I started playing keyboard when I was 17. I wanted to be in a band. I started practicing and trying out different equipment. The first band I was in I used a shitty Casio keyboard and shitty Peavy amp. Wow that thing sucked, but I couldn’t afford anything better.
Soon I acquired a Rhodes Mark I electric piano, a heavy instrument with heavy key action. The Casio went on top of that with a rolled up shirt propping up its rear. Real professional.
After a couple years of gigging around upstate NY, I started hunting online for a cutdown Hammond B3. To me, there is nothing like the sound of a real B3/Leslie combo - no synthesis can capture the full range of the real deal. I ended up driving down to Orlando, FL to pickup a unique single cut from Keyboard Exchange International. It came with a modified Leslie 45 cabinet. I’ve further modified both the B3 and the Leslie over the years with various niceties.
In addition to the B3 I also picked up a Hohner D6 Clavinet and replaced my Mark I Rhodes with a Mark II, which has lighter action. All of this stuff I carried to gigs for a few years around the Rochester/Buffalo area. Many bandmates were recruited in the precarious lugging of heavy gear up and down dark bar stairwells, often while intoxicated.
Around 2010 I traded in my heavy Rhodes and Clavinet and picked up a Nord Elecro. Nord makes great keyboard instruments and it was a big upgrade because it allowed me to produce those authentic electromechanical sounds in a much more compact setup. It also broadened my soundscape to include Wurlitzer sounds instead of just Rhodes, as well as a few authentic sounding synthesizer patches. The Electro was replaced with a Stage 3 in 2017, a nice upgrade to an excellent keyboard.
Unsatisfied with the sound of the digital synthesizer section on the Nord Stage 3, I began looking at analog synths. I ended with an Oberheim OB-6 and a Prophet-6 module, two similar but also distinct sounding synths. The Prophet module is great as a third tier to my existing rig when attached to KeyStep MIDI controller. Throw a couple analog effects pedals to the chain for verb, delay, and tremolo and it adds an authentic retro synth sound that can grab attention in specific sections.
Recently (2023) I’ve been experimenting with samples on the Stage 3. The Nord Sample Editor makes it easy to assemble sound bites and assign them to keys.
Building and using my keyboard rig is one of my greatest sources of joy. I am very appreciative to all the people who have helped and influenced me along the way.
- No synthesizer can adequately reproduce the Hammond B3/Leslie combo
- Nord makes excellent keyboard instruments, adequately replacing several classic keyboards
- Lighter is better, simpler is better
- Mobility, repeatability, reliability
- Having a back on your throne improves ergonomics