Prepare The Piano! With a synthesizer?

‘Prepared Piano’ is a time-honored technique of altering a Piano’s sound “by placing objects (preparations) between or on the strings or on the hammers or dampers.” Wiki tells us that John Cage is the most noted proponent of this form, and the great Erik Satie was an earlier practitioner.  Sounds like good company to be in.

But why stop with the strings, hammers and dampers?  Why not put something on the keys?

Dubreq was a British instrument manufacturer in the 60s/70s.  Dubreq is most famous for its Stylofone, the little toy synthesizer instrument that had its star-moment in the bridge of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” It’s called the Stylofone because you play the ‘keys’ with a stylus (pen) rather than by direct contact.   You can still buy a Stylofone.  I have one, and it’s the best musical instrument you can buy for $14.99.  Potentially useful for certain types of tracks.

So once Dubreq conquered the world with a keyboard-that-you-play-with-a-pen, they dropped this bomb.  The Piano-mate.  I picked up this lil weirdo at the Flea market the other day for a few bucks.  I had thought i was buying some obscure guitar amp.  I was so, so wrong.

Seems like there was a real obsession with the physicality of the keyboard over at Dubreq HQ.  Really a very uncanny obsession.

What is the Piano-mate?  Basically, it’s a Synth/Organ which does not have a keyboard of its own.  Instead, it has these 2 bars that you place ON ANOTHER FULL-SIZE KEYBOARD (let’s call it ‘The Host”). The bars have little plunger microswitches that rest on the Host-keyboard.

When you press a key on the Host, the Piano-mate responds with its own little squawk.    The Piano-mate gives the user 3 different sounds (roughly, organ, elec piano, and ‘synth’), and it also has its own vibrato section.  Oh and did i mention that it also has its own amp and speaker built in?  And and that the whole thing nests together into little recesses in its backside?  Really very odd.

The piano mate is interesting to me because it was not intended to be its ‘own sound.’  As the manual tells us,  Dubreq’s concept was for the Piano-mate to augment the acoustic tone of an acoustic piano.  So we are supposed to hear both sounds, acoustic and electronic, together as one experience.  It’s a very strange hybrid.

OK so how does it sound?  I find it a lot of fun to play.  In my assessment, it turns any simple little piano-tune into instant Roxy-Music/ 70s Eno ballad-majesty.   I recorded these 2 examples with my little Tascam DR08 dictaphone, aka the Digital Camera of Sound.

—————————————————————                           What you are about to hear is a single sonic event –  no layering or multitracking.  Give ’em a listen.



This Is The Piano Mate Experience.

17 thoughts on “Prepare The Piano! With a synthesizer?”

  1. Same question as Farmerglitch

    Anyone know where I can get a manual or a possibility of a scanned copy

  2. Hi there,
    I have one of these going spare which belonged to my late mother.
    Anyone interested?

    1. Hi Nicole. I’ve only ever seen one for sale, and I paid $15 (fifteen) US dollars for it. Given the inherent instability of the oscillators, I don’t think I would pay much more than that. Maybe $40 tops.

  3. I just scored a whole raft of organ stuff today, as that was my quest since our local 90 year old organ company is going out of business. Sadly they broke down TWO Wurlitzer Sidemans!! I paid $10 for a NOS Wurlitzer rotosonic in it’s reddish looking walnut cab ( paid $5 for one years ago!), Got a PIANOMATE for $10 NOS too! (BTW NOS= new old stock in case you didn’t know). Paid $50 for a Jensen horn- RP-201 and $20 for a Jensen V-21 driver! Also got a very sophisticated organ add-on key percussion unit ( the thing that allows the striking of the note to have a pronounced attack (aka Hammond B3 percussion). This one is one I have never seen before, it has about 10 tubes ( mostly 6 pin and a few 9 pin) and several screw adjustments on the back. The tabs mount under the edge of organ and there are 5-6 tabs for ATTACK, CUTOFF [decay],REPEAT, [rate adj. on back of chassis), and something called– BACK GROUND. Also picked up several LESLIE DEMO KITS, which are the way the salesman demos many organ through one Leslie via a 1/4″ plug. The boxes have the same selector slide tabs too for FAST/CHORAL< and one is labeled 'reverse…something (forget). Anyway one is for a 700-710, and the other is for a model 130.

  4. I have one that works but it didnt come with all of the footswitches and good stuff that fits in their holder behind the amplifier……I will be willing to sell it as is

  5. One of my clients brought one in just the other day. He picked it up some time ago at a flea market in London. It works but the sensor array needs a bit of attention.

    I must say I was quite amazed. I knew similar contraptions existed, but I’d never once seen one in my 30 year techie career.

  6. Hello! I was fascinated to read the Pianomate article & following comments. I bought a Pianomate in the late 1970s to add some much-needed variety to my piano, e.bass & drums recordings. It was a great addition, and I made good use of it until 1981, when I bought a Casio keboard. Since then, it’s been in the attic… But I fetched it out y’day and set it up. It still works OK, except for the Eb and E in the second-lowest octave. Also, the top A, Ab and B are a bit flat. I would gladly sell it for a nominal sum. Is anyone interested? Or can anyone advise how I might go about it? Thanks!

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