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#2648069 - 05/29/17 04:49 AM Building Pianos in Africa  
Joined: May 2017
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Lirika Offline
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Hi everyone,

Hope it's okay to post about this?

I joined after reading a thread on Russian pianos, which was really interesting for me as I'm part of a project in Rwanda to build uprights - and we're basing our string frame on a Russian piano, as it's the only piano we could find. (The fact that it's the only piano we could find is mostly why we've decided to start building them.)

The project is called Kigali Keys, and we've got until 11 June to complete our crowdfunder on Indiegogo (there's a video there explaining what we do). We've also got a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter - any help spreading the word would be hugely appreciated.

We're hoping to cast our first frame in the next couple of weeks, and we're looking for a string manufacturer to work with. Somewhere with a lot of patience and at cost postage policy smile We're very landlocked here, so postage and import is a pain.

We're working with pretty basic tools and no experience. Not aiming for a concert-style grand, but for a practical, playable instrument with a touch of Africa. Something people can afford.

On a completely random note - has anyone ever played a piano with leather hammers? I know it's all about felt nowadays, but I'm curious to know what it sounded like. We're most likely to import felt hammers, but we'll also be experimenting too. We're trying to use as much as we can find locally because each time we import, the cost goes up. If there is another way to do something, we're open to it. I know a piano is a very precise instrument, and there are tried and trusted ways of doing things that we will stick to. It's just interesting to consider the options within those methods.

Really interested to hear experiences from people who have built their own pianos - especially where the action is concerned.

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#2648082 - 05/29/17 06:35 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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wouter79 Offline
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All's fine to post here! You might also consider the tech forum if you have more technical questions

I vaguely remember that I played on a piano with leather heads. It gives a very different sound, a lot thinner than with felt. Maybe this is also related to the weight of the hammers. I think you can easily try how it sounds if you take a single leather hammer and manually hit the strings with it at the proper location. It was ok with the older pianos and older music; but with the modern pianos with high string tension etc it probably does not work so nice


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#2648095 - 05/29/17 08:03 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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David Farley Offline
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Square grands from the 19th century had leather heads. Or at least the early ones did. You might want to look up some recordings of some accurately restored square grands to see what they sound like. But there are a lot of other differences in square grands that might alter the sound.

#2648115 - 05/29/17 09:58 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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Felt hammers are far more wear resistant than leather. Wool hammers have a highly variable spring rate to the felt. On a soft blow they barely deform and spring back quicker than on a hard blow where they stay deformed longer thus making a brighter sound.

Much better if you post technical questions on the technicians forum.

Have you ever visited a piano factory?


In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible.
According to NASA, 93% of the earth like planets possible in the known universe have yet to be formed.
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#2648129 - 05/29/17 10:33 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Miguel Rey Offline
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Just curious, why Africa ?




#2648132 - 05/29/17 10:38 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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BDB Offline
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I would feel far better about this project if you exhibited better knowledge about piano design and building.


Semipro Tech
#2648159 - 05/29/17 11:36 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Fortunately BDB, they don't need you or me to define what success will mean to them.

There is no one else to do it. So they do it themselves, starting from nothing. I think the journey will be at least as interesting as where they arrive. I salute them.

Will Truitt


fine grand piano custom rebuilding, piano technician and tuner
#2648172 - 05/29/17 11:54 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: WilliamTruitt]  
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BDB Offline
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Nobody needs to start from nothing. There are plenty of books and other resources available, including this board.


Semipro Tech
#2648489 - 05/30/17 07:06 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: BDB]  
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Originally Posted by WilliamTruitt
I think the journey will be at least as interesting as where they arrive. I salute them.


+1

Originally Posted by BDB
Nobody needs to start from nothing. There are plenty of books and other resources available, including this board.


And here they are, reading and asking questions

#2648491 - 05/30/17 07:19 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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I think, given you have no experience, it will be much simpler to build a digital piano rather than an acoustic one...

For a digital you only need a raspberry pi, an amplifier, some speakers and a very simple to build cabinet, and the difficult part, the action with sensors... and some young student who knows how to program, plus some free piano library sounds...

For acoustic you need LOT more...


Fabio PandaR1
#2648616 - 05/30/17 03:25 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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JohnSprung Online content
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You might look up the Gravitylight folks, who have recently set up manufacturing in Nairobi. They have a product that replaces kerosene for lighting. They did extensive market research which may be valuable to you.

Nairobi would be a great place for pianos, since the climate is so moderate and constant year around. They have the best weather of any city on the NHK Newsline world forecast.


-- J.S.

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#2648668 - 05/30/17 06:37 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: JohnSprung]  
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NHK world three day weather outlook? NHK world is a great channel, glad to know I am not the only person who watches it.


I now have a signature.
#2648675 - 05/30/17 06:55 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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JohnSprung Online content
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Yeah -- I was never a sports fan until just last year when I got hooked on NHK's Grand Sumo Highlights.


-- J.S.

[Linked Image] [Linked Image]

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#2648878 - 05/31/17 12:48 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Jolly Offline
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While I admire your want-to, I think you may be missing the forest for the trees.

Your goal is to provide good, playable instruments for people who want and need them, but import costs are very high. Yet, people are giving unplayable pianos away for free.

Instead of making pianos from scratch, why not rebuild pianos? They don't have to have, and in many cases cannot be refurbished with, OEM parts. Might make for some interesting work. We had a tech on here years ago, that hailed from South Africa. IIRC, he changed out the strings on Yamaha grands to something quite different and was well pleased with the new tone achieved.

A good rebuild with a decent case refinish job, selling for a reasonable price, might be a sustainable business model. Or not.

My two cents...


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#2662442 - 07/18/17 05:38 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Lirika Offline
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Lirika  Offline
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Hi everyone,

Sorry for the late reply. This forum doesn't seem to send reply notifications, so I didn't see until now.

Thanks to all those who have offered constructive input. Just to answer a couple of questions:

Why Africa? Because we live here.

BDB would feel far better if we exhibited better knowledge about piano design and building - so would we.

Digital pianos aren't so great in a country with regular power cuts. Tends to put a dampener on live performances.

Donated pianos are great. There are many donated electric keyboards. But right now Rwanda is ripe for industry, not charity.

We'd love to refurbish pianos, but importing them costs more than it costs us to make one from scratch and it took us two years to find one piano for sale. There aren't any - hence we're building them.

Thanks again for all your replies. Definitely a few things we'll go check out.

We're casting our first string frame at the moment, and talking with a place in Nairobi about a potential novel solution to hammer felt. We're excited and enjoying ourselves. In an ideal world, of course we'd all be trained piano building experts using the finest material. But it's not an ideal world, or even an equal one, and we don't have those opportunities. We have what's in front of us and we're loving the adventure. Also, we want to build instruments that truly represent the country of their birth, using imigongo, igitenge and lots of other wonderful things, so that they speak of Africa with every note played.

And, if we fail, well, at least we tried.

Thanks again to those who replied.

Last edited by Lirika; 07/18/17 05:43 PM.
#2662500 - 07/19/17 12:22 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Wonderful attitude. I wish you well.


Currently working towards "Twinkle twinkle little star"
#2662582 - 07/19/17 10:52 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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JohnSprung Online content
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Originally Posted by Lirika
We're casting our first string frame at the moment, ....


Congratulations, that's quite an accomplishment. There's a new maker in the U.K. who had to outsource plate casting from Germany. If we had to find a new plate foundry here in the states, my first call would be to Kohler. White porcelain instead of gold paint .... hmmm.....


-- J.S.

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#2673259 - 09/06/17 02:39 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Lirika Offline
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Hi guys. Just to post a quick update - we made our first string frame smile

Hot out the forge at Chillington in Kigali. First string frame ever produced in Rwanda - possibly anywhere on the continent except for South Africa? We assume Deitmann forged their own frames, but we'd love to know more about their process. Think they closed in 1989?

Anyway - we're putting in our string order for the bass now, and trying to track down spring steel suppliers in East Africa.

[Linked Image]

#2673289 - 09/06/17 04:13 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Wow, that is so cool. Thanks for sharing updates and including a photo!


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#2673293 - 09/06/17 04:47 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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That is impressive! Good luck going forward!

#2673335 - 09/06/17 07:37 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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After you get some pianos manufactured you are going to need piano teachers, tuners, dealers, and other support people. Your project is very cool! Love it!


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#2673362 - 09/06/17 10:25 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Lirika, best of luck to you.


Gary
Essex EUP-111 at the mountains
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#2674143 - 09/10/17 05:31 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Rich Galassini Offline
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When I was a new employee at Cunningham Piano Company, in 1987, Dietmann sent us a studio piano for evaluation. They also made another brand called "Otto Bach" (a rosewood upright with lots of carving). They were both nice upright pianos. Our technicians evaluated them and sent a report praising them and also pointing out possible improvement points. We sold both pianos quickly but for some reason could not order more. I cannot remember why. Perhaps it was too little and too late.

I applaud your efforts. If you have questions, I would like for you to feel free to email me at the email address below. I will try to help if I can. I would also suggest beginning to spend time in the technicians forum and browsing discussions there. My email address is below and, while you are at it, watch the video link in my signature. "How It's Made" can be seen in the USA, Canada, the UK, parts of Europe, and SouthEast Asia.

One suggestion - it would be easier to have a better final product by using fine manufacturers of components provide them rather than trying to manufacture them yourself.

Good luck!


Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
(215) 991-0834 direct line
rich@cunninghampiano.com
Check out the Science Channel's "How Its Made" featuring our piano restoration:
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#2674413 - 09/11/17 07:44 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Best of luck with this initiative. I hope you show us the finsihed product. I like to see real people doing things like this.


Currently playing 2017 C212 with carbon fibre soundboard, WNG action. Working on Bach, Beethoven, Grieg mainly.
#2674415 - 09/11/17 08:12 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Are hardwoods available for the sound board? I would worry about the difficulty of obtaining good wood and learning how to cut and shape and crown it. Have you reached out to piano manufacturers, asking for assistance or advice? This may seem a stretch, but I can dimly imagine an established company being willing to set up some kind of apprentice program for learning the many hard parts of building a piano. Probably for a share in the company or program, however. I don't know, really, and I could see that such assistance or training might go against your intentions. I don't want to sound pessimistic or patronizing, but this is an equally difficult and admirable project.

#2674453 - 09/11/17 10:17 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Jake Jackson]  
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JohnSprung Online content
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Originally Posted by Jake Jackson
Are hardwoods available for the sound board?


Sound boards are typically made of spruce, which is a soft wood. This project needs to check out all the non-endangered African woods and see what might be interesting for all the different components of a piano.


-- J.S.

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#2674469 - 09/11/17 11:54 AM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: JohnSprung]  
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung
Originally Posted by Jake Jackson
Are hardwoods available for the sound board?


Sound boards are typically made of spruce, which is a soft wood. This project needs to check out all the non-endangered African woods and see what might be interesting for all the different components of a piano.




Yes, I see my mistake. I wonder, after reviewing the different wood types, what kind of soft and hard woods are available for this project.

#2674594 - 09/11/17 09:25 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: JohnSprung]  
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung


Sound boards are typically made of spruce, which is a soft wood. This project needs to check out all the non-endangered African woods and see what might be interesting for all the different components of a piano.




True! But spruce chosen for soundboards also has a very high strength to weight ratio. IOW, for it's light weight, it is very strong. That is a characteristic that makes it an ideal wood for soundboards.


Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
(215) 991-0834 direct line
rich@cunninghampiano.com
Check out the Science Channel's "How Its Made" featuring our piano restoration:
http://www.cunninghampiano.com/how-its-made/
#2674787 - 09/12/17 05:11 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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An ideal soundboard is a light and ridged as possible. hence why carbon fiber is getting lots of interest now. Although that is totally not a reasonable option here (so much research and money and time, even the best companies are still working on it) I wonder what the options will end up being, I think it would be neat to find a decent replacement that is not the normal sitka spruce or other spruce.


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#2674833 - 09/12/17 07:16 PM Re: Building Pianos in Africa [Re: Lirika]  
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Because Europe was considered the nexus of violin, guitar and piano building, the wood available to them became the de facto standard of sound. Yes, high altitude spruces have qualities that make them exemplary for tone production but it's also true that gums, yew, myrtles and cedars were and continue to used to make lutes, harpsichords acoustic guitars etc. More importantly they all grow natively in Africa except for I believe the gums (Euclypts) which were imported from Australia but are plantation grown in Africa.

Kurt


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