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Very Basic Live Rig

14 posts since 6 Oct, 2005

Postby Stringrazor; Sun May 21, 2017 11:25 am Very Basic Live Rig

I'm mostly a guitarist but in the latest project I'm in I'll be playing a handful of songs on keys. I initially set up a VST host-based system using Cantabile but had reliability issues with the laptop so I want something simpler. I've got 3 pretty ancient rack modules that have been gathering dust, an Emu Proteus/1, Yamaha TG55, and a Roland GR50 but none of the sounds in those decades-old modules cut it anymore.

I'm looking for an inexpensive module with at least decent piano, Rhodes, organ, and strings. It should be able to layer 2 sounds and have each layer panned hard left/right.

1964 posts since 17 Apr, 2005, from S.E. TN

Postby JCJR; Sun May 21, 2017 12:43 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

Hi Stringrazor. Apologies for a few questions. Am not intentionally trying to annoy. :)

Do you need this mainly live playing or also some "live sequencing"?

You mentioned rack modules in the list. Do you have a keyboard you like so much that you only want to play the one you have, and just want a module? Or would a keyboard with sounds fit the requirements just as well?

What is the upper price range which you define as affordable?

Some synths that sound good on studio monitors don't necessarily perform so excellently live. And some synths that are not so impressive on studio monitors turn out not so bad live.

Live depends so much on acoustics of the venue and quality of sound system and expertise of the soundman if there is a soundman. I can't estimate those which you will encounter.

Many places I've played did not have acoustics worthy of compliment. Even thru decent-enough mid size sound system, there are places I've played where the audience probably wouldn't be able to close its eyes and know whether I'd be playing a "fairly high end" piano patch, or just playing program #1 on a roland sc55 sound canvas. The live factors can "round off" sonic details making both the expensive and cheap sound about the same, just some generic piano sound once the sound makes it to the audience.

But I can tell the difference on the stage monitors, and it is more fun to play something that sounds good. And I play better if the sound is not bumming me out. But even stage monitors at point blank range round off enough details that a sound canvas sounds better onstage than on studio monitors. :)

Just sayin, depending on the acoustics and other factors of your gigs-- Your old synths MIGHT work about as good as something newer and "better" so far as the audience is concerned. Maybe they would like it just as good with the old cheezy synths. Maybe not even be able to tell the diff between old cheezy vs new slick.

But if the old cheezy sound bums you out so you can't put yer heart into it, than you need something better even if the audience doesn't care. They can react to a soulful performance even if they might not hear (or care about) quality differences in the piano.
14 posts since 6 Oct, 2005

Postby Stringrazor; Sun May 21, 2017 1:34 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

It's strictly for live playing, no sequencing. Thinking rack module because I'm looking to keep the price down and use one of my (or bandmate's) existing controllers, plus I've got 1U empty in the case I'm using for my Fractal Axe/FX II. I know the audience can't tell differences but I can. The other guitarist has a Korg keyboard (don't know the model) that he'll bring to the next rehearsal so maybe that'll be all I need, by itself or combined with one of mine.

I don't need top-shelf sounds but I am somewhat spoiled from using VSTs at home and in comparison, like I said, the ancient modules I have just don't cut it anymore. Only still have them because I haven't gotten around to dumping them cheap on ebay. I could probably be ok with what I have in the Proteus/1 (although the acoustic piano is bad).

I've been out loop the loop on module h/w for years. I guess I'd hoped that there'd be an inexpensive micro module available with the sounds I want by now because memory has gotten so cheap. My price target is $350 or below, something used would work fine.
1964 posts since 17 Apr, 2005, from S.E. TN

Postby JCJR; Mon May 22, 2017 12:33 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

Hi Stringrazor

I was recently studying on modules with good bread & butter sounds and so far as I can see we are in a "dry spell" with such devices not much currently manufactured. Maybe analogous to the long dry spell of hardly any new analog synths manufactured, and then suddenly there are so many that it would be hard to choose which to try.

I mainly lurk forums on kvr and gs, which may give a distorted perspective of the total market. I get the impression that the majority of active gear buyers want to make "automatic music" with looped step sequences and pastiche of audio loops, heavily automating timbre changes on simple repetitive musical themes. Maybe that is false impression. Maybe there is still a huge market of people who actually want to manually play music.

Just thinking, maybe there will be a fairly long dry spell in affordable "bread and butter" modules until maybe the pendulum swings and people start actually playing instruments again. :)

Am not being judgmental of music style. Automatic music is fine if you like it. Just that automatic musicians probably don't buy many boxes featuring killer piano, ep, hammond and strings. They may consider that about the most uncool uncreative synth possible. Not near as kewl and creative as yet another distorted resonant filter sweep. Hey, here's an idea--
Lets feed white noise into the filter and spend all night twisting the knobs! Sounds just like the Wind of Uranus! Bet nobody ever did that before. So anyway am not trying to be obnoxious.

Of current manufacture general purpose rack modules, roland integra and the latest yamaha motif rack. Both fairly expensive. There were earlier roland fantom racks and numerous xv-this and jv-that racks. And there have been at least two generations of motif rack, with other yammyhaw AWM racks before that.

Some of the older ones sell used purt cheap sometimes. Tis kinda like archaeology-- A Roland integra will make about any sound any roland rompler has made since the last 25 or 30 years, and it adds a few new sounds. Like a museum of sound. So if you go back to fantom, its about the same sound but a smaller universe of sound. Then go back to xv5080 or jv880 or Sound Canvas, and it is just digging farther down into the geological strata, each with a smaller simpler universe of sound.

So if you don't want a module that sounds "dated" you have to decide at which point it changed from "dated" to "modern". Was it XV2020? XV5080? Fantom Rack?

Same with yamaha. I'm too cheep to buy the latest motif rack, but it really is noticeably advanced over the earlier motif rack, which is more advanced than earlier AWM racks, stretching back to the TG55 and even earlier. Is the previous model motif rack modern or dated?

Then there are triton racks and such. I'm rather ignorant of Korg product history.

Additional mundane speculation in next missive--
1964 posts since 17 Apr, 2005, from S.E. TN

Postby JCJR; Mon May 22, 2017 1:18 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

I would ideally prefer a half-rack box of wonderful bread'n'butter sounds, because I have an empty space in the keyboard stand perfect for a half rack. Some of the better full-width rack synths are fairly heavy and near as deep as they are wide. Some look like they would be most secure supported on both the front and back.

Good Hammond tone might be trickiest from a small cheap general purpose box. Depends on how picky one will be. The non-trombonist might say, "Man this synth can sound just like a trombone" wheras any non-deaf trombonist might violently disagree.

The most-promising "possibly inexpensive used" bread and butter piano, rhodes, maybe other good sounds that I could find, reading and youtube sound samples--
General Music (GEM) RP-X
Kurzweil PC2R (maybe not too hokey on hammond either)
Kurzweil ME-1

A couple of smaller cheaper piano-oriented boxes that might sound good or maybe not. It is hard to decide from online audio demos--
Kurzweil Micropiano
Ketron Klavipro

GEM is basically out of biz though supposedly some of their general purpose tones were pretty good. Kurz hasn't made any rack synths since the PC2R so far as I know. I never played any Ketron and they are hard to buy in the USA. Ketron makes several general purpose boxes and some folks are complimentary of the sound. I can't decide from online demos, and the ketron prices seem on the high side to me.

A month ago spent awhile trying to find any of the above. They were either unavailable or a bigger price than "impulse purchase of a used pig in a poke." I guess constant attention might eventually scare one up at a decent price.

There is one affordable current-manufacture piano module that looks interesting. When I was looking, would have had to order direct from Germany, and the demos/reviews were fabulous but only a couple of audio demos and difficult to find many owner comments. If I could order from a USA dealer with a return policy, or if there were more audio samples and comments maybe would have ordered from Germany by now.

Maybe there is more info or a USA distributor by now, dunno.

The company is V3 Sound and the product is Vienna Grand Piano 3 GB. It is a small "about half rack" with deep sampled grand and what sounds like usable rhodes, and a handful of other bread and butter instruments.
Last edited by JCJR on Tue May 23, 2017 12:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
14 posts since 6 Oct, 2005

Postby Stringrazor; Tue May 23, 2017 11:22 am Re: Very Basic Live Rig

Thanks for the detailed and interesting musings. I'm surprised and disappointed that here in 2017, no one sells an inexpensive MIDI module with decent bread and butter sounds.

I am exploring 2 other possibilities for my situation. The other guitarist in the band has a Korg TR Workstation which can probably do everything I need. Since he'll probably reluctant to just give it to me indefinitely, that may not work out because I'll have to get to know it to set it up the way I need. The other possibility is using a soundfont player under Android on my old Samsung Galaxy phone. It would just be for the layered sounds so any latency (which isn't too bad one app I've found) wouldn't really matter. The sounds are surprisingly good and since they're soundfonts, replaceable. If course it's hardly a "pro" level audio device and the h/w and s/w config is a bit more involved than I'd like.
224 posts since 8 Mar, 2008, from Berlin

Postby Septimon; Tue May 23, 2017 11:39 am Re: Very Basic Live Rig

if you even consider using an android phone, why not get a used ipad air and get something like Korg Module,
IK igrand / Ilectric or Neo Soul Keys. Even the garage band keys probably sound better than an average GM Module.
Richard deHove
146 posts since 22 Mar, 2016

Postby Richard deHove; Tue May 23, 2017 12:04 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

A soundfont player on an old phone !? :o :o That sounds like the start of a "how it all went wrong" story.
More expensive, but how about getting something that just works and has plenty of potential to do more if needed. Not a rack, and more than you wanted to spend but maybe something like this:
User avatar
20308 posts since 27 Jul, 2005, from the wilds of wanny

Postby thecontrolcentre; Tue May 23, 2017 12:33 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

Nord Micromodular is the only half rack size synth I can think of. There are thousands of patches available for download. Bread n butter and also totally far out. You need midi in/out to edit and load presets via your computer, but it works standalone with 99 patches onboard.
1964 posts since 17 Apr, 2005, from S.E. TN

Postby JCJR; Tue May 23, 2017 12:37 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

It seems that a "sweet spot" of fairly good sounding inexpensive general purpose boxes was a few years ago before analog synths became the next big thing again. I was too busy programming to pay attention to hardware at the time, but it would have been easy to buy a new GEM RP-X or whatever a few years ago.

Re layering, some devices have built-in performance modes where you can program layers. A few of the simple but "good-sounding" devices seem to be laid-out more like a general midi module (even if it doesn't follow all the GM specs). Able to receive on up to 16 channels but not many built-in live split/layer functions, because they were so often targeted as computer peripherals. With a computer, its easy to do the split/layer stuff in the daw.

So some devices would be happy to do splits/layers if you have a controller that can do the splits/layers and transmit different program changes and notes on different MIDI channels. The controller doing the same thing realtime that you would use a DAW to do controlling the module at home. Luckily many older (and newer) keyboards have the requisite MIDI Master Controller features so its only a problem if you don't have a controller with the necessary Master Controller features.

I've been gradually setting up a live rig with a Studiologic SL88 Studio and Roland FA-06. Ideally would like another module with somewhat better piano, rhodes and wurlie than FA-06, but the FA-06 is probably good enough to get the job done on those instruments. It is quite tweakable and the factory patches can be improved to taste (within limits).

The SL88 has 2 selectable midi out and also USB out. Pretty good master controller features. The FA06 will play up to 16 parts in a "Studio Set" and has a main stereo out pair plus a second stereo out on a single RTS quarter inch plug. Though it can be defeated, drums are typically on channel 10 and the FA06 user sample playback engine is "near impossible to defeat" on channel 16. So for live non-drum, non-sample playing, actually 15 or 14 available channels but that is still quite generous. It has hundreds of "studio setup" patch locations, so at one setup per song you could handle custom setup of hundreds of songs quickly selected "one or two button presses away".

You can also set the FA drum pads to select a part to play on the FA keyboard (among several available drumpad functions). It is deeply programmable but won't do everything I'd want. Most but not all.

For instance the hammond engine can be tweaked pretty usable, it has a "not terrible" leslie emulation but the engine doesn't have chorus vibrato. So in order to get "pretty good" hammond I have to put a hammond patch in a Studio Set and add a mixer master effect to emulate the chorus vibrato. IOW, it is tonewheels->leslie->chorus vibrato, rather than the usual tonewheels->chorus vibrato->leslie, but surprisingly gets the job done pretty good.

So I have one "master organ" studio set with 14 organ patches set to my favorite drawbar registrations and percussion and such, spread out channel 1 thru 14, all routed thru the same master effect "nervously fast" chorus vibrato to the main outputs. Then channel 15 can have piano or rhodes or whatever controlled from the SL88 keyboard. During a song I can flip to any of the 14 hammond registrations by tapping drumpad 1 thru 14, organ played on the FA06 keyboard, with SL88 controlled piano on channel 15, routed to the FA06 sub stereo pair which does not respond to the FA06 master volume or FA06 volume pedal.

I made some other "master studio setups" laid out similarly except channels 1 thru 14 contain different string patches, or different synth lead, synth pad, or horn patches. Play piano from SL88 on Ch 15 and select among 14 horn sounds to play on the FA06 keyboard by tapping the desired drum pad.

The idea was to get some good "utility setups" made, then duplicate a setup and edit/name/save it to customize for specific songs which need something fancier than a utility setup. For instance, one copy of the organ utility setup with Grand Piano on ch 15, and other copies with Rhodes or Wurlie or whatever on ch 15. The studio sets can be assigned to "favorites" and favorites can be accessed with 1 or 2 button presses, pretty quick.

It is very much a work in progress programming the two keyboards.

A couple of "minor difficulties" with the FA06 system-- It seems difficult or impossible to for instance play the FA06 keyboard with no expression pedal and assign the expression pedal to another channel which is being controlled by the SL88. It is easiest to just figure that the FA06 expression pedal is hardwired to whatever is being played on the FA06 keyboard.

Therefore for example playing FA06 piano (preset ideal volume) from the SL88 keyboard, then fading in organ or strings or whatever at some parts of the song, the SL88 layer sound level is most easily controlled with another expression pedal connected to the SL88. The SL88 is programmed to transmit on for instance ch 15 and ch 14, FA06 piano receiving on ch 15 and FA06 layer sound receiving on ch 14. And set the SL88 to transmit expression pedal on ch 14 but not on ch 15.

Also there are cases where maybe you wouldn't want to transmit SL88 sustain pedal to the layer instrument, which is easy to set up.

Another important case is playing keybass + piano split (plus optional piano layer from the SL88 if needed)-- Definitely don't want the SL88 to transmit sustain pedal on the bass split channel!

So anyway, the FA06 is purt kewl, but to use it as "the only synth" in a 2 keyboard stack, the 88 key controller makes the job a lot easier if it has a fairly nice Master Controller feature set. I'm not saying the FA06 is designed bad. It does an amazing amount of stuff. It would just be near-impossible to design a synth with parameterization sufficiently detailed to handle every conceivable desire.

Apologies rambling, not very much on your topic.
1964 posts since 17 Apr, 2005, from S.E. TN

Postby JCJR; Tue May 23, 2017 1:41 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

I earlier misspelled the company name of that Vienna Grand Piano 3 GB halfrack.

Here is the website-- http://www.v3sound.com/2016/en/product- ... piano.html

And they posted several more sound demos since I last looked-- Youtube playlist url (14 audio samples)-- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18ku1QPGf1Q&index=1&list=PL6Y_PTK98HhcT-HEW4uYEklNwjYFt8DjN

Sounds promising on the videos. Germany and UK distributor links. Says
Euro 359,- Streetprice Austria incl. 20% Tax.
Euro 299,- Export outside Europe / ask for shipping costs

Unless shipping is outrageous to USA, not a bad price maybe.

For my uses it would be most convenient to dedicate it to piano/EP/clav, derive any bass from the FA06 routed to FA06 sub outputs, and most other sounds from the FA06 routed to the FA06 main outputs. Would be tidy, easy to live mix, three stereo pairs.

The short organ snippets don't sound bad but it appears maybe slow leslie is on one patch and fast leslie for the same sound is on the next patch. If so, it would be usable in a pinch but would rather have leslie that cranks up&down in speed rather than sharp transition.
14 posts since 6 Oct, 2005

Postby Stringrazor; Tue May 23, 2017 10:25 pm Re: Very Basic Live Rig

I don't like Apple products, way too proprietary and I already have a bunch of Android devices. I've found an Android app that will let me load just about any soundfont and control it via a USB MIDI class-compliant controller. Sound is amazingly good, better than the sounds in the controller, and there's a buffer adjustment that gets the latency to the point where I can't notice it when triggering both the controller's internal piano sound as well as one from the 177MB soundfont file I loaded. I think this could work and I'm going to leave that option on the table. It's much simpler than my Cantabile rig was. I'd like to not use the controller sounds (Piano, Rhodes, Strings) but so far I can't trigger more than one soundfont sound at a time. I'll put the audio outputs through volume pedals and layer them in the audio domain.

I will also look into the modules suggested for future consideration. Thanks!

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