Keyboard Rigs of the Stars, Then and Now

Keyboard looks back at rigs from the '70s and '80s, and how to re-create the sounds of iconic musicians

Over the past four decades, certain artists have returned to our pages multiple times, standing out as who many of our readers wanted to be. They were definitely who I wanted to be. This was for two reasons: their chops and their gear, the latter of which Keyboard regularly depicted stacked up in towers of awesome. Here’s a brief photo essay about what some of our most frequent flyers played back in the day—alongside what gear you might use to cop these sounds now.

Herbie Hancock

From our November 1977 cover, counter-clockwise from Herbie’s hands: Oberheim 8-Voice, ARP Odyssey, Yamaha CS-50 synth atop Yamaha CP80 electric grand piano, Hohner Clavinet atop Rhodes 88 Mk. I electric piano. Side wall: ARP 2600. Back wall, top to bottom: ARP 2600 keyboard atop Solina, ARP Pro-Soloist.

Now: In the ’70s, Herbie skewed towards ARP over Moog, and today he plays mainly Korg synths and Fazioli pianos. While a Fazioli may be beyond reach, the new ARP Odyssey re-issue (reviewed May ’15) perched above a Kronos should make you a sonic, er, chameleon.

Josef Zawinul

The multi-keyboard mastermind of Weather Report gets to work in our March ’84 issue with, clockwise from upper left: Prophet-5, ARP Quadra, Swanson keyboard controller for Oberheim 8-Voice, Korg Vocoder, second Prophet atop Rhodes Chroma, and Emulator.

Now: Zawinul liked to pitch-bend the piano sound of his Korg M1—something perhaps only he could make sound good. Whatever sound sources he used, he also preferred his vintage Prophet-T8 as a controller, for its unique action and polyphonic aftertouch.

Tony Banks

For the 1984 Genesis tour (and our November cover story), Tony’s rig represented the most desirable tech of the era. Clockwise from left: NED Synclavier II atop Sequential Prophet-10, ARP Quadra atop Yamaha CP70B electric grand, Chilton mixer, and E-mu Emulator sampler.

Now: Tony has played the OASYS and other Korg synths in recent years. If you really want the dual-manual analog insanity of the Prophet-10, you can always get two Prophet-6s and be two voices of polyphony up—without the overheating.

Chick Corea

Digital dream studio in our Oct. ’85 issue! From left: New England Digital Synclavier (third-generation) atop Yamaha GS1, Yamaha DX1 atop Chick’s beloved Rhodes Mk. V. An Oberheim DMX drum machine and Garfield Dr. Click sync box sit atop the Synclavier.

Now: Chick is a fan of the Yamaha Motif series and the Minimoog Voyager. Importantly, that Rhodes Mk. V is available as a sample set for the Motif XF’s Flash memory—so you really can play his sound!

Rick Wakeman

On our March/April ’76 cover, Rick plays a Hammond C-3 with an RMI Electra-Piano and Clavinet on top. In the foreground is a Minimoog atop a Mellotron. Depending on the year, his onstage rig might also have included a grand piano, Polymoog, Rhodes, Wurly, and a tape-playback keyboard he funded, called the Birotron.

Now: “For a big rock show, I’d pick a Korg M3 and a Minimoog,” said the man himself in our January ’11 cover story, when asked what he’d do if limited to two keyboards. “For a more intimate show, acoustic piano and either the Roland Fantom-X8 or Korg OASYS.” Though discontinued, everything but the OASYS is easy to find used. The Roland FA-08 and Korg Kronos are modern equivalents, and if you’re committed to the prog, get a Minimoog Voyager.

Geoff Downes

The all-time king of keyboard excess poses with his Prophet Remote in front of his rig in November 1983. Lets take the stacks left to right, each top to bottom: Memorymoog atop Yamaha CS-80 (almost out of frame). Prophet-5 atop Hammond J-122 organ atop Yamaha electric grand; below are Moog Taurus pedals. Two Minimoogs atop two Fairlight CMI keyboards, on top of a PPG Wave, above a Mellotron. Finally, Prophet-10, ARP Solina, Clav, Rhodes. That happened, people, and we let it.

Now: All kidding aside, Geoff (whom we love) still likes a lot of gear, his setup consisting of a U-shaped and Roland-centric fortress of nine or more keyboards: Fantom-G8, JP-8000, V-Synths, you name it. Recently the Studiologic Numa piano and Sledge synth have rotated in, as has the Hammond SK1.