Huge piano was built by schoolboy

Stepping into Adrian Mann's piano-tuning workshop, you get the impression - as impossible as it sounds - that pianos can procreate.

Alexander Pianos piano tuner Adrian Mann (28) inside what is believed to be the largest piano in...
Alexander Pianos piano tuner Adrian Mann (28) inside what is believed to be the largest piano in the world. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

He has what is believed to be the world's largest piano, the Alexander Piano and at 6m long, it makes all the uprights and mini-grand pianos surrounding it look like babies.

The 1.2 tonne behemoth is about the same length as a 10 tonne truck - not something easily stored in a concert hall, let alone someone's house.

So for now, it is on display in the Alexander Pianos Dunedin workshop.

Despite its size, the thing that makes it most extraordinary is Mr Mann built it in a neighbour's shed in Timaru while he was still a secondary school pupil.

His fascination with piano building and tuning began at the age of 12 when he began taking piano lessons.

He quickly discovered he was more interested in learning how the instrument worked than learning to perform.

``It got to the point where mum would go out and I would take the whole [family] piano apart to see how it worked.

``I'd hear mum pull up and I'd shove it all back together as quick as possible so she wouldn't know.''

He said the bass strings in traditional pianos were wrapped in copper to give them more mass, so they would vibrate more slowly and make a lower pitch.

It meant the bass strings could be made shorter (up to 3m long), making pianos a more manageable size.

But it took away from the sound, the tone and the flexibility of the piano.

None of the wires in his piano were copper-wrapped, which meant they had to be about 6m long to get the same pitch.

But their length gave the piano a ``booming, deep sound with great dynamic contrast'', he said.

The piano has been played by many high profile New Zealand pianists, including Maurice Till and Michael Houstoun, who praised its responsive dynamics and sound quality.

Mr Mann named it after his great-great-grandfather, Alexander Barrie Mann, the first Mann to immigrate to New Zealand.

``He brought the Mann name to New Zealand. It's a tribute to him.''

Because of its size, it was not viable to build Alexander pianos on a commercial scale, but Mr Mann admitted he would like to build at least one more.

``I had no idea what I was doing when I first started making this, so there's all kinds of little flaws and imperfections - things I would perfect the next time.''

Eventually, he hoped to turn the piano into a Dunedin tourist attraction.

But for now, he was happy to tune and refurbish pianos at his Dunedin business, Alexander Pianos.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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