A Neo-Bechstein electric grand piano with a mahogany case.
At the early part of the 20th century, the invention and consequent sales of the radio and record player had popularised the passive enjoyment of music. By the 1930's, sales for acoustic grand pianos had dropped by almost 93%. The Neo-Bechstein was initially developed in an attempt to combat falling piano sales. In 1929, Bechstein alongside the Nobel Prize Holder Professor Nernst, Siemens and Telefunken pioneered the construction of a home entertainment system incorporating the first electric grand piano, radio, record player and amplifier. The Neo-Bechstein was born. This instrument allowed the pianist to play alone or accompany the built-in tube radio (Telefunken 121w or Siemens BW22) or the record player (Telefunken Arcofar T1000).
The Neo-Bechstein incorporates many pioneering inventions and features the first electromagnetic pick-up. Developed by Prof. Nernst, every five notes share one pick-up. The standard hammer action of an acoustic piano was too powerful and so had to be altered. Professor Nernst and his assistant Mr Driescher developed "micro-hammers", a smaller version of the usual hammer. This smaller vibration was picked-up and sent to the loudspeaker. The first electric piano was born.
Research and development of the Neo-Bechstein had cost Bechstein 500.000 Reichsmark. In 1931, this instrument hit the market at the low price of 2.800 Reichsmark. In comparison, the smallest acoustic Bechstein grand was 3.500 Reichsmark. A handful of Neo-Bechsteins were sold worldwide, ten to the New York Radio Hall, a few to Great Britain, even some to Japan, then sales dropped like a stone. Come the latter part of 1932, only 6 Neo-Bechsteins were sold and in 1933 the last Neo-Bechstein left the factory. The new electric piano was "dead". In total, Bechstein made about 150 Neo-Bechsteins. To prevent the company from going out of business, it received financial aid from the government. Bechstein sold the patent for this piano to another piano company called Petrof, who built another ten Neo-Petrof before they also realised that this piano was unsellable.
The problem with this new piano was its new, unknown sound, and specialist handling. Volume was increased by pressing the left pedal, however it also altered the tone of the piano. At lowest volume it is reminiscent of a spinet. With more volume an electric piano. However at full pelt it sounds like a rock guitar. You could say the Neo-Bechstein appeared 30 years before its time. Its unique tone would have been more at home in the 1950's or 1960's.
In 1932, this piano ( serial number:138994 ) was delivered as one of six Neo-Bechsteins to a Bechstein Dealer in the City of Breslau. The Box and record player bears the serial number of another Neo-Bechstein. It is likely they were delivered to Breslau at the same time. The piano and the box were then sold by a second hand piano dealer, Max Porth, in Berlin before the WWII. This Neo-Bechstein and the box were recovered in a radio and television shop in east Berlin in 2013 under a huge amount of cardboard boxes.
Today, only 22 Neo-Bechstein pianos are known to exist worldwide and of those, only three are fully functional. One is in the Technical Museum of Vienna, another in the Musical Museum in Prague and this is the third. This Neo-Bechstein has been fully restored, it is 83 years old and still is complete with record player and loudspeaker.