The Piano Hutch - something I made up

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Project by Gary Fixler posted 02-27-2009 01:58 PM 6495 views 5 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

It’s hard to believe I did this just about exactly one year ago. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned about in that time. Were I to start over, I would do almost everything quite differently, especially the choices of woods, and the finishing thereof. Even the cubbies grain direction I’d switch to vertical on the sides. I had a lot less in the way of tools and techniques then, too. It’s kind of exciting, really, to see how far I’ve progressed in just a year, and now that I joined this site in the last week, I can’t imagine how much more I’ll know 365 days from now!

Anyway, I got a Yamaha DGX-620 on a big sale at Sam’s Club for my birthday 2 years ago (thanks mom!). Half a year later, I reorganized my office, and thought it would be really cool to set a computer up at the piano so I could surf the net right from there, and play sheet music online (for example, and here’s me trying to play the LoZ:Labyrinth theme from there).

The improved Maya 3D mockup I used as my plans

The idea for a kind of standing chalkboard with cubbies for sheet music and accessories, and a flat panel monitor mounted on an Ergotron LX arm in the middle of it sprang into my mind, so I modeled it out around a low-res mockup of the piano's basic primitive shape in Maya, then set to work making it from my loose, 3D plan, modifying the design as I went. It’s very simple, but very sturdy, and quite functional. My office is dark, so the simplicity of the joinery and finish fade away, especially when there’s stuff happening on-screen. It’s really convenient, and it simulates for me having a cool studio, though I don’t have even the basics, like a small, physical mixer. And that’s fine, because I’m a really bad musician :)

I designed the cubbies to each fit around all the [severely outdated] sheet music I’ve acquired in my life, so I’d finally have a real place to put them, instead of stacked wherever. With 2x the storage needed, the other cubby would be for guitar pics, banjo finger pics, pitch pipe, bamboo flutes, harmonicas, strings, guitar polish, metronome, tuner, and all the other little junk that follows an instrument collection around. I never did get back around to fitting shelving or cubbies into the other one, nor doors or nice edge banding on both, though I might still like to.

Super simple cubby designed to fit all of my outdated sheet music

The 2 outjutting shelves and narrow cross-shelf-like-thing are poplar, joined with my then-new Kreg K3 Master System pocket holing jig. The feet are joined on that way, too. The K3 was the coolest thing ever when I got it, and I wanted to join everything that way. it’s so fast and easy, and strong. The little shelves are designed around the footprint of the small-form-factor Shuttle PC that was to go on top of one of them, though when I couldn’t revive the old broken beast, I got a much smaller, brand new one. It still looks like it was made to fit up there, albeit with more breathing room. If I upgrade it one day to a bigger Shuttle again, it should still fit nicely.

poplar joined with pocket screws to form over-cubby shelves

For some reason I joined all the cross pieces to the legs via insert nuts and antique finish bolts. I think I presumed I’d be moving a lot, perhaps by camel, and would need to knock this down and tie the flat pieces firmly together for transport. I don’t know. There’s also a trough at the bottom of the backboard across the whole width. This now has some longer flutes in it, keyboard and mouse cables (it retains them nicely), and tiny computer speakers that came with the KPC that I’d later like to build little quarter-circle shelves for between the cubbies and back wall to the sides of the monitor, to get them up to the right height finally.

old, broken Shuttle PC I had hoped to resurrect, but couldn't

The screen extends far enough for even the most blind of pianists.

the screen extends out around 2 feet on its Ergotron LX arm

The keyboard is MIDI, and hooked to the computer – a ~$450 Shuttle KPC, I can not only surf for music, and use the 19” widescreen as a 2-page sheet music stand to display virtual pages, but I can also use the free/open source Ubuntu Studio OS with all its included packages to record, mix, edit, and play things back through the piano, using its bank of instruments. It’s pretty neat. Also, I found some really simple, free/open apps that can communicate with MIDI instruments for training purposes, kind of like the old Miracle Piano Teaching System of the early 90s (my buddy’s mom had one – used to tinker on it). It gives me hope that a project may pick up that makes a lot better of a system, with interactive flash cards (pop up chords, I have a fraction of a second to hit it) and so on.

I like the look of just one bulb of the 2 bulb lamp on - I moved the piano from here to the wall on the right eventually

Everything is Home Depot poplar planks, cheap plywood (I didn’t even know the difference between construction grade and birch ply back then!), and my then-usual rampant guesswork. This was my first bigger project since college (loft bed, darkroom), and the first big one in my rental house’s 1-car garage workshop. It was a lot of fun, and kickstarted up my dormant, inner woodworker again. Now there’s just no stopping :)

a hero shot of the piano hutch in its current environment

You can view a lot more build pics in the 6 sets in their collection at Flickr. Unfortunately, the piano has sat unused for most of a year now, as has the electronics bench I put together well before that, and the machine bench setup I made somewhere between the two, which is probably the biggest travesty (mini mill, mini lathe, CNC’d with another small shuttle and monitor setup). I have used the mini lathe more recently for wood turning, though. Setting up CNC stuff is such a huge chore, but hand-turning things like handles, and candlestick holders is so much faster, freer, and fun. Oy… Too much to do, too little time. You know how it is.

Thanks for looking!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

10 comments so far

View firecaster's profile


574 posts in 3929 days

#1 posted 02-27-2009 02:33 PM

You obviously are quite talented.

Great write up, thanks.

-- Father of two sons. Both Eagle Scouts.

View Greg Wurst's profile

Greg Wurst

796 posts in 4343 days

#2 posted 02-27-2009 04:24 PM

I might have to steal this idea for my wife’s keyboard setup.

-- You're a unique and special person, just like everyone else.

View savannah505's profile


1834 posts in 4097 days

#3 posted 02-27-2009 04:38 PM

Your efforts paid off, a great piece, and if it’s doing the job you want, then it’s a success. Welcome to Lj’s.

-- Dan Wiggins

View PurpLev's profile


8551 posts in 4159 days

#4 posted 02-27-2009 04:57 PM


now take those books outa those cubby holes, and put some monitor speakers in there ;)

I love Ubuntu… use it all the time (when I’m not on my Mac)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16284 posts in 4729 days

#5 posted 02-27-2009 06:15 PM

As an amateur pianist, I was more fascinated with the concept than how you built it. I’ve done some experimenting with recording and editing my keyboard music on the computer, and a setup like this would be ideal!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4385 days

#6 posted 02-27-2009 09:44 PM

Really a cool project. It came out great.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Scott Hildenbrand's profile

Scott Hildenbrand

71 posts in 4252 days

#7 posted 02-27-2009 11:21 PM

Star Trek?? ;)

Nice project, eh… Have you ever heard Ronald Jenkees play?

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4671 days

#8 posted 02-28-2009 03:02 PM


-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 3892 days

#9 posted 02-28-2009 04:43 PM

Thanks, firecaster!

Greg: If you make it, please post it up! I’d love to see this idea repeated, especially by the pros here who could really do it well.

Dan – True! It felt like a big success for me. I always see all the flaws and amateur-ness, but overall, I really enjoy having it. It’s a neat little studio area.

PurpLev! – Another Ubuntu user here? We’re everywhere!

Charlie – You have a lot more talent than me. These are really enjoyable. I can’t compose. I always slide right back into something I know from somewhere else. I’ve never managed to open up the part of my brain that can make it’s own music. A little frustrating, but I guess I can’t be everything. Maybe if I keep inhaling purpleheart dust… Anyway, thanks for sharing those. These are the kinds of things I will listen to while working.

Blake – Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.

Scott – I HAVE heard Mr. Jenkees, and I am fan. I absolutely love the 8-bit music era, and he just takes it to a whole other level. I’m particularly in love with Throwing Fire.

Thanks, Ms. Debbie! I’m glad you like it :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3952 days

#10 posted 03-01-2009 12:33 AM

I,m a firm believer in furniture with a purpose and that certainly fits the bill. Your neighbours must love you, a workshop and a piano? All you need now is a karaoke machine!

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

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