Yamaha portable piano?
Are you thinking of buying a portable piano for live use?
Introducing the new Yamaha P-511 73-note Portable Piano ....
.... which (unfortunately for now) exists only in our dreams!
We live in hope though - so I guess this blog post may serve as a kind of open letter to manufacturers of keyboard musical instruments - for what it's worth.
Let me explain:
When Yamaha introduced their P-515, it ticked a lot of boxes on many musicians' wish-lists;
1. Top quality piano sounds (among the best on the market, including the Yamaha CFX & awesome Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano)
2. Top quality keyboard action (from the Clavinova series pianos)
3. Wooden keys with synthetic ebony & ivory key-tops,
4. String & damper resonance (making for an authentic sound response & playing experience)
5. A stereo audio input & powerful speakers (which means it can be used for onstage monitoring - no external stage monitors required)
6. The (by now) legendary Yamaha quality & reliability.
But, speaking for a lot of relatively petite, solo gigging musicians, there are two main problems with it that may well force you to have to look elsewhere;
1. Its' size - it won't fit into the rear foot-well of many small cars (Yaris, Corsa & 500c owners - forget it!)
2. Its' weight - at a hernia inducing 22kg it's hardly a portable piano (unless you happen to be a nephilim).
(Note: Small cars are relatively easily toppled, so transporting the piano in the rear foot-well lowers the centre of weight distribution)
So naturally, many of us are thinking;
'Oh I wonder will there be a 73 key version of Yamahas' top "portable" piano - like they did with the P-121' - this should reduce the size & weight enough to make it a plausible consideration for the solo gigging musician who drives a small car but still wants high quality piano sounds, in a truly portable instrument.
In an age where half the live music venues in Ireland have gone out of business, solo musicians need to do long journeys to keep working (so small cars make economic sense) & this situation seems to be the case (to some extent) in every other country.
Even very powerful, small, modern PA systems can fit into the smallest of boot spaces - so that's not really a problem for touring solo performers anymore.
We know there's a new Yamaha CP-73 stage piano but it doesn't have internal speakers at all, meaning that a separate powered stage monitor would have to be crammed in, along with a compact PA system, all the usual stands & bag full of mics & leads.
Also (at the time of writing this) a CP-73 will set you back about £1600 quid, which I regard as still a bit high for something that'll be getting tossed in & out of bars & cars.
Above: Yamaha CP-73 - should be a good buy when prices settle a bit.
So, if you want a high quality, reliable, 6-octave & truly portable piano that can facilitate onstage monitoring, but will still fit into a small car, there's presently nothing on the market for you - unless Yamaha introduces a 73-key version of their P-515, or Kurzweil bring out a fully weighted replacement for the Artis SE, with audio inputs & built in speakers.
My own choice considerations
The ideal instrument would be relatively light (which means less than 18kg) relatively compact, with authentic & dynamic piano sounds, fully weighted hammer action keys, stereo audio & possibly a microphone input (with compression & FX) & built in speakers - powerful enough for onstage monitoring.
Also, it would have to be under £1200 as more expensive pianos (no matter how good they are) are simply not worth it - for live use.
Above: Kurzweils' SPS4-8 - no longer unavailable (along with the Artis SE & others) soon to be replaced.
As a Toyota Yaris user, the instrument of choice had to be a super compact seven or six-octave keyboard, with instant on/off switching of a 2nd layer (for strings/pad) - as I use this a lot during performance.
The Yamaha P121 is not bad, but has no dedicated layer button & no audio input, plus the sound quality (while good for the price) is not quite as high as I'd like, considering I'm relying mostly on piano & similar sounds, to inspire confidence while playing live.
Above: Yamaha P-121 - Superb value, ultra-portable piano ...I might still buy one for practice & jamming.
The Yamaha P-255 would have been almost perfect, as it would have just fitted into the car, had the required audio input, powerful speakers & at 17.5kg is not overly heavy, but unfortunately it was discontinued (replaced by the 22kg P-515) right before I got the chance to buy one - Grrrrrr!!
(Update: Eventually managed to find a superb example of an ex-display Yamaha p-255 in white, at a very reasonable price, & so pounced on it - as you do. It is fabulous & I love it, but it has made me realise - that the target instrument does actually need to be a bit slimmer & lighter than I had initially thought. At 17.5kg, which is still not bad for a fully weighted, hammer action keyboard with built-in speakers - it's still not as easy to move around as would be ideal for live playing. Absolutely no regrets after buying it though, as it's absolutely fantastic for home practice & studio use.)
Above: Yamaha P-255 - Fantastic (but no longer unavailable) - could still represent a superb bargain if you can find one secondhand.
The Korg SV1-73 was under serious consideration, because of the quality of its' sounds (even though it has no actual layer function) but the deal-breaker was that more than a few owners have complained about it freezing up onstage, especially while playing lots of notes. Apparently needing to be switched off & then on again before it can continue be used (!!!!) - not exactly confidence inspiring.
Above: Korg SV1-73 - still a good buy for studio use.
(Update: Korg have since brought out an SV2 series, which sounds 'even better' than the original. There's also a version available with built-in speakers - but still no 'proper layering button' though, as you'll have to use an app on a computer or tablet to enable layering - an arcane Korg decision indeed. Thankfully, there doesn't seem to have been any 'operational issues' with the new Korg either, which is very encouraging to those of us who appreciate the sound & quality of Korg instruments.)
The Roland FP-90 sounds awesome & has impressive specifications - but again, it's just too big & heavy at a whopping 23kg (not really portable at all). Such a shame really, because in so many ways it could be the perfect instrument for the solo piano/vocalist, with it's audio & microphone inputs (with mic effects) & superb build quality. If only Roland could offer something like this in a more compact, lightweight & affordable package, it would be a no-brainer for solo piano/vocalists everywhere.
(Update: Roland have introduced their new RD-88 stage piano, which has internal speakers, audio & mic input (with effects) great action, compact dimensions, is light & portable & competitively priced. I must admit to getting pretty excited about it at first - but unfortunately (to these ears anyway) it seems to fail on the 'key ingredient' - its' piano sound. I had really hoped it would have some of the 'gorgeous piano voices' of the likes of the FP-60 or even FP-90, but unfortunately it doesn't. It uses a 'modelled piano sound' (not sample based) - but it's no-where near as good as the FP-90s' modelled pianos .... in fact I think Rolands' own FP-10 (entry level) piano sounds more authentic, which is a real shame, not to mention a missed opportunity.)
Above: Roland FP-90 - awesome sound & specifications for studio & live use as well, if it can be carried & transported.
The slightly more lightweight & compact Roland FP-60 ticked a lot of boxes as well. It does lack the mic input with FX (of its' bigger sibling) & ultimately (sound-wise being not massively better than the considerably cheaper Yamaha P-125 & P121) it fell slightly short on piano sound quality (for the price) to these ears - although it is a very nice sounding instrument, albeit still a bit on the heavy side at 19kg.
Above: Roland FP-60 - A compact & lightweight alternative to the FP-90. No mic input, but still a decent piano.
The Casio Privia pianos were not under consideration at all this time - for two main reasons;
1. I've experienced some reliability issues with Casio products in the past - usually only after expiry of the manufacturers' guarantee.
2. While I've owned a Casio Privia PX-410r for a long time & really liked it, my last Casio (a Privia PX-350 - there's a link to a review below) turned out to be very disappointing in the 'piano sound' department.
As mentioned in the review - even the piano sounds on the entry level Yamaha P-45 are fuller, more authentic, responsive & better to play than on any Casios I've tried. The new Casio Privia & CDP 'S-series' pianos seem to be an improvement (in sound & key action) - but not enough to make me buy one.
Above: Before the inferior Air sound source was introduced, for a long time I used a Casio Privia PX-410r (AKA PX-575) Superb sound & reliability (only 32 not polyphonic though) The ZPI sound source was one of Casios' best, but at the time Casio seemed to yeild to pressure from the market to up the polyphony. It did seem a rather strange decision at the time, to make their non-arranger pianos 64-note polyphonic, yet only 32-voice polyphony was available on the arranger pianos, before they eventually killed off the superb ZPI sound source altogether.
The Kawai ES-8 was also considered, but there's a fair few users online (some with videos) complaining about mechanical problems with their brand new instruments - keys stuck or not working & issues with dynamic response on individual keys as well. This raises too many questions about the companys' quality control & whether their products could withstand life on the road.
On the one hand, if this is a 'quality control issue', that's not a good reflection on the company. If the instruments are being 'properly checked' before shipment, then these faults have to be occurring 'in transit' - which is not a good reflection on the 'robustness' of the instruments themselves, & hence their reliability for live use.
They are also 'not the lightest instruments', when compared to those from other manufacturers, but they may well be (arguably - though Nord users might disagree ... see below) the 'most authentic' recreation of piano sound & action available, making them a great choice for studios, as long as the instrument arrives in perfect working condition.
It has to be said though, that the majority of Kawai buyers seem to have had no issues at all.
Above: Kawai ES-8 - Authentic sounding piano/arranger that would be good for the studio.
No Nord instruments were considered for purchase - here's why . . . .
. . . . basically, I believe they are way over-priced & way over-rated!
You could quite literally buy two Yamaha CP-73s for the price we're expected to pay for a comparable Nord.
Yeah - I know a lot of of people "like them" but it seems to me that Nords' success is a prime example of the psychological effect of slapping a huge price-tag on an 'ok instrument' - to make everyone think it's way better than it actually is.
The words 'status symbol' spring to mind here, & they're painted bright red because the people who buy them want everyone to know - how much their keyboard set them back .... just in case they happen to miss the Nord logo.
What are they getting for their money?? Certainly not the best sound money can buy (most Yamaha pianos will eat & shit them . . for depth, dynamics, detail & sheer class) & not the best key action either (it's by Fatar - need I say any more?) It's not as if Nords are known for outstanding reliability either.
I strongly suspect that most of the people who "like their Nords" effectively had to 'talk themselves into it' - rather than realise that what they actually spent on their keyboard should have been a lot closer to £899.
Is this a keyboard being bought, based on feedback from the musicians' hands & ears - or bought, based on the musicians' ego??
Don't get me wrong, I think they 'are good' - just not as "great" as the hype makes them out to be.
In fairness, the prices are coming down somewhat, but still, just look what you can get from the likes of Roland, Yamaha, Kurzweil & Ketron for a fraction of the cost - all of which are much more deluxe, reliable, durable, dynamic & classy-sounding in comparison.
The Nord Stage 3 - the musical answer to 'nouvelle cuisine' - some people "like it" - but some of us know 'pizza' is much more satisfying, & much better value for money.
So, the only other instrument that meets most (but not all) of the other criteria, sounds as good, is as reliable & affordable as a Yamaha (despite having no speakers - hence external stage monitor use) is the one I ended up buying - a Kurzweil Artis 7.
I must say - it's sound quality is really good, even with its' (rather spongy) semi-weighted Fatar keyboard action (its' worst fault) - but I do like the fact that the acoustic piano sounds are big & dynamic (like a real piano), plus there's a lot of both grand & upright piano sounds .... & you've got a lot of control over them.
It's also very easy to bring in layered string & pad sounds - either with buttons, sliders or with a foot controller - so yes, it's definitely a good choice right now & I'm very happy with it!
If you're mindful about the effects routing - the sound switching is seamless too, & the sounds are vibrant & alive throughout. So I'll certainly be sticking with this excellent performance keyboard for the time being - at least, while in the absence of a "Yamaha P-511"
Above: Kurzweil Artis 7 - Fantastic all round instrument! Could be even better with fully weighted keys & the option to buy a variant with built in speakers.
So I hope you'll check out my Video Channel where I'll be (all being well) uploading performances with it (& other instruments) soon.
Until then cheers & God bless!