The battered and coffee-stained Challen upright was used in Studio Three, the smallest of the three original studios at Abbey Road. (“The recording space was designed to have a natural and flexible acoustic, with multiple isolation booths,” says the Abbey Road website, which is well worth the visit for its supercool details and images.)
The Challen name is unfamiliar to me, but their website claims it’s “a name closely associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation for over 30 years.” If you’re digging that weird out-in-left-field third pedal, here’s what Bonhams has to say:
This particular model is known as a ‘jangle box’ or ‘tack’ piano, due to
the optional tone controlled by a third foot pedal. The piano was
fitted with brass-tipped felt strips which could be moved between the
hammers and strings and when the key-operated hammer hit the brass
against the string, a hard, percussive edge to the note resulted.
This Challen — serial number 76688 — was the Studio Three piano from 1964 until
1980, so it was present during the Beatles’ major recording
years. But — a big “but” — it doesn’t seem to have been used for many of the group’s big recordings of that era, which took place in the roomier Studio Two. The website mentions by name the single “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966) as The Beatles’ probable first use of 76688, followed by “Paperback Writer” (also 1966, with the Challen recorded but then removed from the final single mix) and “Old Brown Shoe” in 1969.
That brass-tipped jangle box sound is perfectly clear in “Old Brown Shoe,” and maybe they ought to be leading with that in the catalogue. That tune was the B-side to “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” so maybe Bonhams doesn’t think the title has enough oomph.
This isn’t the piano from “Let it Be” or “Hey Jude,” in any case, although in classic auction style that fact is subtly glossed over under the broad and glorious heading of “piano used by the Beatles.” Pink Floyd seemed to make better use of Studio Three and 76688: parts of Dark Side Of The Moon and all of Wish You Were Here were recorded there.
With that provenance, Bonhams say they expect the piano to fetch 100-150,000 pounds, which works out to US $156-234,000. Which is, coincidentally, just about what Roy Rogers‘s dead horse Trigger was expected to fetch earlier this summer.
Trigger (also battered and possibly coffee-stained) eventually went for $266,000, and we’ll see about ol’ number 76688 on August 15th. We know which we’d rather have.