Electric Pianos

Yamaha Reface CP

The sounds of classic Electric Acoustic pianos.

Picture of Reface CP on checkered carpet

I have been making some music recently that incorporates electric pianos that sound like the Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinova, and so on. In the process, I explored  the Electric instrument in Ableton and found my results to be a bit underwhelming. I ultimately ended up leaning on synthesizers that are able to produce electric piano sounds that sound really great straight out of the box and produced sampled instruments to make it easier for myself in the future to stay in the box while producing.

In this post, I’ll go over some things that have worked well with producing Electric Piano sounds and am sharing some libraries from my synth collection.

Sound source and Effects

The key behind getting good source sounds for an analog piano instrument is the combination of varied amplitude and tone. This can be achieved in many ways but sustain and velocity are essential. Mr. Bill has a great short video covering this in his HCA feed (subscribe, it’s worth it!) that covers some tricks in Ableton to achieve this.

Another useful technique is using effects that make the piano / keyboard sound more realistic. I have found that reverbs, phasers, flangers, and other similar effects can really add some character to the piano sound as well as some variation that makes it sound like there is a real piano being played instead of one that’s synthesized.

In Ableton, you will find that playing on the electric instrument (which emulates a Rhodes® and Wurlitzer® using physical modeling) having these two sources of variation are essential to making the synthesized keyboard tones sound good. I am still a bit underwhelmed by the presets provided and results that I have achieved and have found that an actual rhodes or other analog keyboard to deliver more convincing results.

Yamaha Reface CP Synthesizer

I fell in love with the Reface CP electric keyboard’s sounds which closely emulates the sound of the Wurli and Rhodes. The Reface also provides an excellent selection of the essential effects:

  • Tremelo
  • Chorus
  • Delay
  • Reverb

These effects are frequently used in the cabinets that interface with these electric key standards, adding to the classic sound character of the instruments.

A compact electric keyboard on a glass table
A picture of your friend Gus’s Yamaha Reface CP

Here is an audio sample of some keyboard noodling on the Reface through a few different presets while the effects are modulated.

Note the nice character that you get from the synthesizer!  Having the synth available is great but I still find my workflow to mostly be “in the box” when it comes to making music. To make it easier for me to access these sounds, I created a set of Reface CP Kontakt devices and thought they may be useful for other producers.

Free Kontakt library for Reface CP

The Kontakt library I produced combines variable velocity sources from each of the 6 Reface presets as well as the hidden 7th preset. For those that don’t know, if you turn on the Reface CP between presets, it will load a vibey “acoustic piano” style source that in my opinion is potentially the BEST preset on the device. I’m not sure why Yamaha hid it.

Here’s a quick demo track made using the instrument and some drum loops:

In the download at the top of the post, are a few Kontakt and SoundFont libraries as well as an instrument rack for Ableton if you want them all in a nice hocket with a selector.