|YAMAHA CP70 ELECTRIC GRAND
The quest for a portable piano
has been around since the invention of the Fender Rhodes and the
Wurlitzer. Of course, neither of these actually sound like pianos...
they have a pleasant sound that is 'piano-like' but in no way are
they a substitute for the real thing.
Several companies tried all sorts of things (including
some fairly horrible electronic things) but it wasn't until Yamaha
released their CP70 'Electric Grand Piano' in the mid-'70s that
I had something approaching a 'real' piano that could be toured
around and amplified easily without any difficult mic techniques.
There were three models in the product's lifetime...
the original CP70 (73-note keyboard) which was superceded by the
CP70B (with balanced outputs) and the CP80 (a full 88-note keyboard
All of them featured true grand piano action keyboards
which, if you were a real piano player, were a delight to play.
In their brochures, Yamaha claimed their electric grand pianos
were "compact" and "portable". I am not convinced!
They measured at least 57 inches wide by 45 inches deep (front to
back) and weighed as much as 313lbs! I guess that at a time when
bands were going out with Hammond organs, Leslies, CS80s, multiple
MiniMoogs, Mellotrons and so on, the CP piano was comparatively
To make it easier to transport,
the CP piano dismantled into separate units with the strings and
frame in one case and the keyboard, legs and sustain pedal in another
(right) which made it slightly more managable. It was re-assembled
with some clever lock catches. Even so, it was a two man job to
cart it around.
On a long tour, however, it wasn't just roadies you needed
to employ to look after the thing. Because it was a 'real' piano,
it had 'real' srings and so needed regular tuning by a qualified
piano tuner especially when the instrument was being thrown in and
out of trucks! Because this was a luxury that not every one could
stretch to, the CP70 gained a reputation for being a bit of a 'honky
tonk' piano because many were heard slightly the worse for wear
and out of tune.
|This reputation was not helped by the fact that one of
the CP piano's more famous users, Peter Gabriel, always ran his CP
through a vintage Roland Chorus pedal! It's a shame really because
the CP is actually a nice sounding piano when looked after.
The CP piano's sound was achieved using
a traditional grand piano hammer action hitting real strings. However,
Yamaha developed special strings that could be made shorter and
require less of them but still be able to retain an authentic acoustic
piano sound. So, unlike ordinary acoustic pianos that typically
have three strings for each of the middle and upper register's notes
and two strings for each of the bass notes, the CP piano used two
specially designed strings for each of the mid and upper notes and
just one string for each of the bass notes.
Of course, this also greatly reduced the internal stress and tension
on the string frame which did not have to be as big or as strong
(or as heavy) as an acoustic grand's. And because the sound was
amplified electronically, the casework did not have to be designed
for acoustic projection as is the case with acoustic pianos.
In all, the CP electric grand was a triumph of mechanical engineering.
It was a triumph of electrical engineering too.
Under each string was an independent piezo-electric pickup that
was used to amplify the sound. This custom design eliminated any
possibility of 'howl around' even at high volume and for most, this
was more than adequate.
However, one 'golden ear' user preferred to have a set of pickups
made by Charles Helpinstill fitted instead. Helpinstall had been
designing and manufacturing high quality and specialised pickups
for acoustic pianos for many years and his designs were used by
nearly all the leading piano players of the '70s and '80s in their
live acts. Charles says of this CP70 conversion "I only remember
doing this once in the late '70s, and with no real improvement to
the piano. The fact that the CP-70 has no soundboard pretty much
confines it to a unique sound (for better or worse)". Helpinstill
are back in business at helpinstill.com
Both models had a 3-band equaliser for
LF/MF/HF tonal modification. They also had a TREMOLO effect built
in. The CP80 also had a 3-way BRIGHTNESS switch.
There was also a master volume control and to the left
of this were insert points where you could patch in your own effects.
In its heyday, the Electric Grand was regarded as an instrument
in its own right and not just a portable alternative to a real piano
for live use and many artists used them in the studio in place of
(or as well as) acoustic pianos. Often this was for convenience
(plugging in a cable is a lot easier than mic'ing up an acoustic
piano) but often, it was used for its unique sound.
Of course, with the advent of high quality digital pianos (many
from Yamaha themselves!), the CP series became increasingly redundant
both live and in the studio and it was eventually discontinued in
the mid-'80s. However, the Yamaha Electric Grands remain today as
classic and innovative instruments with a classic 'sound'.
It has been used in the past by the aforementioned Peter Gabriel
and also Abba, U2, Simple Minds, George Duke, Bruce Hornsby, Genesis/Tony
Banks and countless others. More recently, the UK band Keane have
adopted the Yamaha CP as their primary piano sound and it is a trademark
component in their music - it's even the featured instrument image
on their website!
The CP70 featured in Nostalgia is from my own re-conditioned CP70
and uses a full length sample every minor third and several program
variations are available to re-create some of the more popular sounds
of its era.