Sunday, 18 December 2016


Thanks to an influx of recent work, I decided to treat myself to a piano for Christmas. It was quite a big decision as real pianos (as opposed to keyboards) are not easy to come by in Rwanda. An Egyptian gentleman was selling his as he was moving back home after many years in Rwanda. It's a Russian-made Lirika upright. According to the serial number it was made in 1968, making it fifty years old the year after next. It would be wonderful to know how it first came to the country.

It was a really big decision because pianos don't come cheap here. What you can pick up for £300-400 in the UK, costs more than double here. I paid close to £1,000 for this and it was not in the best condition, but I knew that if I didn't snap it up, someone else would and there might not be another on the market any time soon. A brand new Chinese upright costs around £9,000, which is right out of my price range.

My wonderful friend Vincent organised the move for me, hiring a truck and six blokes to get it from Kayovu to Kacyiru, then down my garden steps. No easy feat. They quoted around £25 for the job, but I raised that to a sensible figure.

The first order of business was to open everything up and give it a thorough cleaning. Almost fifty years of dust had accumulated inside and it was looking messy. 




Bizarrely, I even found a festive cocktail stick rattling around the peddles. I'm going to save it and put it in the many cocktails I intend to sip whilst playing Wild Rover and other pub classics.

On the whole, it's in fairly good condition. There's no rust around the pegs, no cracks in the back and no broken strings.

Sophie & Howl Helping Me Inspect
But there were a few problem keys. I cannot thank Howard Piano Industries enough for their fantastic YouTube tutorial channel. I had looked inside a piano before, but never really understood what I was looking at, or realised how much you can poke about with things. I started with their Diagnosing the Sticking Piano Key tutorial and took it from there. I had about five sticking keys. One was caused by the bridle strap popping out of the hammer hole, another by worn felt in the balance hole, and three by broken elbows, which required a quick trip into town to purchase superglue.

Broken Elbow

Fixed Elbow
But there's still a couple of keys I can't work out. I think it's either worn springs or over-tightening of the jack flange. In a moment of over-enthusiastic mayhem, I decided to have a go at removing the entire action from the piano. The action is a rack along the middle which holds all the moving parts of the piano - everything that happens after you hit a key. You can lift the entire thing out like a fish skeleton.

Piano Action Indicated by Golden Bar (Hammer Rest)

Piano With Action Removed

Isolated Action

What You Would See If You Were A String

This was fascinating for me. I had a really good poke around. You can flick each of the hammer mechanisms manually to check everything's working and make sure each of the dampeners lift off the strings properly. It brought me to the conclusion that the remaining problem isn't the action, but the keys, which seem to be too stiff to fall smoothly. I've tried fiddling with the felt but I think I'm going to need to seek professional advice.

It's even harder to find a piano tuner than it is to find a piano in Kigali. I made a massive cock-up of getting the action back into the piano - five times. My arms were about to give out when I finally mastered the technique. It's so much easier than I tried to make it.

It's been fascinating and infuriating in equal measure today, but I've just ordered a piano tuning kit off eBay. You can also use piano tuning software and phone apps to check the strings, so I've decided I'm going to have a go at tuning Lirika myself. Having spent this much on her, I like the idea of it being my project. It's been so hard to locate a piano tuner that I thought, perhaps if I can master this, I might be able to do it as a hobby on the side, or pass on the skills. There's nothing quite like fixing a broken piano key and hearing it make music again. I'm not much of a piano player, but I do think the inside of a piano is insanely beautiful. I'm planning to play mine with the front open as much as possible.


  1. Your right the piano is an endless source of wonder and fascination. I started reassembling a valve radio, did the piano then a Morris 1000 n now I can fix laptops/tablets n kindles. You just have to seize the moment, rip off the casing, strip em down n get stuck in - sometimes it works :) sometimes it doesn't :-/ that's part of the fun ;)Go girl!