They say there is nothing you can’t build with LEGO bricks. Most of the time, that is very true provided you have enough plastic bricks. But let’s get real; there are certain categories of real-world things that do not translate into LEGO-world particularly well, carrying form but not function. One example would be musical instruments. It looks like building a playable LEGO musical instrument is nearly impossible. It also looks like you have to have the skills of a magician to land a job as a LEGO Ideas designer. The work the LEGO design team did to turn fan Donny Chen’s idea into the official 3,662-piece 21323 Grand Piano set seems truly amazing. However, you never judge a set until you have built it, so let’s assemble, tune and play this majestic instrument, which can be purchased today for US $349.99 | CA $449.99 | UK £319.99.
The box and contents
When reviewing a LEGO set, I prefer to speak about the price aspect as little as possible and instead focus on the model itself. However, with the set like the Grand Piano, there are too many things that emphasize its high price, so it is simply impossible to ignore it. It all starts with the box, which clearly states that it’s not an ordinary building toy you are looking at. The set is part of the new adult portfolio — LEGO’s latest attempt to lure into the hobby of building with plastic bricks as many grown-ups as possible.
Although the set is $20 cheaper than this summer’s LEGO Technic 42115 Lamborghini Sián FKP 37, both sets come in equally luxurious boxes with top lids. There’s no surprise that some of the plastic bags with pieces, as well as the building guide, are hiding inside another smaller box, but in this case, even the inner box has a unique design to create a premium product experience.
There are more than 33 bags with pieces, with some containing as few as just about 200-300 pieces. The aftermath is a heap of plastic bags cut open. I wish LEGO took steps to avoid so much packaging wastes per set, and switched to more eco-friendly packaging; maybe recycled paper bags, biodegradable plastic, or cardboard boxes.
Some of the most massive pieces are packed in unnumbered bags. I was surprised to find electric elements with no additional protection. All of the LEGO Technic set with Powered Up elements (e.g., the 42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey that I recently reviewed) have the eclectic elements packed in dedicated boxes, which makes assembling the set a little bit more special. Meanwhile, some larger plates in tan come protected while other similar-sized pieces have no plastic wrapping at all.
The building instructions
The design of the instruction book is another instrument for emphasizing the product’s special status. The cover of the book doesn’t repeat the image from the front of the box but instead features a very impressive themed shot from the press release packet. You might remember the cover of the building guide from LEGO Creator Expert 10271 Fiat 500 set, which was decorated with an alternative design in a similar way. I must admit, this simple thing does work; it makes me believe that I’m about to build a very serious model and not just a toy for kids.
At the beginning of the building guide, you’ll find the story of LEGO fan Donny Chen and his own creation that was turned into this product via the LEGO Ideas platform. Once the build is complete, take a minute to enjoy an illustrative schematic of the inner structure of the grand piano. There is a brilliant educational aspect for those customers who have no experience of playing a real piano, while experienced musicians will appreciate the complexity and appropriateness of the build.
There’s one thing that I love about assembling official LEGO sets the most — that exciting feeling of being lost within such a complex inner structure that you can hardly tell what exactly you are building at the moment. And then seeing how the whole thing comes together and exceeds your expectations is the actual magic of this hobby.
But here’s the Grand Piano, and it is different. I tried to get lost and let my imagination run free, but no luck; at almost any given moment, I was building yet another wall of bricks. I can’t blame the model for being a box because this is what a real grand piano is, and this is why the sound resonates inside so beautifully. But there’s no way it makes building with LEGO bricks more engaging. First, you start with the floor, which is a thick wall of bricks and plates in tan. You install all of the electric elements early in the build, meaning that they sit pretty deep inside the piano, and you won’t be able to extract either the sensor or the motor without disassembling the central part of the model.
The soundboard comes next, and you continue framing the structure with more bricks, arches, and tiles. I wish so badly I could say something special about any of these building stages, but the soundboard is just a very massive structure made of plates and covered with dozens of tiles, while the back wall is made of just three types of pieces — arches, plates, and tiles again. I must admit by this point I stopped hoping for some kind of surprise or unexpected building technique; I was either building a wall using a ton of bricks or tiling another vast plate.
In the picture below, you can notice extremely complex brickwork made with pieces in black on both sides from the strings. But here’s another trouble: the build is so smooth and glossy with no open studs at all, by this stage, some parts of the piano don’t look like LEGO at all. Although many fans adore the studless aesthetic in their own creations, the company intentionally has a different approach. This is one of the most critical points that the design teams always mention in interviews when we ask them why the next Star Wars Star Destroyer has so many exposed studs. The answer is simple: the LEGO stud is so recognizable, you won’t mistake the build for any other kind of toy. Unfortunately, the closer you are to completing the grand piano, the less it looks like a LEGO model.
Once the strings are in their places over the soundboard, the grand piano starts getting its genuinely royal feel. Glossy black, polished tan, rich red, and metallic gold — can you name a set with a more gorgeous color scheme? Although the look of the model improves with every piece, the place of the set in an adult fan’s collection still doesn’t get any clearer to me.
With a couple more bags of pieces, the walls of the instrument are complete. The design team made great use of the arches in black; thanks to the size and the scale of the model, most of the regular LEGO pieces fit just perfectly, recreating the shape of the real piano very precisely.
The structure of the pedal mechanism is a very exciting part once you are done with all the brickwork around the piano case. To see it in action, you have to attach three legs with wheels and then to turn the piano upside down. I won’t lie; this moment got me nervous as I wasn’t quite ready to see the whole thing fall apart after several hours of tedious building. However, the enormous quantity of bracket pieces and the thick walls of the piano make it possible to turn and rotate the model in any direction you want; it feels monolithic, and I appreciated the heftiness.
The next bag of pieces brings new hope. This is where you start building arguably the most exciting part of the instrument — the actual piano keys. This was the moment when I stopped for a second and thought to myself — I’m building a 1:1 real-life object with LEGO bricks. The keys look and feel so realistic that I even stopped being bothered that it doesn’t look like LEGO at all. The first assembled key was the biggest moment of the set. However, with the second assembled key it dawned upon me that these are just two keys and there are 23 identical keys more to build.
Extremely tedious and repetitive building aside, the whole keyboard mechanism is a true masterpiece. It looks, it feels, and it functions like a real one. And as you build the keyboard section by section, this is where you realize the whole concept of the Ideas theme. It’s not about collections of sets, play dioramas with minifigures, or the freedom of creativity. The core concept of this initiative is to prove that any idea has the full potential to become a real LEGO set. Ten or even five years ago, I would have been laughing at anyone telling me that LEGO can release something as complicated as a playable piano. And look at where we are today: now, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a limit for a LEGO product. Obviously, we are not talking about the price limits now, but theme-wise it doesn’t have to be a City building or a Star Wars spaceship; truly great ideas don’t even need a theme at all.
I have no intention to describe the key mechanism in great detail, as the words won’t do it justice, and I don’t want to ruin this for those who are planning to buy the set. However, you can see how long the keys are. Still, they are very nicely balanced.
Once the keyboard is installed, several more bags of black pieces bring enough building material to finish the lid, the rack, and the fallboard. The very last couple of bags contain pieces for the chair, but we will take a look at it a little bit later.
The completed model
Now, will you please take a look at the picture below and answer one simple question: what exactly tells you that this model is made with LEGO bricks? I suppose more experienced builders might say that it’s the size and the radius of the curves, or maybe the Technic pieces as the pedals that give out the LEGO origin of the model. But imagine being a casual customer who hasn’t seen a LEGO product since childhood. Would you say that this model is a LEGO set?
I have never been more confused with a LEGO set before. I’ve just spent a whole day building with LEGO bricks, but the result has so little LEGO identity, I think I must have built something wrong. With so much functionality, this an amazingly precise copy of a real grand piano, but I can’t even stack a minifigure on top of it; it is so smooth and glossy, it looks like a costly toy piano — not like a building set.
What disappoints me the most is that the model uses LEGO as the building material, but it is not as a construction set. It sounds silly, but hear me out. Why do we choose LEGO and not any other toy? If you collect LEGO modular buildings, I guess this is because you love the format, you enjoy the architecture styles that use regular pieces in unusual ways, and you also love that you can rebuild the set the way you want. If you like LEGO trains, you probably like them because of how easy it is to build a train, and you can design as many cars as you want. And even if you don’t like the model that comes in a set, you can rebuild it the way you like. A lot of people are fans of LEGO Technic cars. They look cool on a shelf, they deliver a lot of excellent building experience, and there is no function you can’t add to a model — and people love rebuilding them. We could be buying highly-detailed model houses, or collect way more accurate models of trains, or build even faster R/C cars using metal parts, but somehow we keep on collecting and creating with LEGO. Is the new grand piano supposed to be rebuilt in any way? No, it’s more a museum showpiece than a building model.
And with this reconstruction aspect being nowhere in evidence, I can’t see how an adult fan of LEGO can be the set’s target audience. I’m speaking about those who have medium to vast collections of sets/pieces and enjoy building either sets or their own creations. A huge toy grand piano on a shelf speaks more about one’s passion for music rather than of a LEGO hobby.
Speaking of having different passions, this is exactly what LEGO is aiming at in chasing a broader target audience. The set’s goal is to appeal to people who love classical music, play classic instruments either as a hobby or for living, or just want a toy piano in their living room. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t imagine such customers make a very large audience. This is a very pricy set, so you must either be a huge fan of music or a somewhat successful pianist.
At the same time, in terms of the size and the price, this set is in a league of its own. Its shelf life will be a lot longer than most LEGO products, plus it doesn’t even need to sell as many copies as other smaller sets. Naturally, this increases its chances to be found and purchased by its customer, so I think the Grand Piano will do just fine. As I write this, the set is out of stock on LEGO’s website.
The open studs that I mentioned above are one of the most essential elements of the LEGO identity and set LEGO models apart from any other kind of toy. There are other ways of establishing that identity; for example, the iconic minifigures, or a 2×2 brick, or even the traditional LEGO colors. But none of those made their way into this set — except for the old LEGO logo printed on a tile under the fallboard. That’s such a sweet touch, but it would be even sweeter if it were not for the keyboard’s enormous looseness. Despite the mechanism’s cleverness, the keys never quite align. I tried to re-assemble individual sections of the keys, but nothing can put them into one straight line of white and black keys.
The set’s playability
Although the design of the grand piano was a huge letdown for me, it’s not the only selling point; much is made in LEGO’s advertising of this being a “playable” model. To “perform” a composition you’ll need a smartphone with the Powered Up app. The rack is big enough for a medium-sized device.
A review of play functionality that includes sound effects won’t be full without a video, so here’s a brief overview of the play functions in use.
To sum it up, within just 5 minutes of play, it becomes clear that this grand piano model is a very expensive music-box. What spoils the beauty is an unbearably loud keyboard. I mean, we all know that magical sound of LEGO bricks being poured from a box onto the floor, right? Hitting long brick-built elements with your fingers makes a little bit less sound but still way too much to enjoy the notes being played from a smartphone’s speakers. For the video test, we had to use an external Bluetooth speaker to capture audio loud enough over the sound of the keys. This way, you can enjoy all the notes, but it’s another $50-$100 if you want clear sound and don’t already have an extra speaker. As was revealed a couple of months ago, a typewriter by Steve Guinness will become one of the next LEGO Ideas sets. Noisy plastic keys will suit that model far better than a delicate grand piano.
Conclusion and recommendation
Usually, it is so easy to get caught in a dilemma between your heart and your wallet when a new excellent LEGO set appears in stores. But with the fresh LEGO Ideas 21323 Grand Piano it has never been easier to make a decision. Before traveling to a store, ask yourself a question: do I really need a massive LEGO toy piano in my room for $350? If this is exactly what you are looking for, you won’t regret your purchase at all. This simple test proves that, although LEGO Ideas has become the unique territory of the most ambitious creations turned into official products, it feels like nobody working in that area thought long enough about whether some ideas need to be turned into a set. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.