16 January 2013
Does anyone know anything about a piano that has just been moved from Abbey Road to Shanghai for an exhibition? Apparently it’s one that was used by the Beatles, among others, a light brown upright piano. I would love to had specific information on it – it could have been the one used on Lady Madonna , Martha My Dear , goodness knows what else. (I would imagine that Long and Winding Road and Let It Be use a grand piano, but I could be wrong.)
I have a good reason for wanting to know: I’m a freelance writer and have been asked to do a short piece on the removal of the piano to Shanghai by a company involved in the transportation, and I want to include as much genuine Beatle info as I can. There’s a lot of discussion on this site over which guitars and amps were used for which tracks, but not so much about pianos. So if anyone has any knowledge of this particular piano’s life and times, I’d be really grateful!
17 December 2012
It is the 1964 Challen piano that was used on Lady Madonna , and is being exhibited at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, along with photographs celebrating the studios and its milestone recordings.
This 2010 article from the Telegraph appears to be about the same piano, which was up for auction at that time, and gives a detailed history of the instrument.
16 January 2013
Thanks for your reply, MJA. You’re absolutely right, it is indeed the Challen piano. I found the same photo myself shortly after posting in the forum yesterday.
The Telegraph article refers to Paperback Writer , Tomorrow Never Knows , Old Brown Shoe and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da . Can anybody give me any more info on which tracks it was used on. Apparently it was used in Studio 3. I know most of the recordings were made in Studio 2. Would they have used Studio 3 specifically because of this piano, or were they forced out of Studio 2 because it was already booked and just “made do” with the piano that was there? I also presume it was used by both Paul and George Martin… as well as John (at least for Ob-La-Di).
Also, what other groups would have used the instrument? Does it have a distinctive sound that has become familiar through non-Beatles recordings?
17 December 2012
I doubt they would have often used Studio Three specifically to use the Challen. Nor do I think they would often be prevented from using Studio Two whenever they wanted. My guess, without any evidence, is that they booked Studio Three for most of their sessions that they used it for.
I think it is more likely, considering their use of it really started with Tomorrow Never Knows in 1966, it was the different acoustics of the room compared to Studio Two. If you look at their history at Abbey Road , from 1966 on they made greater use of all aspects of the building to get the sound they were after – even to the extent that in 1968 Yer Blues would largely be recorded in the annexe to the Studio Two control room.
That’s not to say they were never after it specifically. It wouldn’t be me if, for something like Lady Madonna , that was exactly the instrument they wanted. I am reminded of the film of John demonstrating Imagine on the upright Steinway, and the following discussion on what piano to use on the recording.
The Telegraph talks about Pink Floyd. Without knowing who recorded there, it’s difficult to know what the Challen may have been used on. However, I can say The Hollies were using it in 1967, as there is film of them recording On a Carousel in Studio Three. Might interest you, in relation to my point about room acoustics, to see just how much smaller Three was compared to Two and One.