Saturday, 29 February 2020

Close to Testing

Exciting times here at Kigali Keys. 

Above are a couple of actions. The one behind belongs to Jocelyn's piano from Bugesera. This piano had a lot of problems when we first met it. There was some restringing to do, all the springs needed replacing and several of the bridle straps had been chewed off by mice. But we got through a lot of movies and nice meals in the process. The last part of the puzzle is replacing a hammer with a dodgy centre pin. It wobbles so much it doesn't strike the string full on. We tried re-felting it, but that didn't work, so we had to send to America for parts and those took months to arrive. Finally got them. Will also replace two hammer shanks. Seems someone else did a bit of repair on it some years back and, for want of a new shank, they simply shortened the old ones and reattached the hammer. You can see it best in this picture with the hammer nearest to you.

Once that's fixed, we'll be taking the action back to Bugesere Lodge, giving the piano a full tune, and hopefully celebrating its full restoration. It's been an absolute pleasure to work on and it will be really amazing to see all that hard work pay off. 

The second action belongs to Lirika. The blue hammers are recycled flip-flops. We're eternally grateful to our lovely volunteer Charlie, who painstakingly sat down and put the whole thing back together again. All except the last few hammers as we'd cunningly hidden the screws for those at the back of our store cupboard, so Paulin is going to have to fish through a jamjar of bits and bobs to finish the job. Dés also needs to file down the flip-flop hammers as they're a little bigger than the rest.

However, now that the Lirika action is back together, Dés and Paulin should be able to mount it on the new keys to see whether it aligns. If it does, we can eventually put it into the new piano to test the strings, the sound quality, and the flip-flops.

So, we're getting really, really close to making a sound.

It's extremely exciting and a little nerve racking. There's a good chance three years of work might come to nothing... but we'll keep holding our breath.

Meanwhile, we were visited by a lovely lady called Janet Dewan. She's a long-term supporter of the project and here in Rwanda training anaesthetists. Whilst she's here, she likes to practice the piano, but they're so difficult to find, so Marion let her borrow hers. She made a very generous donation to the project and we're really grateful.

We also had a visit from a lovely Belgian couple who walked half of Kigali to come and find us. Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo, but they had a good look round the workshop and explained that their son is also a piano technician. He has a company called Polychord. If you're reading this blog, we'll definitely drop you a line soon!

Finally, we were called by a very prestigious client. We headed over to tune this 40-50 year old Nieer piano. Originally from Shanghai, it now lives at the American Ambassador's residence. So, in the space of a couple of weeks we have tuned a concert grand for an international pianist, and a cosy upright for the family of an international Ambassador. Not bad going.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Little Pins

Needs straightening and the felt put in, but the balance pins are roughly in place. 

The keys are taking a bit of time as some of them need remaking. Trying to get everything the right size is tricky, but those that do fit are balancing well and feel like proper piano keys when you hit them. 

Once the keyboard is finished, we can attach it to the piano, pull the strings up (they've gone very loose since the piano was first strung), insert the Lirika action and see if it plays. 

So much hard work has gone into this under very difficult circumstances. Dés had to purchase some new equipment last month as his shop was broken into. A neighbour broke in and stole some power tools then sold them. Unfortunately, he wasn't caught red-handed so no charges could be brought. Most of what is needed has been replaced, and power tools for the piano, such as the scroll saw and sander we bought, are kept at Dés's house, so weren't taken. 

It's been a bumpy ride but we're almost at the really exciting bit. 

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Keiko Nishizu

We had a really amazing night last night. Got a call from Serena at the end of last week, saying they needed their grand tuned for a concert by Keiko Nishizu.

You might remember, we fixed a damper on that piano last May. Back then it was our first time to take the action out of a grand. This time was our first concert tuning. We've tuned many private pianos, but never one that was then played by a renowned professional pianist.

The main tuning happened on Saturday.

We paused to admire this swanky fallboard. On most pianos, the lid just snaps shut, but not on a beautiful instrument like this.

Yesterday was the night of the concert and we turned up just before to give it a pre-performance check up. They'd moved it across the lobby, so we needed to make sure that the move hadn't affected the sound.


This piano really is a joy to work with. Very easy to tune with a great sound. Though that didn't stop the nerves. Even though Keiko performed a sound check, you still worry that maybe you missed something and a bum note will suddenly reveal itself with a clunk halfway through the performance. Luckily that didn't happen and we eventually relaxed into the performance. It was a really wonderful evening and there's an extreme swell of pride to know that you had a part in that. To hear an instrument you have tuned being played by a professional pianist to an appreciative audience is a really amazing feeling. 

We also learnt that both Serena and Mille Collines have been flying a tuner in from Kenya in the past. Hopefully we'll be able to help them out, because that's a very long way, and a lot of money, to spend on a piano tuner. As our own project progresses, we hope to train a couple of tuners in Kigali so that the city always has them.