Keyboards are pretty great on their own, but a few accessories can make them more expressive, add functionality, extend their lives, and even protect them from the potential horrors of airline baggage handlers. Here are some of our favorite accessories to bring out the best from your ’boards.
1. Step up your footpedal
Keyboards require all hands on deck, so don’t ignore what your feet can do to increase expressiveness. However, there are two types of footpedals, and they’re not interchangeable.
Controller pedals insert into a keyboard’s foot controller jack and provide control over particular parameters (like modulation or level) within the keyboard. Although companies sell pedals designed to work specifically with their keyboards, those pedals will often work with other keyboards too; and there are general-purpose expression pedals, like the On-Stage KEP100 expression pedal (Fig. 1). This has an adjustment knob to fine-tune the expression range, which is handy for compatibility with a variety of keyboards.
Volume pedals connect between the keyboard’s audio output and amplification system, and control only volume. Make sure you choose a stereo pedal designed for keyboards, like Boss’s compact FV30L (Fig. 2), because most keyboards have stereo audio outputs.
2. Select the right sustain switch
A sustain switch provides another expressive option. Some, like Yamaha’s FC4A, have the “look and feel” of traditional sustain pedals. Others use square or rectangular surfaces (e.g., Yamaha’s FC5), which tend to be more compact for stage setups (Fig. 3). They’re also generally less expensive than the piano-like sustain pedals.
Note that most footswitches close the switch when you press down, but others have normally closed switches that open when you press on the footswitch. Keyboards may be able to accommodate either type by, for example, holding down a particular switch on power-up. However, in most cases, keyboards expect a normally-open switch, which covers the majority of sustain footswitches.
3. Check out expansion options
Some keyboards provide memory or sound expansion kits. For example, Kurzweil’s KORE 64 ROM card (Fig. 4) inserts into the Kurzweil PC3’s or PC3K’s ROM slot to add an essentially new keyboard along with the existing sounds. The KORE 64 provides over 100 new synth programs, more real-time controls, updated sounds for electronic music genres like trance and house, over 200 new drum grooves, and more.
4. Boost your sound with an amplifier
Electronic pianos for the home often come with built-in speakers, but that’s not the case with most synthesizers and workstations designed for gigging. Keyboards can cover an extremely wide frequency range, from notes that go lower than a bass, to frequencies so high your dog can hear them (even if you can’t). Roland’s line of keyboard amps has been refined over the years, to where Roland is the dominant name in keyboard amps designed for combo and on-stage use. All (except for mobile amps) include multiple input channels (Fig. 5), which is handy if you play more than one keyboard onstage—you won’t need an additional keyboard mixer.
If you don’t have a multi-keyboard setup, then consider a flat-response, compact powered loudspeaker like the QSC CP12 (Fig. 6). It doesn’t have the same kind of mixing capabilities as Roland’s models, but there are two inputs for a keyboard’s left and right outputs, which you can mix together. Or, for true stereo, deploy two powered loudspeakers; send the keyboard’s left output to one speaker, and the right output to the other speaker. If you later expand your keyboard setup, you can add a small mixer to feed the powered loudspeaker(s).
5. Get your keyboard a suit of armor
It’s important to protect your keyboard during transportation. Sure, throwing that old, thick blanket around it has worked for you so far, but all it takes is a slip of the hand to turn a keyboard into a doorstop.
You have two main choices: gig bags, which provide significant protection at a relatively low cost, and hardshell/flight/injection-molded cases, which are designed to withstand the rigors of touring and being handled by airlines. Some injection-molded cases are even waterproof.
Gator’s G-Tour 88V2SL (Fig. 7) is a good example of a “built-tough” flight case and handles a typical 88-note keyboard. The price you pay for this kind of protection, aside from a higher initial cost, is weight; it’s made of wood, so it weighs 53.9 pounds.
An injection-molded, military-grade keyboard case, like SKB’s 3i 6018 TKBD, costs about the same as a typical flight case but weighs only 31.95 pounds. The internal foam absorbs shock, and provides excellent gig-to-gig protection. However, for extensive airline travel, you might want to spend a bit more for SKB’s 1SKB-5820W—a hardshell case that meets ATA Category I specs as an airline shipping container, and also has wheels to supplement the handle, so it’s easy to move around. It weighs only a few pounds more than the 3i 6018 TKBD. (ATA stands for Air Transport Association; Category I containers are designed to handle a minimum of 100 round trips, while Category II containers handle a minimum of 10 round trips.)
While hardshell and flight cases are the ultimate in protection, don’t overlook gig bags. They cost less, weigh less, and provide adequate protection for most transportation scenarios where the keyboard remains under your control. For example, Gator’s GK-88 (Fig. 8) weighs only 28 pounds, includes wheels, and has extensive internal padding. Gig bags also tend to include accessory pockets on the outside to hold pedals and cables.