Introducing a seven-page roundup of some of the latest electronic pianos to hit the UK. Models reviewed include Yamaha's FM PF series, the Siel Piano Quattro and Roland's MIDI Home Piano system.
Two years ago, perhaps even less, the idea that technology would ever be applied to electronic pianos with the same urgency as it's applied to synthesisers would have seemed mildly absurd.
From a position of great prominence during the late sixties and early seventies, the electronic piano gradually declined in significance as musical tastes altered and synths offering the keyboard player a far greater range of sound possibilities became available at more competitive prices. For some while, and despite the efforts of a number of manufacturers and designers, it seemed that the piano's potential for further technological development would be limited to refinement of the electric grand designs introduced by makers such as Yamaha, Helpinstill, and Kawai.
However, advances in sound generation techniques and the introduction of a universal keyboard interface standard - the MIDI - have put the electronic piano firmly back in the limelight: hence the brief roundup of new models you'll find in the following pages.
It's interesting to note that the Japanese manufacturers - almost to a man - have so far devoted most of their efforts towards making instruments that are intended first and foremost for domestic use: witness the wood veneer finish on Yamaha's PF series, Roland's HP system and Korg's Symphonic Pianos. It would appear that, for the moment at least, Japanese marketing men consider the domestic arena a potentially more fruitful one than the professional scene, and as a result, the latest generation of Far Eastern electronic pianos have been styled and promoted as a tonally more versatile and ergonomically more convenient alternative to the acoustic piano in the family living room, rather than as a serious tool for the professional keyboardist.
In some ways this is something of a pity, since almost all of the current breed of electronic pianos are sufficiently competent to warrant a degree of interest on the part of the professional, be he/she a session player, a gigging musician or a composer/arranger.
In other respects, however, it may be just as well that this first generation of technologically-improved instruments is being test-run by domestic rather than professional users, because as our tests show, much of the hardware is still in need of some further development. In particular, some of the keyboards are not quite as inspiring to play as their descriptions might suggest - though the phenomenal cost of producing a keyboard of acoustic piano-quality must be borne in mind, it's true - while it would also appear that fine piano voices are also often accompanied by excessive background noise, something that's obviously going to be of importance if a lot of studio work is envisaged, for example.
Still, these minus points can't detract from the fact that the electronic piano is now a much more refined, more versatile, and more usable a breed of keyboard instrument than it ever has been. Or the fact that its future looks brighter still.
Feature by Dan Goldstein
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