Theme: LEGO Ideas
Release Year: 2020
Cost: AU $529.99
About two years ago a LEGO fan called SleepyCow (otherwise known as Donny Chen) uploaded a project to LEGO Ideas called Playable LEGO Piano. It was nothing short of spectacular. In September 2019 we found out that it was approved and going to be produced into an official set. In July we got the announcement. It looked just as good, and promised to be playable.
I was super excited when I was offered a copy to review. When it arrived at my house, well… it was a big box. With 33 numbered bags across 21 build stages, plus loose and bagged plates, gold hoses, LEGO Powered Up elements and an instruction manual 1 cm thick, I knew I was in for a fun one. Not only is it unique, but it’s the biggest LEGO Ideas set yet.
The box itself was also a nice experience. Instead of the usual box that opens at the end, this one’s lid lifted completely off. Inside was a separate box half the size (with a nice keyboard print on the bottom), containing half the bags. This box was heavy, but the style worked out really well. I built this over the course of about 4 days on and off, and the bags were nicely lined up in order – it made for a nicely organised build experience.
The build process kicks off with the back of the piano that holds the drive train for the keys, and the housing for the Powered Up parts. The rear walls of the case are constructed, followed by the soundboard and the gold clip plates representing the rear pins. The exterior walls of the case are added and the ‘strings’ are clipped in.
I found that the smaller ones were a little warped and bent from being in the bag, which is a shame. Speaking of the case, I quite like the side door that can be opened to get access to the battery box. It’s unobtrusive and still maintains that sleek case look.
The next stage is to flip the whole piano upside down. The pedals are added, and the three legs are added, complete with adjustable wheels. While three pedals are added, only the far right one (known as the sustain pedal) moves. Press it down and the dampers all lift together.
The front end of the case that holds the keyboard is built and added on. This is when the size of the build really starts to become apparent. This thing will be big. The keys are repetitive, but exciting, with 15 white keys and 10 black, adding up to two full octaves. Split up into chunks and connected together, it’s very clever to see how they’re built and placed in the piano. The detail that goes into the hammers is excellent.
I showed it to my piano teacher sister in law and she was incredibly impressed, commenting how great it could be as a teaching tool. It’s constructed perfectly in relation to an actual piano. The fact that it works is a true testament to what is possible with LEGO. Of course I’m preaching to the converted – we all know what’s possible, but it’s exciting nonetheless.
Slide the keyboard in and and push two axles up underneath to lock it in. The final touch at this stage are the dampers and the music rack, that sits on the top nicely. The rack itself has a very clever support feature that’s unobtrusive.
Once the edging is done on the front, it’s time to move on to the fallboard. Like the rest of the build, there’s no studs visible, which makes this set really exciting. The fallboard feels solid, and it even has that beautiful and oh so satisfying soft close feature. Combine that with the logo inside, and it’s one of my favourite aspects of the build. That logo is super special as it’s the very first logo for The LEGO Group, all the way back in 1934. Adding it to the piano was perfect. It’s got just the right feel.
The lid is built, and it’s a lot of brick stacking, row by row. It’s repetitive, but I really enjoyed it! Seeing the lid rise off the table was exciting. It feels really solid when added to the build, and the simplicity of the lid prop sliding into Technic beam holes is just so nice. Add in the little adjustable stool and it’s all done.
The set is stunning. With no visible studs (aside from a couple of partially hidden ones in the top of the legs) I honestly think this will be one of the sets of the year. One immediate downside to this set though, is all that smooth black will lead to a similar problem I’m having with the 1989 Batmobile – it’s a dust and fingerprint magnet! The final excellent touch is the large printed tile with Donny’s own composition of “Playday”.
The big question on everyone’s minds though, is can it be played? LEGO announced that this was the first ever playable LEGO piano, but after thoroughly pulling apart the set trailer, I wasn’t so sure. After further investigation and reading as much as I could about the set, It became evident that it was not the case.
The play features run with the Powered Up app. Place your phone on the music stand and connect to the Piano with the app. There’s two options – Play and Listen. The Listen feature makes use of the colourful axle underneath the ends of the keys. It spins slowly, kicking the back of the keys up, so the front (and visible) portions of the keys are pushed down. It looks cool, but anyone with at least a little bit of knowledge about a piano will realise that something is off, as the moving keys are the same for every single one of the 10 songs available.
Some I knew, some I didn’t! The Play mode allows for what seems to be a really cool feature, but any key press will advance to the next note in the song. You will have to match the correct speed though, otherwise your songs will sound a little odd. The way it works is using the large Technic axle. As a key is pressed, the axle moves up, pushing a red element in front of the light sensor. When the sensor notices the red element, the note plays. I was able to (kind of) match the correct keys for Happy Birthday, and I have to say, it was a lot of fun. It’s a bit exciting, even though you know that it’s not making a difference.
The big disappointment and something that could have easily been fixed is that the music for these songs (all of them as far as I can tell) is not the actual music of the song! Surely this is something simple to implement. It’s honestly a little lazy.
All in all, this set is still amazing. I’m super impressed. It works, admittedly not as thoroughly as was made out in the trailer, but it looks fantastic and the functions it does have are superb. It properly demonstrates how a piano actually works, so it’s a brilliant teaching tool. The app side of things is fun to show new people, but it’s purely just a gimmick and one that could have been executed much better with a little more effort.
If you’re expecting a fully playable piano, prepare to be disappointed. As much as LEGO says it’s the first playable LEGO piano, it’s not, plain and simple. For $530, it’s a massive investment, and I’m not sure the play functions make it worth it, but for the build experience, it really is. To make it actually playable would be pretty much impossible, but this is a start, and it’s a very good start!
I think this set will attract a lot of new fans to the hobby, purely because of what has been promised with this set, so this could be a detriment to the company’s image. I’m surprised that they willingly misled the public in their announcement like that, but it’s a bit late now! Nevertheless, if you’re a pianist and a LEGO fan, this is definitely the set for you. I’m sticking with my gut and saying that this will still be one of the sets of the year.
DESIGN / APPEARANCE: 20/20
VALUE FOR MONEY: 7/10
A special thank you to LEGO for sending me a copy to review. All thoughts on this set are my own and are not influenced in any way, shape or form. The provision of sets for review does not guarantee a favourable review.