Yamaha Design “Synapses” The Million Dollar Piano


The custom piano built for Elton John.
It is not for sale.


Played by Elton John on tour, this one-of-a-kind instrument is the result of our quest to find the bare minimum required to express the qualities of a piano, and features Yamaha's CFX full concert grand piano action hidden within an acrylic panel.


The images on the LED monitors embedded around the edge of the acrylic case synchronize with the show lighting, helping to harmonize the piano with its surroundings on stage. Supported by the clear acrylic of its legs, the piano body is transformed instantaneously by these images from a bare slate into a wondrous spectacle that matches each song being performed.


We employed computer graphics to gauge how stage lighting from different directions would reflect off the piano and to predict the kind of outlines it would create. This effort shows in the way the clear acrylic scatters light with a prism-like effect from the triangular legs.


The relationship between the movement of the fingers with the action and hammers can be clearly perceived through the smoked acrylic front board, asserting this piano's identity as an acoustic instrument. The design also emphasizes the delicate associations between the different components that define so much about the piano while taking into account the thermal expansion of the acrylic caused by heat from the LED monitors.


Elton John requested that this piano be a truly inimitable, almost like a high-end sports car. In response, we utilized genuine leather around the keyboard, just like that found in such an extravagant automobile. Our design stresses the importance of touch, with special emphasis on the cushioning and stitching.

Akie Hinokio
Akie Hinokio
Yamaha Design Laboratory

Yukinori Mikage
Yukinori Mikage
Yamaha Design Laboratory

The Million Dollar Piano for Elton John

We received a video letter from Elton John himself with an idea for a piano that could materialize out of nowhere on stage during his performances.
Beginning in September 2011 in Las Vegas, Elton John was to appear in a three-month show called "The Million Dollar Piano." The design that we created in answer to his request features images lining the exterior of the piano that synchronize with the imagery on stage, allowing the piano to blend chameleon-like into its surroundings before transforming its appearance to match the progress of the song being performed. Seeking to use the bare minimum of expressive elements to represent its identity as an acoustic piano with only the bare minimum of elements, we built a full-size mockup of the instrument and then used computer graphics to assess the effect that lights would have on its appearance, which led us to the polygonal shape of the finished product. Finally we left for Las Vegas with the completed piano. The instrument that had seemed so huge in the piano workshop appeared tiny when seen on the giant stage from the audience seats in the show. But the second that the show started and Elton began to play, our creation was transformed instantaneously into a dynamic grand piano.
For me, in that moment, at very instant, the piano itself was finally complete.

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