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Which keyboard/synthesizers should I get for live gigs?


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  • Which keyboard/synthesizers should I get for live gigs?

    I play keyboards in a band that performs live and does classic rock/oldies much such as The Eagles, Chicago, and hits from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. I have been using keyboards lent to me, but I now have to use my own. I have a double keyboard rack and I like this setup for practice and live gigs: 

    Bottom (main) Keyboard (88 keys, weighted): used for Piano, Electric Piano, Strings, Vibes

    Top Keyboard (61 or 76 keys (could be 88)): used for Brass, Organ, Percussion, etc.

    Some songs, such as Saturday in the Park by Chicago, require me to use both keyboards: the top for brass and bottom for piano.

    The top keyboard needs to have hammond/style organ sounds heard in classic rock and oldies songs, and also needs to have live-sounding brass sounds, such as Chicago or Tower of Power brass. I would prefer this keyboard to have at least 400-500 stock sounds.

    The bottom keyboard needs to have good piano, electric piano, strings sounds, and it would be nice to have a couple good organ sounds on it too. It is fine if this keyboard only has 10-20 sounds, as long as they are quality sounds. It doesn't need to have all kinds of sounds, because that is what the top keyboard is for. But, the more sounds the better!

    My price range is from $500-$1500 for each keyboard. What would be the best keyboards to purchase? I know I'm asking a lot but I sincerely appreciate each and every answer. Thanks!

  • #2

    Keep in mind that, by running a MIDI cable between them, you can trigger top keyboard sounds from your bottom keyboard (or vice versa), so it may not matter so much which of your two keyboards has the hundreds of sounds and which has only the handful.

    It may also be useful to put the cost in terms of total budget... i.e. instead of $500 to $1500 per keyboard, anything that totals $1000 to $3000 between the two gives you the same total but may provide more options.

    So for example, a Kurzweil PC3LE8 could be a nice bottom keyboard at its newly reduced price of about $1800. Even though over $1500, you could still easily put together a pair that stays within total budget.

    Is weight an issue? That's probably the biggest downside to the Kurzweil. In lightweight 88s, you could look at a Yamaha MOX8, Korg Krome 88, or Casio PX-5S.

    For your organ functionality, do you care about having drawbar control?


    • Stokely
      Stokely commented
      Editing a comment

      I'm currently doing exactly what AnotherScott has suggested: I had a "dumb" old Studiologic controller so it goes on the bottom.  I run midi out to the midi in of my Kurzweil pc361 on the top, and program it so that there is a midi-only zone (almost always piano) for the Setups I use.  Has some pros and cons, it's a simpler setup and I only have one audio source so patch management is easier.  A con is that I worry that the pc361 might malfunction and I'll be SOL!


      So, I'm looking into a bottom weighted board.  Ideally I'd like a 64 or 73 as I never use the top and bottom octaves, don't do any splits, and our stages can be really small (and we are a 6-piece).  That said, I don't really see a perfect option for me there...the S70xs would have been but it's the size of a small rhino.  The ones Scott mentioned (though I don't really like the Krome) would be new options.  I'm also looking at some older used stage pianos such as the cp33, though I worry they won't have much beyond piano and EP (which isn't a show stopper but it would be nice to have more options).   The catch is organ, you'd have to try them to see if you could get by with the organs on most of these.  My old Motif could sit ok in a mix but you wouldn't want it to stand out, especially with the fast leslie going.


      The pc361 is a fantastic board, and it has such a range of sounds I could see gigging with a weighted version of the same thing under it!  Organs are very nice, and that IMO sets it apart from most other keyboards that are not dedicated clones.  Brass for pop/funk I don't like much, but then I'll do almost anything to get out of playing those parts in the first place   There is an expansion for the Kurzweils that has more brass on it I think. The electro 3/4 was another option I considered but it is monotimbral and I don't like the action on it at all, plus the synth editing/filtering is extremely limited.  The pc3 series has a VA section that allows deep editing so it covers those bases for me as well.


  • #3
    Thanks so much ror your resonses. I'm intrigued by the idea of using MIDI to send sounds to a controller. Say I buy a keyboard for the bottom keyboard and buy a controller for the top keyboard, would it be possible to have two different sounds at the same time on both keyboards? Example: piano on the bottom keyboard while routing brass via midi to the top controller. If possible, how do I go about doing this? In the settings on the keyboard?


    • AnotherScott
      AnotherScott commented
      Editing a comment

      pianoman999 wrote:
       I'm intrigued by the idea of using MIDI to send sounds to a controller. 

      Just to help be sure you understand the concept, you're not sending sounds TO a controller, you're sending MIDI data FROM a controller. The sound is still going to be coming out of, well, the keyboard that actually has the sounds. You're merely triggering those sounds from the controller.

      pianoman999 wrote:
      Say I buy a keyboard for the bottom keyboard and buy a controller for the top keyboard, would it be possible to have two different sounds at the same time on both keyboards? Example: piano on the bottom keyboard while routing brass via midi to the top controller. If possible, how do I go about doing this? In the settings on the keyboard?

      Yes. Your bottom keyboard has to be multi-timbral, i.e. capable of playining multiple sounds at once, associated with different MIDI channels. You would choose whatever sound you want that keyboard to play, and then you would assign another of that keyboard's sound to a different MIDI channel, correpsonding to whatever MIDI channel you've selected for your top controller... which needs to be different from what the bottom keyboard's internally assigned channel and its global channel are, both of which usually default to 1, so it's usually as simple as setting your controller to transmit on 2, and setting your main keyboard so that the sound you want the controller to trigger is assigned to channel 2 as well. Typically, you can save and store as many of these setups as you want, so once you have a combination you want to use for a song, you save it as a preset and can easily recall it in the future.

      All the 88s I mentioned in my earlier post have this capability. In fact, they even can let you play multiple sounds (split or layered) from each of the two keyboards. (Though if you want to split lower-board sounds on the secondary controller, it will be easier and more flexible if your controller itself has multiple zones, i.e. has its own split function and can be set to transmit on multiple MIDI channels.)


      What I've described here is what Stokley is doing, except he's doing it the other way... his top 61 key keyboard is the one with the sounds, and his 88 underneath is his plain controller. But as he points out, it can also be useful to have some sounds in your controller, so you have backup (i.e. if your main keyboard goes down for some reason, you still have something you can play and get through a gig on).

    • Stokely
      Stokely commented
      Editing a comment

      What you are describing--having two different sounds play from the controller and synth is possible--but the way you are describing it is a bit backward and it's important to understand how it would work.

      Midi is essentially commands: commands to play notes, to change patches, modulation wheel controller messages and so on.  Notes and their velocities is the obvious main one.  It won't send any audio.  So your controller is connected one-way to the synth that makes the sound, and it will tell it: play this note, with this velocity.   The audio comes out of the synth regardless of which keyboard (it's own or the controller) played the notes.   So midi out of the controller to midi in of the synth, that's it.

      The potentially tricky part is on the synth; it needs to be programmed to accept the incoming midi messages and do something with them.  By default it's very likely the controller will play whatever sound/patch is loaded on the synth.  For even that to work the synth has to be receptive to midi coming in (probably already is) and it may be looking for messages on a particular "midi channel".  A rough analogy to channels is a tv station and a tv: the station sends, say, Oprah on a particular channel, but you won't see Oprah until you tune to that same channel   (Synths often also have a mode called Omni where they respond to messages from any midi channel, so it wouldn't matter which channel you transmit on).  


      Triggering the synth is one thing, getting two different sounds you need to go further.  On my pc361 there are Setups, which is essentially allowing it to play more than one patch at a time.  I have to program one or more patches within this Setup to only respond to midi, and ignore messages from the built-in keyboard (usually called "local").  I'll also have one or more patches that ONLY respond to local--these won't play if I play the controller.  Now on most keyboards I've used like this, there are limitations that arise in such a Multi mode...effects may have to be re-programmed, the controls on the front may need to be addressed and so on.  All of that is completely dependent on each synth and how it handles it.   Most keyboards do have some kind of Multi mode (Korg it's combis, Roland Patches (iirc), Kurzweil is Setups, Yamaha is Performances etc etc) and it's probable that any of these will allow for external midi control for one or more of the multi elements.


      Big wall of text I realize.  It's not as difficult as it may sound all laid out like this but it can test your troubleshooting skills when you get no sound!  After I've programmed my Setups, I get to the gig, plop down the boards, connect the midi cable and it just works with no tweaking.


      EDIT: or just read the post above mine!  LOL

  • #4
    Wow, thanks so much to the both of you for all the info and your insight! I sincerely appreciate your help and advice. Now I know so much more about keyboards and midi. However, I am just 17 and pretty much a novice in the "live band thing," so I think it would be better for me and less of a hassle if I just got two seperate keyboard synthesizers/workstations. Unfortunately, I live in a medium-sized city that is not too big in the music scene and only has a couple music stores where I can buy keyboards. I've been watching a lot of videos on YouTube of test demos of keyboards I'm interested in. But there is no substitute for the real deal and seeing and playing it in person! If you have any other advice for me, I would appreciate it. Thanks again for both of your help!


    • Stokely
      Stokely commented
      Editing a comment

      Actually with that in mind I'd recommend you getting your feet wet with just one keyboard.  Unless you join some super-strict tribute band that requires every single part and patch to be "exact" (personally this is not my idea of fun) there's almost always a way to cover things with one keyboard.  I even try to keep splits to a minimum but they can help.  Just keeping two patches next to each other that you'd use on one song can work just fine, especially if you can hold one note and change the patch while the other continues to play (I just realized my Kurzweil can do this!).

      One keyboard has a few advantages IMO:

      - you won't need a submixer (you might not anyway but then you'd need two lines to go to the board if you are using a PA, which most bands do)

      - it takes a while to really get to know a keyboard.  If you dig in with one you'll fully understand where it might be lacking and then your second board can be chosen accordingly.

      - your setup and tear-down are much easier!  (Just wait til 1:30 am you'll be happier )  Seriously, you can get a sturdy x-stand and have a super-easy setup.  No matter how many boards I have (2 is  my max now) I always am ready for small jams and benefits where time is tight or stages are small; and that means one board.


      In general playing live in a band is a weird thing to get used to, I know I"m not a pro and in some ways I'm still getting the hang of it despite quite a few gigs through the years.  Remember you may need to spend some money on your amp/speakers/monitors, that's a very important.  I'd keep things as simple as possible--while still sounding good!--while you get more comfortable playing live.  Just a thought.


    • AnotherScott
      AnotherScott commented
      Editing a comment

      pianoman999 wrote:
      Wow, thanks so much to the both of you for all the info and your insight! I sincerely appreciate your help and advice. Now I know so much more about keyboards and midi. However, I am just 17 and pretty much a novice in the "live band thing," so I think it would be better for me and less of a hassle if I just got two seperate keyboard synthesizers/workstations.

      I agree, that's simpler. But as you learn how to use your boards, don't overlook the ability to run a MIDI cable between them to expand their capabilities. You may end up with a sound that happens to be in keyboard A that you would rather be playing from keyboard B, or you might want to layer two sounds from the two keyboards and play them simultaneously from a single keyboard... with many boards, you have the option of doing these things.

      pianoman999 wrote:
       If you have any other advice for me, I would appreciate it. 

      I would just get back to a couple of things mentioned earlier... if you have any prefernces about having real drawbar control for your organ sounds, or limitations on about how heavy a piece you're comfortable carrying around, these are things that will narrow down people's suggestions.

  • #5
    Sounds like you want to have a Yamaha CP33 digital piano (also has a few other sounds, $999 new) and a Yamaha MOX6 (just about every sound you could want for a band like this - $1199 new).

    Keep it simple. Have fun.
    Jupiter-50, MOX6, TI Polar, Moog LP, Korg Micro X, JV-1080
    27" iMac, DP 7.24, Omnisphere, Alchemy, many more...


    • Stokely
      Stokely commented
      Editing a comment

      Ironically I've been considering both the cp33 and mox (8) for myself, so I have an idea of what they are going for used on guitar center at least (where I buy used).  I saw a cp33 for around 500 recently, and a mox 8 for 999.  The mox6 can be had for around 700.   If you do buy from them or sam ash they'll ship it from whatever store is selling it.  I have two recommendations though: call the store and ask them to tell you about the condition; and after one board I bought got destroyed by UPS they told me get a hard case and then return it (if I didn't want to keep it).  You can return locally if you have a GC so it's really a good deal and decent prices comparable to ebay and CL (though as you may know CL is all over the map).

      Curious about the cp33 vs the cp50, there's a cp50 on there for 899.  I know there's more and newer sounds on the cp50 but can anyone compare them?  Not to derail this thread of course!   I'm mainly concerned with the action...I prefer a lighted weighted action.  I looooove the nord stage 2 action, though I only played it a few minutes...very light.  Figures I pick a $4000 instrument to like!


      In reference to the OP, I definitely recommend the pc361 or other pc3 models.  They do just about anything.  You can also pick up Korg m50s used at low prices, around $500.  IMO the m50 and mox6 actions are not as nice as the pc361, Korg m3, Yamaha motif and other "flagship" workstations, but they are also much lighter and of course cheaper if you bought new.  I like good and sturdy build quality even if it's more weight, that's a tradeoff you'd have to examine.  You are 17 so it may not matter so much LOL.  When I was around your age I brought a Peavey KB300 amp without wheels to every gig and practice and didn't think much of it at the time!

  • #6

    Lots of good advice so far, so let me add my two cents.

    I play in bands that generally play what you're playing.  I've been doing that for quite a while.

    I care about (a) great sounds, (b) ease of playing, (c) weight, (d) reliability and (e) price last of all.  I realized a while back that cheap equipment always made me want better, which ended up not being cheap.

    From a keyboard perspective, I've gone through many Yamahas (CP33, CP5, Motif, etc.), Korgs, Rolands, etc.  

    Right now, I'm 100% Nord for everything.  I've sold everything else off.

    The Nord Piano 2 is perhaps the most responsive, best-sounding stage piano I've ever played in live situations.  The Nord Electro 4 absolutely kills on Hammond sounds, and has a decent collection of brass, strings, synth, etc. samples.  Both have reasonable electric pianos and a few other voices.  

    Nord products are not cheap.  But they do the job, and are continually upgradeable thanks to Clavia's ongoing investment in new samples and pianos.  I can usually get every sound I need for whatever the band wants to play.

    And if you really want to spend a boatload of money for an all-in-one stage piano/organ/synth, there's the Nord Stage 2.

    Yes, there are far less expensive options out there.  Some of them are pretty good.  For example, my Yamaha CP33 was still serviceable when I sold it off.  As was my Yamaha CP5, although that was a beast to lug around.  A well-used Nord Electro 2 has great Hammond and EP sounds, but no horns.  

    So -- best of luck with your selection -- I'm sure you'll do well!


    • #7
      At least check out the Roland VR09


      • #8

        Lots of good options in that price range.

        Feel free to shoot me an email and I can help advise and get you a killer deal.



        WeiserSoundKeyboard And Pro Audio Sales, Custom Sound Designwww.weisersound.comhttps://www.facebook.com/weisersoundweiserdav @ gmail


        • maarkr
          maarkr commented
          Editing a comment
          If you want to be the showman there's the Roland Axe and Lucina.