If piano is your instrument, chances are you are pretty particular about the sound and feel of any electronic keyboard you play. Sadly, many stage pianos compromise on both. If you aren’t a piano player, you’ll have to take my word that playing a piano that doesn’t feel right, or one that has a tone that doesn’t ring true, prohibits you from playing your best. For songwriters who write on piano, the instrument can make or break the creative process. There are only a few stage pianos that stand out as a true representation of an acoustic piano. Korg’s Grandstage keyboard is one, and it offers a lot more.
After just quickly running through the sounds available on the Grandstage, it is pretty obvious that a good deal of work was put into both the physical and electronic design of this instrument for on-stage performance. While this keyboard would work well in any studio, the straight-forward control features make either the 73- or 88-key model a great choice for live performers. With layer and split capabilities; a three-band equalizer; reverb and delay that are easy to control; ‘favorite’ buttons to recall saved sounds; and a design that supports a seamless sound transition when changing sounds, this keyboard offers controller features that lot of performers are asking for. With all sound selections, effects, EQ, and dynamic controls easy to find and clearly detailed with red LEDs on the front panel, this keyboard is ready for the stage.
Under the hood, the Grandstage is equipped with seven individual sound engines that allow it to produce stellar classic keyboard sounds. The SGX-2 engine provides six outstanding professional-level acoustic pianos in both stereo and mono mixes. Five grand piano sounds authentically represent the industry’s best acoustic grands and a great classic upright piano is also available. Unlooped stereo samples for every key along with 12 levels of velocity switching provide real piano expressiveness right down to amazing damper resonance when the pedal (that supports half pedaling, by the way) is pressed. There is even mechanical noise!
In addition to acoustic pianos, six vintage electric pianos are provided by the EP-1 engine. Tine and reed sounds shine with velocity switching and carefully reproduced amp and cabinet combinations. Of course, the piano action doesn’t change, but with that exception these EP voices sound and play like the original instruments.
CX-3, VOX, and Compact organ engines give a solid representation of tonewheel, Vox, and transistor organ sounds. AL-1 and HD-1 engines provide familiar analog modeling and PCM sounds, like a multi-sampled clavinet, harpsichord, mellotron, pipe organ, and classic FM piano. In all, the instrument supports 500 different sound programs and, while I expected great things from the piano sounds, I was equally impressed with the string ensembles and vintage electronic keyboard sounds.
A unique creative feature of the Grandstage is a Dynamics knob that changes the way that the instrument handles dynamics (velocity) and how that impacts the volume and tone of each instrument. Without having to dig in and program the instrument, this feature allows any player to dynamically customize the playing feel of the instrument in real time to best suit their particular performing style. It is similarly easy to control the volume balance of splits and layers.
Even with great sounds, some keyboards fail the confirmed piano player’s test for good feel. Real piano feel is another area where the Grandstage shines. Korg’s Real Weighted Hammer Action 3 (RH3) keybed can be found on both 88-key and 73-key models, and it follows the internal design concepts of a real grand piano. For example, keyboard regions in the lower register feel heavier and the upper register are lighter, giving this instrument a very realistic playing feel, one that feels familiar and ‘right’ to a piano player.
The realistic feel and sounds of the Grandstage make it a clear winner for stage or studio players who are in search of the sound and feel of a real piano, as well as many other classic and useful sounds. At 44 lbs, the 88-key model (the 73-key version is 37.5 lbs) is about the same as other similar professional, weighted-key controllers, but could be a consideration for musicians on the move. The Grandstage comes with music stand, damper pedal (DS-1H) that supports half-pedaling, and a very sturdy keyboard stand (Standard-M-SV).
Street Price: Grandstage 88-key $2499.99; Grandstage 73-key $2299.99