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A Staple of the Beatles’ Toolbox: the “Wind Up” Piano

Beatles wind up piano

Among the many, many strengths he brought to The Beatles, George Martin had a bag of production tricks that added distinctive sonic touches to their records. One of these, the “wind up” piano, appeared on nearly every Beatle album, from the first to the last. Back in the days of analog recording, it took some genuine ingenuity to achieve effects that would take just a push of a virtual button today. Our resident “Beatleologist,” Scott Freiman, reveals the secret of the wind-up piano in this latest video. To dig even deeper, explore Scott’s two new films on the Beatles early years.

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– CultureSonar

Photo George Martin via Getty Images

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8 comments on “A Staple of the Beatles’ Toolbox: the “Wind Up” Piano

  1. This is cool, but it begs the question: why? Why not just play it “a tempo” to begin with? What problem was being solved by doing this?

    • Two reasons: one. It was easier to play things with the tape player running at half speed. Two, it gave the recording a different sound than if it had been recorded at normal speed.

    • Different tonality.

    • We do the same thing today with a feature called sample shifting which essentially retunes all the notes on the fly to achieve different sonorities.

  2. This is a great video! I love how you’ve broken it down so that one can hear the 7.5 IPS versions in isolation. Thanks for putting this together. I would love to see something else like this… perhaps a breakdown of The Beatles’ use of backward tape manipulation i.e., the solo in ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ or the vocal outro of ‘Rain’. Either way thanks again!

  3. I think the reason George Martin liked it was it sounds more lo-fi, almost like that 8-bit video game music some years later. It’s fresh and unexpected.

  4. For me, a person with virtually no musical ability/knowledge, I have the same questions as Tom above. I think this story would have given more insight into the wind up piano technique if you had played at least one example of a piece using the technique, and then the same piece actually being played at full speed at the higher octave. While it was I interesting to hear the original recordings played at the originally recorded speed, then in the released recordings, the story did nothing to demonstrate what the technique offered in terms of changing the sound over simply playing at normal speed at the higher octave and recording it at normal speed.

  5. Pingback: What Was Buzzy for The Beatles in 2018 - CultureSonar

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