Looking for a Keyboard/Piano?

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

People occasionally email me asking if I have any recommendations for a keyboard, especially one with a great piano sound.

Rather than respond and reveal that my knowledge of electronic keyboards dried up somewhere in the mid-90s, I immediately forward the request to my good friend, Roger Hooper. Roger used to head up the keyboard department at Washington Music Center, and now does freelance arranging, scoring, playing, and tech blogging. He’s a brilliant keyboardist and synth player, and writes some great music as well. If you have a chance, check out his latest film soundtrack, The Road We Know (also available on iTunes and Amazon)

Roger always responds to questions with care and thoroughness. Here’s a recent email he sent to someone who wanted recommendations on a piano to buy:

Bob asked me to give you some info on a keyboard. I used to sell keyboards at a large music store in the area from 1985 till 2001; I was keyboard manager/buyer from 96 till “the end”. I’m assuming you probably want to use the keyboard to lead, so a good piano/electric piano would be a strong point.

Korg SV-1 $1699. This one has an excellent Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano, maybe the best on any keyboard. The acoustic piano is very good. Its a little bright for me when I first played it, but it has onboard EQ that is set up with big, vintage-looking knobs (all the controls look like 70s era gear, which is pretty cool, aesthetically), and you can dial back some of that brightness. You may like it, anyway, because it cuts through a big, guitar-driven band sound very well. All in all, a very satisfying keyboard to play. Plus, you can get this in red; that model looks like something George Jetson would have played; really cool!

Yamaha S90XS  $2399; don’t sweat the price yet, this is the online price. You can always get it down on the phone. Piano sounds great, the action is very firm, and the other sounds (over 1,000) are stellar.

Yamaha MOX8 $1699 Similar piano to the S90, will cut through a band mix very well. Lighter keyboard than the S90, but still feels really great.

Roland Rd700NX  $2699. There are models of this in existence that came before this one, and you may be able to find it for under $2000. I’ll give you a name and number for a salesman who will help you. I put this one on the list because I’ve had many people end up with and RD700 model over Yamaha or anything else because of the keyboard feel (Ivory-type key surface, and a very firm action) and excellent acoustic piano sound.

Kawai MP10 $2499 Beautiful piano sound, realistic action.

Kawai MP6 $1499 a lighter-weight keyboard, similar piano sound.

Kurzweil: The Kurzweil piano sound is very realistic sounding; classical players love them. They make an 88 key model I recommended for a church. When they bought it, I think it was well over $2000, but it may have dropped below that figure since. Washington Music Center gets really great deals on Kurzweil. Here’s Sweetwater’s info on the keyboard.  The Kurzweil PC3 has great synth/orchestra sounds, also.

A hard case for an 88 key instrument will probably be around $299. A bag would be much less, but you have to be careful with them. If you have a large crew, different groups of people handling the instrument, a bag might get abused. 

I have a bag for my Korg Kronos (45lb 73-key instrument), made by Gator Cases. The best bag I’ve ever had, or sold.

I’m sure Roger would be happy to give you some direction if you have a question. You can contact him from his website.

26 Responses to Looking for a Keyboard/Piano?

  1. Christopher Moeller June 22, 2012 at 3:26 PM #

    I’ve always been a Yamaha guy until I played a Nord for the first time. I now play a Nord Stage EX88 which is a bit on the pricey side, but the functionality is much more intuitive. The thing i like most about it is the piano sounds and the flexibility to manually control, on the fly, the synth/pad background to the piano. It has one of the greatest organ banks out there with leslie switch as well as adjustable compression and delay and amp simulators. All of this is accessible on the keyboard itself without having to go through pages or menus on the screen. I’m seeing more and more of these red keyboards showing up around the worship circuit. I’m a fan.

  2. Andrew Gosden June 22, 2012 at 6:03 PM #

    He is right. Buy a Nord. My son persuaded me to get one a year ago and it’s the best keyboard I have ever owned. Pads are great (and really easy to modify live) and the Hammond is superb. No silly software menus, you can do everything immediately with a knob or a button. Stuart Townend plays one as well.

    • Bob Kauflin June 22, 2012 at 6:58 PM #

      The funny thing is, Roger plays a Nord. Don’t know why he didn’t recommend it this time. But I’m sure he’ll have a reason.

  3. Roger Hooper June 22, 2012 at 7:19 PM #

    I play a Nord Electro 2; love it! Its organ and EPs are superb; the acoustic piano is so-so. I do think the Nord Stage models are excellent, as is the Nord Electro 3. The Electro 3’s action didn’t apply here, as it has a more non-weighted feel. I didn’t recommend the Nord Stage because the person in this email was looking for something that was below that price point. I was “pushing the envelope” recommending a couple of the instruments, price-wise.The Nord Stage does have a very natural-sounding piano, plus, as others have noted, the organs are A++, and the synth pad stuff is good. The layout is very easy to navigate, compared to the big workstation keyboards available. I like the fact that the controls are “right there”, not hidden away in menus. Clavia also makes a Nord Piano; that one doesn’t have organ and synth. Still expensive, but a great piano sound.

  4. Patrick June 23, 2012 at 1:38 AM #

    Hi Roger,

    what is you thoughts on the Nord? Specifically, the more affordable Electro 3 (soon to be 4)? Too specialized? In your opinion how do the Rhodes/Wirly/B3 compare to the Sv-1?


  5. Roger Hooper June 24, 2012 at 12:46 AM #

    Patrick, I need to play the SV-1 more, but my first thoughts were the hand to ear connection while playing the Rhodes and Wurly specifically was amazing. That, coupled with the analog-looking and sounding effects/knobs made for a really cool performing instrument.

    The Nord 3 sounds awesome; the 4 will probably be even better. The thing with the Nord is the B3 engine is top notch. I’ve owned a C3, and now a Hammond M3; there’s nothing like the real thing. The Nord is ridiculously close, though. I think the EPs on my Nord 2 are killer. I use them, or the Kronos, when recording Rhodes/Wurly, instead of virtual instruments, which do that sort of thing well. I think the Nord responds to the touch well, allows a lot of control when simulating overdriving tines. You just have to get used to the semi-weighted feel.

  6. Patrick June 25, 2012 at 2:45 PM #

    Hehe, this turned into a Nord fan forum.

    Thanks for your thoughts Roger! Much appreciated.

  7. Chris July 3, 2012 at 1:10 PM #

    Roger – how about the Roland 300NX? – its a considerable bit cheaper than the 700, but retains a large portion of the same components and pads.

  8. Roger Hooper July 8, 2012 at 12:07 AM #

    Chris, the 300NX sounds great; its action is not anything like the 700, though. It is in between a synth action and a weighted action. Helps to contribute to the lower price and instrument weight. I’ve played a previous model 300, thought it felt good for a non-heavy-weighted keyboard.

    Hey, Nord fans, looks like a Nord Piano 2 is around the corner….anxious to try one!

  9. Roger Hooper July 8, 2012 at 12:09 AM #

    You’re welcome, Patrick!

  10. Roger Hooper July 8, 2012 at 12:12 AM #

    Just looked at the Nord Piano 2; been around since January. Sounds good in the demo videos.

  11. Gavin Brown July 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

    I’ve played Motifs for more than a decade, but the Nord Stage 2 is out in front right now (imo). Also surprised it didn’t get recommended.

  12. John July 21, 2012 at 4:07 PM #

    Has anyone used Apple’s MainStage App? How do you think the piano sound quality would compare with some of the keyboards mentioned here?

  13. Ken Boer July 22, 2012 at 1:52 AM #

    John, we use Mainstage on a laptop at Covenant Life Church and love it.

  14. Margo, Bible Fun Factory July 26, 2012 at 8:32 PM #

    I actually am in the market for a new keyboard, so I couldn’t have stumbled upon this blog post at a better time! I’m slightly surprised that such high-quality instruments are available for that inexpensive of a price, and let’s just say that the surprise is definitely a pleasant one. Thank you for taking the time to share this information!

  15. Mitch Beauman August 3, 2012 at 4:08 AM #

    Currently have an older model yamah motif and looking at upgrading to a Nord Stage 2 for my worship team setup. I don’t play, so I’ve sought the advice of my piano/keys players. none of s have any experience with Nord but everything looks good. is the Nord going to be a definite step up? if so, in what ways?

  16. cassi August 14, 2012 at 8:51 AM #

    hii!! :) I am looking for a keyboard that I can use as a piano, for grading etc because I don’t always have access to a real one,, anything that comes to mind? cheapest is good, but i need quality so I do realise I gotta pay for it :) thanks!

  17. Damian Spaulding September 14, 2012 at 6:34 AM #

    Personally I find the sampling quality of the Technics P50 keyboard is second to none. It has become my preferred live stage instrument as well as recording studio instrument. I hope someone purchases the old techniques technology and applies it to their piano line because they were truly second to none.

  18. Jane October 11, 2012 at 4:22 PM #

    Hi – I’m just starting to play keyboard in a band (60’s-70’s stuff) – I have an electric piano which is great (Yamaha) but need a keyboard to fill in all brass intruments and more!

    I’m being recommended the Yamaha PSRS650 (c. £699) – anyone know anything about this?


  19. Jani January 20, 2013 at 4:11 AM #

    Just got two years old Nord Stage EX 88 half the original price! The pro musicians are upgrading to Nord Stage 2 at the moment so you really should look from the second hand market to get the earlier model. If you think you’ll have the best organ, rhodes, piano, pad sounds on one single instrument and can layer/split those as you want, it’s not so expensive in the end!

  20. Jeremiah Fyffe January 28, 2014 at 2:43 PM #

    Just went with the Korg SV1. Pretty excited to see this thing. I’ll try to stop back here to let you know how it goes.

    And Jeremy at Sweetwater was very helpful in putting together the whole package.

    Personally, I decided to go with:

    JBL LSR305 for Monitor Speakers (http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/LSR305)

    A Gator Soft Bag (http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/GKB88)

    On-Stage Z Stand with extension for monitors in practice because we’re portable at this point (http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ZStd2Tier)

    Thanks, Bob and Roger.

    • Gareth October 26, 2014 at 12:32 AM #

      Hey Jeremiah,
      How’d the Korg turn out? I’m just looking into keyboards for my church and that one has piqued my interest.
      We’ve previously had privately owned Nords but we’re looking at investing in a house keyboard.

  21. Pat Keady November 5, 2014 at 1:07 AM #

    Guys, I’d really appreciate a nudge in the right direction…

    I’m hearing all about the Nord Stage II etc, but having come from using a Korg Triton for years (and someone who struggles learning to understand/drive new gear) I am interested in moving to a Korg KRONOS as my portable KB to travel with. I personally find the Triton sounds great – even my organ sounds are preferable to the Nord (either that or I don’t know how to dial up a better one on a Nord yet?). Being v visual the lit screen w categories actually helps me. What can i say: I’m a simple man.

    My main needs are
    1. lighter portability for flying/travel (Nords weigh 23-25kg / Kronos 20kg)
    2. a good variety of piano/pad combos for worship +
    3. a variety of good synth lead sounds +
    4. flexibility to manouvre between sounds live without an awkward gap

    Regarding experience with the Kronos, can anyone weigh in here?

    • Bob Kauflin November 5, 2014 at 1:15 PM #

      Pat, I asked my good friend Roger Hooper. Here’s his response:

      He ought to check out the Roland FA-08; similar to the Kronos in that it has hundreds of pro-level sounds, and has weighted action. It has the “patch remain” (as the demo guy Dave Bryce calls it) feature, which is similar to the Kronos “Smooth sound transition.” It weighs 36lb, which is only about 8lb lighter than the 73 key Kronos.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIfuiK_Ntr4 This demo about 1:30 in shows the patch remain. Here’s Sweetwater (WMC finally did a much better web site, but it still pales compared to Sweetwater’s): http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FA08

      If he wants real light, the Casio PX5S would be good; 24lb: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/PX5S The Casio doesn’t have the sound transition, though. He would have to set up a multi patch, with the different sounds under the faders, bringing the volumes up and down. Thats the way other Korgs (not the Kronos), Yamahas, Kurzweils, and Rolands function. The manufacturers do this because the effects processors have to reset between patches. Korg found a way….but that (I’m sure) contributes to the price tag.

      Its too bad the weight is an issue; the Kronos set list feature is excellent, the best I’ve seen on any model, and the piano is beautiful. Its just heavy….

  22. chadcecil July 15, 2015 at 2:59 PM #

    Hi Roger,
    Do you have any experience with the Nord Stage 2 HP?

    Thank you,

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