Blake’s Take There are some keyboards that pull you in and engage your soul. I’ll never forget the moment I saw the YC61 Stage Keyboard for the first time. It looks so cool with a great drawbar design, plenty of knobs and controls, cool CP-style Section switches, a compact and lightweight footprint and…a waterfall keyboard! […]
There are some keyboards that pull you in and engage your soul. I’ll never forget the moment I saw the YC61 Stage Keyboard for the first time. It looks so cool with a great drawbar design, plenty of knobs and controls, cool CP-style Section switches, a compact and lightweight footprint and…a waterfall keyboard! This is the organ-focused stage keyboard I’ve wanted for so long.
Then I got to play it and was completely captivated. The Organ Section is amazing and features two tone generation engines: Virtual Circuitry Modeling (VCM) Organ for classic organ behavior and character and a new 8-Operator FM Organ for creating new kinds of sounds. There’s also VCM Rotary Speaker (and many other effects) to complete the sound. The sound, dynamic expression pedal response and the organic, enveloping quality is wonderful. There’s also a Keys Section with a great range of sounds to cover any gig: acoustic and electric pianos, pads, strings, lead synths, brass sections and more. And the FM sounds didn’t stop in the Organ Section: There are classic FM electric pianos, great FM synth pads and super expressive FM leads complete with a mono mode and portamento. Add single knob control over EG and Filter settings and you have fast and easy control over your sound during the gig.
There is something special when user interface perfectly matches sound. That balance keeps you in the moment; that elusive “space between the thoughts” where the best music happens. The simple and powerful one-to-one interface keeps the focus on the music. And everything feels solidly built. The knobs, buttons, levers, switches and drawbars have a professional feel and sit firmly in a matte black aluminum alloy chassis ala CP73/88. That is what the YC61 is for me, and now I finally get to share this awesome keyboard with you!
Let me take you on a tour of the amazing YC61 Stage Keyboard.
YC61 Stage Keyboard: Front Panel Overview
The YC is similar to the CP73/88 in layout and divided into different Sections. Check it out below:
For those familiar with the CP73/88 Stage Pianos you’ll see that the YC operates in a very similar fashion. The Live Set Section is physically identical. Live Set Sounds instantly recall panel settings, MIDI control setups and user edits to on board Voices. There are 160 locations organized in 20 pages of 8 Live Set Sounds. And like on CP73/88, YC61 features Seamless Sound Switching so the sound does not cut off when switching between Live Set Sounds. Check it out:
Another concept shared with CP is the one-to-one interface. The YC61 Stage Keyboard has dedicated buttons, switches and knobs giving you expressive control. Instantaneous access to volumes, EQ, effect rates and depths…even single knob EG and resonant filter control is right there. Finally, YC61 shares the same construction quality of the CP73/88 with an aluminum chassis, high-quality buttons, knobs, switches, levers and of course, drawbars! And it weighs less than 16 lbs. (7 kg).
Join me on this tour of the YC61 Stage Keyboard. I’ll cover each section, give you some audio examples along the way and show you why this instrument is so cool and inspiring.
The Organ Section is the heart of the YC61 Stage Keyboard with a new VCM Organ engine, new VCM Rotary Speaker effect, new physical drawbar design with an 8-segment backlit LED with 7 color options. Check it out up close below:
So much coolness here. Each component of a tonewheel organ – Percussion, Vibrato/Chorus and Rotary Speaker Control – is right there with dedicated buttons, but the drawbar controls are something special. They feel great, have a slight click at each of the eight segments and have appropriate coloring and footage (two Red at 16’ and 5 1/3’, two White at 8’ and 4’, one Black at 2 2/3’, one White at 2’, two Black at 1 3/5’ and 1 1/3’ and one White at 1’). But check out the translucent strip on each of the drawbars. This is a cool design allowing you to see the drawbar LED settings when changing between Live Set Sounds or Upper/Lower Manual Settings. Check it out:
And speaking of drawbar LED settings, you have a choice of seven different color variations with independent settings for Upper and Lower Manuals:
It is a great visual design, but at the end of the day it’s the sound that of the VCM organ and rotary speaker combination that really shines.
New H Organ Types
The “H” type organs feature brand new VCM technology (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) cover the traditional tonewheel organ sound and each one has a different harmonic character. The three basic H types are:
H1: I call this the “mint condition” version. It has a full pure sound and is great for just about anything. When the organ is the main instrument, especially in a jazz trio, H1 is the perfect choice.
H2: This type has more emphasis in the mid- to low-range frequencies and has a bit of leakage (sound “leaked” from one tonewheel pickup to another resulting in added harmonics). This is a great choice when the organ is part of a band. It’s great for chord comping and really fills out the sound of the ensemble nicely so I find it ideal for gospel and R&B.
H3: This type has a unique percussion sound and interesting high frequency leakage, making the ideal rock organ. It has a massive sound when you apply drive and is suitable for hard rock of the 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
I think of these as starting points because important components of the sound like key click and tonewheel leakage can be adjusted. You can really customize the sound and get it just the way you want. This is brand new for the YC61 and deserves a closer look. The VCM Organs, the VCM Rotary Speaker Types and how this system works together to deliver an authentic, soulful and expressive experience. The description in the manual is quite good:
“The VCM Organ tone generator was developed to faithfully reproduce the sound of a tonewheel-type vintage organ.
VCM stands for “Virtual Circuitry Modeling™,” and is technology that uses DSP to emulate the functions of an analog electric circuit. This technology enables the instrument to reproduce sound with an analog-like depth, which cannot be reproduced by a simple digital sound. By applying this technology, the VCM Organ tone generator fully reproduces the following characteristics of a vintage organ:
– Natural, organic harmonies when playing chords—thanks to a matrix circuit that connects the keyboard, tonewheels, and drawbars – Percussion sound with remarkable presence—based on vacuum tube circuit analysis – Key clicks and leakage sounds—based on electrical circuit analysis – Natural sound distortion—simulating vintage vacuum tube pre-amplifiers – Vibrato/Chorus effect—from scanner-based vibrato circuitry – Changes in frequency characteristics and drive amount that responds dynamically to operation of the expression pedal
Adjustment of these detailed parameters makes it possible to accurately recreate the distinctive characteristics of the original instruments—including all of their specially attractive imperfections, faults and even deterioration.”
The “distinctive characteristics” VCM reproduces are warmth and authentic character. The things that stand out to me when playing these organ types:
There is a wonderful low/low-mid/midrange emphasis coupled with a de-emphasis on high frequencies with the H Type organs. That frequency spectrum is an important aspect of the tonewheel organ sound
The 4th point above about natural sound distortion is significant to the overall sound. The SPEAKER/AMP Section on YC61 is great. These effects produce an ultra-warm, full and enveloping sound and the DRIVE and TONE knobs offer easy access to satisfying results. I’ll explore Rotary Speaker effects in more detail below.
The last point about changes in frequency characteristics and drive amount that respond to the expression pedal is especially significant. For example, when you play a “hit” chord synchronized with a sudden expression volume swell how the sound responds is important. With the YC61 the expression pedal applies to both volume and preamp level, so volume changes couple with changes in preamp drive making swells deeply expressive and full.
Check a few examples of the H Type Organs below. The first example features H1 with Rotary A.
The second example is H2 also with Rotary A. Notice the breathiness of the increased leakage. There is a warmth and soulfulness in this sound.
The example below is H3 with Rotary Speaker B. With the of added drive H3of this combination is a great choice for rock.
New F Organ Types
FM Synthesis is capable of producing great organ tones. I remember processing my DX7 with a rotary speaker stomp box and got a great organ sound back in the day (Algorithm 32 works great)! The H Organ Types certainly sound amazing, but the 8-Operator F Organ Types are unique to the YC61 and afford a wider range of sound and artistic exploration. Each type focuses on a particular sound:
F1: Each of the 8 Operators generate sine waves set at the footages of the first 8 drawbars. F1 Type has a pure sound with lots of low end because it lacks the foldback characteristics of the tonewheel organ. This organ sounds amazing is often my choice for soulful ballads and organ pads, and gospel organists will love the enveloping bass response.
F2: This organ type generates the square, pulse type waveform of the British transistor combo organ.
F3: With its brighter, sawtooth type waveform the F3 Organ Type simulates the Italian transistor combo organ.
I find the F Organ Types useful as textural pads, especially when used with the on-board effects. By default, sustain pedal control is off in the Organ Section. You can turn it in the Settings. You can create great layered sounds when combined with Voices from the Keys Section.
Check out the F Organ Types below. The first example uses the F1 and it’s one of my favorites. It has a great soulful quality when combined with the VCM Rotary Speaker.
The F2 Organ Type is all about that British transistor organ sound popular on lots of hits of the 60s and 70s. When combined with the on-board effects lots of creative possibilities emerge.
I am a big fan of Italian movies and the F3 Organ Type is the perfect sound. Based on the Italian transistor organ sound it has the ability to cut through a mix especially when used with the distortion in the SPEAKER/AMP section of the YC61.
New VCM Rotary Speaker
The Organ Section is only part of the picture: The new VCM Rotary Speaker effects in the SPEAKER/AMP section add a crucial finishing touch to the sound. YC61 introduces two new types:
Rtr A: This is a standard Rotary Speaker effect and the ideal choice for jazz, R&B and gospel.
Rtr B: Rotary Speakers can be connected to things like transistor preamps for more drive and distortion. Rtr B simulates this set up and is great for rock, jazz fusion and funk.
Both Rotary Speaker types are incredibly accurate recreations. The dedicated DRIVE and TONE knobs allow simple and effective tweaks to the sound:
Need a dark sound with a bit of drive in a jazz trio? Select “Rtr A” increase DRIVE and decrease TONE. Looking to cut through on a hard rock song for a blistering solo? Select “Rtr B” increase both DRIVE and TONE. You have simple and effective ways to adjust your sound.
The VCM Organ and Rotary Speaker system have simple yet powerful customization options. During our artist evaluations questions came up like:
Can I adjust the amount of leakage? I love that sound in certain songs.
I like to control key click. Is that doable?
I like tweaking the rotary speaker effect, especially the speed. What options do I have?
The customization options are great and make it simple to dial in your sound. It’s awesome! The settings adjustments below allow you to customize tonewheel organ/rotary speaker sound and idiosyncrasies:
Choose an H type organ as your starting point and customize from there. You can change the character by adding leak and key click for a “played-in” sound. In the Rotary Speaker Settings, I love to experiment with Background Noise Level. Increasing this adds the breathy, spinning sound of the rotary speaker’s motion. You can hear the rotor slow down and speed up, and each time you press the [STOP] button you can hear the rotor stop in a different position. Check it out:
The audio example below illustrates the different results of organ customization. Each example below uses the same setting with the first 3 drawbars pulled all the way down and the 4th drawbar set at 3 (888300000). The musical example is the same, but I made changes to leakage, key click, pre amp drive and rotary speaker settings. Check it out:
New Waterfall Keyboard
With the new Organ and Rotary Speaker Types comes an all new semi-weighted waterfall keyboard. Unlike piano style keys, with have key tops extending over the key body, the waterfall keyboard is completely smooth:
I’ve been spending a lot of time playing the YC61 and really enjoy playing the waterfall keyboard. It’s interesting: Organ techniques developed around waterfall keys and make articulations like palm smears, squabble-style playing and glissando feel natural. For this reason, organists will feel right at home playing the YC61. For someone like me coming from a piano background I found it easy it was to adjust to the feel. It absolutely makes playing organ easier, but I enjoy playing acoustic and electric pianos, synth leads, pads, strings, brass sections, etc., from the YC61. It is different than a weighted action no doubt, but the YC61 has a bit of weight behind it, is touch responsive and you have a set of velocity curves to tailor the action to the sound. Ultimately, I foresee it as perfect top keyboard to something like CP88, MONTAGE or MODX, but I’d be comfortable doing an entire gig with YC61. All the sounds I need are right there…which brings me to the great Keys Section!
The Keys Section
The Keys Section of YC61 gives you everything you need for the gig. The quality and range of sounds are great, and the ability to instantly change things like filter, EG and effect settings is easy. Check out the Keys Section:
The Keys A & B switches are like those on the CP73/88. You switch the Section on to make it active. Each Section has independent Volume and Tone knobs, a Split button and Octave settings. In situations where both Keys A & B are on—like a Piano/Pad sound—there is a dedicated Keys A/B Button that toggles between each Part.
To choose sounds in the Keys Section use the Voice Category Selector Knob and use the red selection switch to choose a Voice from the selected Category. The Voice Categories are:
Piano: Acoustic grand pianos like the CFX, C7 and S700, the U1 upright piano and CP80 electric grand.
E. Piano: Here you’ll find “Rd” tine pianos, “Wr” reed pianos, actual FM electric pianos clavs and harpsichord.
Synth: Pads, leads, synth bass and some great FM synths are in this category.
Other: Realistic ensemble and solo strings, guitars, electric and acoustic basses, brass and woodwind sections and chromatic percussion are in this category.
The range and quality of the Voices are great. You can cover any gig with a single YC61! Let’s check out some of the Keys Section Voices.
The first two are the same musical examples played by two different premium pianos in YC61. First up is the CFX Concert Grand:
Next, the C7 Grand:
It’s interesting hearing the same music played by two entirely different pianos. More importantly it’s fantastic to have such great choices at your fingertips. Next up are three Voices from the Electric Piano Category. The Rd73 below uses both the Compressor and British Combo Amp Simulator. It has a solid overdriven sound that works great in Funk and Fusion:
The Rd78 has a more modern, bell-like quality. Note the “Small Phaser” effect that engages in the middle:
The Wr Warm Voice nails the reed piano sound, but with the “Case” setting in the SPEAKER/AMP Section it really has a great vintage quality and is super expressive:
The next three come from the “Synth” and Others” Categories. The Live Set Sound below is called “Horns 1&2” and has the two horn section Voices in Keys A and B. This Live Set Sound is so fun and easy to play:
The acoustic steel string guitar Voice below is very expressive, full and sounds great with effects. This Live Set Sound uses the Steel Gt. Voice processed with Tempo Delay and Compressor in Keys A. Halfway in I switched on both Keys B and the Organ Section with Sine Lead and F1 Organ. The F1 Organ (04402310) functions as a pad sound with sustain pedal is engaged.
The Live Set Sound “Pad of Krom” uses the F1 organ as a backing pad with sustain pedal engaged. Usually sustain is set to off for the Organ Section as expected but you have the ability to turn it on for pads like this. Keys A uses the Voice “Nowhere” and Keys B uses “Analog” Pad with the LoFi and Reverse Reverb effects.
For lead sounds YC61 has mono mode and portamento making it a great lead synth.
FM adds more than the F Type Organs to the YC61. There are classic FM electric piano, pads and synth leads too. With it’s 8-Operator FM Engine and the 816 chorus effect the Live Set Sound “FMTheEP” absolutely nails the classic FM electric piano sound.
The Live Set Sound below is “FMSawBellPad”. Keys A is the FM Saw Pad Voice with Harmonic Enhancer and LoFi Effects; Keys B is FM BellSquare Voice with British Combo Amp Sim and Hall Reverb. This is an engaging and modern pad sound that really highlights the cool effect possibilities in YC61.
Single Knob Filter and EG Control
Another enhancement to the Keys section is simple single knob control over EG and Filter settings. There are 7 preset filter settings and 11 EG settings.
I love single knob control over these settings during live performance. Several filter and EG settings allow you to change multiple parameters simultaneously so you can make a filter sweep that changes both cutoff and resonance, or adjust EG attack and release without having to think about it too much. It’s another example of how the YC61 design keeps in the moment and focused on the music. Check out how single knob control changes the sound. The first example is a mono synth lead with a filter sweep added and the second is a pad sound with EG changes, all accomplished with a single knob. It is a simple, fast and powerful one-to-one interface.
YC61 has an impressive selection of onboard effects. You have lots of choices: From reverb, chorus, delay, VCM phaser and flanger, compressor to ring modulation, slicer, reverse reverb and lo-fi, you have what you need to cover a wide range of musical needs. Check out the signal flow below:
Some of the effects available are Section specific, like PRE DRIVE (pre amplifier drive) in the Organ Section and the Keys A/B EFFECT 1 & 2. You have a few more options for routing in the EFFECT, SPEAKER/AMP and REVERB Sections of the Keys Section. Check out the image below. I’ve pointed out important points:
There are some interesting and cool things about the YC61 effects both in content and configuration. Here are some of my favorite ones:
Cool Delays: Two delays specific to the EFFECT Section deserve a shout out. Tempo Delay is a great addition especially in a live situation. When select the LED indicator reads “td” and the LEDs around the [RATE] knob blink in tempo. The dedicated TAP button is right there allowing you to instantly match the band’s tempo. This is so useful! The Looper Delay is another including here and a personal favorite of mine. It’s a special delay that provides a multiple echo/delay effect. You can start by playing something in one Section, adding to that, playing something from another Section, change Voices, change effects, do cool pitch things, etc., and create some cool loops. Furthermore, you can change Live Set Sounds and previous loop will continue. You can play over the loop or create an all new loop to add to the previous. It’s a cool creative way to use the YC61. The way the Looper Delay’s configuration is different the other effects in the EFFECT Section. The SPEAKER/AMP Section routes before the Tempo Delay but REVERB is not applied to the delay line. Everything else routes EFFECT–>SPEAKER/AMP–>REVERB. Another difference: The Looper Delay routes to ALL Sections at the same time. When selecting the Looper Delay the LED indicator reads “Ld” and all the Section Lamps are ON. This means the delay effect applies to ALL Sections. Pressing the SELECT Button turns all the Section Lamps OFF, meaning delay effect is not applied to any of the Sections. This means you can play over the Looping Delay and not add to it. Check out the Looper demo below:
Options: Almost all of the effects in the Keys A/B Section are offered in the EFFECT Section. This allows you lots of options for effect routing.
Unique Sound Shaping Effects: I love effects that dramatically change the sound and the YC61 has a few that are worth mentioning.
Ring Modulator: This effect is a great way to add interesting modulation to the sound. The [DEPTH] and [RATE] knobs allow real time changes. I love using this effect with the Looper Delay to create interesting looping sounds.
Slicer: This adds interesting rhythmic motion to the sound. [DEPTH] changes the gating amount of the effect and [RATE] changes the granularity of the slicing
LP Filter: If you need a different filter other than the filter in the Keys A/B Section try the LP Filter. It’s a fat and resonance low pass filter. [DEPTH] adjusts cutoff frequency and [RATE] adjusts resonance.
Lo-Fi: This effect resamples and degrades the sound. It is also a mono effect which adds to the vibe. [DEPTH] changes the volume threshold and [RATE] adjusts the sampling frequency.
Reverse Reverb: This is a reverse gated reverb. This is a classic special effect that I like to add to electronic pianos and lead sounds. [DEPTH] adjusts dry/wet mix and changes and [RATE] adjusts duration.
The effects in YC61 give you so many cool creative ways to use the instrument!
Control, and be Controlled
As a master keyboard controller, YC61 features the same capabilities as the CP73/88 Stage Pianos, so each Live Set Sound is a four-zone MIDI controller. You can make a Live Set Sound combining Voices from YC61 and external tone generators, or only sounds from external tone generators. Each zone sends program change, bank select, key ranges, volume, pan and more. That’s 160 unique control set ups with the power to configure a keyboard rig. Check it out:
Controlling external devices is one thing, but what about controlling YC61? Say you have an 88-note weighted keyboard and would like to add YC61 as a top keyboard. You might want to use YC as your organ and lead synth but would like to play the CFX Concert Grand in Keys Section from the bottom keyboard. This is done with the YC61 External Keyboard set ups. In the image below, YC61 is a top keyboard with the Organ Section and Key A and a weighted action controller is playing the Key B:
What about controller the lower manual in the Organ Section with the bottom keyboard and the upper manual from YC61? Check it out!
Each Section—Organ (both Upper and Lower Parts), Key A and Key B—has 5 different settings to make this possible.
Small Size, Lightweight and Cool Case
The size and design of the YC61 is striking. Take a look again:
Here are a few more cool things:
Pitch Bend and Modulation Levers: I like this design quite a lot. Both are easy to get to and they work great. You can adjust the pitch bend independently for each section, +/- 24 semitones. And you can assign the Pitch Bend Lever to Rotary Speaker Speed if you wish. The Modulation Lever is assignable to a myriad of controls, including incoming USB audio volume.
USB MIDI and Audio Interface: Take the computer or iOS device to the gig and leave the audio interface. Because YC61 has an integrated USB audio and MIDI interface you can play virtual instruments and mix them right there. When connecting to a DAW all the front panel controls transmit MIDI data so you can automate all the panel functions. I recorded all audio demos in this article into Cubase using the YC61 USB connection.
¼” Line Level Audio Input: You can connect a stereo audio source to the YC61 Audio Inputs. With the gain control you can balance that signal and it’s sent directly to the YC61 Audio Outputs. It makes setting up a two-keyboard rig that much easier especially if you are running out of mixer inputs on the gig.
Menus and Settings: As with CP the Menus and Settings give you some deeper editing options, but not too deep. Stay tuned for an upcoming “Menus vs. Settings” article similar to this one on CP73/88.
Soundmondo and YC OS Updates
YC61 is compatible with Soundmondo, the free Social Sound Sharing Site of Yamaha Synthesizers. Connect to Soundmondo via iOS or on the computer with Google Chrome for Mac or PC. With Soundmondo you can download Live Set Sounds, upload your own and organize your Live Set collection. Check out Soundmondo here. Also, like CP73/88—and MONTAGE and MODX—YC61 future OS updates will contain new Voices and features.
The SC-YC61 Soft Case
If you gig you’ll want the SC-YC61 Soft Case. It’s a high-quality soft case that’s well padded, has an ultra-soft and plush interior lots of pockets for pedals and cables and has great straps for backpack-style carry of shoulder sling style. Check it out:
So, there you have it…The Yamaha YC61 Stage Keyboard. It sounds great, feels great, looks great and it’s lightweight! I have had a lot of time playing this instrument and it’s been inspiring. The Organ Section is so good, so responsive and dynamic and the new waterfall keyboard is outstanding and makes all the difference. The other Keys sounds are superb. Things acoustic and electric pianos, clavi, strings, brass, synth pads and leads and more are literally at the flick of a switch. What more can I say? —I deeply dig this instrument.
YC61 will be available Spring 2020. In the meantime, keep checking back here at YamahaSynth.com for more about YC61.