May 07, 2021
Now that quality PA systems are common and creating a stereo image in a live setting isn’t hard at all, there are probably some keyboardists out there who aren’t even aware that such a thing as a keyboard amp exists. Yet, there was once a time when keyboards were mostly treated just like guitars, with a stage amp a necessary part of the keyboard rig.
The question is – is a keyboard amp still necessary?
Here are a few reasons you might want a keyboard amp – and some you may not.
Before we go too far, we should note that a keyboard amp is not the same animal as a guitar amp. A keyboardist may achieve something cool by running a keyboard through a guitar amp, but keyboard amps are designed for keyboards specifically. What this means is simply that they reproduce a full range – much like a powered loudspeaker such as the Carvin Audio QX15A – since keyboards output a wide variety of potential sounds including pianos, strings, horns, crazy synths, beats, and so on.
For a small gig in an intimate setting, a keyboard amp can be handier than a small PA system, because it’s one compact unit with one connection. The only problem is you won’t be reproducing a stereo sound. In many cases this just doesn’t matter. The other drawback here is if you need to reinforce vocals you’re out of luck. In that case, a small PA system is a better option.
For bigger gigs with a nice house sound system, there’s almost no reason not to feed your keyboard’s line outs in stereo to the house. But if the system is short on monitors, splitting that signal to your handy dandy keyboard amp can give you a monitor.
If you play with a band, a keyboard amp can be quite handy for rehearsals, especially if the group isn’t equipped with a PA of its own. You may also find yourself playing live in a situation with a minimal PA, where all the guitars can be heard in the room through their amps, and you’re left with no amplification. A keyboard amp is a handy solution here, but again, you’re not going to be sending the crowd a stereo signal, so if that matters, a small PA may be better. In most cases the vocal PA will have at least a couple extra channels for you.
If you’re looking to reproduce the cleanest version of your keyboard’s output, you don’t want to mic up an amp like a guitar would do. But sometimes, the role of your keyboard playing is more like that, or calls for a gritty, unique sound. You might consider a vintage keyboard amp, a rotary amp, or even a “wrong” choice like a guitar amp to give yourself the opportunity to make a little nasty noise.
While you’re at it, why don’t you output your clean stereo signal to the house, split one side to a pedal board, and engage your crazy distorted amp sound at will? Just be sure to let the engineer know there’s another “instrument” to be miked up.
At the end of the day, a keyboard amp may no longer be a necessity, especially since there are a variety of affordable PA systems and powered loudspeakers out there. But as a tool of convenience and possibly a cool creative option, keyboard amps are still very relevant.
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It’s not like the guitar is ever boring. But sometimes you just want to branch out and see what else you can accomplish. This is true if you’re in a noise band or hyper-experimental act, but it’s also true if you’re in a straight-ahead rock band looking to add a few crazy moments to your show or record. So, let’s look at a few advanced effects you can try for that experimental vibe.
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