For their 1975 American tour, Led Zeppelin decided to add a real piano on stage, as their budget could allow for even bigger, more extravagant shows. A Steinway grand piano was chosen, which is a common instrument for both pop and classical artists. Steinway, the most recognized name in classical pianos, has a long history. Known for their excellent tone and construction, the Steinway has become one of the most widely distributed piano makes, and thus a common choice for touring professionals since service and parts are available in most cities.
Having a real acoustic piano allowed for a truer sound, but also created new problems with tone, feedback, and tuning. To prevent microphonic feedback, a Helpinstall piano pickup system was used. The Helpinstall system was very common in the 1970s and used a long magnetic pickup to sense string vibration, like on a guitar. However John Paul Jones felt that the Steinway was "never right" during the tour. He was constantly plagued by sound and mechanical problems. "I had such a terrible time... always looking over my shoulder and shouting 'Turn it up! Turn it down!' It's hard to play when you're shouting instructions," Jones recalls.
For the next World Tour in 1977, Led Zeppelin hired a new keyboard technician named Ed Kolakowski, who had worked preparing live pianos for many artists (including classical pianist Artur Rubenstein and former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney). Rubenstein spent a great deal of time preparing Jones' piano setup and monitors, and Jones felt the piano was "spot on" every night. One of the unusual requirements was the making of a special leg for the piano: As the standard leg spacing would not accomodate the bass pedals underneath, Kolakowski designed a special leg machined of aluminum that would replace the wooden leg and thus allow the extra space for the bass pedals.
John Paul Jones used a Steinway piano in the studio for many of their albums. His piano work is very standard, but effective. He explains, "Piano is close to my heart, but I had some bad experiences with lessons and I wouldn't go near it for a long time." Piano appears on "The Rain Song," "Friends," "Hot Dog," "Southbound Saurez," and "Darlene." (The piano on "Rock and Roll" and "Boogie With Stu" was played by Ian "Stu" Stewart.)