HOW TO MAKE A PIANO AQUARIUM!!
(sorry if I continually change tenses throughout. I’ve written this over many days. And apologies that some of the linked pictures aren’t the right way up. I’m working on that)
In 2009, I decided to purchase a 2nd hand piano from http://www.perth.gumtree.com.au.
(Clicking on an image will open it in a new window, full size)
I bought it for $800, despite the whole piano being a semi-tone flat. Probably the greatest mistake I ever made! Click the image below to see how it looked.
In 2010, I was accepted into the Honours Jazz course at WAAPA, and I also moved house. I got a furniture removal company to move the piano into my new place. I’m not sure what made me decide to do it, but on August 12 2010, I decided to pull apart the piano so that I could put an aquarium inside it.
ABOUT THE FISH TANK
Before I set about hacking away the piano, I first spent many hours, days and weeks measuring the inside of the piano, the viewing area, the depth of the piano and everything I could, to determine what the minimum and maximum dimensions that a fish tank could be that would fit inside. This was very important! There was no point in destroying my piano if I couldn’t find a fish tank that would fit it!
There are thousands of fish tanks that are 4 feet long, and this was the exact length I needed! The height of the fish tank didn’t matter too much, for if it was too small I could always add more planks of wood underneath to raise it, and during my research I didn’t come across a fish tank that was too tall. The MAJOR problem was the depth of the fish tank!! If I’d left the iron frame inside the piano, I’d have to find a fish tank that was only 12cm deep! Pretty much impossible for a fish tank that’s 4 feet long. With the iron frame removed and the maximum space available, I’d need a tank that was 29cm deep or less. This was pretty much impossible to find!
I searched and searched and searched. Turns out you can actually get fish tanks made to your specifications, and you only get charged per length of glass, not labouring costs! So if you wanted a fish tank smaller than the one already made in the store, it would actually cost less to buy, despite you thinking it’d cost more because they’d have to make it. Anyway, I’m rambling.
I contemplated getting a custom made fish tank, when I found a fish tank on Gumtree.com.au
It was the PERFECT dimensions! Exactly the right length AND depth! Although the height wasn’t tall enough, I’d just raise the height with wood under it. AND it only cost me $60! What a bargain! Couldn’t have worked out any better!
MAKING THE PIANAQUARIUM
Remove the front panel. This is easily done. Lift the top lid and look inside. The front panel is usually held in by two pieces of wood on either side which you simply turn, then lift the front panel up and out.
Remove the back panel. Most newer pianos don’t have this panel, but newer pianos are less likely going to be converted into fish tanks anyway. Mine was simply held in with screws, and once removed the panel simply comes off.
Once the front panel has been removed, the piano lid can easily be slid out. To do so, just lift it straight up. This will reveal all the piano keys.
Remove the piano keys. The keys themselves aren’t stuck down, and it’s a simple process of pulling them up and off the nails that go through them
I think there’s 1 screw that holds down the board with nails in it. Unscrew that screw, and the whole thing comes off, revealing a flat bench.
The front panel of the piano is obviously all wood, but on mine (and others i have seen) it can easily be removed. Similar to some picture frames, small bits of wood are hammered in around the edges to hold the main picture in place. Just remove these, and the middle panel will come out.
The heaviest object in the piano is the massive iron frame throughout the entire body, holding it together and giving it it’s strength.This frame is held in place by approximately 10 very large, very difficulty placed screws. Without getting them all out, your chances of removing the iron frame are practically nil. Trust me. This is the hardest part of the entire project. The iron frame needs to come out as it’s in the centre of the piano and there aren’t many 4 foot fish tanks that are 10cm deep. Normal screwdrivers are no match for the size of these screws.
I ended up purchasing an electric drill from Bunnings Warehouse for $34.97. This made life amazing! I also bought a power jigsaw for the same price. You will most likely need both if you want to make a piano fish tank.
In order to get to these large screws, you must get the strings out of the way. This was fun! Just cut them with pliers. It makes an amazing sound, and I’ll try to upload the video once I find it. Be careful after cutting the strings, as the ends of them are extremely pointy and sharp, and I cut myself on them a lot.
Hack away at the piano! why not? Basically, underneath the back of the lid is one large thick plank of wood that the pins are stuck into. This has to be removed so you can fit your fish tank in also. The easiest method would be to use a chainsaw, but I didn’t have one so I used a manual saw.
Now back to the iron frame! (sorry this blog is all over the place. I’m just going in order of the pictures. This is how I made it. Goooood planning.) Some of the big fat screws that hold the iron frame in are actually BEHIND pieces of wood that are holding the piano together!! bah! Solution? Find where the screws are, and remove the wood from the screws, and later reinforce the wood structure with more wood. I laid the piano down so I could get to the screws underneath, and chip away at the wood.
You can see what I mean about hacking the wood away to get to the screws. (Every day I made a complete mess inside the house, yet I always made sure to vacuum it all up at the end of the day. You should probably check with your housemates before doing this indoors.)
After all these massive screws have been cut away from the wood, or unscrewed, the metal frame will be able to be slide out. (Mind you, it did take me many many MANY hours to get to this stage. It’s ridiculously difficult to get the frame loosened, and all the screws taken out. Really difficult. Got it? It’s difficult.) Let me remind you that this frame is RIDICULOUSLY heavy. Seriously. Most friends I brought over to try and lift it couldn’t. I managed to DRAG it out of the house, but barely lift it. It’s heavy. It’s now in the garden.
After the iron frame has been removed, and the back board removed, the piano will look like this! Now we’re getting somewhere!
And with the casing back on..
The lid on my piano was held on with glue. It was merely a process of jimmying it off with a screwdriver gently to make sure it didn’t crack. Once this is off, the thick plank of wood is revealed. This has to be taken out. If I’d had a good electric saw or chainsaw, this part would’ve been a breeze. Instead, I used a handsaw.
Want a bit of comedy?
Due to the removal of the iron structure, the remaining piano frame is relatively weak. I cut a length of wood and placed it under two of the corners of the desk on which the fish tank will be placed. More supports will be shown later.
The piano rests on 4 wheels, one on each corner. Once the fish tank is full of water, there will be at least 150kg bearing down on these four wheels. I’m not sure what the weight of a piano is, but my remaining frame isn’t that strong anyway so I cut two long planks of wood and used both liquid nails and screws to secure them to the bottom of the piano. The thickness of these is slightly less than the wheels so that when the wheels sink into the carpet, the wood will take the remainder of the weight. You probably don’t have to do this. I just couldn’t find thick enough wood.
While cutting this large plank, be sure to keep the back section of wood (I left about 10-15mm) so that the lid fits nicely back on. In the following picture, I’ve cut one of the two upright beams. Both will end up being cut. What you want is for the height of the upright wood (with blue arrow) to be at the exact same height as the horizontal desk area (red area) so when we lay down a plank of wood later it’ll rest nicely on both sections!
(Ignore that the back beam that helps support the lid is missing in the next picture, I put it back up with brackets later.) The wood where the red box is has been removed as the fix tank needs all the room it can get. The blue lines represent the planks of wood I lay down for the fish tank to sit on. As you can see, those planks of wood go into that small section of wood that the green arrow is pointing, so you’ll have to cut out a section of that wood. However, be careful not to remove that section where the pink arrow is pointing to, as this is where the front lid of the piano slots into! Confused? Yay!
Notice the section of wood that the green arrow is pointing to is now missing.
This now allows room for the planks of wood that we need to lay down.
Due to the height of the fish tank, and the small viewing area of the front of the piano, we need to raise the fish tank by about 8cm or so. I couldn’t find a plank of wood that was at least 8cm thick and the length that I needed it, so I purchased 4 planks of about 2.5cm or something, and cut them to length.
Before securing this plank of wood down, ensure that the supports you’re putting them onto are perfectly straight! Having uneven supports will result in the water in the tank putting more pressure on one side of the glass than the other. As seen in the picture below, once I got the support straight with my level meter, I secured the support in place with 4 steel brackets from Bunnings which cost less than $1 each. I also had to ensure that the height of each support was the exact height and exact angle so the plank of wood I glued to it remained perfectly flat.
I also secured the back plank of wood back on with brackets, which helps support the lid. (You’ll notice it was missing in the above picture)
After gluing and screwing in all 4 planks, I placed the fish tank in! Be sure to place the fish tank on top of a piece of foam you can purchase from aquarium stores for $8. This ensures that any imperfections in the wood (or whatever you’re placing your tank on) only affect the foam, and not the glass of your tank. The smallest abnormally can create havoc if all that weight is applied onto a small area of glass!
(Notice the additional supports under the fish tank. 5 additional supports were added, as I didn’t want to take any risks with the weight of a full tank)
To prevent the viewer from seeing the back of the piano (although you may want this) I bought a piece of black vinyl and stuck it to the back of the tank.
Next, I bought two 4 foot lights specifically for a tropical fish tank, and the double lighting system for $210. I attached the switch to the back of the tank. Later on I screwed these lights into the lid of the piano.
Tank with the light on, but no water
I lined the bottom of the tank with 22kg of gravel, and also placed a heater into the tank.
Due to all my careful measuring and planning, the fish tank is perfectly horizontal! (despite the actual piano being on a forward lean.. :S )
Next, we fill with water, hoping that the whole thing holds together!
Some nice driftwood, purchased from a store.
Now, I wanted my piano fish tank to still sound like a piano somehow, so I decided that I would put a digital piano inside it. So many more problems arose!
The main problem was that I wanted weighted action on the keys so it still FELT like a piano even though it was digital. The reason I couldn’t do this was that I needed a digital piano that was less than 9cm tall, and there doesn’t seem to be a weighted piano in the world that is less than 12cm tall! That was annoying.
Midi keyboards easily fit in, but don’t have speakers or an interface to supply them with sounds, so they were out of the question. I ended up finding a digital piano without weighted keys for $350 which JUST managed to fit, and this was after removing lots of wood from the desk.
And lots of wood from the lid…
Despite removing all this wood, it was still impossible to reach the buttons on the top of the keyboard! So I had to remove even more wood from the lid…
Now it fits!
Next, I bought $100 worth of plants, and filled the remainder of the tank with water.
I purchased an Eheim 2215 External Canister Filter for $160. This is placed under the tank, amongst the supports. This makes it invisible, and virtually inaudible!
Bit of a problem. The curved piece of tubing I needed to loop over the tank just would NOT fit anywhere around the tank! What to do!!!!! I ended up purchasing a glass cutter, and I removed the pieces of glass on either end of the fish tank. Turns out these end bits of glass are superfluous, and it’s only the middle piece you can’t remove. This also allowed me to screw the lights into the lid of the tank, as the lights could now dip lower into the tank (not into the water though).
Add some tropical fish!
One died in the first couple of hours! (I got a replacement for free)
The lights are on a timer so I don’t have to bother switching it on and off each day. Took me a month to complete apparently, judging by that death cross in the tank.
Thanks for reading!