5. Sound Production

The first thing that a stage piano should offer is a good range of acoustic and electric piano sounds. Thanks to the rapid advancement of digital technology most models are able to do this masterfully; ‘bad sounds’ are rarely encountered anymore. Nevertheless there are pianos, in the upper price class, which offer especially authentic acoustic sounds and more refined details such as a simulated sounding board (resonation). While in a recording session or playing in the quiet room these subtleties can make a big differences but they often go unnoticed during live operation. Which might be a reassuring insight if you only plan to play live and don’t have the budget for a top model.

For a stage musician the number of typical piano sounds available is often more important. For example, rock and pop music often require high-pitched, high-impact pianos, while ballads or even jazz tend towards more muted, natural piano sounds. Ideally a stage piano offers at least two or three different, separately sampled acoustic pianos. Though the quality of the samples can vary greatly with cheaper models due to the reprogramming of one piano sound to sounds like others, meaning you get less ‘natural’ sounding results.

Over time rock and pop music have made specifically e-piano sounds popular, most of which can now also be found in a stage piano. You could argue over the relevance and number of these sounds needed but at minimum a good Rhodes and FM piano sound (like that of a DX7) should be included. More sophisticated models will include a Wurlitzer (Supertramp!), the already mentioned CP70 or clavinet like sounds.

If you have specific sound preferences or requirements you should check before purchasing that the stage piano you are looking at fulfills them. The scope of sounds offered varies greatly across models, at the lower end only 32 sounds may be offered while top models offer well over 300. Some top models, such as those from Roland, even have the capability to add more sounds and samples via new sound boards.

Top models of stage pianos have sophisticated sound libraries equaling their synthesizer and keyboard cousins.

Thanks to modern DSP technology the number of ‘voices’ offered in current stage pianos isn’t as important anymore. Even models in the middle price range are beginning to offer 128 or 192 polyphonic voices. Although at the lower end you can still find models which offer less than 64 concurrent voices. This isn’t a huge issue but it should be taken into account that the number of voices is halved when using an instrument that sampled with stereo, meaning the instrument can reach its limits if the sustain pedal is used expansively. In addition, there are fewer reserves available when more than one sound should be played at the same time. As is the case when stacking sounds (e.g. piano and strings at the same time) or when using a sequencer.

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