I am the inventor of the Helpinstill Piano Pickup. The first unit was built for my own use while I was in college, because I wanted to play a real piano in a band. My degree in Electrical Engineering gave me the skills to approach this piano problem from a new direction. I originally had in mind a totally new kind of keyboard that could compete with a guitar. Where no one before me had any desire to put magnetic pickups in a piano (because it would obviously sound like a guitar,) that was exactly what I had in mind when I built the first one. I was ready to become the Jimi Hendrix of the piano, with my strange-sounding new keyboard. No one was more surprised than me when it just sounded like the piano! Setting aside my initial disappointment, I went on the road fronting my own band. I had found the piano solution for playing with a full band!
Many audiences who heard these early performances proclaimed me to be the "best piano player they ever heard." This was probably because I was the FIRST piano player in a band they were able to actually hear! This new piano secret was let loose on the world in 1972, when this same unit was eventually purchased and used on tour by Elton John. Such a dramatic introduction quickly gave rise to the burgeoning company I formed to manufacture and market the product. Over the course of 10 years we sold thousands of these electromagnetic systems to every famous keyboard player on the planet for a very simple reason: they're the only thing that really works.
In 1982 I sold the company to become a full-time musician again, and I've had a rich and satisfying career as one of Texas' most prominent piano front men, Ezra Charles (see my website at ezracharles.com!) When the original company making the pickups went out of business in 1985, I bought back all my patent rights, but never had any inclination to make more pickups for two reasons; digital pianos had undercut our market for anybody except purists and superstars, and most of the pickups we made originally still worked!
In 2001 I had been playing many clubs and concerts where the sound people begged me for a unit like the one I carry around for myself, so I decided to start producing them again. I decided that direct internet marketing that eliminated dealers and distributors would allow me to offer the product at 1980 prices, so I launched a website at helpinstill.com. In doing so, a new market revealed itself almost immediately: churches. In the seventies and eighties during the term of the original company, most church sound systems were designed for speech, not music. Today, churches are among the most sophisticated users of sound equipment, and many churches are putting on a production every Sunday that rivals any touring concert in complexity. Once we went back in business, we were also deluged with calls from touring acts who were relieved to learn their 20-year-old Helpinstills could finally be replaced and updated.
The pickups we are making today are the simplest, clearest-sounding units ever, and we have introduced a new, improved model with humbucking sensors that has incredible noise-rejection characteristics. We recently introduced a balanced-line version that allows the sensors to be plugged directly into channels, and then EQ'd separately and panned to a stereo configuration. Look for more new products in the future as we continue to push the envelope in the field of piano amplification.
Your friend at the 88's,
Ezra Charles Helpinstill
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