In 1934 the directors of Challen, a leading British piano manufacturer, decided they wanted to do something special to mark the 1935 Silver Jubilee. This event was to celebrate the 25 years King George V had been on the throne. And they hit upon the idea of building the world’s largest piano.
Challen actually built two of these pianos, both 3.55m (11ft 8in) long and 1,270kg (1-1/4 tons) in weight. And the combined tensile strength of the strings was estimated at over 30,000kg (30 tons).
They were, of course, painted silver—as it was a silver jubilee! The first piano went on show that year at the British Industries Fair in London. It received much attention and was greatly praised.
After the Fair, the piano went on display around the UK. Despite problems moving it, it appeared at various venues including top department stores (Harrods, Selfridges), concert halls, exhibitions, music shops, and recording studios. It became known as the “Challen Giant”.
However, in 1959 the piano disappeared. There’s talk of it being left outside after a garden party in Manchester (UK) and it sinking into the ground, but references to this are somewhat ambiguous. But it was never seen in public again.
The second piano (serial no. 56155) really only surfaced years later when it was exhibited at the 1952 British Industries Fair—gone was the silver, it now had a mottled gold finish. This piano became the new “largest piano in the world”, a fact confirmed for several decades by the Guinness Book of Records.
Piano-2 appeared at venues around the Manchester and Liverpool areas for many years, until in 1969 the owners of Gwrych Castle in Wales purchased it for their banqueting hall. UK readers will recognise Gwrych Castle as the current filming location for the TV series “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”.
The piano was subsequently purchased by a Paris dealer and then in 1984 sold to a private owner in the Eure-et-Loire department of France.
Following years of neglect, the piano was “rescued” by piano restorer Andrew Giller in 2020. Giller and his team arranged for the piano to be transported to their workshop in Beccles (near Norfolk, UK) and immediately set about restoring this remarkable instrument.
Restoration was completed this summer (2022), and the Challen Giant has now been returned to its former glory. The team went to great lengths to ensure traditional techniques and components were used in the process. The exterior of the casework is back to the original 1935 silver finish, whilst the frame is painted in the 1952 mottled gold colour.
The project took 18 months, and around 1000 hours of labour to complete.
Andrew Giller is hoping that the piano will now feature at various concerts over the coming months. And that it will be used for special recordings. He’d also like to find it a permanent home where the general public could come and see it and experience its unique musical qualities. More information about the piano and Giller Pianos can be found on the Old Granary Studio website.
Why Build a Big Piano?
This is a quick, simplified explanation. The design of a piano is a compromise. In order to build a piano that is a reasonable size a trade-off has to be made. That trade-off is the length of the strings.
To produce a lower pitched note a string needs to be either thicker, longer, or under less tension.
Thicker strings are less flexible and introduce unwanted harmonics. However, if all the strings were the same diameter the bottom bass strings would need to be nearly 10m (around 30ft) long.
Lessening the tension reduces volume and also degrades the sound.
So the longer the bass strings the better. And to accommodate longer bass strings, you obviously need a bigger piano!
Other “World’s Largest Pianos”
Currently, the world’s largest piano is the “Stolëmowi Klawér”. Built by Daniel Czapiewski and located in Poland. This 6.07m (19ft 11in) long and 1.92m (6ft 4in) high behemoth has two keyboards and was made to celebrate the bicentenary of Frédéric Chopin in 2010.
New Zealander Adrian Mann’s “Alexander Piano” (2009) is the world’s largest single keyboard grand piano. This instrument is 5.6m (18ft 4in) long. Mann is currently developing its successor — the Alexander Piano 2.
The world’s largest upright piano is the Klavins Model 450i Vertical Concert Grand (2019). This stands 4.5m (14ft 9in) tall, and is has an integral raised platform from which the instrument is played.
Challen Giant photos courtesy Andrew GIller; Alexander Piano photo courtesy Adrian Mann
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