My Life in Keyboards, Part 2

Ensoniq KT76

I was playing three or four nights a week, and every once in a while I would hit the accompaniment button on the Yamaha PSR-600 and start a drum beat in the middle of the song. It was never cool. I also suspected that the reason I couldn’t play amazingly well was because I didn’t have a keyboard with weighted keys. That may have been part of it, but the other part was that I really, really wanted a pro keyboard so that I would look like a pro on stage (even if I didn’t sound like one!) The beginning of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I took some money from my tax return, and some money from my parents, and drove to Ohio to buy this guy. At the time, it was an amazing keyboard. I did break some keys and I wasn’t really happy about that, but I played hard back then. I did feel very pro when I started using it. It was also really, REALLY heavy especially with the wooden case, but I was in my mid 20s, so whatever, right?

Ensoniq KS-32

This is predecessor of the the KT76 above. The KS-32, also weighted, also 76 keys. Here’s where it gets interesting. I knew I needed a backup keyboard, but because the “Syndrome” I was fooling myself. What I really wanted was a practice keyboard already set up at my place, so that I didn’t have to set up and tear down in order to play or just fool around. I was starting to build my studio without even knowing it at this time. I know this now, because I ended up gigging with the older KS-32, and keeping the KT76 in my studio. I think my brother-in-law Danny bought this for me. He liked my music and what I was doing. I have no idea what became of this instrument.

Yamaha DX-100

Kinda like the little brother of the vastly popular DX-7, this was a fun synth to have hanging out around the house. I always played with the presets, but I never got around to learning how to actually use a synthesizer beyond the basics. For me, a keyboard WAS it’s preset sounds. Tiny little thing, with guitar strap pegs on the sides so you could sling it like a keytar. I used this in a parade once, beyond that, it was still a little toy. I sold it to get some money together for a guitar.

Casio DH-100

Another little toy that I found at a local music store, I picked this up because I wanted to learn saxophone. I eventually learned a little bit, but this didn’t help me. Fortunately, it was also playable with recorder fingering. By the time I got a real sax and started working on it, this bugger crashed and burned. I wouldn’t turn on, and when I put new batteries in it made a whistling sound out of the speakers whether I was playing it or not. A neat feature for that time period was that it had a midi port, so I could hook it up to a keyboard and play a decent sax sound. But that just chained me in place, so I may as well have played it on the keyboard.

Roland A-30

My very first controller keyboard. No onboard sounds at all, meant specifically for controlling external MIDI devices, either another keyboard, or a sound module, or a computer. I used this for a while with the QY-100 (below), but I did not like the feel of the keys when I played so I eventually just sold it.

Yamaha QY-100

This thing was an absolute MONSTER! I was in love. I actually wish I still had it. I did my entire Christian album using the styles and arranger features. It had the sounds of my Yamaha arranger keyboards, and it had styles, and a really amazing sound for the time. Drums, bass, even the guitar backing was believable if it was mixed low enough. I could record all my parts on this, get them how I wanted in the mix, and then bounce the entire thing to a single track on my computer. (I know, I know. It’s best to have individual tracks for better mixing/eq/compression/etc, however, it was the year 2001, and I was just beginning to figure things out in the digital world.) I wish I knew what happened to this unit. I really do. I’d get another one, but they are still around $250 used, and I’m just not willing to pay that much for nostalgia.

Yamaha PSR-2000

This is the coolest keyboard I have ever owned. I was missing my arranger keyboards of the past, and my brother made this happen for me. He set me up with his friends who were looking for a web designer. They generously traded a website for this Yamaha. I had the most fun playing it, using for recording, writing songs with it. It was very inspiring. I downloaded thousands of styles online for this thing, and created a few styles of my own. I could put a microphone through this to get the reverb I was looking for when I recorded a part. It had guitar amp modelling and effects, so I could record my guitar through this into the computer. I had built in three part harmony for audio signals. It was a performing machine, and made me so much better a musician for having it. I left it on at church for an entire week and came back and it was not working. The repair shop told me that it would be around $900 for a new motherboard, something I couldn’t afford at the time. I had to say no. It was a sad day.

Yamaha S80

My church at the time bought this for me. I was the worship leader, I led from a keyboard, so after the PSR-2000 died, I needed something. They bought this for me to USE, and when I asked if I could slowly pay for it until it was mine, they decided to give it to me as a gift. It had pretty heavy keys, like playing a grand piano. I had to get used to it, but the sounds were great, and it felt good to be back into a weighted keyboard. This was also my first 88 key instrument (except for my real piano!)

Yamaha PSR-S700

My brother stepped in again and outright bought me this keyboard. I was dying for an arranger keyboard again, to help write and record songs. I love it – great sound, great everything. As a replacement to the PSR-2000, I was a little bit disappointed because this more expensive Yamaha arranger didn’t include the vocal harmonizer. But I got over that pretty quickly. I used this for many, many gigs. I still have it – the back light doesn’t work so I have to shine my phone on the screen to see what I’m doing, but the buttons all work fine, so I can save my presets and access them easily. I don’t use it much anymore, but since it’s still here I play it every now and then for some fun. In my 3-piece band Patio Drive, we named this keyboard Sam, and anytime we needed an excuse for anything on stage, we blamed Sam. Even if it wasn’t his fault. (I will still take donations to help fix Sam’s broken leg though!)


Kawaii ES8

This was a heavy beast that I never had a case for. But I used it at a ton of open mic nights when I was socializing as a musician in a new area. I loved the piano sound in this thing. EPs were okay but the piano totally rocked. I started doing my YouTube videos with this keyboard, so it must have been some kind of inspiration.

Casio Privia PX-330

My life as I knew it in Kentucky was over, and I came crawling back to Pennsylvania to start over. I sold some stuff off for funding. As far as instruments go, I only took my PSR-S700 with me. The Casio was the first keyboard I bought here. I loved LOVED the feel of the keys on this thing. It felt more like playing my beloved Baldwin Acrosonic upright piano that I grew up on (I have a 1954 model in my house right now.) Keys were not too heavy, not too light. Piano sound was incredible. Organs were pretty good. Electric pianos were decent too. I had issues playing live – sometimes notes would stick, sometimes I’d get a full-volume note when I was gently playing, and once, I broke two keys in one night. With a really loud band.  I had to move on, so I sold this to my sister to give to my niece for Christmas. I’m happy with the rig I have now, but this Privia was so light and easy to carry around and set up, that I might have gone with this again. I’m already a more tasteful player, and in much quieter bands now. (No quiet bands, were still loud, just not as loud as the band I was in.)

Korg Microstation

As I studied more music, I became aware that with all the focus on piano and electric piano, that I hadn’t devoted any time to figuring out how to actually play a Hammond organ realistically. I assumed that you just played it like a piano, but it was just a different sound. Right? I started really getting into learning about it, and trying to download software to make it work. There will soon be a blog post about my journey into this world, and my search the perfect Hammond clone. This keyboard marked the beginning of the journey. It had some great organ patches, and I bought it from Sweetwater Sound and they had an extra SD card that came with a user patch that was a Hammond sound. I could control drawbars, the rotary speaker speed (Leslie speaker), percussion, overdrive, all on this little 61 micro key instrument that I could throw in the bag like a backpack. My wife bought this for me for my 40th birthday and I love it. I still have this board, although I’ve moved on in the organ world, it still comes in handy for small gigs, or as a backup keyboard that just makes me feel safe. You’d think it would be difficult to play those little keys, but it only takes a few minutes of warm-up, and a full size keyboard seems way to big.

Korg SV-1

Once I had my organ patches that I was happy with, I also became enamored with genuine Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano sounds. I wanted to go full-on vintage. This masterpiece of design and sonic beauty I found by accident, and I’m so happy I did. I was at a large music store in Toronto looking at a Hammond SK-1, to replace my Casio Privia which was still broken and barely usable live. I played the SK-1, I knew I had my wife on the hook, she was going to be okay with me buying it. It was $2400. All I had to do was say, “Yes, let’s do it.” But I couldn’t. The Hammond was amazing for the organ, but I played piano on it and it just didn’t feel right, those light organ style keys were too difficult to control the piano strikes. I had to say no. Walking out, I saw the SV-1. I played the piano, and it felt and sounded so real, thick, rich, and beautiful. It soudned like my upright at home. I switched it to the Rhodes. Amazing! Turned up the overdrive. Even better! Tried the Wurli and I almost died from happiness. I looked at the price tag, saw that it was $1595. Almost $1000 cheaper than the keyboard I showed up to look at. I knew that this was my baby. Killer vintage EP sounds and a really good piano sound. This is part of my live rig today. I could only be happier with it if it was lighter. Much lighter.

Novation Impulse 61

I kept up my quest to find the right Hammond clone for me, and I decided that the least expensive way was to use my MacBook, because I already had it. So I researched for a controller keyboard that had 61 keys and nine faders (that could be assigned to the nine drawbars of a real Hammond). This was more expensive than most, but it had the best reviews, so I ordered it. I’m glad I did. I assigned every assignable button, knob, pad, and fader to some aspect of the organ software I was using. This was a part of my live rig for a couple years. It felt great to use for organ, and in a pinch I could also use it for all my piano and EP sounds. Something went haywire, and the pitch bend would randomly send a signal. I opened the board and disconnected the pitch bend. It still sends a pitch bend message when I touch one of the faders. Not a lot of help from Novation on that one since it was out of warranty, so I decided to move on. This board still sits in my studio as the controller for recording. I just have to put a MIDI pitch bend filter on every instrument before I record.

Casio CTK-7200

Short and sweet, this keyboard was pimped out because of the organ drawbars and patches, which were okay except for the Leslie simulator. And the fact that the drawbars were incremental at 16 or less volume levels so you could hear the volume pop up louder as you pulled out the drawbar (instead of having an infinite (or at least 127) array of volume. It’s still fun to play with, and you know I love arrangers boards.

Yamaha MX-49

This thing is great. I got it because I wanted quick and easy access to some sounds – as a backup, or on a night that wasn’t organ-heavy. It has 1000 patches from the Motif, so I knew I’d be getting some great sounds out of this I’m still exploring it. It’s kinda cool also that it is it’s own interface. I just don’t trust it to be my microphone pre-amp for recording, so I don’t use it in that capacity. It’s a great looking keyboard.

Crumar Mojo 61

I’m going to ruin the surprise of my next blog post, but here goes. After the Impulse failed on me, I was going to buy another one, but I got tired of setting up my laptop at every show, and always worried that something would go wrong. Nothing ever did, but I still wanted a dedicated board for organ, and I finally chose this. I am thrilled. It sounds amazing, the drawbars look and feel like real drawbars, the keys feel like the keys on a Hammond. To me this is the perfect “clonewheel” organ, and as a bonus it has a modeled piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer. The EPs are great, the piano is okay, but I have played it live with no complaints. This thing is a dream, and it rocks the house. It looks beautiful as well! I love having real wood on stage. (No jokes allowed there, no matter how easy the joke.)


So that’s it folks. I have had other keyboard instruments, but this was about electronic keyboards. The others are all pianos and organs which I will get into another time. I hope you enjoyed reading a little about my musical history. Thanks a million!


My Life in Keyboards

I have written about My Life in Jobs and My Life in Cars, so I think it’s time to post about my life in keyboards. More than my jobs and cars, I believe that keyboards have been the central assets in my life, and music has taken me to some spectacular places, and into some incredible circumstances.

Yamaha PSS-450

Ahhh, my very first keyboard. It wasn’t velocity sensitive, and the sounds were pretty bad. But I made due. I was probably around 12 years old, and I had a keyboard. I had played only piano until I got this, so having the ability to play along with an arranged section was very new and cool to me. I left this keyboard at a home for troubled girls in Kentucky. They seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have a use for it at the time.
A relative recently gave my daughter an old keyboard in like-new condition. I picked it up, and was amazed that it was the PSS-450.

Yamaha PSR-47

I was 16 years old, and had been looking at new synths ever since I got a chance to play one (I think it was a Yamaha DX-7, or possibly a Korg DW6000) in a music lab at my high school. I was jealous of the very cool sounds that could be made, and even enamored with just the presets. I found this at my local music store – it had so many patches and rhythms, and drum pads. I fell in love, and it was a lot cheaper than the others. I used this board on my first recordings, and in my first band. I traded it for something even better.

I do remember my 11th grade Honors English class – we had to memorize the prologue to Canterbury Tales and speak it in front of the class. I wrote it as a rap, and recorded it, just for fun. I gave it to my teacher, who listened to it, and gave me an A for the project, and I never had to actually memorize the thing. I still know it, though.

Casio SK-1

My first sampler! I bought this from a friend for $20. I can still remember how powerful it felt to be able to record a voice, or my piano, or the toilet flushing, and play it back in different pitches. This board stopped working for me.

Back then, the speed of the sound was also affected by the pitch, so the lower notes took longer than the higher notes. At the time I didn’t consider this to be problematic – it was cool.

Yamaha PSR-500

This thing was a badass. I was able to record entire chord structures of songs and then play along with them. The memory wasn’t great, so I think I had to erase a song if I wanted to start a new one – but this just made me better at using the board. My first multi-pad loops, intros, endings, registration memory (to access my favorite settings with a single push of a button) all really great stuff. I just turned 18, had no will power, and went to the music store and applied for credit, and I was accepted. I found this to be absolutely amazing. My parents were pissed. I did pay it off though. I traded this later for a Yamaha MT-50 4-track cassette tape recorder, soon after I bought my PSR-600.

Yamaha PSR-600

As soon as the PSR-500 was paid off, I went and got this thing. It was nearly identical, except that it had a floppy disc drive in the front. I could now save my work, and keep working. It was totally worth it. This was also the keyboard I had when I joined my first “real” band, a band with paying gigs. By then, music started making me enough money to start looking at some professional equipment. I traded this keyboard for an alto sax on eBay in the early 2000s.

Next post – the Pro Equipment and more.

In the studio with Amelia!

Getting it ready
Getting it ready

Sometimes Amelia is not happy in her Pack ‘n Play. I usually just try to hold her in my lap for a little while, but when I’m busy in the studio, it’s difficult to do because when I’m working on the computer, she wants to play with the computer – and when I’m working on the keyboards, she wants to play the keyboards. I decided to set up a near-identical setup to mine – for her to play with. It worked!!! I set up a non-working computer on her tray, and a working (and active) Korg Microstation keyboard.

She played with this setup for an hour with no complaints. I spent the whole hour taking pictures of her instead of working.

Starting up Logic Pro
Starting up Logic Pro
Playing and singing. Take 23.
Some serious editing going on here.
Some serious editing going on here.
Whew! This is hard work!
Whew! This is hard work!
Taking a break.
Taking a break.
Re-recording a few bad notes. Love the little keys on this Korg Microstation.
Re-recording a few bad notes. Love the little keys on this Korg Microstation.