Why I’m glad I don’t play piano

Friday 12 June 2009

I was warned before moving into my new house that I would be sharing my room; and so I am:

It’s a Kemble spinet piano: a compact piano design developed during the Great Depression, and which pretty much died out by the end of last century as digital pianos became omnipresent. The landlady warned me that it’s never been tuned, as if you couldn’t tell from striking a few keys at random. I doubt that having one end up against the radiator (see left) has been helping it.

It’s times like this I’m glad I don’t play the piano. Never mind how out of tune it is; if I were any good at the piano this thing would also frustrate me with its short, clunky hammer action and other foibles peculiar to this design. They’re also supposed to be real buggers to maintain and repair, because of the cramped and convoluted hammer mechanism packed inside. I’d resent it for taking up valuable space which could be used by a better piano.

Instead, I’m just happy to have a an acoustic instrument to mess around with. I’ve wedged down the damper pedal and am trying it out as a resonant sound chamber (note microphone lead). I’ll have to have another dig around inside to find the serial number and see how old this thing is.

Incidentally, Kemble is the last piano manufacturer remaining in Britain, but not for much longer. They’ve just announced that their factory will close in October.

  1. Actually, as a pianist, and with my primary home instrument in apparently similar physical condition as your Kemble, I can say that the crappy tuning and action matter less than even I would have thought—I spend as much time on my beat-up Kimball spinet as I do on my old Roland digital. As much as I'd like a perfectly-maintained Hamburg Steinway D in my living room, it turns out that the physical sensation of a mechanical piano, no matter how sub-standard, is still a pretty strong drug. Who knew?

    Sad to see another piano manufacturer go. The margins must stink, but I'd think at least a few more would stay in business out of sheer idiosyncratic stubbornness.

  2. Thanks for offering a piano-player's opinion. As I was writing this post I wondered if it was really true, or if I would mentally compensate for the piano's deficiencies. It's good to know that even a good digital piano is still considered a substitute for the real, albeit beat-up, thing.