15 Famous Pianos That You Can Visit
If the piano isn’t the coolest musical instrument, it’s definitely one of the most versatile. From classical music halls to jazz clubs to rock 'n’ roll bars, the piano has popped up just about everywhere people have made music over the last 300 years. It can sound heartbreakingly sad or annoyingly jaunty, and while most kids who are forced to take lessons quit before they reach Carnegie Hall, it’s rare to find an adult who can’t at least bash out "Chopsticks." What follows are 15 of the awesomest pianos on the planet. You can’t play them all, but you can go see 'em, and that might be the next best thing.
1. MOZART'S LAST PIANO
Housed at the Mozarteum museum in Salzburg, the piano Wolfgang Mozart used during the final 10 years of his illustrious life is only 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 187 pounds. And it’s a good thing—Mozart would schlep his piano to concert halls all over Vienna rather than relying on them to have one for his use. He wrote with it, too, using the instrument to compose many of the 600-plus pieces he finished before his death in 1791 at the age of 35.
2. BUILT LOUD FOR BEETHOVEN
Given to Ludwig van Beethoven in 1826, a year before his death, the piano on display at his namesake museum in Bonn, Germany, was quadruple-strung and therefore believed to be especially loud. Extra volume would’ve been nice, on account of Beethoven’s deafness, but scholars believe the instrument wasn’t actually louder than other pianos. By the final years of his life, the legendary composer had mostly stopped tickling the ivories, so this thing didn’t get much use. But it’s a beauty nevertheless.
3. CHOPIN'S FINAL PIANO
In 2010, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, Polish composer Frédéric Chopin was honored with his very own museum in his hometown of Warsaw. Items displayed there include a plaster death mask and, more happily, the final piano the Romantic composer wrote with before his death in 1849. It was built by Ignace Pleyel, one of the era’s most respected piano makers.
4. BRAHMS'S TEACHING TOOL
It’s hip to be square—at least if we’re talking about the piano Johannes Brahms used to give lessons from 1861 to 1862. Built by Hamburg piano maker Baumgardten & Heins in approximately 1859, this square-shaped instrument is among the prized possessions at The Brahms Museum in Hamburg, the German icon’s hometown.
5. LENNON'S FAVORITE UPRIGHT
Even in a city brimming with Beatles artifacts, the so-called "John Lennon piano," now on view at the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool, is pretty special. Lennon played the instrument—outfitted with special tacks to produce a more percussive sound—on his Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy albums. It was a constant part of his post-Beatle life in NYC, and he reportedly had it moved to every studio where he was recording. He even played it on December 8, 1980, the day he was gunned down outside his apartment building.
6. DIG THOSE RHINESTONES, LIBERACE
Devyn Caldwell via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Liberace wasn’t big on subtlety. The late Vegas showman was way into sparkles, though, and that’s what makes the nine-foot Baldwin on display at the Piano Mill in Rockland, Massachusetts, so special. This thing dazzles with 200 pounds of Austrian rhinestones, all of which survived a 2015 roof collapse at the Piano Mill showroom. This thing’s so glitzy, it’s indestructible.
7. A KEYBOARD FIT FOR THE KING
Casey and Sonia via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
In 1955, notorious momma’s boy Elvis Presley bought his mother a grand piano he played regularly at Graceland. After she died a few years later, it went into storage, but then the King’s wife, Priscilla, had it decked out with a 24-karat gold leaf finish to celebrate the couple’s one-year wedding anniversary in 1968. Last year, Hard Rock picked up the jaw-dropping piece at auction and announced plans to display it—most likely in Tampa, where there’s plenty of other rock 'n' roll memorabilia to justify the trip.
8. GOOD GOLLY, THAT'S A NICE PIANO
A sign at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia, reads, "Do Not Attempt to Play Little Richard's Piano. He Will Know." It’s best to obey that rule—no modern musician can light up the keys the way flamboyant '50s rock legend "Little" Richard Penniman did back in the day, when he played the instrument at Anne’s Tic Toc Lounge in his hometown.
9. IT'S BIG, ALRIGHT
Tom Hanks got to play with lots of cool toys in the 1988 coming-of-age comedy Big, but the raddest of them all was the 16-foot, three-octave "walking piano" that he and Robert Loggia deftly danced across at FAO Schwartz, hitting most of the right notes to "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul." The giant keyboard was made specially for the film, and you can see it without making a wish on a Zoltar machine. It resides at Philadelphia’s Please Touch museum.
10. AND SPEAKING OF BIG PIANOS …
When he was 15 years old, Adrian Mann of Timaru, New Zealand, started work on a piano that now stands as the world’s longest. Measuring 7.5 meters (nearly 25 feet), the homemade instrument has popped up at various museums, and it’s even been used in concerts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Sir Elton John has taken Mann up on his offer to stop by and give the thing a try. (But if he ever does, he should totally play "Tiny Dancer.")
11. A WONDER-FUL PIECE
After releasing his 1962 debut album on Motown's Tamla label at age 12, Stevie Wonder enrolled at the Michigan School for the Blind, where the preternaturally talented R&B star added classical to his musical repertoire. The grand piano he learned on now lives at the Michigan History Museum in Lansing, where Wonder says he wrote his classic "My Cherie Amour."
12. MOTOWN MEMORIES
Another great reason to visit Michigan is the Motown Museum in Detroit, where you’ll find an 1877 Steinway used on many of the label’s iconic '60s recordings. By 2011, the piano had deteriorated to the point where it was no longer playable, but thankfully Paul McCartney stepped in to refurbish the instrument. It's now on display in "Hitsville, U.S.A."
13. A PIANO FOR POTUS
If President Obama ever gets the urge to accompany his singing with a little piano, he’s got a fine one at his disposal. Given to the White House in 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was the guy getting his mail there, the 300,000th piano produced by Steinway & Co. boasts a Honduran mahogany frame, legs shaped like American eagles, and gold leaf decoration highlighting "the five musical forms indigenous of America."
14. AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER
Among the treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the world’s oldest surviving piano, built by none other than Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Italian man credited with inventing the instrument. This particular piano dates back to 1720; according to the Met, it was 75 years before anyone improved on Cristofori’s hammer mechanism.
15. A FLOOD OF EMOTIONS
Jonathan via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A deafening silence surely surrounds the piano greeting visitors to the Louisiana State Museum’s "Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond" exhibition. The baby grand belonged to local musical icon Antoine "Fats" Domino until Katrina’s floodwaters ravaged the Lower Ninth Ward in 2005, leaving the instrument turned on its side and utterly wrecked. Fortunately, Fats survived the storm, as did another Steinway that was restored in 2013.