Yamaha Clavinova PF P100
Don't dismiss Yamaha's newest Clavinova piano as suitable only for wine bar pianists — Julian Colbeck finds it's an impressive pro instrument whatever your style of music.
The word 'Clavinova' doesn't often appear in these pages, for the simple reason that instruments coming under this Yamaha banner are almost exclusively home pianos, which is an aspect of keyboard life that lies 'adjacent', shall we say, to the somewhat higher-tech thrust of this particular organ.
But since Yamaha's latest stage piano — at the end of an illustrious list of forebears which includes the classic CP70 and 80, PF10 and 15, and even conceivably the KX88 MIDI master keyboard — has been dubbed a Clavinova, that, I'm afraid, for you terminally hip people for whom this name is undoubtedly not, will have to be that.
Rest assured, though, that you will not be regarded as some kind of latter-day Richard Clayderman with this instrument in tow. The PF P100 is a mighty beast, full of top-notch piano samples, some cracking good features and effects, a splendid 88-note weighted keyboard, and more than a smattering of MIDI master keyboard controls. As a studio piano (certainly for those looking for some decent MIDI controlling features), as a stage piano (for the three bands still able to tour, that is), or as a writing/rehearsal instrument, the PF P100 is going to be hard to beat.
Being an extremely large instrument, such controls as there are on the PF P100 look few and far between. Most have dedicated purposes, with just 10 voice/utility buttons sharing duties. Although this is an easy instrument to operate, ease of use shouldn't be mistaken for simplicity (as in 'simplistic'). You'll find that there are few manoeuvres, MIDI or otherwise, that cannot be accomplished. But the P100 is being marketed as a piano and so, no matter what else, it has to work as a piano — in feel, sound, grandeur, call it what you will.
The sound generation system used is AWM, that which Yamaha has been using on the SY synth range for some time and — shhh — on the Clavinova range of digital pianos for even longer.
'Piano 1' is a high-quality, expansive grand piano multi-sample which has that tell-tale stereo airiness to it, combined with crystal clarity, seamless transition through the samples, and a reasonable amount of punch.
Yamaha are being very smart with polyphony these days. Not only have they recently presented us with the 64-voice TG500 module, on the P100 you have a choice of using Piano 1 as a 16-voice stereo sample, or a 32-voice mono sample. Making the switch is a simple matter of hitting Piano 1's button and keeping your finger on it until the number 32 appears on screen. Of course you lose the feeling of spaciousness, and the tone is a little squashed up by direct comparison. But in the context of a full arrangement or band performance this quality drop is never going to be heard.
The second piano is mainly what I call a rockier piano, even if Yamaha's laudable keyboard scaling does contrive to make the sound a bit too tame in the higher regions for my rock-blasted (ie. in need of all the bite I can get) lugs. There's some on-board EQ, though, so a solution of sorts is immediately available.
Feel. Pianos are all about feel. Much of the P100's weight is due to its keyboard, which is weighted and employs Yamaha's AE or Action Effect design. I've felt that past AE-blessed instruments have been a bit spongey. Perhaps something has been tweaked; if your piano chops extend to anything beyond M1 stabbing then you'll really appreciate being able to lean into your playing here.
Other tones available include a pair of electric pianos: one is that good old stand-by, a warm Rhodes, the other a glassy, ice-cool DX piano which, no matter who you are and what music you play, will always be needed at some time.
There is a tone entitled 'Clavinova', which is an interesting mix of harp and strings, and there is a vibes tone which also mixes two sounds (probably a stick-hit and tone, though precisely what is not noted). Both of these are, accordingly, rendered 16-voice polyphonic.
Moving right along is a strings preset — one of those generic orchestral string samples — a somewhat variable organ, and a couple of basses that become more than respectable guitar/generic pluck sounds as they get higher up the keyboard. 'Bass 2' gets pretty Clavinet-like around Middle C. It's good.
Tones can be split or layered, in the blend of your choice. To layer two sounds, you just press a second tone button while keeping the first pressed down. The order in which you do this is important, because blends and split points are automatically stored from the last time you used the function — the point is that a piano-strings mix can have two blends depending upon whether piano, or strings is the 'main' (first-selected) or 'sub' (second) voice, as Yamaha call them. This is a good, simple system that offers considerable flexibility for no outlay of brain power.
A pair of tones can also be detuned, in increments of fractions of a semitone, which is a good trick to have up your sleeve. If you want to program an actual interval, this can be done using the transpose function. The P100 is pretty sophisticated in this respect, allowing you to set up separate transpositions in a single mode, dual mode, or split mode, plus transposition values for externally connected instruments over MIDI.
Internally, this function lets you set up some neat effects, such as playing in octaves, or fifths, though this can only occur in dual mode, using two different tones; you can't program the same electric piano tone to be in fifths, say. Although there's a little bit of 'hold this plus that, press this, then scratch your bum and say three Hail Marys' to set it all up, launching into your transposed state from the norm, as it were, is ultimately just a matter of pressing the transpose button when required.
On the face of it, the P100 offers a simple choice of one of three basic reverbs: room, stage, and hall, plus one of three digital effects: chorus, symphonic (heavier chorus), or tremolo, all of which can be chosen by toggling two 3-LED push buttons.
Not only can you set up specific effects for specific tones (or layers) by the expedient last-set method of programming, but the reverbs and effects are all fairly programmable in themselves. Each can be tweaked in depth or length by holding down its button while waggling the data entry slider, whereupon the parameter values will hieroglyphically change on the display.
Brilliantly, such modifications are automatically remembered per tone — so if you, for example, muck about with the chorus setting on Electric Piano 2, whenever you go back to Electric Piano 2, there will be your edited chorus. However, you can still have an entirely different chorus setting on, say, the organ tone.
Finally, you have reasonable control over velocity curves, from normal, to soft, to hard, fixed.
Judged purely as a stage digital piano, the P100 is clearly a splendid combination of raw quality, and almost limitless possibilities.
For those who want more, there is all manner of MIDI madness to get involved in, from changing the velocity curves of MIDI-connected devices, MIDI merge, and programmable pedal/slider, to program change mapping — both incoming and outgoing. The only thing you can't do, as such, is program actual MIDI memories, ie. ones offering the full complement of parameters from channel assignment to patch, volume data, etc, which would then turn the P100 into a fully-fledged master keyboard.
What you have instead is the capability of storing a reasonable amount of MIDI data alongside each of 10 internal tones. In other words, the Electric Piano 2 button can be programmed to send out MIDI program change number 106, with a fixed outgoing velocity curve and a MIDI transposition of a fifth. That's not bad, obviously, but it may not be everything you need.
If you find the 10 tone 'memories' limiting, you can always bulk dump them down onto a data storage device. Depending upon how sophisticated you like your live MIDI, the P100 may do the job quite well, or it may need the help of a sequencer or MIDI brain. However, I'm finding it hard to trace any other instrument that offers this level of MIDI power alongside a weighted, piano-action keyboard at this level of sound quality.
Probably the most limiting factor of this piano is sheer size. The P100 weighs a ton (well... 34kg), and although I have not attempted to smuggle it away in my hatchback I'm fairly certain that this would entail the whole back seat down routine (plus kid's seat out... oh the pressures!).
The PF P100 looks built to last and, as have its illustrious predecessors in this generally rather under-subscribed area of 'stage pianos,' I have no doubt that it will do just that.
Yamaha PF P100 £1,599 inc VAT.
Yamaha-Kemble (UK) (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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