Saturday, 22 December 2018

All Change

We've decided to press on with the front of the piano. The missing string hasn't arrived yet, as post can take some time to reach us, but we'll put that on when it gets here. Chillington need to examine the frame to finalise the pattern in January, when they reopen after the holidays. But all of this can be done with the front on, and we can take the front off if needs be.

Marion waved goodbye as Dés's team took it back to the workshop. We need to be extremely careful to keep it dry, as piano string rusts incredibly easily if exposed to water or damp. Dés is building a case for the front of the instrument to prevent people touching the strings. Pianos are very beautiful, and the first thing people often want to do is run their fingers across the strings to hear the sound, but sweat from our hands can damage the strings and accelerate rusting, so we need to prevent that.

Marion has filled the space with a new addition - a Young Chang from around the late 80s. This was the piano from the church in Kinyinya. The first piano she ever put a new string on. The church have just bought a new piano so this one was on offer.


Marion is planning to rebuild her Lirika once the pattern is settled. But the Young Chang makes a very acceptable substitute. It's got a bit of a bigger voice than the Lirika. Playing with the mute on is a must so as not to disturb the neighbours. It's also very similar in build to the Lirika, so a good reference point for Dés as we continue building. It helps to have a working piano to poke about with and check how things fit together. Providing our prototype works and we go into business, we could always use the Young Chang as a rental instrument for musicians and concerts.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Rebuild Begins

Now that Désiré has made a wooden replica of the actions frame, Marion is putting the original back together. Only another 87 to go...

The exciting part is, we finally get to put the flip-flop hammers on. It'll be a while before we can test them, but it's fun all the same.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

TEDx Talk

Hi everyone. In October, Marion did a TEDx talk at the University of Luxembourg. You can find her talk here, and all of the talks here.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Sound of Silence

Underwater Piano


Sorry we've been so quiet recently. Few hold-ups. 

Firstly, we're waiting for the missing string to arrive. We ordered it a couple of weeks back, but post to Rwanda sometimes takes a while. Nothing we can really do about that.

Meanwhile, we need to settle the pattern for the frame with Chillington before we continue building the front of the piano and installing the keys. The pattern is the specifications for making more frames in the future. There's a few things we need to alter on the frame, such as making sure the hitch pins angle down and are in the correct places, and - most importantly of all - finding the right place to put our logo.

Chillington have already closed for Christmas, so we need to wait until January to go through everything with their technicians.

Once the pattern is 100% completed, we can then put the old frame back into Lirika and start rebuilding her. 

Désire is keen to start building a second piano already, but we've learnt that nothing can be rushed. We're taking our time over the prototype, but once it's complete, building future pianos should become much quicker. 

We're looking forward to finding out what this one sounds like in the New Year, and thank everyone for their continued support with the project.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Ishimwe Dady

We're just taking a moment to give a shout-out to our friend Dady, who is a talented artist in Kigali. If you're looking for authentic Rwandan artwork, drop him a line. There may be some piano painting going on one day.

Friday, 30 November 2018


Sadly, Kigali Music School in Gisozi closed its doors recently due to lack of funding. That's the place with the 1924 Heintzman - the first piano we tuned. Not sure what that piano's up to now, but the former manager, Bonani (who you might remember from our stringing sessions), is striking out on his own and opening a new centre in Nyamirambo. 

They were gifted a piano, but it's got a couple of strings missing and was extremely out of tune. The people who gave him the piano didn't expect he'd be able to find someone to tune it - so we had to really, didn't we?

It's a lovely 1980-81 Swedish Nordiska. 


Marion had a very slight hangover throughout the three-hour tuning process. It can be quite hard physically and mentally to stay focused, but the results always make it completely worth the effort. To hear a piano come to life and sound whole is a magic trick. We're going to help out with ordering and replacing the lost strings and replacing the bridle straps, which have been snacked upon my mice. Otherwise, it's in really good condition and the tuning pins feel nice and tight.

Sorry Bonani, we know you haven't had a chance to practise on this at all yet, but we're going to share.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

The Old Lady of Gikondo

We had a really interesting call-out last week. An Italian family who have lived in Rwanda for three generations are moving from Kigali to the Eastern Province. They have a piano and wanted us to take a look at it and let them know if anything needs fixing before they go.

It was a really interesting case. The lady's grandfather owned it, but she wasn't sure where it originally came from.

Inside, there's a serial number, but there's no maker's mark anywhere on the piano or the frame. Unless you know who made the piano, the number doesn't mean much.


It could be that this is a compilation of more than one piano. Sometimes parts of reclaimed pianos were mix-and-matched, and sometimes marked pianos were refurbished and resold by third parties, such as we saw with Merrick's brandless piano. The outer casing looks typically 1930s/40s, but the keys are plastic rather than ivory, which suggests post-1939 when the cost of plastic and the scarcity of ivory due to the war saw a shift in key tops. Most likely late 1940s, but we may never know for sure.

It's very dusty inside and the hammers need sprucing, but generally it plays okay. Couple of slow hammer returns and two keys half eaten my mice, but - other than the tuning - not bad condition for an old lady.


There's also a large chunk missing from the top left of the soundboard, the bass section. You could see right through it, but weirdly it didn't seem to affect the sound much.

We provided a quote to restore the soundboard and a couple of other minor issues, and to give the hammers a file and iron. And for a tune. They've decided to complete the move and get back to us. The instrument can be transported back to Kigali if they decide to go ahead with it. We hope to see her again one day in the future. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Tuned up a glossy black Schimmel a few weeks back. The serial number places it around 1985, so fairly modern in comparison to most of the pianos we see.

Unfortunately, we lost a bass string in the process - first time that's happened. Thanks to Hellerbass and their trusty tape measure, we were able to order a new one to fit. Post can take a while here, so we sent it to the owner's sister in France, who was coming out to visit. All neatly installed - can you spot the shiny odd one out?

Friday, 9 November 2018

Second Hand Shipment

After giving her TEDx talk in Luxembourg, Marion returned via The Hague to visit family. They have a lovely pier there, and at the end of the pier, a piano looking out at the sea.

Of course, her first instinct was to open it up and see what was inside. Looks like a pre-bombing Dresden-made piano.


Cute Little Handle Detail
Not in too shoddy condition. Certainly a lot better than the grand we saw in Bukavu.

There are so many abandoned and unwanted pianos. When Marion was in the UK earlier in the year, her father mentioned a piano sitting on the street waiting to be taken to the tip. Gumtree and Craigslist are full of unwanted instruments looking for new homes, and we regularly get people asking us whether shipping second-hand pianos to Rwanda would be a good idea.

It would be a lovely idea - a very lovely one - but unfortunately impractical.

Although the pianos are often free, getting them to the docks, hiring a shipping container, then getting them overland from the port in Kenya to landlocked Rwanda is certainly not cheap, not to mention the import duty we'd be looking at.

On top of that, the type of pianos being given away sometimes have serious issues, such as broken or rusted bass strings, slipping tuning pins or rotting hammers. At the moment, we need to import fairly costly parts to fix all of those issues, and again pay duty.

By the time you add everything up, it's more cost effective for us to continue trying to build pianos here, and looking for new solutions to some of the parts we need to import. And, although it would be wonderful to have a stock of old pianos from Europe to refurbish, there are plenty of those lying around Kigali - it's just a case of convincing people to invest in their restoration.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

TEDx Luxembourg

Hi everyone. We've been a bit quiet. Marion was off giving a TEDx talk at the University of Luxembourg. There's a glossy, edited version coming in a few weeks, but you can catch the original talk on the livestream, here. Pianos are mentioned!