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Anyone Gig With a Helpinstill Piano Back In The Day?


Polkahero

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Some of the guys in my band (they're all quite older than me) were talking (actually complaining) about having to haul a Helpinstill "portable" acoustic piano back in the late 70s in their various bands. I've never heard of these and found out it was an acoustic piano made by Baldwin that folded up into an ATA road case and had special microphones inside than you could run into a PA system. I found one for sale on Ebay.

 

Has anyone on here played one of these or gigged with this back in the day? How did they sound? The guys were telling me that this was the only thing that sounded close to a real piano vs. the Rhodes/Wurlys that were available at the time.

 

 

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I used to play in a club that had the 64 key version back in the late seventies. It sounded OK for a whorehouse piano. The action on that one was pretty uneven, but then it had a pretty rough life. I also gigged with a Baldwin "Electropiano" back in the day which actually sounded pretty decent when I took the time to tune it properly. Again, it had some action issues, and was a REAL PITA to haul around since it was not built into a road case.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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I like them a whole lot better than a CP-70 ... but I'm a honky tonk , boogie woogie guy at heart.

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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The Helpinstill was not the only one that sounded like a real piano. Besides the CP-70, Baldwin made the ElectroPro, which was a real piano with piezo pickups and no soundboard, albeit it did have that heavy iron frame. I carried one in a giant road case that I built.

 

The action was much simplified and could be charitably described as "somewhat playable". The sound IMO was fuller than the Helpinstill, not as realistic as the CP, but it cut like a knife.

 

It was a full 88, while I believe the Helpinstill was shorter span.

 

http://www.alphabeck.co.uk/hoep/images/balwin_ep.jpg

Moe

---

"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker

http://www.hotrodmotm.com

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I had a Helpinstill Roadmaster for a couple years. I think I paid about $300 for it. This was the one with the road case exterior - when you folded it up it looked like a mixing console standing on end... with a sustain pedal sticking out the side. They're pretty heavy - it takes two guys to load it into the back of a pickup truck. But I did use it on a couple gigs that were close enough to where I was living that I just pushed it out the back door and down the sidewalk to the gig.

 

The action had a unique feel. I forget exactly what the deal was, but I think there was some sort of cable linkage for each key, and this was necessary to get the keyboard to fold down against the harp for portability. The action on mine was loose and fast yet felt pretty indestructible. It was fun to play. The sound off the pickups was pretty heavily colored. You don't really hear that sound much these days.

 

My Helpinstill got stolen as I was moving out of my place, and I'm fairly sure it was one of the tweeker neighbors who took it. I had renters insurance which paid a $650 settlement, and a couple months later I found a CP-70 with flight cases for $600. It was a LOT harder to move and required more space and took longer to set up. It was a very different animal and certainly magnificent in its way, but I only gigged with it 2 or 3 times and eventually sold that too.

 

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The Helpinstill was not the only one that sounded like a real piano. Besides the CP-70, Baldwin made the ElectroPro, which was a real piano with piezo pickups and no soundboard, albeit it did have that heavy iron frame. I carried one in a giant road case that I built.

 

The action was much simplified and could be charitably described as "somewhat playable". The sound IMO was fuller than the Helpinstill, not as realistic as the CP, but it cut like a knife.

 

It was a full 88, while I believe the Helpinstill was shorter span.

 

http://www.alphabeck.co.uk/hoep/images/balwin_ep.jpg

That's the one I had. Pretty sure mine said "Electropiano" on the faceplate though.

 

 

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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The original owner has purchased back the name and is making the pickups again. That's how the business started, selling pickups to guys like Elton John.

 

http://www.helpinstill.com/

 

The history is pretty funny. He originally thought putting a pickup in a piano would make it sound like a guitar, so he was surprised when it sounded like a piano.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

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The guys in my band said it always had to be tuned whenever it was moved. Kinda sounds like a Rhodes. . . I guess the guy that played it decided to take all the strings out and boil them thinking it would improve the sound, but he ended up ruining it when he reinstalled them.

 

Are these things worth anything today seeing as they're supposedly rare?

'57 Hammond B-3, '60 Hammond A100, Leslie 251, Leslie 330, Leslie 770, Leslie 145, Hammond PR-40

Trek II UC-1A

Alesis QSR

 

 

 

 

 

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...

Are these things worth anything today seeing as they're supposedly rare?

 

Hell No!

 

Well at least they shouldn't be.

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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Back in the mid 70's the was also a Canadian entry into the electro-acoustic piano market called Lesage. It was for all intents and purposes and acoustic piano with built in pickups. The difference was it had two strings per note instead of three. Not appreciably lighter but a good sound. Piano player in my band at the time had one while I had my C3. We used to have "gripe offs" about which one was the bigger PITA. I won on size and weight. He won on set up since he had to tweak the tuning every gig.
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There was a nice little Aeolian MelodyPro piano with Helpinstill pickups from the factory & 64-note keyboard. I much preferred my CP70, but I knew a very talented jazz player who used a CP70 with her fusion-ish band and it sounded terrible. She replaced it with one of these MelodyPros and it was perfect. She had a crashy style with lots of dissonance, and the sustain and crash of the CP70 just made it too noisy. The MelodyPro had a shorter sustain and its tone was softened by the soundboard. It looked like a small console or spinet, but was very light for a piano. I don't remember if it was two strings or three per note.

 

http://www.pianomart.com/buy-a-piano/ad.php?ad_id=10462

 

I also remember playing a Helpinstill grand once. It had a fiberglass shell; was quite a bit bigger than a CP70. Horrible action, and sounded like the hammers were hitting bars rather than strings (though I was told they were strings). Some folks might call it Rhodes-like, but it was a different thing altogether. I didn't like it but I'm sure it was capable of making great music playing it for what it was rather than pretending it's a piano (just like playing a Rhodes or Wurlie).

 

I didn't move it but I got the feeling it would be a beeeaaatch to move; I bet it weighed well over 300 lbs.

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Bruce Hornsby used one for a while.

Yep. I saw him play one very similar to the one below, although of a different color, IIRC.

 

http://www.carillonsmusic.com/ebay2/IMG_1060.jpg

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

- George Bernard Shaw

 

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I gigged a Roadmaster back in the early '80s. The front edge below the keyed was metal, and sharp. I pulled a rake across the keys once and sliced my hand something fierce on it.

 

We looked at it as essentially a poor man's CP70. Just as my polysix was a poor man's prophet 5. As my source was a poor man's mini. You're probably picking up a theme here...

..
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Can't even find a picture of the version I used.

It was an Upright with Road case and folding keybed.

Action sucked but that doesn;t stop a Pianist, afetall, how recitals or juries have we done with no warm ups on Pianos stiffer than a corpse...?

Luckily we were signed with ATCO at the time so when the Piano ( it had wheels, stupid roadies ) rolled down into the lake at an outdoor show, it was replaced with the CP88.

Didn;t sound like a real Piano by itself, but in a mix live it was better than the Helpenstill, and had the extra notes which SOuthern Rock required....

Magnus C350 and a TV Dinner Tray Stand

 

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Never owned a Helpinstill piano (although I did play a few in my day), but I did have Helpinstill pickups installed in an old 5'2" Baldwin baby grand that we used to carry around back in the day. It was nice not to have to mess around with micing the piano after that!
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....It was nice not to have to mess around with micing the piano after that!

Anyone remember the days of dropping an SM-58 down into whatever upright/spinet a hall had available? Now that's cooking with gas!

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

- George Bernard Shaw

 

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Played the Helpenstill often back in the day. I'm also recalling that Alex Keylard made a similar piezo'd transportable acoustic piano back in the early 70s, but I can't find any evidence of the Keylard piano on the internet. Maybe someone here has something on it.

 

They were all heavy; 200+ pounds, not including the tuning hammer and felts that you had to take with you on pretty much any gig where you were hoping for reasonably in tune.

 

Larry.

 

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Yup. I had a Conn Strobetuner, tuning hammer and rubber wedges made from erasers with me.

 

The Baldwin was reasonably stable though in its giant coffin roadcase. I did not have to tune it every time I moved it. Sometimes touching up a few notes was all that was needed.

Moe

---

"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker

http://www.hotrodmotm.com

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Bruce Hornsby used one for a while.

Yep. I saw him play one very similar to the one below, although of a different color, IIRC.

 

http://www.carillonsmusic.com/ebay2/IMG_1060.jpg

Yeah, that's the Helpinstill Grand I played once. Compared to a CP70, I really didn't like it. I just can't imagine moving it!

 

Action sucked but that doesn;t stop a Pianist, afetall, how recitals or juries have we done with no warm ups on Pianos stiffer than a corpse...?
Idunno bout you pianists, but we piano players had to deal with whatever God-cursed upright we found in cheesy bars, where one note played fine, the next one wouldn't even go down (but might or might not give you a note), and the next one went down with no resistance (no note) and the next one was always down. Some with ivory, some without.

 

It was like running to catch a fly ball on a broken field. As horrible as it was, it did teach a skill, which was to play hell-bent regardless of how the keys feel.

Anyone remember the days of dropping an SM-58 down into whatever upright/spinet a hall had available? Now that's cooking with gas!
That never seemed to work: it would feed back and howl in a nasty way. But many's the time I wrapped a rag around a 57 or an EV PL95 and jammed it in behind, between the beams in the back of the cabinet and the soundboard, and push the piano against the wall. I still even have an EV PL95; haven't actually used it in goodness knows how long. (Still have the 57's too; use them all the time.)
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Bruce Hornsby used one for a while.

Yep. I saw him play one very similar to the one below, although of a different color, IIRC.

 

http://www.carillonsmusic.com/ebay2/IMG_1060.jpg

Yeah, that's the Helpinstill Grand I played once. Compared to a CP70, I really didn't like it.....

What didn't you like about it? Never played one, just curious....

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

- George Bernard Shaw

 

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