Which Nord keyboard would I buy
Purchase advice and test marathon stage keyboards
Which stage keyboard is right for me?
Portable organ and more in one keyboard for the stage
How do you find the right stage keyboard?
Stage keyboards are to the organ-playing keyboard player what stage pianos are to the pianist: Practical complete solutions for the stage, which in addition to top quality organ sounds can also cover other sounds and often represent the central instrument in the keyboard castle. But what do you have to look out for when buying a stage keyboard and which instrument is recommended for which purpose? In our purchase advisor and test marathon, we take a close look at current stage keyboards and answer these and other questions.
As with stage pianos, the distinction to other types of instruments such as synthesizer workstations is not always very clear: Some modern stage keyboards are so versatile that they could almost be passed as workstations, and of course the other way around, most workstations offer many functions that can be used expected from a stage keyboard. And yet this type of instrument has its very specific characteristics that make it indispensable for the intended target group.
What is a stage keyboard?
Under a Stage keyboard one understands a keyboard with an emphasis on Organ soundsdesigned for use on stage. As a rule, stage keyboards also offer drawbars or special sensor fields for organ-compliant operation.
In contrast to a stage piano, which uses a weighted keyboard with hammer action, is aimed at keyboard players who mainly play piano and e-piano sounds, a stage keyboard usually has an unweighted or slightly weighted keyboard optimized for organ playing. In addition, it has a high-quality emulation of the Hammond organ sound including the Leslie effect, as well as an operation optimized for live use with plenty of direct access to important functions. The stage keyboard differs from pure combo organs in that, in addition to organ sounds, it also covers other sounds such as electric pianos and synthesizers, so that for many keyboard players it can fulfill the function of an all-in-one keyboard.
The Nord Electro series (here the 6D) is one of the most popular modern stage keyboards.
Who is a stage keyboard suitable for?
A stage keyboard is the right choice if the focus is on organ playing, but additional sounds such as strings, pianos or synthesizer sounds in good quality are occasionally required. Just as there are many keyboard players who mainly play the piano and occasionally need an organ or a synthesizer surface, there are also keyboard players for whom the organ is the central instrument. Anyone who plays the majority of a gig with Hammond and possibly other organ sounds will receive an instrument with an up-to-date stage keyboard that fits this player profile perfectly. If, on the other hand, the focus is on piano and e-piano sounds and the organ plays a minor role, a stage piano is the better choice.
What are the most important features of modern stage keyboards?
- Slightly weighted or unweighted keyboard, possibly waterfall keyboard
- High-quality Hammond organ emulation with drawbars, if necessary emulations of other electronic organs, e.g. B. transistor organs like Vox or Farfisa
- High quality Leslie effect
- Selection of other sounds such as pianos, electric pianos and synthesizer sounds
- Split and layer functions
- Effects section with distortion, reverb, delay and possibly other effects
- Intuitive operating concept with direct access to all important parameters for live use
What should you look out for when buying a stage keyboard?
As always, at the beginning of the purchase decision there is the question of what the instrument should mainly be used for. In which line-up do you perform, which musical styles are played, and which sounds are particularly important? If you answer these questions for yourself, it quickly becomes clear which features the keyboard should bring. In the following we have put together some tips for the individual features of typical stage keyboards, which should help you to choose the right instrument.
Stage keyboards often offer so-called waterfall keyboards (here the Fatar TP / 8O) without a protrusion on the front edge of the key. (Photo: Christian Radtke)
The keyboard plays an outstanding role in every keyboard for live use, and of course also in stage keyboards. Here you should ask yourself exactly which sounds you will mainly play. Unfortunately, there is no keyboard that is equally suitable for piano and organ sounds, which is why quite a few keyboard players carry two different instruments with them. While a weighted hammer action keyboard is the measure of all things for piano and electric piano sounds, it is practically impossible to play the organ convincingly on it. On the other hand, you will not be happy in the long run with the slightly weighted keyboard of an organ, a stage keyboard or a synthesizer if the focus is on piano sounds. To some extent, compromises are possible either way, however Overall, the choice of keyboard and keyboard should be based on which sounds make up the majority of the songs played. This question usually decides in which direction the purchase decision will be made.
In contrast to a piano keyboard, the keyboard is like an organ not or only very lightly weighted and not velocity sensitive. The Hammond organ has the additional characteristic that the sound is not triggered at the lower end of the key range when the key is pressed all the way, as is the case with a piano, but sounds when the key is only pressed very lightly.
From these typical characteristics of the Hammond keyboard, a number of special playing techniques have developed that are difficult or impossible to implement on the weighted keyboard of a stage piano. Anyone who has ever tried to perform a typical organ glissando on a piano with the heel of the hand will have found that it hardly succeeds and that the attempt can even be quite painful. Other popular organ playing techniques such as “sputtering” (quickly repeated, very short notes) and rapid trills cause problems on a weighted keyboard because the keyboard is simply not fast enough and requires too much force. If you want to play the organ in an authentic way, you need a keyboard that has been optimized for it.
Another feature of the Hammond keyboard is the lack of the key lip. The Hammond organ does not have the small protrusion on the front edge that the keys of a piano, grand piano or stage piano have. This is particularly advantageous for glissandi, because if you wipe the keys with your whole hand, you can otherwise get stuck on them. Stage keyboards that have a clear organ focus are therefore with so-called Waterfall keyboards equipped that do not have this advantage.
Although the sound generation of a real organ is not velocity sensitive, the keyboards of all today's stage keyboards naturally have one Touch response. This means that you can also play other sounds on it, which gives the stage keyboard its all-rounder capabilities. As a rule, the velocity can be deactivated for organ sounds or is automatically switched off when a corresponding sound is selected.
Stage keyboards emulate the sound of the Hammond organ in every detail.
Organ sound generation
The electromagnetic tonewheel sound generation of the Hammond organ is a complex structure. Tone wheels influence each other and in the mechanics and electronics of the Hammond various crosstalk effects and background noises occur. Many of them were actually undesirable in the Hammond organ, for example the characteristic one Key click. Nevertheless, they contribute to the characteristic sound and are inseparable from the Hammond. That is why a stage keyboard stands or falls with the quality of the Hammond emulation.
The character of the Hammond organ cannot be adequately reproduced with samples. Sampled organs are static and cannot be removed while playing the Drawbars influence what is an essential stylistic element in organ playing. They also cannot reproduce the dynamic effects and background noises that occur when playing. For example, the Hammond organ's percussion register is not triggered again when playing legato notes; it only sounds on the first note. With a sampled organ with the sampled percussion, however, this would play with every note, which does not correspond to the typical behavior of the Hammond organ.
That is why the organ emulations of most of today's stage keyboards are based on the Physical modeling technology. The sound is calculated in real time by a DSP (digital signal processor), including all background noises, impurities and other features of the organ sound. With one or more drawbar sets, the sound can be adjusted while playing. That too Percussion register and the Hammond typical Chorus and scanner vibrato effects are usually part of the emulation.
How detailed the emulation is differs from instrument to instrument. With some keyboards you can use parameters such as Leakage the age and condition of the virtual organ vary and adapt to personal taste and music style. The volume of the key click is also often adjustable.
In addition to the classic Hammond B3, some stage keyboards also offer emulations of electronic transistor organs such as the Vox Continental and the Farfisa organ. Many hits of the 1960s and 1970s can be authentically voiced with these sounds. Since these organs have different registers and operating concepts than the Hammond, the operation via the Hammond-oriented drawbars of a stage keyboard is usually not entirely authentic. But it's a nice addition to have these sounds on board.
Nothing works on a stage keyboard without a drawbar (here the Roland VR-730).
Influencing the organ sound with the drawbars while playing is an important stylistic device. Therefore, all modern stage keyboards offer at least one so-called drawbar set, which consists of nine drawbars for the nine registers of a Hammond manual. So you don't have to change the preset or turn a controller if you want to give the organ sound a little more boost for the chorus, but can intuitively use the drawbars.
However, conventional drawbars have a problem: when changing presets, their position usually does not correspond to the stored values. If you then move a drawbar, sudden changes in the sound can occur. The manufacturers have come up with various methods to get this problem at least partially under control. Which of these solutions is preferred is a matter of taste and should be taken into account when choosing the instrument.
- In the first generations of the Nord Electro series, Clavia initially relied on virtual drawbars with LED chains that are operated with two buttons each and with which the problem does not occur. They can still be found in the hammer mechanism version (Nord Electro 6HP) and in the Nord Stage. However, it turned out that organ lovers prefer real, physical drawbars, which is why the organ versions of the Nord Electro have had drawbars since the 4D. With the button “Manual Organ” you can decouple the drawbars from the saved values; the organ sound then always corresponds to the state actually set with the controls.
- With the stage keyboards Roland VR-09 B V-Combo and VR-730 V-Combo, the saved values of the drawbars are shown in the display. So you can at least see whether there are big differences between the drawbar position and the preset, and adjust them if necessary before playing.
- Instead of drawbars, the Vox Continental has sensor touch strips that display their settings using LEDs. Therefore, the problem does not occur with this keyboard.
- The Yamaha YC61 has an LED chain for each drawbar that shows the stored value.
- The most luxurious and complex solution can currently be found with the Dexibell J7. It has motorized drawbars that automatically move into the correct position when changing presets.
Instead of drawbars, the Vox Continental has touch-sensitive touch strips.
The chest of drawers Leslie Cabinet with rotating speakers is an inseparable part of the sound of the Hammond organ. This is why stage keyboards usually have an emulation of the Rotary speaker effect. How detailed this is implemented differs from instrument to instrument. With some instruments you can switch between different Leslie models such as the coveted 122 and the 147. The parameters of the emulation, such as the rotation speed of drum and horn as well as the acceleration and deceleration times, can often be set in detail.
Different keyboard players have different preferences when using the Leslie. One likes a foot switch, while the other prefers the classic half-moon switch. You should therefore make sure that the stage keyboard has the right connections for the preferred accessories (foot switch input for the rotor speed) and that the manufacturer can obtain appropriate accessories, such as the Nord Half Moon Switch.
Organists who are particularly fond of details sometimes prefer to use an external Leslie effect. This can be a floor effect device like the Neo Instruments Ventilator II or a real Leslie cabinet. This results in special requirements for the connections of the keyboard:
- If you plan to send the organ sounds through an external (floor) effects device, the stage keyboard should have a separate audio output that the organ sounds can be output separately from the other sounds of the keyboard.
- The stage keyboards of the brand Hammond (SK1, SK2, SKX) as well as the Crumar Mojo have special Leslie connectors with 8 or 11 pins for connection to various Leslie cabinets.
Most stage keyboards have buttons to control the Leslie effect.
In addition to the organ sounds, stage keyboards offer a range of other sounds so that as a keyboardist you don't always have to carry a second instrument with you. In addition to piano and e-piano sounds (Rhodes, Wurlitzer) you can often find clavinets, string and brass sounds, basses and possibly synthesizer sounds. These are usually based on samples. The most flexible in this regard is the Nord Electro, whose sample synth can even be equipped with your own samples using editor software. Which additional sounds you need depends on the songs you are playing and on the question of whether you are using additional keyboards or not. If the stage keyboard is the only instrument that you use, it should of course be all the more extensive with sounds.
With most modern stage keyboards, the sounds are divided into two to three clearly laid out sections, each with its own control element. For example, you will find the sections organ, piano / e-piano and synthesizer / other sounds, which can be activated and deactivated individually and distributed on the keyboard via split and layer. The effects as well as the controllers such as the modulation wheel, pedals etc. can often be assigned to individual sections. Since the concepts and capabilities of different stage keyboards differ quite a lot here, you should check carefully before buying whether a keyboard meets the respective requirements.
In addition to organs, stage keyboards offer many other sounds (here the Roland VR-730).
Effects are the salt in the soup. This is especially true for organ and electric piano sounds, which is why stage keyboards usually have effects sections specially designed for these sounds. The Leslie Effect (see above) is just the beginning. Distortion / overdrive are also popular effects for organ sounds and should not be missing on a stage keyboard.
Furthermore, there are often a number of modulation effects that are particularly suitable for electric pianos such as Rhodes and Wurlitzer. These include chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo and auto-pan. If you play a lot of the Clavinet, you will also enjoy an auto-wah effect, and of course a delay should not be missing. Here you should make sure that the effects can be assigned individually to the respective sound sections, e.g. B. Leslie and Overdrive for the organ in the right half of the keyboard, and tremolo for the electric piano in the left hand.
After all, most stage keyboards offer some master effects that work on all sound sections at the same time. This usually includes a reverb and a master equalizer, with which you can adapt the sound of the keyboard to the overall sound of the band.
As with all aspects of the stage keyboard, effects should be easy to use. For important parameters such as effect proportions, delay time, degree of distortion and speed of a tremolo, controls should be available directly on the control panel. When working with delays live, a tap tempo button should not be missing.On stage and in the rehearsal room you usually don't have time to dive into menus and look for the right setting. Therefore, the following applies: the easier, more intuitive and faster the operation, the more suitable the instrument for the stage.
Without the right effects, nothing works with a stage keyboard.
The clear operating concept with different sections for the individual sound groups and uncomplicated split / layer assignments has established itself on most of today's stage keyboards. Most of the instruments are now well equipped with knobs and controllers that can be used to access sound parameters quickly and easily. With an instrument equipped in this way, you can react live to unforeseen situations and do not have to spend a long time programming in order to have the right sounds ready. Compared to the menu structure that can be found on many workstations to this day, this is a major step forward. Many stage keyboards also have the option of storing the settings required for a gig in a Setlist to lay down.
As always, the following applies to operation: You can often only determine whether you like the special operating concept of a stage keyboard by trying it out personally. The following questions can be used as a guide:
- Do I have access to all important sounds (organ, piano, other sounds) in a few seconds and with just a few operating steps?
- Can I just as easily assign effects and adjust them on the fly?
- Can split and layer setups be implemented easily?
- Do I like the concept of the keyboard for storing and recalling settings? Can stored sounds be called up without having to scroll through a long list with an encoder or a button?
The Nord Electro impressed from the start with its stage-friendly operation.
So that a stage keyboard can be connected to all the necessary mixer channels and accessories on stage, it of course needs the right connections. Which of these you actually need in practice depends on the respective setup and personal requirements. In general, a good stage keyboard should have the following connectors:
- Stereo audio output (preferably balanced)
- If necessary, additional audio output (sub-output, output 3-4) for the separate output of certain sounds such as e.g. B. the organ. In this way, individual sounds can be edited with external effects and treated separately from the other sounds in the mixer. This can be very beneficial, especially with the organ.
- Pedal connections: Sustain and, if required, additional pedals such as expression, organ volume (swell pedal), Leslie footswitch
- MIDI In / Out for integration into a MIDI setup and, if necessary, for controlling external sound generators
- USB for connection to a computer. In addition to the transmission of MIDI data, the USB connection is used on many stage keyboards for communication with editor / librarian software, which makes sound management easier. USB is also used to upload system updates.
- Headphone output
A modern stage keyboard offers the organ-playing keyboard player what a stage piano is to the pianist: A complete package for live use, which in addition to the important organ sounds also contains other sounds and the associated effects and is intuitive to use on the stage. We hope that this purchase advisor gave you an overview of what to look out for when deciding on a stage keyboard. You can find detailed information on current stage keyboards in our test reports, which we have linked below.
Stage keyboards in the test
Here you can find all Bonedo test reports on stage keyboards from different manufacturers. The list is continuously updated; you can always find the latest tests at the top.
Yamaha YC61 review
Roland V-Combo VR-730 review
Nord Electro 6D 73 test
Vox Continental Test
Nord Electro 5D 61 test
Roland V-Combo VR-09 review
Nord Electro 4D test
Nord Electro 3 HP
Clavia Nord Electro 3 - Sixty One Test
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