My "Overnight" success as a Keyboard Designer.
by Charles Tentindo
In early 2000...
I saw something that inspired me.
It was Smokey Robinson in concert in Orange County, CA.
But wait. About a half hour prior to Smokey's drift onto the stage appeared this elegant, tall dude. This was the warm-up guy. He had an original, stringed instrument harnessed to his chest. He was also dressed as an angel! I later found out it was the neck of a cello with no body! He played his music and moved freely throughout the crowd with elegance and ease.
I stood there observing this delightful musician in his ultimate joy sharing his music and inspiration with a welcoming audience. At that moment I was inspired to do the same for myself. To create a personal and unique instrument made to my specifications that would inspire me and those that saw me play it.
But these questions plagued me:
1) Could I create an instrument so unique and different than the average keyboard that was still playable?
2) Could I design something, sexy, and curvaceous instead of a rectangle case that encloses a keyboard? (most all keyboard companies)
3) Stage Presence
What visually would turn this conceptual instrument into a work of stage art as opposed to just another keyboard? Could it be art that would be both pleasing to musicians as well as art aficionados?
5) The mind-bending mental block...
I always felt that verticality was elegant but could the Zen Riffer be designed to be played completely vertical like a stand up bass, then interchanged to be played like a guitar?
After years of development and failures, painstaking hours of ergonomic study and testing, the Zen Riffer was finally born.
The Rookie Advantage
Having never designed a keyboard before, there were no rules I needed to adhere to. I wasn't locked into a "box" of what was or was not possible.
I first designed it on paper, then over a thousand drawings and tons of prototypes and mocks ups. Every one I made worked. Now it's been all about refinment. How does it feel to play it? What does it look like on stage being played? How would standing up peforming a solo for a keyboardist feel? I found it to be... EXHILIRATING!
From working with an open-minded musical instrument repairman to other talented luthiers and wood craftsmen, The Zen Riffer slowly but surely began to take shape. I naively did not concern myself with creating something for the mass market but instead something for me. I had haters while others got inspired and encouraged me to move forward and actually order an instrument from me.
My Zen Riffer Family
Without talented people like Eddie Montanna, Scott Miller, Terry Meredith, tech genius Dennis Barton and especially Michael Spalt who took my designs to the actual solid body instrument you see today, to Swedish master craftsman Kent Karlsson and Hung Lee of Chateu USA, none of this would be possible. Daryl Wood of Classic Organ Works brought me the Midi-Jet Pro which made the wireless feature of the Zen Riffer a reality. I'm proud to say that the Zen Riffer was the first keboard controller that had enclosed wireless midi built into the instrument.
The First Sale
Mas Vidal, a good friend of mine told Jesse Carmichael of Maroon 5 what I was up to. Jesse happened to be looking for something cool and unique.
We met, I demo'd my Zen Riffers for this very kind young man. Jesse got inspired so I made one for him with his close collaboration. Jesse wanted a black onyx Om symbol placed into the Zen Riffer for personal reasons.
It turned out awesome and am very proud of that peice to this day. I have to admit that here's something a bit sad about letting go of in instrument when I have invested so much of my soul adn time in the process. It's like giving birth to a child and now it has to go away to school!
Enter Jordan Rudess who contacted me and wanted to discuss my approach and the possibility of trying one out. That was exciting.
Probably the most prolific rock keyboardist in the world is calling me to try out my instrument! He met him backstage at a concert Dream Theater was performing in San Diego.
Jordan told me he would need the approval of the Dream Theater members. He played it and almost instantly "got it" and began to make it his own very quickly. Jordan got the tumbs up from all of Dream Theater members. That moment began a clost relationship with him to this day and I am thankful that such a kind and telened man would be playing the Zen Riffer on-goingly on several world tours to audiences of over ten thousand people.
Having that many eyes on the Zen Riffer has made it world famous with humdreds if not thousands of cellphone solo videos at concerts internationally being posted on YouTube. He told me it changed his life. 'From being in the back to being in the spotlight at the front of the stage was mind bending and liberating.' The Zen Riffer became famous because of Jordan Rudess and the radical design of it.
Terry Lawless of U2 came to my home to play the first solid body Zen Riffer and we shared a meal that day discussing this new approach to keyboards.
Terry always encourage me to move forward and is a friend to this day.
Several other artists began reaching out to me and so I started to design these custom, one-off instruments for each of them. On March 20th, 2008 The Zen Riffer made the cover of Keyboard Magazine as part of a spread they were doing with Jordan. I travelled to New York as I wanted to make sure my baby would make it safely to the home of the "Wizard."
The Beat Goes On
I continue to produce about 12 Zen Riffer's per year. They can now be made with the leg or without it for thos keytar affeciandos. I always disliked that word. I came up with the phrase Solo Axe but people will call it what they call it.
If my customers want something special integrated into their instrument, I work closely with them to make that happen. Each year improvements are made and just when I think it's good enough I find another way to make this child of mine even more magical and a wonder to play. All it takes is to play it once and your hooked. You'll see.
I appreciate your interest into my process and hope to collaborate with you to bring you the instrument of your dreams. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me via call, text or email.
Charles Tentindo, Designer and Inventor
The Zen Riffer Keyboard Company
Text or call: 562 400-1355
From Long Beach, CA. USA