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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I completed this project a few years ago, but am posting in case it is of interest to someone.

My family has an old piano, circa 1870's, with a nice rosewood veneer finish. It's the piano I learned to play on as a young boy. Over the years the pegboard has worn out, and it is unable to keep its tune... even when tuned a few half-tones flat of normal.

So, I bought a digital piano, took it apart, and installed it inside the cabinet of the old piano. There was some soldering involved (to extend the wiring from the keyboard to the control panel), and a few little puzzles that challenged me along the way, but for the most part it was a smooth project.

Everything is removable, so I can take out the components and work on them if need be. It sounds great. And, we've had it turned on continuously for the past five years without a problem.

Here are some pix of the various stages of the project:

I pulled out all the old keys as well as their rocker mechanisms. I numbered them, just in case I ever decide to reassemble the original piano. The keys are ivory, as you would expect with an old piano. Interestingly, this caused me problems in trying to move the piano from my grandmother's house in B.C. across the border. You're not allowed to transport ivory across the border without a special permit.


Each key, and many of the wooden parts of the piano, are stamped with the initials of the craftsmen who shaped the pieces and assembled the piano. Some of the pieces were clearly shaped by hand... very impressive to me.


I had to remove the hammer mechanism to make room for the electronics. Fortunately, that entire construction is designed to lift right out of the piano. I sawed the control panel in half and re-arranged it and the electronics onto a frame of 1/4" plywood. The configuration results in the built-in speakers pointing toward the front of the cabinet, and the various buttons being accessible from the top of the cabinet.


I made a little plywood frame for the on/off switch, which is hidden underneath the hinged flip-top of the piano cabinet. None of the electronic components are visible from the outside of the piano - I wanted this to continue to look like an 1880s rosewood piano.


The damper mechanism was the most complex part to figure out, and I ended up with a bit of a Rube Goldberg solution. I wanted to use the original pedals, so I attached a plunger (of dowels and metal rod) to the pedal rocker, and had the plunger strike the switch on the digital piano's circuit board that activates the damper. The result is that the pedal action feels exactly the same as it did with the original piano.


The finished piano with the keyboard laid in. It also has headphone jacks hidden under the keyboard. We often have the girls practice with the headphones on so we can drink our morning coffee in peace. We know that this is bad of us. :) Sometimes we also connect the headphone jacks to a set of external speakers, and the sound surprises most people with its fullness and richness.


The digital piano is a Kawai. When it gives up, I want to replace it with one of the newer Roland models, which have unbelievable touch and sound quality.
 

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Thank you for sharing.  That is an amazing project.  My daughter lost her digital piano in a flood last October.  In fact, she and my son lost everything on the first floor of their apartment.  But when she found out she could not have her digital piano repaired she was devastated.  She had not been without a piano since she was 7 years old. 
Great idea, Harvey. 
deb
 

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That is totally awesome Harvey. Your talents never cease to amaze me. I have a 1928 baby grand player piano that also doesn't hold a tuning anymore. I don't think I could ever bring myself to attempt that project on mine.  :eek: :eek: :eek:
 

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Harvey--

You are amazing!  What a beautiful piano.  I can see in your spare time you could have a business converting old pianos into digital pianos.  I bet there would be a market!!!!  ::)

Thanks for sharing this, it was fascinating!!

Betsy
 

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It looks really great! How long did this project take? (It always takes my husband twice as long to do a project than the time he tells me it will take). What a "peaceful" idea having the girls practice with the headphones on!  My son is learning to play drums and bass guitar. He drums on anything.... it kind of gets on my nerves at times.
Kdawna
 

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Absolutely awesome Harvey - not only the project, but the idea as well!  Thanks for sharing.
 

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Mr. Harvey you never cease to amaze me with your talent and creativity.  The piano is absolutely gorgeous. 
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
drenee said:
Thank you for sharing. That is an amazing project. My daughter lost her digital piano in a flood last October. In fact, she and my son lost everything on the first floor of their apartment. But when she found out she could not have her digital piano repaired she was devastated. She had not been without a piano since she was 7 years old.
Great idea, Harvey.
deb
Oh, what a shame.

Digital pianos are getting much better, in terms of the keyboard feel and the sound quality, while at the same time getting less expensive. I can imagine how your daughter feels and hope she can get another one before too long.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
kdawna said:
It looks really great! How long did this project take? (It always takes my husband twice as long to do a project than the time he tells me it will take).
Your husband is a better estimator than I am - all of my projects take many times longer than I would have guessed at the start! It's probably a good thing we don't know how many twists and turns there'll be when we start.

My recollection is that it took me about three weeks to get it done, in little blocks of time each day. So maybe 25 or 30 hours on it.

I tend to spend forever on the "paper" part of designing a project, and at some point I have to force myself to just go ahead and start the real work. I can get paralyzed trying to figure everything out beforehand. At some point, it's time to just tablesaw the digital piano in half and commit to it. :)



kdawna said:
What a "peaceful" idea having the girls practice with the headphones on! My son is learning to play drums and bass guitar. He drums on anything.... it kind of gets on my nerves at times.
Kdawna
I'm sure our piano teacher would not approve, but we *love* the headphones! :D
 

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That's beautiful!  What a great idea.  A wonderful way to rescue a cherished family heirloom.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
You are welcome, and thank you for the kind comments.

One quirk I forgot to mention - the original piano only had 85 keys. It went from "A" to "A", as opposed to "A" to "C" which is standard in an 88-key piano. It's considered a "cottage piano".

A few years before starting this project, I sent a letter to Broadwood piano in England, and they researched their factory records to tell me the history of this piano. There's not a lot of detail, but here's the letter I received. The sale price of the piano was 50 pounds - - or almost what I paid Broadwood to do the research on the piano's history. So they got their money twice on this piano! :)

 
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