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Building a Balanced keyboard
You can actually build a Balanced keyboard quite easily, by swapping around and re-painting some of the keys on an existing keyboard. Examples of keyboards which have already been converted to Balanced keyboards are:

- E-mu Xboard 61
- Quickshot MIDI Composer
- Yamaha EX5
- Alesis Q49
- Acoustic piano! (considerably more complex to do however)

E-mu Xboard 61 Quickshot MIDI Composer, much modified


If you want to build a Balanced keyboard but don't want to use your main (expensive?) electronic keyboard, you can buy a cheap MIDI controller keyboard and convert that instead, and connect it to your main keyboard (or sound module or computer) with a MIDI cable.
 
Converting a standard electronic keyboard to a Balanced keyboard requires only basic mechanical skill - you could probably do it over a couple of afternoons.

The conversion is possible because many of today's electronic keyboards have very simple and evenly-spaced key mechanics, allowing the keys to be easily removed and rearranged into the Balanced keyboard pattern.


Types of keyboards which could probably be converted
The conversion will be possible on many of the available controller keyboards, synthesiser keyboards and consumer keyboards. The information presented here is based on my experiences with the E-mu Xboard 61 and the Quickshot Midi Composer keyboards.

Because there are many different makes and models of keyboard, the procedures discussed in the following steps can only be a general guide. Some mechanical creativity may be required if the following descriptions do not exactly match your keyboard.


The end product
Because a Balanced keyboard uses 6 top-row keys per octave instead of 5, the resulting Balanced keyboard will be shorter than the original standard keyboard. A standard 5-octave keyboard gives about 4 octaves after it has been converted, and a 4-octave standard keyboard gives about 3-1/2 octaves. Therefore, a small part of the final  keyboard will have some keys missing.

Converting your standard keyboard to a Balanced keyboard will definitely void any warranty that the keyboard may have.

If you want to change your Balanced keyboard back to a standard keyboard in the future, this is always possible, but it could be a bit messy because some keys will need to be repainted again.

DISCLAIMER

The instructions here are provided strictly on an 'as is' basis. Any work you undertake from these instructions is done entirely at your own risk. No responsibility whatsoever can be taken for any injury (or worse) resulting from any instructions given here, or for any damage to, and / or loss of warranty of, your keyboard, or any other related loss or damage whatsoever.


What you'll need
The following is a rough list of what you'll need to perform the conversion. Items with a question mark might be required.
  • Screwdriver, to fit keyboard enclosure screws (usually Phillips)
  • Black and white paint - preferably spray paint - if not then a brush is also required
  • Cleaning / degreasing fluid, e.g. methylated spirits / white spirit
  • Sharp hobby knife, or file? (for trimming key locating pillars, see Steps 4 and 6)
  • Flat-bladed screwdriver? (for prising enclosure apart, see Step 1)
  • Pliers? (for manipulating key retaining springs, see Step 2 and 6)

Step 0: Disconnecting all power supplies

*** VERY IMPORTANT ****


TO AVOID ANY RISK OF ELECTRIC SHOCK, UNPLUG THE KEYBOARD COMPLETELY FROM THE MAINS OR ANY OTHER POWER SOURCE BEFORE COMMENCING. ALSO, TAKE ANY BATTERIES OUT.



Step 1: Opening the keyboard enclosure
Firstly, you will need to open the keyboard enclosure. Keyboard enclosures usually consist of two halves, a top half and a bottom half. The keyboard key assembly itself (as well as most of the internal electronic equipment) is usually mounted onto the bottom half, with the top half being able to be lifted away.

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Separating the two halves of the keyboard enclosure.

The two halves will normally be held together by screws. The screws (10-20 of them) will be on the underside of the keyboard, towards the edges. However, also on the underside will probably be other screws for holding internal equipment in place, which should not be removed - these screws will probably be more towards the middle of the underside. This is shown in the example diagram below - the black blobs around the edges represent the enclosure screws, while the white blobs in the middle represent the ones holding internal equipment in place.


Example of screws on the underside of the keyboard.

Now begin unscrewing the screws which you think are appropriate. If the screws are different lengths then you will need to keep track of which ones go where. Some enclosures may have secondary plastic clips, which you will need to prise gently apart with a flat-bladed screwdriver. Also, it is possible that one or more of the enclosure screws may be hidden under a label or warranty plate - if so then the label or plate will need to be removed to gain access to the hidden screws.

Once you have unscrewed the screws which you think are appropriate, try lifting off the top of the enclosure. There may be some electrical cables connecting the top half to the bottom half. Take care not to damage these. They can usually be temporarily unplugged - take note of how they were connected before unplugging them.

With the top half of the enclosure removed, hopefully you should now have full access to the keys, especially the back ends of the keys. If there is internal hardware which blocks access to the rear of the keys then this will have to be temporarily unscrewed and moved out of the way.


Step 2: Removing the keys
You will now need to remove all of the keys. The keys will probably be held in place by a combination of two locating pillars and a spring. The diagrams below show a key in place with the spring at the rear, and then a key removed to reveal the two locating pillars. For clarity, these diagrams do not show the actual electrical key switches.

Key mechanism,
showing spring at rear
Key mechanism with a key
removed, showing the two
locating pillars under each key

Before removing the keys themselves, you will first need to remove the springs at the back ends of the keys. The springs can be removed using pliers. Note how the springs sit normally. Be careful not to lose any springs.

Now you will need to remove the keys one by one. The bottom-row keys need to be removed first, followed by the top-row keys. There may be loose rubber shock absorbers mounted under the keys - take care not to lose any of these. Remove each key by first lifting it at the back and then bringing it forward. If all is well you should end up with a big pile of keys and a smaller pile of springs, as well as a stripped-down keyboard.


Step 3: Getting familiar with the different types of keys
You have probably noticed that there are different types of keys, depending on where they are on the keyboard. The black top-row ones are all exactly the same in shape. The white bottom-row keys, however, have a number of different shapes, depending on where they are located on the keyboard. There are 7 different types of keys, as follows:


Different types of keys on the standard keyboard.


Step 4: Checking and preparing the new key arrangement
Now that you've come this far, this next step is critical to making sure that your keyboard can be successfully converted into a Balanced keyboard. There are two stages to this.

Firstly, you need to check that the arrangement of the electrical switches under the keys is suitable. You should be able to see the key switches - they may be rubbery nodules, or other small metal or plastic units with moving actuators, arranged along the length of the keyboard. For the conversion to be possible, they must be in a single straight line, and perfectly regularly spaced along the entire length of the keyboard.

The second bit is to check that the keys themselves will fit into place in the new Balanced key arrangment, by carrying out a trial installation. This is best done by carrying out a trial installation of an octave of keys, layed out exactly as follows, to test that all the types of keys will fit properly.


One-octave trial installation of keys.

Attempt to install the keys exactly as shown, starting at the left-hand end of the keyboard. You may find that a few of them do not seem to fit in place. This may be because the locating pillars under these keys may be too wide for the type of key you're trying to fit on them (the different widths of the locating pillars are there to help with original factory assembly). If this is the case, try narrowing the offending locating pillar(s) by shaving off SMALL amounts off both sides using a hobby knife or file, until they fit.

Hopefully all of the keys in the octave should eventually fit into place. If not then you will need to use some creative mechanical judgement to find out what the problem may be - if you decide it is unresolvable then it would be best to stop there, reassemble your keyboard and call it a day. However, if all is well then remove all of the keys again - it's time for some painting.


Step 5: Painting the keys
The next step is to re-paint some of the keys. Some of the white ones need to be painted black and some of the black ones white. The inventories of the types of keys which you will need are as follows, for 4- and 5-octave keyboards. The highlighted keys are the ones which have to be repainted.

Keys required for 4-octave Balanced keyboard
Key
Type























Qty 5 1 1 5 8 3 3 3 12


Keys required for 5-octave Balanced keyboard
Key
Type





















Qty 6 3 5 9 3 3 3 3 16

Before painting the keys you will need to clean and de-grease them thoroughly, so that the paint will stick properly. You can use a cleaning agent such as methylated spirits- however, check that the cleaning agent which you use doesn't dissolve the plastic of the keys, by rubbing into the underside of a key first.

You can now paint the keys. Spray painting is recommended over using a brush because it produces a nicer finish. Plan how you will place the keys when the paint is drying. Follow the paint manufacturer's instructions. Try to paint over all areas of the keys which will be visible when the keyboard is reassembled. For a thorough job, apply more than 1 coat - allow sufficient drying time between coats.


Step 6: Assembling the keys into the new arrangement
You now need to reassemble the keys into the keyboard in the Balanced keyboard arrangement. Depending on whether you need to shave some locating pillars in the one-octave trial in Step 4, this will need to be done for some more keys across the keyboard. You can do it as you go along - check that the keys move freely. Also, attach each spring to the back of each key as you go along, and check that any rubber shock absorbers under the keys are in place.

Insert all top-row keys first, one in every second key location. The pattern is 2 black, 4 white, 2 black, 4 white, etc. Then do the bottom row. The bottom-row keys need to go in a special arrangement, to minimise the untidiness of the gaps between the keys, as well as get the right black and white pattern.

Balanced keyboard key arrangement
(from 4-octave standard keyboard)

Left-end keys
x 8
Right-end keys
x 8


Balanced keyboard key arrangement
(from 5-octave standard keyboard)

Left-end keys
x 9
Right-end keys
x 8



Note that all of the left-type keys (the old C's and F's) go at the left end of the keyboard, the right-type keys (the old E's and B's) all go at the right end of the keyboard, and the middle-type keys (old G-D-D-A, in that pattern) go in the middle.


Step 7: Reassembling the enclosure
Finally, the enclosure needs to be reassembled. Re-connect any disconnected cables, replace the top half of the enclosure onto the bottom half, and then screw in all screws. The screws don't have to be too tight - be especially careful not to overtighten screws which screw into plastic.

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You now have a Balanced keyboard!


     
    Copyright (c) Bart Willemse 2003 - 2016. All rights reserved.