Tack piano

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In music, the tack piano (sometimes referred to as jangle piano, junk piano, honky-tonk piano or harpsipiano) is a permanently altered version of an ordinary piano, in which tacks or nails are placed on the felt-padded hammers of the instrument at the point where the hammers hit the strings, giving the instrument a tinny, more percussive sound.[1]

Perhaps this preparation attempts to emulate the sound of a poorly maintained piano: as the felt hammers age and compact through use they become hard and cause the piano to yield a similar sound[citation needed]. A piano tuner will use a tool consisting of a number of fine pins to open and loosen the striking surface of the hammers, called voicing, a precision job calling for a good ear and lots of experience.

Another method of achieving that "percussive" sound without using real tacks is through the use of lacquered hammers in the piano, like a piano popularized by Mrs Mills which resides at Abbey Road Studios.

Lastly, a "honky-tonk" sound can be achieved by detuning one or more strings for each piano key, creating the characteristic "wah-wah" or beating effect of an out-of-tune piano.

Problems and disadvantages[edit]

Using tacks on a piano runs the risk that the tacks will be ejected from the hammers and can then become lodged in other parts of the mechanism. If the jammed mechanism is then forced by hitting the keys, parts of the action may be broken. More importantly, the holes created in the hammers by the tacks dramatically weaken the hammer felt (which is stretched at high tension over the hammer wood),[2] and may permanently reduce the sound of the piano to dark mush once the tacks are removed.

A safer alternative to real tacks is a device called a mandolin rail. It is a curtain of felt hanging between the hammers and strings. The felt is slitted on the edge, and paper fasteners or paper clips attached. The device can be purchased commercially or built by hand, and ultimately causes the piano hammers to be worn away from repeated impacts with hard metal. Mandolin rails could regularly be found in home pianos at the turn of the century, but were most popular in commercial coin-operated pianos.

Use as a musical instrument[edit]

Classical music[edit]

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould experimented with a tack piano made especially for his use by Steinway, which he called a "harpsipiano" (a portmanteau of "harpsichord" and "piano").[citation needed] It was intended to recreate (somewhat, at least) the sound of the harpsichord, but unlike a harpsichord, whose strings are plucked instead of struck, it could be readily placed amongst an orchestra and capable of dynamic expression as on a piano. Gould used it in a 1962 television broadcast in which he played Contrapunctus IV from Bach's Art of Fugue. One of the few occasions he conducted was while playing the harpsipiano: he directed Bach's Brandenburg concerto no.5 from the instrument and realized the continuo part of Bach's cantata Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, in a 1960s television recording (now to be seen in The Glenn Gould Collection).

Lou Harrison called for a tack piano in his Symphony No. 2 (Elegaic), the octet Solstice, and the song May Rain; two tack pianos, preferably retuned in a form of just intonation, are required for his Concerto in Slendro. Harrison's experimental tack piano suite Incidental Music to Corneille's 'Cinna' (1955–7), in 7-limit just intonation, was created for a puppet opera that was never performed, and based on the story of a Roman general as told by the French Baroque playwright Corneille.

Jazz music[edit]

On jazz drummer Shelly Manne's Daktari album, affiliated with the CBS television series of the same name, Mike Wofford plays a tack piano. On the jazz combo Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller leaders Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul play tack pianos. On Don Ellis' Autumn, Pete Robinson plays tack piano on Scratt and Fluggs, a jazz-inflected version of Earl Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Breakdown. On Count Basie's "Li'l Ol' Groovemaker" LP on Verve, Basie plays the tack piano on the title cut to great percussive effect.

Pop and rock music[edit]

The German pianist Fritz Schulz-Reichel had considerable success c. 1955–57 on the hit parade with his tack piano recordings, released under the name "Schräger Otto" ("Crazy Otto" or "Slanted Otto" in English). During the craze, ragtime and blues pianist Johnny Maddox also recorded "The Crazy Otto Medley" with a tack piano, starting a "honky-tonk piano" fad. Both purportedly used thumbtacks in the felt hammers.

Daryl Dragon of The Captain & Tennille made extensive use of the tack piano on many of their recordings, including "Shop Around", "Dixie Hummingbird" and most notably, their 1975 hit "Love Will Keep Us Together".

Freddie Mercury played the jangle piano on Queen's breakthrough single "Killer Queen".

The Stories used a tack piano on the song "I'm Coming Home".

Paul Revere and The Raiders used a tack piano on their hit single "Him Or Me, What's It Gonna Be".

The 5th Dimension hits "Sweet Blindness" and "Wedding Bell Blues" both start with a tack piano intro.

The Zombies use a tack piano on "Care of Cell 44", the opening track of Odessey and Oracle.

A tack piano was used on The Beach Boys hit "Good Vibrations".

A tack piano was used briefly in the studio version of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me".

The instrument is prominently featured in Biz Markie's 1989 hit "Just a Friend".

The Fiery Furnaces also make extensive use of the tack piano to produce a "Vaudevillian" sound.

Patrick Warren plays the tack piano on many of the tracks of Bruce Springsteen's Magic album.

A honky-tonk tack piano is prominent in Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Jeremy Bender", on their Tarkus album. "The Sheriff" from "Trilogy" used a tack piano extensively.

Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers plays a tack piano solo on "To Find A Friend", featured on Petty's Wildflowers album.

Christine McVie plays a tack piano on Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop".[3]

Elvis Costello used a tack piano on two songs on the album Mighty Like a Rose: "The Other Side of Summer" and "So Like Candy", which was co-written with Sir Paul McCartney.

On his album Sleeps with Angels, Neil Young used a tack piano on the tracks "My Heart" and "A Dream That Can Last".

Hanne Hukkelberg plays a tack piano in several of the tracks of her album Rykestrasse 68.

Ben Folds first experimented with the sound in the 1999 album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. The piano can easily be heard on the third track "Mess". He made more extensive use of the modification in 2001's Rockin' the Suburbs.

Elliott Smith uses a tack piano on his album XO, notably in the opening song "Sweet Adeline" and the track "In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)".

The credits of the Dave Matthews Band album Crash include bassist Stefan Lessard on the tack piano; it is assumed to be in use for the single "Crash Into Me".

A makeshift tack piano is used in the song "Lovers in Japan" by Coldplay on their 2008 album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends – with a remix on their EP Prospekt's March.

James Blunt uses a tack piano on his song "Billy" from his debut album Back to Bedlam.

Ray Manzarek of The Doors made frequent use of a tack piano in Doors studio recordings, most notably on the songs "People Are Strange" and "L.A. Woman".

Burt Bacharach used a tack piano on several tracks he composed in the sixties, such as "What's New Pussycat?" and "Odds and Ends".

The Monkees used a tack piano on several tracks on their album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, most notably on the songs "P.O. Box 9847" and "Magnolia Simms".

A tack piano is used in The Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon", to fit with the western theme of the song, and on the song "Old Brown Shoe" written by George Harrison.

John Mayall used a tack (jangle) piano on the track 'Sonny Boy Blow' off the album The Blues Alone recorded May 1st, 1967. (See album/CD sleeve notes.)

An uncredited Spanky and Our Gang session musician used a tack piano to great effect on the Hoagy Carmichael tune, "Hong Kong Blues" on their 1969 "Without Ryme or Reason" album.

Cinema scores[edit]

Jon Brion has used tack pianos in many recordings, but notably in his score for Punch-Drunk Love, especially the track "Punchy Tack Piano".

Nathan Johnson used tack pianos along with a number of other non-traditional or invented instruments for his score to the film Brick.

Musicals[edit]

Avenue Q uses a Tack Piano in many of its songs, played by Keyboards 1 (Conductor).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Everett, Walter (2009). The Foundation of Rock: From "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-19-531023-8. 
  2. ^ http://www.perfessorbill.com/help/help.htm
  3. ^ Caillat, Ken (2012). Making Rumours. John Wiley & Sons. p. 280. ISBN 978-1-118-21808-2.