Hi everyone! I figured that my first MPN GearLab would kick off with the still-new Yamaha CP stage pianos, as (A) I've had one for over a year and (B) there's a lot of collateral excitement over the YC61 combo keyboard, which Yamaha tells me won't be available for review until spring. (There's the old saying that NAMM stands for "not available, maybe May," LOL.)
By way of a little introduction about what MPN GearLabs are, they’re ongoing interactive reviews in the form of threads on this forum. Only moderators can start them (for now, anyway), and they’re more strictly supervised than a “regular” post on, say, the Keyboard Corner. Manufacturers and community members alike are invited to participate and ask questions, but the review originator (me in this case) has their hands on the product and will be doing the bulk of the writing, speaking straight from experience. That said, the back-and-forth (and to a lesser extent, stream of consciousness) feel of the MPN GearLab lets the community steer the reviewer about what’s important to know about. Okay, on with it!
Yamaha CP73 and CP88 Stage Pianos: Introduction
The CP73 and CP88 are something of a known quantity at this point, but with the OS now up to version 1.2 (with 1.3 expected as of NAMM 2020), there are enough new sounds and features that a comprehensive look at what makes them competitive professional stage pianos is called for. The two models are identical except for their keyboard actions, and I opted for the CP73 because for most of my gigs, compactness is more important than being able to stretch out on a full 88 keys. For my money, the CP73 hits a weight and price sweet spot (though I totally understand if for many of you nothing but 88 weighted keys will do). It carries a street price of $1,999 (via a quick check of Sweetwater’s site) vs the CP88’s $2,499. Those extra keys also add some heft: The CP73 weighs in at 28.8 pounds, which comes in well under my limbo bar of carrying it under one arm while carrying some other piece of gear in the other hand. The CP88, by contrast, weighs 41 pounds—not inordinately heavy for a weighted 88, but you’ll know you’re carrying a piano.
Speaking of keys, the CP73 and CP88 differ in slightly more than keyboard length. The CP73 uses Yamaha’s “Balanced Hammer Standard” keybed where as the CP88 ups the ante to the “Natural Wood Graded Hammer” action. That accounts for the extra weight of the 88-key version, and makes it clear that the latter is aimed at more puristic pianists while the former is best for keyboardists who, like me, are seeking a general-purpose weighted combo that will offer good finger-to-music connection on acoustic piano sounds but be non-fatiguing on electric keys where the original instruments (such as Rhodes, Wurly, and Clavinet) in fact have lighter actions than any acoustic piano. In my experience, the CP73 succeeds in that regard: It still feels far more like a piano than it feels like anything else, but I'm not digging in so hard on tunes like “I Wish” that what I'm in fact wishing for is some bandages. The keys do not sense aftertouch, which tends to be par for the course on digital stage pianos, even high-end ones.
For the uninitiated, a graded action simulates the response of a real grand piano by offering somewhat heavier touch resistance at the bass end of the keyboard, then getting slowly lighter as one ascends in pitch. Yamaha is known for crafting their own digital piano actions (which draw on their experience as the world’s largest maker of acoustic pianos) instead of using off-the-shelf keybeds (e.g. Fatar) as many manufacturers do.
The CP73 and CP88 have taken a very different approach to the user interface compared to recent Yamaha instruments with “CP” in the name. In the attached image, you’ll see three sound sections from left to right: Piano, E. Piano, and Sub. We’ll devote separate posts in this VIP Review thread to covering each section in detail, but for now, just know that acoustic piano sounds (including Yamaha’s celebrated CFX concert grand) as well as classic CP electric grands live in the Piano section; Rhodes, Wurly, Clav, and DX-style FM pianos are in the E. Piano section, and literally everything else (synths, strings, etc.) is in the Sub section.
The silver toggle at the bottom of each section switches it on or off, and there are quick buttons to decide whether a given section to the left or right of an assignable keyboard split point (or in both), octave shift buttons per section, volume and tone knobs with nifty LED collars, and dedicated effects per section. (To the right of the Sub section and not visible are the master effects and EQ—more on these later.) Selecting sounds (or Voices, as Yamaha calls them) is accomplished by a large, clicky category knob in each section plus an adjacent rocker switch. The tactile feedback of these controls plus the silver on/off toggles gives the CP a somewhat retro feel, and I like it a lot.
More importantly, changing things up on the fly — as you might do when you’re subbing in a band and the leader is calling out tunes — is remarkably easy. Without ever looking at the manual (that came later), I was able to take the CP73 to pickup gigs and split and layer to my heart’s (and bandmates’) content. This is as good a place as any to mention that although the CP panel presents a format geared towards what we’d call three-part multi-timbral operation, there’s an Advanced Mode that lets you put any Voice in any zone and create more complex multi-zone setups. Advanced Mode will get its own post in this thread.
To change the split point, you simply hit the Split Point button then strike a key.
Live Sets Preview
Located in the memory/preset/main controls section (the area with the display) Live Sets deserve their own post in this review, and they’ll soon get it. For now, they’re equivalent to Multis, Combis, Setups, or Registrations, saving virtually the entire state of the instrument and commonly used for programming a gig’s worth of sound setups. As is the trend these days, the CP is “modeless” in that you don’t have to switch between, say, single and multi modes to perform different musical tasks. Want to just play a nice grand piano? Turn the other two sections off!
I know ... how does it sound? Next up, we’ll devote a post to the Piano section and the Voices and effects therein. Then we'll keep going through the other sections. But you needn’t wait to fire off questions about any aspect of the CP73/CP88 in this thread. Of course, keep it civil and classy!
"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson
Stephen Fortner Principal, Fortner Media Senior Editor, Music Player Network Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine