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Giant piano man tunes up again

Adrian plays the the Alexander Piano he built when he was a schoolboy in Timaru
8 HOPES

Adrian Alexander Mann built his first, giant 5.74 m long piano as a schoolboy using materials including number eight fencing wire. Now he hopes to construct another.

He loves to play pianos. To tune, restore and listen to others playing these musical instruments.

“I just love pianos, doing piano stuff. Intricate work. There’s not many people that do it,” the twenty-nine-year-old says.

Walking along the high corridors of the historic, former King Edward Technical College in Dunedin to his showroom, the sound of piano music fills the atmosphere.

Inside this showroom, talented local musician Sam Honeyfield is playing the 5.74 m, 1.2 tonne Alexander Piano which Adrian built while a schoolboy in Timaru. This is believed to be the world’s longest full-size concert grand piano.

It took four-and-a-half years to construct, first in a neighbour’s garage then a friend’s father’s farm shed. When he started, Adrian “had no idea” and figured it out and learned as he went along. Materials used included number eight wire and fence standards.

“They are great engineering products.”

The Alexander Piano, built and played by Adrian Alexander Mann. It is named after his great-great-grandfather, Alexander Barrie Mann, the first Mann to immigrate to New Zealand from Scotland.

Building the Alexander Piano involved science and maths, plus some.

“There’s a real human element as well. It almost becomes a part of you, you get so engrossed in it.”

The piano sounds different from when he completed it in 2009 and even though he thought he knew the instrument intimately, he’s still discovering design flaws or, more recently, a piece of wood left inside!

Adrian says the instrument could not have been built without community support. They provided such things as a garage, a shed, donations, as well as businesses lending tools and giving him engineering supplies.

It was huge. The only reason the piano exists is because of the community. I couldn’t have done it by my own.”

Played by the accomplished

Well-known musicians who’ve played this elegant piano include Michael Houstoun, jazz pianist Trevor Coleman, the late Maurice Till and Paris-based Greek concert pianist, Dimitri Vassilakis.

Once a family from China arrived in Dunedin when the Alexander Pianos showroom was closed, but Adrian was inside renovating. They told him they’d seen the Alexander Piano on television and travelled from Shanghai to view it.

“They were in tears, they were crying, they were so excited.”

Despite its weight, the instrument has travelled throughout New Zealand; Mainfreight has moved it about 10 times. Adrian wants it to be accessible.

“We’ve got a really cool product here – let’s use it.”

The piano enthusiast hopes to construct another giant piano perhaps next year or after that. He says it would be silly not to, after all he’s learned. People have started making donations – so far, enough for a leg.

The second instrument will be similar to the Alexander Piano; however, probably longer and incorporating changes, such as more keys to properly utilise the length.

Showroom of passion

Adrian’s passion is infectious as he walks through his showroom-workshop filled with 19 pianos, chandeliers, original paintings, a tar-seal floor, a drill press, many cables and piano tuning equipment.

Piano Man, Adrian Alexander Mann, formerly of Timaru, in his Dunedin showroom.

There is the Sir Sidney Holland Piano which he bought to restore. This will be costly and he needs to find the “mind space” to restore it, which will take years.

Then there is the Verdi, which was made about 1913-14 and has a quality equal to that of any modern piano, he says.

“It’s got a lovely clear tone with a well-rounded deep bass.”

To be restored: The Verdi (left) and Sir Sidney Holland Piano

One thing has led to another. Years of tuning pianos led naturally to restoring them. He built a big trailer with a mechanical tail lift to shift his own instruments, then people asked him to move theirs. He’s now shifted hundreds. Because he moves pianos, he’s invited to tune them. He also buys and sells them.

The Alexander Pianos showroom hosts gigs where friends turn up to listen and play. Adrian has started recording this music; jazz, classical and blues.

“It turns into a big jam session,” he says.

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For further information:

To learn more about the Alexander Piano’s construction, click here.

To donate towards building the second Alexander Piano, click here.

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