FROM JEREMY’S DESK:
Every once in a while I prevail and despite the protestations from the workshop technicians that ‘this isn’t a real piano’, I find and acquire something really interesting.
Last summer, a family who lived near the airport called with an upright to sell. ‘Sounds terrible’, they said. We get so many of these phone calls that I started my mental script: please send me some photos with an idea of the maintenance history and I’ll reply to you as soon as I see them….
When the photos landed in my inbox I was mesmerized. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew I wanted it.
Several times a day I wonder what we used to do before the internet. In this case, some quick googling revealed that this was likely a Story & Clark ‘Storytone’.
The ‘Storytone’ was the first commercially available electronic piano. It had its debut at the World’s Fair in New York in 1940. The case was designed by the famous industrial designer John Vassos, who is probably best known by the public for his work for RCA designing radios, and then televisions.
The piano has no soundboard, and instead relies on a series of pickups to amplify the sound. This instrument is not large, but the cabinet is sturdy, and the tubes and amplifiers inside add considerably to the weight. It took three of us to get it out of the basement where we found it.
Production numbers are estimated at between 200-500. How many of those remain is hard to say, but there are a few out there in private collections. Our own National Music Centre even has one that is part of their ‘Director’s Picks’ collection.
The electronic components that need repair or replacement are outside of our field of expertise. I don’t doubt that it will be an expensive undertaking to restore the working parts to like new condition. The other challenge is trying to find someone willing to take this on as a project.
My only regret is that the matching bench has been lost in the sands of time. If you can find an image online of them paired, it’s a beautiful match.
So while the technicians roll their eyes at this ‘monstrosity’, I find it fascinating, and really interesting as a physical piece.
I’ll post more when we get to the internal restoration – the few videos I’ve seen of these in working condition are really great – a sound unlike any I’ve heard before.
It’s here – please drop by to visit. I’ll be happy to show it to you.