard piano from around 1900. Rudy, the owner of a popular bar in town called PiliPili, bought it at auction a couple of years back and imported it from Europe. He originally bought it for decoration as it's very beautiful, with handles to help move it, candle holders and curvy legs.


With the possible exception of the Emile Vits, it's the oldest piano we've seen so far in Kigali. Roughly 117 years to Kigali Music School's 93-year-old Heintzman. At least we know how this one came to be in Rwanda.

Unfortunately, it's not in good condition. It needs a full hammer and damper replacement, new hammer rail felt and string braids, and it's got five broken hammer shanks.

It's also got a few missing key tops. As with the Heintzman, that's difficult because they're ivory. You can't replace ivory key tops because ivory is illegal. On the upside, Rudy's got some spare keys and we can strip the ivory from those to replace the broken pieces. On the downside, it's still ivory, and that's particularly poignant when you're fixing pianos in Africa. Sort of like the elephant foot table in President Habyarimana's palace. 

Some cute features on this piano do include an extremely slim string frame.

Key lettering on each tuning pin. How incredibly helpful is that! Wish every piano had it.

And an illegible (thanks to the strings) piece of script on the back.

PiliPili is a very nice bar with a pool and a stunning view of Kigali. If they decide to go ahead with the refurbishment, you'll soon be able to listen to the sound of a piano whilst watching the sun go down.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Fiddley Bits

This is not what's in the UPS package, but we almost fell over ourselves with joy. These are the bridle straps we need to fix the Kawai piano action. We ordered them from China on 21 August and they only just arrived today, one month later. That's one of the big problems ordering parts from abroad, the post takes ages. On the upside, thanks to eBay, it is free international shipping.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mystery Package

Something exciting this way comes. Would anybody like to take a guess what it is?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

First Rwandan Piano Frame

Hi guys. We're extremely proud, and a little bit teary-eyed, to present to you the first Rwandan-made piano frame. It's fresh out the forge, thanks to Chillington, who worked really hard to make this happen.

This is Désiré's assistant, Samuel, holding it up for display. Pretty hard to tell it apart from the original Lirika frame, below.


Désiré and Marion spent this afternoon measuring up the old frame to put in their string order. You may remember the funky Hellerbass tape measure we received? Well, we were finally able to put it to use now that we have the old frame back in Lirika's casing. It's much easier to take the measurements with the piano flat on the ground and two people to read both ends.

Désiré Modeling the Hellerbass Tape Measure

Bass strings are the low notes on a piano. They're made from a strand of spring steel with copper wound around it. From A0 (the bottom note) to A1 (one octave), each note on this model has a single copper string. Then, from A1 to D3# each note has two, thinner copper strings. Above D3# (the third D# from the left) all the notes have three spring steel wires, creating a chorus of strings. These make up the rest of the midsection and treble. Here's an example of bass and regular strings.

That made a total of 49 measurements to take (18 dual strings and 13 singles).

We're now ready to put in our order with Hellerbass but, as the name suggests, they only make bass strings. We now need to find a supplier of thin spring steel wire in East Africa, otherwise we'll only have a third of a strung piano. 

Meanwhile, Désiré is working to build the piano casing to put the new frame in.

Entrance to Désiré's Workshop

View from Désiré's Workshop

Monday, 4 September 2017

New Uniform

Our piano tuner, Marion, has gone a little crackers. Recently pictured at a party dressed as a piano. We're thinking of introducing this as the new work uniform.