Kevin B. Selby sitting at Yamaha CP88

Now that I have released Into the Green, Londonderry Aire, and Cabin Medley, I feel I can comment on the wonderful keyboard that allowed me to create those recordings: the Yamaha CP88.

First I should point out that I played the CP88 at Ted Brown’s in Kennewick, WA on an almost daily basis when deciding whether to purchase it. I’m sure they grew tired of seeing me, but I felt like I REALLY had to get a feel for what this keyboard could do for me and my music.

Once I got this puppy home and into my cramped music studio/office, I then began to play it probably 2-3 hours PER DAY for many many weeks (I would guess maybe 4-6 months of solid playing). I went through ALL the grand piano presets and I settled on 4 of them that I liked:

  1. Hamburg (this is a sampled Steinway grand piano)
    • What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good Steinway. This is because I met my wife Kathy in the Velvet room in Regents hall at the Washington State University (WSU) campus back in 1983. The Velvet room is a student lounge next to the cafeteria and it had a gorgeous Steinway grand piano back in the day (which I probably played at *least* an hour a day). Recently, when I turned 58 years of age, we took a trip back to Pullman, WA (through the Palouse!) and the kind folks at Regents hall unlocked the Velvet room and let us back in the very room where nearly 40 years earlier, we had met. That Steinway was still there. A little beat up since I last saw her, but still as woody and yummy and tinkly as I remember.
  2. Imperial (this is a sampled Bosendorfer grand piano)
    • Big, bold, and brassy, this piano has plenty of “oomph” for pounding out big songs. On the other hand, I find it is almost tender on Hymns (which I will begin working on next, as time permits).
  3. S700
    • The S700 is a handcrafted acoustic grand piano built by Yamaha master artisans. It has the power to cut through dense arrangements while remaining delicate and expressive in solo and sparse settings. I like it because it has a wonderful “squishy” sound that just sits nicely in a mix but is very nice solo.
  4. CFX
    • This is Yamaha’s flagship 9′ grand piano. Bold yet plenty bright.

All the while I was pounding on this thing during the 4-6 months, I was playing every possibly type of solo piano music you can think of in an attempt to see how it handled various “stuff”. I also basically finished writing and arranging the tunes on Into the Green during this time. I ALSO played many many Christian hymns during this time and nailed down some arrangements that will be released soon.

It’s funny, at one point I was going to record FOUR different versions of the entire album Into the Green, one for each of the grand piano types shown above. But when I started actual recording, I quickly realized that I do not have enough time nor patience for this monumental task. So I chose the Hamburg (Steinway) preset for Into the Green, Londonderry Aire, and Cabin Medley. I maaaay revisit some of these tunes with the other 3 grand pianos if I have time. We shall see.

RECORDING:

I typically record the CP88 straight into the MacBook Pro into Logic Pro X via USB cable (which captures MIDI and stereo Audio at 24-bit/48Hz). I use slight compression on the master track (typically 2db with 20ms response time and I get the overall audio up to -0.2 db (in other words, juuuuust before 0).

I use NO on-board effects of the CP88 except the overall Reverb which I have set at Depth: 20/Time: 40. I also typically have Damper Resonance ON.

Therefore, dear reader, you are hearing the CP88 in its truest form with a minimum of studio magic and trickery.

I believe the songs recorded so far show the incredible depth, realism, and overall playability of the Yamaha CP88. Great job Yamaha engineers! You have given us a keyboard that we can use to express our gifts.

I also absolutely LOVE the action of the CP88. It is somewhere between the XF-8 and the DGX-640 (or the various Mo-DX keyboards). The Yamaha GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) keybed (used on the Mo-DX and DGX-640) is indeed very stiff and SIMILAR to a grand piano, HOWEVER, in my experience, it DOES NOT have the triple-strike capability nor the same escapement as the keybed on the CP88. Therefore you cannot get really fast notes to work very well on the GHS.

The CP88, on the other hand, has the Natural Wood – Graded Hammer (NW-GH) keybed, which, in my opinion, is simply their best keybed yet for solo piano realism. It DOES have triple-strike capability as well as good escapement and therefore you can really shred on fast passages. Also, I believe the NW-GH keybed, coupled with brilliant programming of the samples, gives you the capability to play extremely softly, much like you could with a real grand piano.

That reminds me: of all the examples I managed to listen to out on YouTube before I purchased the CP88, none of them used as much of the keybed (from lowest A to top-most C) nor did they show the dynamic range as much as my recordings. There are some songs where I play single notes one at a time (I believe a grand piano should be strong enough for A SINGLE NOTE to stand on its own), while other songs have huge giant chords that use much of the keyboard. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you were looking for a REAL EXHAUSTIVE exercise of the CP88, my recordings should give you plenty to listen to. You can hear the softness of single notes (the early section of Londonderry Aire) as well as multiple notes played VERY softly (the ending to “Have You Heard the News (Carol’s Song)” all the way up to smashing giant riffs from the bottom of the keyboard to the top on “Conversion Reprise” (last song on Cabin Medley). Hopefully, at least for the Hamburg (Steinway) preset, you have a very large set of music to listen to which will give you a REALLY good idea of what the CP88 is capable of.

Yamaha also includes half-pedaling which, briefly, simply means that you can hit a chord or note and hold the pedal down and then quickly release the pedal and then quickly hold it down again and the sound WILL NOT go completely away…this is much like a true grand piano. I have examples of that on several songs on Into the Green (Forge Ahead at the end of the song as well as The Lull and possibly Freedom Cry).
I will try to create a YouTube video that shows this feature.

Finally: Yamaha included Damper Resonance and it can be turned ON or OFF. After playing the 4 grand pianos listed above for many MANY hours over many MANY months, and experimenting with Damper Resonance being either ON or OFF, it is my humble and semi-professional opinion that overall it sounds better with Damper Resonance ON than OFF. Yes, it colors the overall sound, but I believe Yamaha made this effect subtle enough that it doesn’t “ruin” the sound at all, I believe it enhances the sound in a good way.

Finally, I am a software developer by trade, which basically means I’m a nerd and I’m completely unafraid of delving into the depths of many different programming languages, operating systems, and all that stuff. Therefore, keyboards and synthesizers and software and plug-ins and all those things do not scare me and I can usually figure them out.

THAT SAID: if you are an older person and/or a person that does NOT like delving into the depths of a keyboard to figure things out, and you want a SIMPLE interface with SIMPLE buttons that do SIMPLE things: I have great news: the CP88 is FOR YOU! Yes YOU! You can literally take the CP88 out of the box, plunk it on your keyboard stand, turn it on AND START MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC. You can easily turn the other “sections” of the keyboard OFF (the electric piano section and the additional sounds section), simply have the Grand Piano section ON, leave all effects OFF (except maybe leave the overall Reverb on) and begin making music. It’s funny, even though I’m a techno-nerd (heck, I understood the deep mystery of the Yamaha XF-8 as well as the Tyros 5), I actually breathe a HUGE sigh of relief when I sit at the CP88 because IT IS SO SIMPLE TO USE!

So yeah…if you’re looking for a keyboard that will allow you to play gorgeous and nuanced solo piano, out of ALL of Yamaha’s keyboards, my personal opinion is that the CP88 is FOR YOU.
RUN, don’t walk to your nearest music store and give it a try, preferably with headphones or in-ears on and you will begin to understand all the blather I have belched out above.

I will try to create a YouTube video some day where I walk through all of what I have talked about above so that fellow grand piano enthusiasts can get a good picture of the features, sound, playability and other aspects of this wonderful CP88 keyboard. For now, simply listen to what I have already recorded and read my comments and you should have a good idea of what this keyboard is capable of.

Until next time,

Kevin B. Selby