When it comes to Yamaha digital pianos, I’ve played more
than my fair share. There was the Clavinova CLP-300 on which I made my
audition tape for the Eastman School of Music and the Yamaha P200 I used
on my first recording gig. I’ve played tiny European jazz clubs with
the P95, and the 2,000-seat Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London with the
CP300. Until recently, I used a CP33 as my go-to portable, preferring it
to more recent stage pianos for its near perfect pairing of touch,
tone, and un-terrifying weight. In 2011, I reviewed Yamaha’s newest
stage pianos at the time: the CP1, CP5, and CP50. “CP” designates
Yamaha’s most professionally-targeted stage pianos, and the CP4 seeks to
surpass all that came before. How does it fare?
These days, you’ll see many kinds of “88-ers” on stages,
workstations such as the Yamaha Motif XF8 included. The CP4 isn’t one of
those; there’s neither multitrack sequencing nor every sound imaginable
inside. But if you’ve been searching for an acoustic piano
replacement-slash-vintage keys machine that sounds great and weighs less
than 40 pounds, you’ve just met your match. The CP4’s reduced weight
comes in part from not having onboard speakers. True, most pro stage
keyboards don’t have them, but the CP300 and many Yamaha P models did,
which I always found nice for practice or for warming up before the show
when the monitor system was muted.
With the CP4, Yamaha has returned to the streamlined style
of its earlier stage piano models like the CP33. The front panel is
easily navigable, with a large, backlit LCD display and a generous array
of well-placed sliders and buttons. Where the CP1, CP5, and CP50 had
only a pitch-bend wheel, Yamaha has added a modulation wheel to the CP4.
Around back, you’ll find foot switch and controller jacks,
five-pin MIDI ports, music stand support holes, and a 1/8" stereo input
for routing a music playback device to the outputs (saving you a mixer
input for backing tracks or break music). In addition to headphone and
1/4" stereo outputs, the CP4 includes balanced XLR outs—a pro touch for
running directly into a stage snake.
A USB-B port provides MIDI connection to your Mac or PC,
and a USB-A port lets the CP4 record a stereo WAV file of your
performance to an attached drive. There’s also an internal power supply,
so no wall wart!
On the CP4, Yamaha has updated their stage piano action
yet again, with real wood white keys and synthetic ivory key tops—the
white key surfaces are slick, though, not textured. Yamaha calls this
new action the NW-GH, which stands for “Natural Wood Graded Hammer.” It
combines the best aspects of the NW-Stage action (non-graded wooden
keys) of the CP1 and CP5 with the GH action (graded plastic keys)
of the CP33, CP50, CP300, and now the CP4’s little brother the CP40.
How does it feel? In a word, great. Not many other 88- digital
instruments feel this piano-like. The CP4 has that convincing
combination of resistance and playability that makes real pianos so
pleasing. While some players thought the key dip on the CP1 and CP5 was
too shallow, under my fingers the CP4 felt uncannily like a real piano.
There’s no aftertouch, but for most applications this won’t be a
Unlike Yamaha synths and workstations (like the Motif and
S-series), the CP4 has no separate “User Voice” mode for single sound
programs. All data are stored in a Performance (multitimbral setup).
Each Performance can have three internal sounds (Main, Split, and Layer)
as well as address four zones from external sound sources. This doesn’t
mean all the sounds have to be active at once, but they’re saved and
able to be called up. The Main sound always stays active, while the
Split and Layer sounds can be set to off. Don’t worry—if you don’t hear a
sound, it’s not taking up polyphony.
Other editable aspects of a Performance include system-wide effects like reverb and chorus, and inserts including
Yamaha’s VCM effects (Virtual Circuit Modeling), which model classic
outboard hardware and stompboxes. A Performance can have two inserts at
once, each of which contains two independent effects. Your choices for
types from stereo tremolos and flangers to detail-oriented options like
adjusting the hammer strike position on a Rhodes sound and altering its
preamp. There’s also a Master Compressor (with seven presets) to help
the CP4 cut through a mix, a five-band master EQ, and a surprisingly
useful onboard metronome.
My demo CP4 arrived just as I started writing sessions for
a new album. While I usually write on an acoustic grand piano, I
thought jumping in with the CP4 would be a great test. I powered on, and
up popped “CFX St.”, the sound of Yamaha’s new flagship CFX concert
grand. I got to play a real CFX earlier this year, so I know what that
nine-foot beast sounds and feels like. In an instant, I was back at that
behemoth, with its rumbling bass and crystalline top end. The sampling
here sounds crisp and clean, with no audible signs of looping. There’s
something organically intoxicating about the CP4. It draws you in. The
NW-GH action is a perfect complement to the new CFX sound set.
A press of the “Layer” button followed by the “Pad” button
got me channeling my inner Bruce Hornsby, with the sumptuous
“NeoCrystal” dialed in behind the CFX. Volume adjustment per Voice is
immediate: just grab the corresponding slider for the Split, Layer or
The two other concert piano sample sets (each, like the
CFX, with 15 variations) impress as well: the CFIIIS with its darker
timbre, and the S6 with its round, intimate allure. While playing the
S6, I hit the “Split” button and then chose the Guitar/Bass voice named
“AcousticBa.” In an instant, a jazz duo was born. The S6 is a natural
choice for more intimate ballads and jazz fare, in settings where the
tone of the CFX or CFIIIS might be overkill.
A quick turn of the Data dial reveals the numerous
variations on each Voice. Electric pianos impress, with realistic
Rhodes, Wurlitzer, CP80, and DX-type sounds.
Much like the CP4’s acoustic pianos, the vintage EPs are
rich and detailed, with just the perfect amounts of low-end bark. Adding
onboard chorus to “71Rd I” brought back memories of hearing Billy
Joel’s “James” (from his 1976 album Turnstiles) for the first
time. Again, variations abound, and there are so many good presets that I
could imagine using the CP4 without ever building Performances of my
own. Other EP favorites included the psychedelic “75Rd Phase,” a spot-on
Wurly entitled “77Wr Trem,” and “CP80 Chorus,” which nailed the Peter
Gabriel “In Your Eyes” sound perfectly.
Organ sounds are usable, but don’t put your clonewheel on
eBay—playing them on a weighted, wooden piano action can be be tricky.
They’ll work in a pinch, as will the passable Leslie simulator you bring
in with the modulation wheel. Among the rest of the CP4’s 433 factory
sounds, synth, guitar, and percussion patches stand out as impressive.
While the stage piano market gets more crowded with each
NAMM show, the CP4 is proof that Yamaha continues to blur the boundaries
between acoustic and electronic instruments. It has just the right
amount of resistance for a keyboardist to truly connect with the piano
sounds, and a satisfying sound set that pairs exceedingly well with its
action. From raucous rock and pop gigs, to funk, R&B, and intimate
jazz settings, there’s a piano patch on the CP4 to fit just about every
conceivable bill. It’s not a do-every-sound workstation like the Motif
family, but it’s not supposed to be. If you’ve been searching for a
lightweight and thoroughly professional stage piano with great sounds
and a lifelike action, the CP4 is your ticket. It’s the kind of digital
piano that reminds me of why I started playing piano in the first place.