How Our Magnet Action Works

By Tom Rudnitsky Tom Rudnitsky is a co-founder of Vidal and designer of the Magnet Action MIDI Controller.

Jul 29, 2023


The Draw of a Real Instrument

Few things are as satisfying as playing a grand piano. The feel of the keys under your fingers, the way the sound blooms from inside the instrument. Notes combine into chords and suggest possibilities for finger movement. Composition and improvisation come naturally.

Pianos are incredible tools for music creation, but they’re also wildly impractical. The reality of music production today is that most people are stuck using cheap plastic MIDI controllers and digital pianos. Since the dawn of the digital age in music, manufacturers have raced to the bottom to produce ever cheaper, ever more disposable keyboards. The products we’re left with today can’t come close to the magic of playing a real instrument, and the experience of making music suffers because of it.

Prior to co-founding Vidal, I worked as a piano rebuilder for 7 years, running my own workshop restoring high-end vintage pianos for clients up and down the East Coast (you can check out a documentary about my work here). Before that, I studied piano performance in music school and was fortunate enough to have the chance to play on some incredible concert instruments. Those experiences stayed with me, and I started the piano restoration business out of a burning curiosity to understand what made those pianos so meaningful to play.

I spent years honing my craft, learning how to rebuild actions, refinish wood veneers, and make new soundboards. Along the way I discovered something unexpected. The reason a Steinway sounded like a Steinway wasn’t some secret technique for making soundboards, or a special kind of felt used on the hammers. Instead, the magic lay in a constellation of great design decisions that all came together to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Designing a New Kind of Keyboard

A new question occurred to me. What if we took the same approach to craft and design and applied it to making digital keyboard instruments? Almost nothing has changed in the keyboard and digital piano landscape over the past twenty years, and the existing design thinking was rooted in the language of electronics and tech peripherals, not in the craft tradition of making real instruments.

So, we decided to invent our own instrument from the ground up. Along the way we approached every design decision with a single goal: creating the best possible playing experience. To that end, we learned how to make our own piano keys using a CNC machine, we created an entirely new kind of weighted keyboard action that utilized magnets, and we designed an aesthetic for the instrument that felt authentically itself.

We poured everything into the development of the keyboard. My co-founder left his previous company, selling his equity, and I closed my piano restoration business for good. After a year of feverish development marked by seemingly-insurmountable problems at every turn, we finally did it. We designed an instrument that captured the magic of playing an acoustic piano.

To read about how our Magnet Action MIDI Controller works, click here.

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