What Gear Do You Have?

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“What gear do you have in your setup?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot by students and other pianists/keyboardists. I understand the curiosity. I, too, love exploring the bells, whistles, and sound samples of the newest, trendiest keyboards and pedals. One of the reasons I’m so drawn to pop/rock music is because so much of the pop/rock production is done on keyboards. I get pretty excited when I hear a new sound or effect on a song (especially in a live setting) and start wondering “What gear are they using and how did they get that sound?” There was a time when I was constantly trying out new keyboards, selling old ones, purchasing vintage gear, selling vintage gear, buying pedals, buying software… and then, of course, there were the amplifiers.

After many (M-A-N-Y) permutations, my current setup is my favorite. It also represents the longest amount of time that I gone without purchasing something new and expensive (though that could be a product of me growing more focused on practical need and efficiency than flashy new toys… a sign of my maturity perhaps? Nah, probably not). At present I have the following gear in my arsenal:

  1. Nord Stage 2, 88-key;
  2. Yamaha Motif ES-7;
  3. Two QSC K10 powered-speakers;
  4. 1977 Fender Rhodes, Stage model;
  5. 1979 Fender Rhodes, Stage model (Yes, I have two. Completely unnecessary, I realize);
  6. An old tube-amp that sounds great when it works… but doesn’t work.

When I get called to do a GB gig (an outdated acronym that stands for “general business” – meaning any corporate, wedding, or club dates), I bring my Nord, Motif, and my speakers. For as long as I can remember I have not been a fan of any of the keyboard amps I’ve used. I won’t name any brands here, but suffice to say I never played any that sounded good to me. The main problem, obviously, is that keyboards are meant to be heard in stereo in order to give you the full spectrum of sound. Keyboard amps are simply one speaker, so you’re only hearing one channel (either left or right). Guitar Center know this, which is why when you go into one of their stores to try out a keyboard it’s heard through a nice set of studio monitors in full stereo sound. A couple years ago I decided I’d had enough. I bought a pair of QSC K10s, just one of which sounds better and is easier to transport than any of the keyboard amps I’ve owned over the years. When I use both K10s in stereo my keyboards sound killer – just a night and day difference, so I don’t mind bringing both speakers to most gigs when I’m supplying my own gear. If you’ve been unhappy with the sound of keyboard amps, too, try a pair of quality studio monitors or powered speakers. Oftentimes, the price difference isn’t even that big a deal (depending on your gigging or home-use needs).

As for the keyboards, I have to say that I really, really love the Nord Stage 2. It’s fun to play, it has a million different things that it can do (most of which I don’t understand), but the important, most-used features are so intuitive and readily-available that it makes sound-exploration exciting (no need to toggle through endless banks of commands on a small little screen). Plus, Nord really does have some of the best “real” keyboard sounds. What I mean is, the Nord pianos, Rhodes, Wurlitzers, and electric pianos sound very close to the real thing (and the organs are getting pretty close to the real thing, too). And of course, they have oodles of sound samples and banks that can be downloaded.

I also still like the Yamaha Motif keyboards. The weighted keyboards feel great (Yamaha has the real “piano feel” and touch all figured out). The Motif ES7 is a synth, however, with non-weighted waterfall keys. I use that for a lot of my synth samples and creating some of the sounds you would hear on Top 40 dance tracks. My first synth experiences were on a Motif, so I have that format well-learned at this point, and if it ain’t broke…

As for my two Fender Rhodes electric pianos, I hardly ever gig with them or even move them at all. I do play them, but I find that the Nord sounds so close by comparison that it’s not worth the effort for me to take a Rhodes on a gig (for those unfamiliar, they’re big, and heavy).  I’ve thought about selling them and probably will, simply because at this point in my musician-development I’m trying to focus more on being a better player and not getting so distracted with gear. It’s easy to get caught up in the myth that you need to have the best gear in order to sound good – but in reality, it’s still about the simple and basic things, like practice.

So, what kind of gear do you use? Or a better question is, what kind of keyboard would you love to own?

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Responses

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  1. Hi Paul.
    I fantasizes day and night about owning my own Nord Stage 2 one day.

    1. Haha – Hey Charles, only a true musician would use a word like “fantasize” to describe their desire to own a keyboard. Love it!

  2. Interesting article! I love the feel of my Roland RD700GX, the way the fingers grab the keys, but recently I learned a lot about how to use more sounds on the Roland by playing a Nord Piano 2. The Nord Piano invites tweaking as you play. Just turn a nob here or there and you get a subtly different sound. From the Nord, I’ve finally learned how to better use the Roland. The Roland makes you go through menus and is not as directly friendly as the Nord, but my fingers still love the feel of the Roland. After getting to know the Nord Piano 2, I became curious about the other Nords like the Stage 2 that Paul writes about. I’m glad I learned the NP2 first though because it’s simpler than the Stage 2. To keep up with Darby and the organ sounds, I’m now budgeting for a Nord Electro 5 with waterfall keys. My dreams are coming up with words like “wah-wah,” “growl,” and “scream.” Darby help us!

  3. I’m into my seventh year now of keyboard mania. Bought and sold several but have settled on the Yamaha S-Series S90XS for use in my home studio/DAW and as my main practice board. I also have it’s smaller brother a S70XS I picked up used (but it’s like new) on EBAY. I like making Performance Setups for popular songs. There some 7000 drum and rhythm arpeggio on the Yamaha S-Series to choose from to basically build a backing band for a song. The board also has some great third party voice/performance/librarian editing software as well as a bunch of third party Performance Setups and custom Voices available.

    I also have a Roland RD700NX which has fantastic EP sounds. I also enjoy playing on the RD700NX’s weighted ivory feel keys. I owned the Roland RD700NX before I got the Yamaha S90XS and had played on it for nearly two years. I had backing rhythms for songs in MIDI files but found I was just wasting too much time programming and managing MIDI files. Thus the switch to the Yamaha S90XS and it’s smart arps.

    Last year I got a Hammond SK-1 88 to learn about Hammond organ and to get use to waterfall/synth keys. I love the organ tones on it but don’t like the other tones it has. I should have bought a Nord instead but for now … I’m just trying to get better playing .. which Wille and Paul will hopefully help me do.

  4. I wanted a Nord Stage too but couldn’t justify the cost (i gig only about a few times a year) so went for the Electro but I found the lack of splits really limiting. I sold it for a Kurzweil PC3 and am really happy with it – great Wurli (I like it more than the Nord), good piano and Rhodes, clonewheel (Leslie isn’t quite up to Nord level but still really good) and tons of synths. Plus unlimited options for split and layers. I’d recommend it to anyone who can’t afford a Stage.

  5. I’ve got a Yamaha P155 (fully weighted keyboard), Presonus Eris 4.5 studio monitors, and a fast computer with True Keys American Grand. This set up sounds amazing! The combination of the studio monitors and True Keys software blows away the onboard sounds and speakers on the keyboard. Eventally I plan to upgrade to the Kawai VPC1 midi controller with wooden keys and tripple sensors.
    I don’t gig, but when playing with friends, I use my 49 key launchpad midi controller with my ipad which I’ll plug into someone else’s amp.

    1. Yes, the True Keys American Grand (VI Labs) is superb for going through a computer. Really nice souinds! I also like the Pianoteq virtual keys. Which computer do you use, Scott, for your virtual piano setup?

  6. Have a Yamaha P155, which I love. Also have a Korg 01/W as part of the same setup. Acoustic Steinway 1098, but I guess that doesn’t count.

  7. Yup the Nord Stage is good. Better still IMO is hooking it up to Ivory 2 .

  8. I too have found that using two QSC K10 speakers is the way to go. Easier to carry, clean sound.

    1. Aren’t those QSCs great?! I’m curious, what were you using previous to the K10s? And what made you decide to switch to the powered speakers?

  9. Hi,
    Regrettably I’m a keyboard addict, I got so wrapped up in the technology over the years, I all but stopped playing.
    Fortunately I came across this site a few weeks ago, and I’m enthusiastic about trying to learn to play piano again, and use my keyboards for creating backing.
    Currently I still have my old Yamaha CLP 170 piano, which has been sitting in moth balls for the last 10 years.
    In the way of arranger keyboards, I have a Korg PA3x, a Yamaha S950 an old Korg PA800 and some computer programs including Band in a Box and a couple of sequencer programs.
    Best wishes
    Rikki

  10. Hello,

    I have got the same Yamaha DGX 640 which is being used for the video lessons. I like it far better than my old, unfortunately untunable, acoustic piano.
    I am planning to upgrade soon to the newest Yamaha DGX 650, which has better piano sample, a polyphony of 128 notes instead of 64 and onboard recording capabilities, which I’d like to use to record my own music (I can already do that through connecting the DGX 640 to my laptop through an audio interface and the appropriate cables using Audacity, but it is not such a straightforward process as simply plugging an USB stick to record audio directly from the keyboard!)

    If I could afford it, I probably would go for the Korg Havian 30, which is as the same time a digital piano, a fully-fledged arranger keyboard (I like them because I feel they help me through the creation process) and aa programmable synth all at once!

    I have tried both the Yamaha PSR E343 and 433, and for beginner to intermediate players I find that they are great little keyboards with nice sounds and functions (they now were upgraded to PSR E353 and PSR E353, but I have not tried these yet).

    Regards,

    Vinciane