My current piano setup
I love pianos but it can be a problem falling in love with your own individual one when you have to play others. Pianos differ greatly. I used to own a Yamaha grand piano which I bought from new and loved for its tonal depth and expressiveness (even more than is usual for a Yamaha) and its marvellously responsive action.
Sadly, I don’t have room for a grand piano in my London flat. When I came here, I thought I would have to buy an upright but I find they have an inferior action to that of a grand so didn’t really want one. I had a decent Roland digital piano with a great action. This was fine for teaching on but I always found that digital pianos had little life or soul to them. I hated practising on it and just felt I couldn’t really express myself fully or naturally.
After reading a rave review in a magazine, I decided to try a new digital piano made by Roland called the V-Piano. Despite the great reviews and excitement around this new instrument which used breakthrough technology, I was sceptical. I visited a shop to try it, played a few chords: it sounded good. Then I played a few more, some classical pieces, improvised a little and then a lot. After about forty minutes I stopped. I was in love! I bought it there and then!
There are two aspects to a great instrument. One is the control and responsiveness of the action which in the case of the V-Piano is absolutely phenomenal: it is the only digital hammer action keyboard I have played that feels like a Steinway grand piano. Then of course there is the sound. Until recently all digital pianos used samples – recordings of notes played on real pianos. An acoustic piano is a very different thing. It feels alive and it is probably because of the unpredictable nature of how the sounds unfold. The multitude of variables means that the strings, the soundboard and all the other resonant parts of the instrument generate vibratory patterns that appear and evolve differently every time. Strangely, it is the very unpredictability of the acoustics that makes pianists feel as if they are affecting the sound even after the keys have been struck. A recorded sample on the other hand is predictable and fixed. You play a note with a certain weight and it triggers precisely the same sound every time. And it feels dead!
But the V-Piano felt expressive like an acoustic piano. Roland’s PHA III action is amazing. It plays like a wonderful grand piano. And the sounds are generated using a technique called physical modelling which produces the sound in real time. It imitates all the complex variables and dynamic acoustics of all the resonant elements of a real grand piano. It’s extraordinary! My V-Piano is so satisfying to play on every level! It has different piano sounds including futuristic models with extra large soundboards.
I then discovered the extraordinary software, Pianoteq by Modartt which also uses physical modelling synthesis like the V-Piano. Pianoteq offers me a huge range of instruments – current, historic and futuristic and they all sound amazing and importantly also feel beautiful to play. It frees me up to use any stage piano with an excellent hammer action. Lightweight stage pianos with wonderful actions are becoming. I have my eye on Roland’s new FP90 and should have one in the New Year.
In the studio, the sound comes through a pair of Adam F7 studio monitors with an HK Audio system for added bass although I rarely need it. For live, I use a Maui5 portable system which, after tweaking the settings in Pianoteq, sounds good.
Physically modelled pianos have completely changed my life. Although my love of acoustic pianos is undiminished and I don’t claim that digital pianos are ever the same as acoustic ones, I am incredibly passionate about this new technology and what it makes available. I now have, in my small studio, a dazzling array of virtual instruments which I can play on various wonderful keyboards. It also means that I can take my own instrument to gigs so that I am spared the job of becoming accustomed to an unfamiliar piano which behaves very differently from my own practice instrument. I can therefore relax and focus on expressing myself fluently and naturally. Bliss!