A Rare Breed Indeed: The Helpinstill Roadmaster

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Helpinstill Roadmaster
May 18, 2013 Max Brink
In Helpinstill

Another rare gem makes its way into The Chicago Electric Piano Company’s workshop! Here’s a look at a Helpinstill Roadmaster:


The Helpinstill Roadmaster was designed to be a gig-worthy acoustic piano that incorporated a true acoustic piano’s soundboard with an electormagnetic pickup and a custom designed foldable key bed. Helpinstill also designed the custom pickup that was incorporated into the piano and the Roadmaster pianos were built by Kimball to Helpinstill’s specifications using his unique pickup design.

In short, the Roadmaster is a Kimball piano soundboard installed into a road case with a foldable key bed and action assembly. The piano was available in 88 and 64 keys which collapsed into a road case with caster wheels that made it easier to move around.

This Roadmaster features 64 keys and had brass tacks installed on the hammer tips to give it an acoustically honky-tonk vibe and more attack through the electromagnet pickup.

Helpinstill Road Case

Here’s a look at the foldable action assembly:

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This piano came in with a lot of ‘miles’ on it! Here’s a glimpse at the crooked keys before we rebuilt the keybed:

Helpinstill Crooked Keys

In Chicago Electric Piano Company fashion we got to work first by rebuilding the key bed from the ground up, then restoring the action for the ideal expressive touch. Along the way a few stings needed to be replaced…

Helpinstill Keybed

Helpinstill Soundboard

Although the piano was designed for transportation, three of us were breaking sweat lifting this into the van on a hot Chicago afternoon! –We look forward to hearing back from this rare beast again soon!

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…This very piano has already been part of some very well known recording–chances are good that you have heard from this very piano before!

Jay Bennett Nametag copy

You can track this electric piano on your next record at Pieholden Studios, located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Visit their web page for more information about their rare vintage gear collection.

Comments (4)

  1. Matt dewine 11 years ago

    Great job guys! The entire Pieholden staff was blown away having the “tac piano” back in fully working condition. This instument has been on countless songs, and thanks to you it will be on many more.

    Pieholden Suite Sound

  2. Ron 6 years ago

    I owned one in the late 70s/early 80s and used it for a Wed-Sat house gig . . . loved the sound, but, no BS, I had to get to the club early every night to tweak the tuning!!!

  3. Steve 3 years ago

    Gigged with one in the 80’s. Mine didn’t have tacks in the hammers but it sounded like it did. Loved that piano — it would fit in the trunk of my 72 monte carlo (and I had to load it there by myself more than once — probably why my back is so screwed up now. And yeah, better get there early to tune it.

  4. Tim 2 years ago

    I had a 1981 Helpinstill Roadmaster 64 that my parents bought me. I remember meeting Charlie Helpinstill at the Houston factory and yes, it fit inside the trunk of my 1977 Ford LTD. i agree with steve that it did not have hammer tacks but DID require lots of time to tune. carried a hair drier around to help warm up the thing in the winter. The dimmer light switches in the Texas VFW and American Legion dance halls would cause lots of problems for our sound man because those passive piano pickups were so damn sensitive.

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