By far, the most frequent question asked of me is, “What kind of keyboard do you play?”
The simple answer is that I play a Yamaha S80. It’s an oldie but a goodie – discontinued many years ago, but the feel, action, and durability are excellent.
You may find some additional explanation helpful.
The secret weapon is inside my keyboard
I typically get the keyboard question after someone watches my “Playing in the background” worship keyboard tutorial. It’s important to say that in that video, you are not hearing the stock S80 piano sounds. In fact, you will never hear me playing those – they sound very outdated. That’s why I have a secret weapon.
When I play live (and in that particular video), I use the piano sounds from Yamaha’s PLG-150AP expansion card. Yamaha sampled one of their concert grand pianos for this card, which installs easily in the back of the S80 or a variety of other Yamaha keyboards. Unfortunately, these cards are also discontinued, but you can find them every once in a while on eBay.
Sounds not from my keyboard
In almost all of my other videos, the sounds come from my computer. I hook up my S80 to a Mac through a MIDI connection and record the notes into Apple’s Logic software. The Steinway grand piano sound in that application is the same one included in Mainstage. It works fine for the videos, but in my opinion, it sounds better than it plays. It doesn’t feel responsive or inspiring when I try to play it live.
When I want a software piano to play live, I use Addictive Keys. The Addictive Keys grand piano has a satisfying depth and a responsive feel that approaches my hardware. You can load it into Mainstage to layer with pads, use effects, etc. You can download and try their range-limited demo for free. I also love the Addictive Keys upright piano.
More than you asked for
I don’t recommend that everyone go out and replicate my setup. To find what works for you, let me share some criteria that I find to be important:
- Good keyboard action and feel (88 keys with hammer action), and
- A good onboard piano sound with the ability to mix in a pad sound.
Action and feel are important for a couple reasons. Anyone who has played on an instrument with uneven action knows how frustrating it is. Good feel allows your ideas to simply flow through your keyboard, which is very inspiring.
Good onboard sounds are a must for me. While I get a lot of my sounds from my computer, I still need good onboard sounds because sometimes I need to be able to play without a computer. When inspiration or the need to play another venue come, quick setup is a must.
My current keyboard recommendations
If you are looking for specific recommendations, I will give you what I would purchase with my own money: I would lean toward a Yamaha instrument. I have had consistently good experiences with Yamaha and some bad experiences with other brands. I might lean toward a used S90 (it replaced the S80 in Yamaha’s lineup) or a Yamaha CP40 Stage.
I, personally, would not go with the following:
- Yamaha Motif. I would be paying a lot more money for things I use Mainstage for (synth sounds, effects, etc.).
- Yamaha CP4 stage piano or better. Great pianos, but I typically don’t need a lot of different piano sounds when I play live – just one really good one. I would look to software options if I needed something different (which would likely be in a recording situation).
- Nord stage piano – sounds great, looks really cool, but also very expensive. If money were not a consideration, sure! I just can’t justify spending that much of my own money on a Nord. 🙂
Hopefully this information is helpful as you make your own decisions and purchases. Obviously, an 88-key hammer action keyboard, Mac computer, software, etc. are not within everyone’s budget. In that case, my philosophy has always been to use what you have! If you are faithful to maximize a small amount of resource, you’ll be ready to make the most of having more.