Connecting Wireless Yamaha Disklaviers the Easy Way

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Yamaha Disklaviers are an innovative fusion of digital and acoustic engineering. They allow you to experience famous, concert pianists performing right in your living room, on your own piano. And, of course, they’re just fun to watch. Check out this beautiful 2009 Yamaha GC1 Disklavier playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man that I recorded this summer.

They do have one drawback: There isn’t any particularly simple way to connect Disklaviers to WiFi networks. In fact, for the average piano technician without a background in computer networks, it can be downright bewildering. Is your Disklavier acting as an access point, or is it connecting to your customer’s WiFi? Is it doing both? Can you tell from the instructions what you’re expected to do? Do you even have all the parts you need?

Then, of course, you have to consider that a considerable percentage of people who own these pianos don’t manage their own computer networks. Many of them are older, and they rely either on paid IT professionals to take care of everything for them, or on family members, neither of whom are likely to have familiarity with the Yamaha Disklavier system. That’s your job. And when it fails, even if it isn’t directly your fault, it reflects on you.

I’m sharing with you an incredibly elegant, simple way to hook up Yamaha Disklaviers. It’s fast, inexpensive, robust, and easy to explain to customers. You don’t have to worry about their WiFi password either. You can set it up quickly, and it nearly always works. This setup assumes you’re working with a grand piano design, but the parts can be used with an upright even more easily.

First, your list of supplies:

A little redundant labeling makes all the difference. And Small-Caps adds some style.

1. NexusLink PowerLine Ethernet Adapters
These devices allow you to network through the electrical lines in a house. The Disklavier can’t tell it’s not directly plugged into the router.

You bypass dealing with WiFi altogether, and as long as one unit is plugged into the piano and another into the router, a network connection will be maintained even if the customer changes their router, their WiFi password, or anything else. It’s extremely robust. Just keep it plugged in.

Before I even go to a customer’s house, I label one of them with “Piano,” printed in 18pt text on a piece of plain white paper and covered with tape. If you have a label maker, good for you—I’m jealous. The idea here is that, when somebody works on their router or replaces it, they’ll see the word “Piano” on a mysterious device plugged into the router, and they’ll leave it plugged in.

All communication is encrypted between the two devices, so it’s not possible to snoop on your customer’s power lines. See my article on personal privacy.

Remember that you need two!

I tore it apart so that you don’t have to.

2. GE Designer 3-Outlet Surge Protector (pair)
This is an 8-foot extension cord with a three port power strip on the end. It calls itself a surge protector, but it doesn’t have voltage regulation or any of the other new-fangled features that might block the signal from your NexusLink. I haven’t had any trouble with them. I always purchase them in pairs.

I did a tear-down of the device to make sure there were no surprises: Surge protection is achieved through a metal oxide varistor, and there is no voltage regulation beyond that. It’s a great match, and you’re good to go!

3. Black CAT6 Ethernet Cables (1 foot and 3 feet)
With all piano work, subtlety is a must. Anywhere black or concealed equipment can be used, use it, and don’t use any more length of cord than necessary. Underneath a piano you won’t generally need more than one foot of ethernet cord. I carry both one foot and three feet sections in my Disklavier toolbox so that I can decide based on the constraints of a particular install. In some installations, the lengths required been so short (six inches or less) that I’ve opted to cut the cables and crimp on my own ends. If you’re doing a lot of these jobs, it’s worth knowing how to crimp your own ethernet cables.

4. Scotch Interlocking Fasteners
These are strong, interlocking fasteners that aren’t vulnerable to vibration. They’re absolutely vital when attaching anything underneath or inside a piano. Wherever Velcro is normally used, use this instead. I routinely replace the Velcro used by previous technicians with this stuff, especially on Dampp-Chaser Piano Life Saver System humidistats—generally after the humidistat is found hanging underneath the piano by the piano owner.

5. Black Cable Raceway Conduit (optional)
I don’t generally recommend using this on the finish of the piano, and avoid it where possible. However, some customers don’t want to see even one power cord underneath the piano, and in that circumstance conduit can be used down the back of the pedal lyre or down a leg. It’s likely to damage the finish, so alternative options should be considered, but it will satisfactorily conceal power cords and is easy to work with.

And now, we get started…

A very simple diagram of the install.

1. Prepare and Encrypt NexusLink Adapters Beforehand

First of all, you labeled one of them “Piano” already, didn’t you? If not, do it now.

While you’re still in the comfort of your home, before even traveling to your customer’s house, remove the two NexusLink Adapters from their box and plug them both into the wall. No ethernet connections are necessary at this time.

If the green connection lights on your NexusLinks turn on (the top light on each adapter), that means they’ve found one another, and are now transmitting through your household power. Great!

However, once you’ve installed these devices in your customer’s house, you’ve introduced a security compromise for your customer. A hacker could now hypothetically plug into their household power, impersonate the piano, and access your customer’s local area network. That’s bad. You’ve got insurance at least, don’t you?

This is easily solved with the NexusLink. On the bottom of each unit (near the ethernet jack) there’s a small configuration button. Hold it down for three seconds, and the bottom of the three lights—labeled with a padlock—will begin to blink. Now press the same button on the other NexusLink for three seconds. After a short period of time, the padlock lights will turn solid. Then, some seconds later, the connection lights should turn solid as well.

These two NexusLinks are now a permanently bonded pair. No matter where you put them, they’ll find one another. They’re like those otters that hold hands so they don’t drift apart. They’ll even ignore other NexusLinks (should others be installed in your customer’s house). When you get to your customer’s house, plug them in, and their signals will once more intertwine.

Plus, your customer’s network will now be safe from an improbable but very real risk.

2. Connect Router-Side NexusLink PowerLine Ethernet Adapter

We’re now at your customer’s house.

Take the NexusLink PowerLine Ethernet Adapter labeled with “Piano” and plug it in next to your customer’s router. Plug one end of an ethernet cord (one of the longer yellow ones supplied with your device) into your customer’s router.

As described above, I purchase those power strips in pairs because, in the event there aren’t enough outlets, having an extra power strip comes in handy right about now.

2. Run the extension cord up underneath the piano

A NexusLink plugged into a power strip, with a ghastly yellow ethernet plugged into it.

With the Disklavier turned off, unplug the Disklavier.

Take two pieces of your Scotch Interlocking Fastener and, after removing the backing, mount both to the back of the power strip on your extension cord. Pick a good spot to mount the power strip underneath the piano. This is usually parallel to the floor on the side of one of the wooden beams adjacent to the Disklavier controller. Clean that spot thoroughly with alcohol, or with mildly soapy water. Once completely dry, remove the sticky backing from the other side of your Scotch Interlocking Fastener and mount the power strip to the beam.

If you’re a piano technician who regularly installs Dampp-Chaser systems, this is a great spot to use some of those extra power cord clamps you’re carrying. An extra clamp or two on the power line helps to further remove pressure from the Scotch Interlocking Fastener, and limits the chance of somebody accidentally tripping over the cord and yanking the assembly off.

3. Plug everything in

Plug your other NexusLink PowerLine Ethernet Adapter into the bottom port of the three of your power strip. Run a short length of Ethernet cord to your Disklavier controller. If possible, loop the ethernet cord up over the beam to apply a little bit of tension—the less that’s loose under there better. Use no more cable than you need.

Now plug the Disklavier power into the power strip, and the Dampp-Chaser as well if one is installed. This extension cord is comfortably rated for the power consumption of all three devices. (Also, make certain if there is a Dampp-Chaser installed, that the NexusLink isn’t near the humidistat, where the small amount of heat it produces might cause less accurate readings.)

At this time, both the green connection lights should be on, as well as both the padlock lights, meaning the NexusLink Adapters have discovered one another. If this isn’t the case, skip to the troubleshooting below.

Use zip-ties, twist ties, and other appropriate cable management to bundle everything up and out of sight. Stick-on conduit can be used to run cords along the beams if precise positioning is needed, such as if the piano is positioned next to a low couch or somewhere else people might easily see underneath. I find it instructive to sit in various chairs in the room and look at the piano.

One particularly fancy option is to paint a wooden box matte block, drill two holes in the side, run all the cables through the box, and store all the excess length inside.

Your customer’s Yamaha Disklavier now believes it’s plugged directly into the internet.

You’re all done! Unless you aren’t. If it doesn’t work immediately, read on.

No connection! What went wrong?

First: It’s probably a power strip or Universal Power Supply (UPS)

This is nearly always because of some form of voltage regulation between the two NexusLink devices. Do NOT plug them into a power strip or surge protector if you can avoid it. Some of those power strips—most, in fact—will introduce voltage regulation and block the signal. Only very cheap, poorly made power strips and a handful of minimalist models (like the GE one I recommend) will not block the signal. When in doubt, plug right into the wall.

Second: It might be electrical interference or multiple circuit breaker boxes

Okay, so it’s plugged directly into the wall, and it still doesn’t have a signal. What now?

Some customer’s houses are so unbelievably enormous, with multiple circuit breaker boxes and subpanels, that the signal just can’t make it all the way from one end of the house to the other. You’re out of luck with the NexusLink Adapter, most likely.

The next easiest solution is an ioGear Universal Ethernet-2-Wifi Adapter. This device can be paired with the customer’s router using WPS, which is still an okay option. WPS can be set up relatively easily, although it will have to be reconfigured whenever the customer replaces their router or otherwise resets the settings. At least we’re not typing passwords.

Unless, the customer has an ancient router without WPS. Then you’ll have to set up your ioGear adapter using a laptop, and that’s a painful process you can’t ever put in your customer’s hands. But it can be done.

Third: It might just be an enormous old house

You really drew the short straw with this job. Unfortunately, this won’t quite be the simple job described above.

You’re in one of those archaic mansions where the wiring is still some mishmash of rod-and-tube, and half the house isn’t covered by the owner’s WiFi. But yet they own a $20k Yamaha Disklavier.

Well, you still have options. I’ve been in this house, and I’ve defeated it.

You’re going to design what I’ve fondly termed the MultiMode AC-EtherCludge.

The MultiMode AC-EtherCludge
  1. Plug the two NexusLink adapters in different spots in the same room. You should see them connect.
  2. Unplug one, and move it an outlet closer to the router. Verify connection.
  3. Repeat this ridiculous-looking exercise until you’ve finally moved out of range of the first NexusLink.
  4. Look for the most easily concealable outlet around where you’re standing that still connects. You’re at the edge of the NexusLink communication radius.
  5. Plug your ioGear Universal Ethernet-2-Wifi Adapter in directly next to your connected NexusLink adapter and connect them. Your one foot ethernet will hopefully do, but I would advise cutting and crimping a 3″ or so cord for between the two devices. After you verify this works.
  6. Connect the ioGear Universal Ethernet-2-Wifi Adapter to your customer’s router. And pray to the deity of your preference that you’ve made it close enough for the signal to reach.

Thus far, fingers crossed, this strategy has worked in every situation where neither solution worked individually. And then you can marvel over how neat it is that your customer’s piano music travels over… coaxial cable, ethernet, radio frequency, ethernet, voltage-modulated household power, and once more ethernet before arriving at their piano.

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