Keyboard Korner – Stage Rigs

Yep – that’s a cheesy title.

Basically, Cris from the Philippines has a question that I’ll start to answer, and maybe some of you other keyboard and gear junkies can add to in the comments section…

Cris writes:

“HELP HELP! I want to know any information about your playing in keyboards in church. What keyboard did you use at North Point, and how do you do live performance on Mac and your keyboard? How do you do that?


Thanks. I’m Cris from Quest Community Fellowship here in the Philippines and I’m a keyboard player…”

Well Cris, first a big thanks for being a reader! Do you know Dennis Canlas? If so, say “hi” to him for me!

To answer the first part of your question:

I have used a keyboard as a controller hooked up to a computer running a software synth on a few gigs in the past, mostly due to the inability to lug a giant keyboard around, but I don’t prefer it.

We don’t use a keyboard hooked up to a computer for live performance at North Point or our other campuses. Not because it’s bad, but for a few other reasons. I’ll explain…

#1 – Stability.

Stand-alone synths (electronic keyboards with dedicated internal sounds) are far more stable. Traditionally their internal computing components don’t crash, and their exterior shells can usually take a beating.

Computer-based sound software (aka soft synth), however, is prone to crashes and freezes. Even on the most robust of machines, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take on a regular basis.


#2 – User Interface / Live Performance.

You’ve heard the term “user friendly” and “learning curve“. My personal theory – for anything – is that the easier and more intuitive the interface, the more enjoyable the experience.

And when that translates to worship music in church, that means the less I need to focus on the gear, and the more I get to focus on musical creativity and my own personal time of worship.

Add to that the fact that we have at least a dozen keyboard players that play at one or more of our campuses, and the answer is easy.

– We need the same (or very similar) keyboards at each of our 3 campuses.

– We need them to have a very low learning curve. They need to be very easy to use, and be able to get the most results in the shortest amount of time. Easy to navigate.

– We need them to have quick recall – the ability to call up a sound, especially during live performance, with minimal buttons and menus.

– We need them to actually sound good. πŸ˜‰

The bottom line is that we want the best possible sounds. Unfortunately that is difficult to ensure if we have players bring their own keyboards. A good keyboard is very expensive, and “vintage” gear in keyboard world is not always a good thing, if you know what I mean!

A vintage guitar and amp is cool. Showing up with a Yamaha DX7 is not.

This is why we have invested in good keyboards that sound good, easy to learn, sound navigation and recall is effective for live performance, and intuitive use of the instrument is inspiring to the player.

Those are just fancy words for saying “Keyboard players WANT to play this particular keyboard”.

So, believe it or not, that eliminates a lot of keyboards on the market today, most noticeably anything made by Yamaha. Their Motif series are a total pain in the butt. Their sounds are great, but you can tell that the user interface was designed by left-brained engineers, and didn’t consult with right-brained musicians. Boooooo!!!!!

The Korg Triton series (any model) is still a great live choice, as navigating through to find sounds is real easy.

The BEST live performance keyboard we’ve found is the Roland Fantom X series, specifically the X8. Registering sounds to the FAVORITES mode is second to none for live performance navigation. I’ll make a video of these in the near future…

#3 – Sounds

This one’s real easy. Does the keyboard have the sounds you need AND the sounds that inspire you (you know – the sounds you didn’t even know you needed…).

These, in my opinion, fall into 2 categories:

A – Workhorse Sounds. These are the meat and potatoes elements, A great acoustic piano, Rhodes, Whirlitzer, Clav, warm analog pad, orchestral strings, etc. Most of these are emulations of real instruments, plus some traditional synth sounds.

These are the basics of being able to play any gig.


B – Sonic Textures. These are the sounds that inspire uncharted territory. Moving and evolving synths and pads, warm and powerful synth leads, arpeggio and rhythmical textures, effected instruments (delays, pans, sweeps, envelope filters, etc.). Most of these could be described as original, futuristic sounds that can add some unique elements to your songs.

The Korg Triton series has always excelled with Textures, while the Roland X8 it my first choice for Workhorse sounds, and increasingly with textures as well.

#4 – Tactile. A keyboard, as with any instrument, has to FEEL right. The physical keys’ texture, weight and response need to inspire – not hinder!

Once again, the Roland X8 is one of the best feeling keyboard I’ve ever played, and their new G8 is also great. As a classically trained pianist, I’m not one to be easily satisfied with the floppy response and unrealistic action of some of today’s pathetic excuses of 88 note weighted keyboards. Bleeeech! No wonder so many piano snobs hate synthesizers.

Summary: Inspiration.

These four elements, at least for me, are all integral parts of choosing a performance keyboard.

I need to be INSPIRED by it, not FRUSTRATED.

Too many people settle for a piece of gear that frustrates its players because it was on sale, or the sales guy at the store was trying to move a unit and pressured some suckers from a church that didn’t do any research and didn’t know what they wanted or their keyboard NEEDED TO DO.

So don’t take my word for it either. YOU need to take your 2 or 3 best keyboard players to lunch, and then to the music store for a few hours. Let them play EVERYTHING in the store. Have them spend TIME with each unit, seeing if it can EASILY and QUICKLY do what you need it to do.

And take a good pair of headphones!!!! The crappy speakers in the music store are not an accurate representation of the keyboard, and if it’s a mono keyboard amp it will put certain sounds, like an acoustic piano, out of phase (and that sounds BAD!).

But, in case you care, my recommendation for a church’s (or professional player’s) primary keyboard would be the Roland Fantom X8:

– It’s got the best workhorse sounds, including the best acoustic piano I’ve ever heard. We A/B compared it with the software “Ivory”, and the X8 was equal in quality and superior in latency and velocity sensitivity.

– It has great Sonic Textures, nearly at par (if not equal to) the Korg Triton series.

– It has the best live performance mode. In rehearsal, you navigate through the well organized banks of sounds according to their genre, and once you’ve picked one you’ll use, you easily register it to a Favorites bank. After doing that, each favorite patch is only one button-press away. VERY COOL!!!

– It has one of the best tactile responses of any keyboard on the market.

These are some of the reasons that the X8 has become the cornerstone of the keyboard rigs on all 4 stages of North Point Ministries’ campuses (North Point’s East and West Auditoriums, Buckhead Church and Browns Bridge Church).

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So here’s a look at each of our 4 stage’s keyboard rigs:

North Point – East Auditorium

– Roland X8

– Korg Triton Extreme (61 key)

– Hammond B3 with Leslie 122

North Point – West Auditorium

– Roland X8

– Korg M3 (61 key) **This is basically the newest version of the familiar Triton series, but is still new and yet to be tamed πŸ˜‰

– Hammond C3 with Leslie 147

Browns Bridge

– Roland X8

– Korg Triton Extreme (76 key) **(yes, I’m jealous of their 76 key version…)

– Nord Electro 2 through Trek II pre-amp and Leslie 122

Buckhead

– Roland X8

– Korg MS-2000 (interesting choice…)

– Nord Electro 2 through Trek II pre-amp and Leslie 122

We also have some of the older boards stored off-stage for special events, including a couple classic Triton 88 and 61 key Tritons, a Roland JV-88, Yamaha P-200, a broken Korg CX-3, and I’ve even got my old Korg N1 and GEM Equinox back there as well, gathering a nice layer of dust…

OK – that’s it for now on what keyboards we use on stage. Next time we’ll get into hooking up a keyboard controller to a computer to use a soft synth on stage.

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What do YOU use on stage?

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25 thoughts on “Keyboard Korner – Stage Rigs

  1. I have no experience with the Roland x8. The keyboard that I prefer is the Yamaha CP-300, or CP-33. The CP-300 has some more features than the CP-33 such as built in speakers and a more advanced EQ controller. Both keyboards sample a 9 foot Yamaha cf3 which in my opinion is the best live piano sound out right now, but again, I haven’t heard the Roland’s sound. We use it as our main piano, and it has a good Rhodes, clav, and warm pad sound. All the other sounds suck, but to me it was worth it because Yamaha keyboards are the only one with “graded hammer” action (meaning the hammers feel more like a real piano) and it has a true half damper pedal, although I must say that is more of a luxury unless your playing a song in worship that is all piano.

    Our upper board is a kurzweil PC-2, which is OK, but I would have to agree with Reid and say that the triton blows it out of the water.

    Our organ is a Hammond xk3, which sounds awesome! We use the internal Leslie because we don’t have the room to tote a huge Leslie every week. (We are a portable campus.) My only beef with this instrument is that the Hammond Clicking sound is a tad overstated, and the keys are not as heavy as they are on a real vintage Hammond.

  2. I agree with you about the motif. Not a good live board if you are not familiar with it, but I just recently added the Yamaha S-90ES to my rig and I love it. Easy to use and great sounds. My other board is a Triton Extreme 76 key. Looking to add a B3 soon.

  3. I do agree with Josh about the action on Yamahas. I still love the action on our older P-200, and the built in speakers mean it’s great when there’s not an adequate monitoring system, like a casual rehearsal or when we have funerals in our rotunda.

  4. Personally – I find anything by Korg pretty brutal for sounds (sorry Reid…) For a good weighted piano/keyboard – I’ve recently been suggested the Roland RD700sx. It’s super easy to use and has one of the best sounding acoustics next to the Yamaha S90.

    Personally I have a Nord Electro 2 – 73 that I use for all the keyboard/piano/organ stuff. Definitely the BEST organ sounds out there! HANDS DOWN. For the pad stuff, I use an old Roland JV-1080…. the best pad (imo) is the preset-C:60. Very little delay when changing chords – it’s great. Unfortunately, Roland replaced it with a sloppy one on the new keyboards that has such a huge delay before the full sound comes out… 😦

    For travelling – I take the 1080, and a Roland VK-8m which is a portable organ module… not as great as the Nord, but it will do.

    At the moment, I’m suggesting to anyone who has the money to check out the Nord Stage – that will be my next purchase… it’s great!

  5. This is my first time here and I look forward to coming back again- looks like some great stuff! Anyway, I could not disagree anymore with your assessment here. In my opinion, the Yamaha Motif ES is far and away the best keyboard I have ever used; both in the studio and in live settings. A couple of quick points…

    “It has the best live performance mode. In rehearsal, you navigate through the well organized banks of sounds according to their genre, and once you’ve picked one you’ll use, you easily register it to a Favorites bank. After doing that, each favorite patch is only one button-press away. VERY COOL!!!”

    The Yamaha Motif does this exact same thing and gives you the ability to add arpeggios, patterns, samples, etc. to the list as well. Each sound is just one button push away making navigating in a live setting a breeze.

    What’s more, with a pitch bend wheel, modulation wheel, ribbon controller and four assignable control sliders and knobs the ability to both create and tweak sonic textures on the fly is unmatched. I will often layer anywhere between two to four different sounds and use the sliders to tweak the levels between each one… changing the levels as I move from verse to chorus, etc. to create different textures. The “new sound” is easily added to a master list for one-button navigation during live performances.

    Pay close to attention to any live show now and look for the keyboard player… more often then not they are sitting behind a Yamaha Motif.

    The Roland is a great keyboard, but do not dismiss the Motif ES. I shopped very hard when looking for my newest keyboard and on every count the Motif came out on top.

  6. Cool – that’s good to know! I haven’t played the ES model yet – I’ll give it a whirl at the music store soon! Thanks for the tip!

    See? Isn’t sharing fun?

  7. It is indeed πŸ˜‰

    As a side note, this was extraordinarily funny and true…

    “A vintage guitar and amp is cool. Showing up with a Yamaha DX7 is not.”

    Well played.

  8. Rob & Rich-

    The motif does sound OK, however it isn’t nearly as easy to work as a korg, I don’t care what you say. I have played one live many times, and the internal CPU has crashed twice, and we had to send it back for repair. What’s worse- when we got it back we immediately noticed how horrible it sounded, and we couldn’t figure out why. When yamaha repaired it, the global pitch setting had been changed from 440 to 418, and we had to switch it every time we turned it on! Not a win for us, especially using volunteer players who didn’t have the opportunity to spend all week with it. The M3 will do what the motif will do easily, and I personally think the sounds are incredible!

    As far as the Nord, I really want to check one out. Heard they’re awesome.

  9. Hey Josh,

    Sounds like you got a dud- that can happen with any keyboard unfortunately. Don’t judge all Motif’s based on your bad experience with just one. You are missing the opportunity to work with a great board.

    As for the sounds on the Korg, I have to agree with Rob. The Korg’s sounds are not nearly as sophisticated as the Yamaha or the Roland. It is easy to navigate but that is not everything. You’ve got to find the right balance- features, ease of use, sound, etc. For me, the Motif wins hands down when you take all of these things in to consideration. I’d take a keyboard that sounds amazing, albeit slightly more difficult to use, over a keyboard that makes it very easy to find its chintzy sounds.

    It sounds like we can all agree on one thing though… the Nord is amazing!

  10. I went back and checked out the Roland X8, and I do like the layout and the basic piano sounds, but a little too much money for what we need that board to do. The Yamaha S-90ES is $1000 cheaper with just as good basic sounds.

    I totally agree that the Nord is worth having. I am trying to figure out how to justify the purchase right now! πŸ™‚

  11. Hey,

    I believe we basically followed a very similar setup for Timberline Church in Fort Collins, CO when we set up the Edge. Here’s our set up:

    – Roland X8

    – Nord Electro 2 – we have the Leslie amp ordered and should be using it soon

    – Reason Live with a Motu Axiom 61 key controller

    The Reason so far has been the most interesting take. We have yet to fully utilize it in our song sets, except to have clicks playing in the in-ear monitors. I think it is very hard to develop loops for live worship that can add to the song, instead of being the entire music for the song. We have yet to tame Reason as far as loops go. On the plus, I LOVE having the variety of sounds and plugins to download. There are so many cool modulations through the different rack modules in Reason. It seems that all of the keyboardist are very novice in using this and optimizing it. It would be great to know how other bands incorporate it into their worship.

    One other note. I love the Favorites features of the X8, however I wish there was a better way to have smoother transitions when going from Sound A to Sound B. I have a Motif 6 for personal use at home and I notice the same difficulty. The only synth that I know of were the designers spent time making sure there could be smooth transitions between sounds is the Roland RD-700 series. Unfortunately, aside from smooth transitions, this keyboard doesn’t offer much else.

  12. Im glad you’d write me back.i wll tell dennis about your greetings. actually we had 3 keyboards in church, roland xp80, korg triton lee, and fantomx7. fantom x7 my main key with xp80 as my secondary key i use every sunday. But i always use Fantom ,because most of the songs that we had are from your church and i wil have to do sequencing amost every sunday. And im really get confuse on the musc that you had .You do a lot of effects,right?ohh i realy appreciated it all the sounds, and i want to realy hook in to it.

  13. What keyboards did you use for your effects sound/because most of your song is driven with effects.Where did you get that?

  14. Hey guys,
    I’m so pumped to have finally found a blog on keyboards in the worship setting. I looked for weeks without being able to find anything. I lead worship from a Fantom X8. I love so many aspects about the keyboard (the action, the ease of use in the live setting, etc), but I have a few issues I’m hoping for some help on. First, (I think David already mentioned this) when you change patches, it’s completely abrupt. How I wish you could change patches seemlessly! I find this to be a huge issue as I lead. Second, and more important, the main use of the keyboard in our band is background pad sounds. As far as I can tell, the Fantom only has 1 pad that’s even close to acceptable for this use. Any ideas on gear that really excels in rich, thick pads? (Or, has anybody had any luck with finding/creating great pads on the Fantom?)

  15. Hey everybody! I’m a worship leader from First Baptist Orlando, FL.

    Love the Fantom X8, and I learned so much about keyboard synths and sonic textures on that board.

    HOWEVER! I am a HUGE fan of the Motif XS. Yes, I’ll concede that it’s got a bit of a learning curve. Once you get past that, there are great tools to make live playing a cinch (like performance mode, which I’ve found to be EXCEEDINGLY better and easier in a live setting than Fantom’s performance mode feature).

    Also, I do have a beef with some of the sounds; while I love the acoustic piano, some of the pads, and other fun, experimental sounds (Minty Fresh, Angel Pipes, etc.), I don’t like Fantom’s EPs/Wurlies and most of all, ORGANS! The worst part is the leslie switch, which does way too much pitch modulation for it to sound very good. For a high end workstation, that was disappointing.

    Motif has great pianos and lush pad mixture possibilities, but most of all, I love it’s huge selection of EPs and Organs. They are so good, I get stuck playing around with every sound because it brings something fresh to the table. No sifting through duds. On top of that, the XS8 action feels slightly better to me than the Roland. As a bonus, sequencing is very easy to pick up, and pattern mode is a great songwriting tool for me.

    That’s my 2 cents! πŸ™‚ Peace!
    ~Soc

    • Wow – just found this site! Looks like a keeper. I was waiting to see if anyone brought up the Motif XS… Soc… I completely agree. I play an XS8 in live worship and its just fantastic. Our church has an ES8 – but I always bring my XS. I’m debating on stacking my (OLD) KORG O1Wfd for the first time in Worship – but am undecided. I know a few guys who love their Fantom’s… but I would recommend anyone considering a new board.. to check out the MOTIF XS.

      Blessings
      Greg

  16. Reid Greven is the man. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother’s brother in law.

    I think all worship music should be done with an autoharp. That’s how they did it in Jesus’ day – that’s it should still be done today.

  17. Reid,

    We are researching new keyboards for our worship team. Since the new Roland Fantom G series is out as well as the Korg Oasys, I am wondering if you still prefer the Fantom X or if you would prefer something else next time you buy?

    Thanks,

    Katherine

  18. I’ve had several keyboards, starting with my Alesis Quadrasynth then the Roland RS-5… Then on to the Korg Triton Le61… After that I added a Roland FP-3 (I wanted that stage piano FOREVER and finally found one used)…

    I’ve since sold all of those and now use a Roland Fantom XR rack synth with an Edirol PCRM80 midi controller… Out of all the synths I’ve had before, I’m soooo happy with the Fantom XR. Sounds are killer for what I do, and the interface is so intuitive. The Edirol controller is great, nice action…

    My next purchase will be a Traynor K4 stereo keyboard amp, to replace the Fender keyboard amp I just sold…

  19. I like the Rolands s9(synths RD700 VK8, Yamahas(Motifs, S series), Korgs etc. What trumps everything is running stereo monitor mix…usually submixing/amplification(mixer + amp) at the keyboard rig area, stereo into 2 DI boxes…2 monitor wedges…I’ve heard in ears are great…haven’t had a chance to use them…but i love keyboards in stereo….
    God Bless
    matt

  20. KEYBOARD::
    Yamaha Motif XS8 88-Key Keyboard………$900usd
    Yamaha Tyros2 61-Key Keyboard………….$850usd
    Korg Triton Extreme 76-Key Keyboard…….$550usd
    Korg TR88 88-Key Keyboard…………………$600usd
    Yamaha PSR-OR700 61-Key Portable………$450usd
    Yamaha Tyros2 61-Key Keyboard Workstation.$850usd
    Yamaha Motif XS7 76-Key Keyboard……….$700usd
    Yamaha CP300 88-Key Digital Piano………..$700usd
    Suzuki 10 Student SP-47 Keyboard
    Lab…….$950usd
    Suzuki 5 Student SP-47 Keyboard Lab……….$650usd

    Roland FA76…………..$420
    Roland TD3 Drums Kit……..$520
    Roland VP550 ………..$650
    Roland TD12……….$850
    Roland Fantom X6………$900
    Roland VP770 ………… $1000
    Roland VS2480……….$1000
    Roland Fantom X7………$1200
    Roland Fantom G8………$1200
    Roland Fantom X8……….$1300
    Roland V-Synth GT………$1550

    AMPLIFIER::
    Ampeg SVT CL Classic Bass……………………….$750usd
    QSC Audio RMX 5050 Power……………………….$700usd
    Rockford Fosgate T40001BD 4000 Watt Monoblock Car…..$1000usd
    Fender Princeton Recording Amplifier…………….$400usd
    JL Audio 5005 5-Channel D……………………….$220usd
    Denon PMA2000 IVR Stereo Amplifier………………$440usd
    Niles SI1230 30 Watt 12-Channel…………………..$330usd
    Rockford Fosgate T40001BD 4000 Watt………….$900usd
    Rockford Fosgate T20001BD 2000 Watt……………$400usd

    DRUMSET::
    Mapex Pro M 7-Piece Fusion Pop………..$400USD
    Ludwig Accent CS Custom Elite Power……$300usd
    Ludwig Classic Maple 4-Piece Drum……….$950usd
    Mapex Saturn 6-Piece Studio Drum Set Electric Blue……….$600usd
    Ludwig Accent Fab 4 4-Piece Drum Set………..$450usd
    Mapex M Birch Studio 6-Piece Studio Drum Set…………..$400usd
    Pacific LXE Series 5-Piece Tiger Ash Red Finish Drum Set w/ Black Hardware….$550usd
    Tama Superstar 7-Piece Double Bass………………………$400usd
    Tama Superstar SL Hyper Drive 6-Piece………………………$380usd
    Roland TD-20S V-Pro Electronic Drum Set————$1200usd
    Roland TD-12S V-Stage Electronic Drum Set————$950usd
    Roland TD-9SX V-Tour Electronic Drum Set ————$900usd
    Roland TD-6SW V-Tour Electronic Drum Set————$800usd
    Roland TD-3SW V-Compact Drum Set————$450usd

    Tascam X-48 Hard Disk Digital………………….$1250usd

    EMAIL : newgeneration.inc@hotmail.com
    TEL#:+447024061856
    Thanks & God Bless.
    The Management.

  21. I would like to inquire about the best amp rig for keyboard. I currently use Roland RD700 GX Supernatural sounds, Korg controller with a Motif ES module.

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