In the pre-digital age, keyboardists who didn’t have the resources to tour with an acoustic piano had one option for getting true piano sound onstage—an electro-acoustic piano. The concept was akin to an electric guitar, which uses real strings that are amplified by pickups instead of a wooden soundboard.
The Yamaha CP70 and CP80 (73 and 88 keys, respectively) dominated this category, so much so that the term “electric grand” refers to them by default. Now, Waves has introduced a faithful and addictively playable software emulation—Electric Grand 80.
With great virtual acoustic pianos now everywhere, why imitate an imitator? Because the signature sound of the electric grand became desirable for its own sake. To keep the thing transportable, shorter strings and fewer strings per note were used. The resulting tone, though immediately identifiable as a piano (in contrast to the Rhodes or Wurly), had fewer harmonics than an acoustic, as well as a “metallic” sheen that fit well in pop music and just begged to be played through effects. The band Keane is today’s keeper of the CP flame, and you can hear it all over Peter Gabriel’s solo work as well as the ’80s-launching anthem “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.
The smattering of electric grand sounds you might find in the average digital piano or ROMpler won’t come close to the tonal variety you could get out of the genuine article. This is where Waves really delivers. Building on the same engine as their Electric 88 (Rhodes) and 200 (Wurly) plug-ins, Electric Grand 80 features adjustable levels for the main samples, key-release samples, mechanical noises, and sustain pedal noise. Velocity response is adjustable, as is a Formant control that affects the timbre in a way the three-band EQ does not. For example, dial it up seven semitones and C will have the harmonic profile of the G above. Sustain resonance duplicates how strings that aren’t struck vibrate in sympathy with those that are.
Electric grands were often run through compressors. The one-knob function here can do anything from increasing perceived sustain to adding a pronounced pop if turned past 12 o’clock.
Above the main piano controls sits the effects rack. Both mono and stereo panning and tremolo are on hand, as are a phaser, chorus, and reverb that are all simply luscious. I’d like to see a proper tap-delay as well, though the reverb section does provide a pre-delay knob that can get you a couple of taps. The time-based effects sync to host tempo, of course.
The factory presets cover everything—from sounding as much like a straight piano as the original CP could to modulation-drenched creations that evoke Vangelis at his most experimental. I could list examples, but really, just grab the downloadable demo and start exploring. Start with the “Init” patch; it provides a non-intrusive effects balance and a good overall sense of the CP vibe.
Using a Roland RD-2000 as a controller, the Electric Grand 80 sprang to life under my fingers. That signature sheen is dead-on, as is the almost bass guitar-like tone you get by digging into the lower register. The midrange has plenty of meat and the treble doesn’t get strident. Any multi-sampling flaws such as loops, velocity breaks, or unwanted phasing are absent here. The dynamic and harmonic range available in response to velocity is wide but not exaggeratedly so.
In sum, Electric Grand 80 is fantastic. It’s the most comprehensive, flexible, and accurate rendering of Yamaha’s genre-defining electric grand piano I’ve yet heard. It’s bonehead simple to use, and the price is easy to justify even if you only use it once in a while. If you want to geek out over your electric grand sound the way you do over your Rhodes and Hammond, Waves has set the new benchmark.
PROS: Absolutely accurate samples of Yamaha’s iconic electro-acoustic pianos. Unprecedented sound-design control for this instrument category. High-quality effects enable sounds from retro to rococo.
CONS: Effects don’t include a tap delay.
This is your go-to plug-in for electric grand piano sounds.