Rhodes mk.II Stage 54
The latest addition to my collection is a Rhodes Mk. II Stage 54. It had been in storage for quite a few years before I bought it off the previous owner. Over the last few months, I have been restoring the piano in my own time, slowly bringing it back to its former glory. A few faulty pickups have been replaced, as well as most of the chrome hardware as it was rusted through. The piano has been re-wired, re-tuned, toned and the action reset. Due to its low output, I play it through a boost pedal, and now the piano sings. I also pair it with the obligatory phaser pedal for that recognizable tone we all love. This model in particular was originally designed with the gigging musician in mind, and is in fact significantly lighter than its 73-key and 88-key counterparts, though still weighing in at 60 kg. Regardless, the piano is a joy to play and a beauty to behold.
Being a massive Tower of Power fan, a superb funk/soul band from Oakland, California, it was inevitable that I would learn to love the sound of the Hammond B3 Organ. Of course, there are many reasons why I can't own an actual B3, so I started searching for a suitable "clonewheel". I was lucky enough to stumble upon a Korg CX-3 in absolute mint condition. My keyboard-playing was totally transformed, and the CX-3 instantly became an integral part of my persona as a musician, both within Relikc and within session-work; be it for funk, rock, blues, jazz, reggae etc. The Korg CX-3 is a very good clone of the Hammond B3 and sounds legit. Its Leslie speaker simulation is also very good, and having an actual physical set of drawbars makes playing and tweaking it an extremely enjoyable experience. The only downside, of course, is that is a little heavy and cumbersome to lug around for each and every gig, but it is also obviously a long shot away from the size and weight of a B3. It is well worth the effort and I very rarely exclude it from my live rigs. One other positive point is that it offers a reasonably large flat surface on which I typically stack up other keyboards, most frequently my M-audio controller.
NORD LEAD 2
I was always entranced by the design and bold looks of Nord synthesizers; the unapologetic and distinctive red colour and the ample supply of knobs. In 2014 I managed to buy a Nord Lead 2 second-hand in almost pristine condition. Whilst not offering as many features as the Ultranova or the Micron, it somehow sounds bigger and hotter. Its simplistic design also grants access to all its parameters through its knobs, which allows for quick and intricate tweaking. The layout is not the most intuitive interface I've ever seen, but the learning curve isn't very steep. It boasts 16-note polyphony and features Nord's signature pitch stick which allows for a very specific pitch bending experience unlike any other. It is also multi-timbral up to 4 parts, and has a surprisingly complex output section which allows one to output the 4 parts separately from 4 separate outs. My most significant gripe however, is the screen, which is limited to 3 segmented digits, and makes patch management a tedious task. Also, unlike my other synthesizers, which have powerful and varied DSP effects, this unit does not include any effects at all. This is a pity, as I frequently find myself itching for a good delay or reverb, especially when playing leads. I have been able to mitigate this problem using external effects of course; on specific occasions I have driven the output of the Nord through the Novation Ultranova, which has the amazing feature of allowing external signals to be passed through its effects sections and outputted from its auxiliary outs.
Some time in 2011, I purchased a Novation Ultranova in order to boost my synthesis capabilities. Particularly I was looking to expand the available palette of sounds as it includes 36 wavetables, as well as having a lot of interesting performance capabilities. The Novation Ultranova provides a rather stream-lined sound design process whilst also delivering a vast array of features. It's easy to lose yourself for hours on end just sculpting sounds to perfection. The Ultranova has become an indispensable tool for me, especially during session-work, as it allows me to recreate sounds as desired by whoever is hiring. Additionally, it has a very usable vocoder which (to me) sounds like one of the best vocoders currently on the market, on a comparable instrument. These are some other cool features such as chord functions, and touch sensitive knobs which all add to its performance capabilities. I guess one could complain about the lack of multi-timbrality as the Ultranova can only manage one patch at a time. However, it is equipped with so many deep and complex modulation capabilities that it allows you to get by without multiple layers, plus it forces you to get creative!
Yamaha motif xs rack
I have always been a big fan of Yamaha workstations. To my ears, they are often the best all-rounders of their era. Back in 2009 I managed to get my hands on a Motif XS in rack format. 8 years later, I still find that its sounds are the most usable patches in the market. I am very fond of its electric pianos, particularly as they suit my style of funk and pop perfectly. Whilst having amazing presets, the Motif really shines when you take the time to program the sounds and setups you need. Since I am typically involved in many different projects, flexibility and versatility are probably the most important aspects for me, which is the reason why this unit accompanies me on the vast majority of my rehearsals, gigs and studio work. It also saves me from carrying my other synths to every single rehearsal as it can easily replace all of them. There is practically nothing this workstation can't do and it will probably be only replaced by another Yamaha. Of course, the rack format implies some disadvantages, but it makes it very light and manageable and fits very well in a studio environment, which will probably be its final resting place. I currently control it with an M-Audio Axiom Controller 61 which is well suited for the task.
My first step into the world of synthesis started with the purchase of an Alesis Micron in 2008. Initially I was unsure of my own decision, because at the time, it looked more like a toy than a usable performance instrument. However, its small build and colorful appearance do not detract from the fact that this small unit houses a beast on the inside. To this day, this is probably one of the most undervalued synths on the market. It would surprise most synthesists to discover that aside from the usual specs, this synth has a deep 12-route modulation matrix, multi-timbrality of up to 8 programs and/or rhythms and an extensive step sequencer. Although I've purchased more gear over the years, I still find myself using the the micron for its step sequencer and multi-timbrality, aside from the fact that it sounds great.