Roland Digital Harpsichords: The Complete Scoop

Posted by: ApexKeys88

Roland Digital Harpsichords: The Complete Scoop - 07/05/09 01:59 PM

Hello all,

I signed on to this site just to address this rather big 'harpsichord proprieties vs. digital keyboards' problem. Here's the almost complete scoop on Roland Digital Harpsichords:

There are solutions to the 'digital dilemma' presented by state of the art digital keyboards vs. the search for harpsichord voices which I'll present at the end of this.

In my extensive personal experience:

I have yet to encounter a digital keyboard on the market today which has a real harpsichord feel to it. They aren't made that way. The new Roland C-30 was designed with that in mind, that's probably as close as you can get, it is also the only keyboard out there with a proper harpsichord F scale, which puts middle C very nicely in the middle of the keyboard range.
David has mentioned a volume imbalance problem, not unusual in the digital realm, but considering the huge price of the C-30, Roland should have worked that one out.

1988:

The old Roland digital harpsichords date back to 1988 or so. They came out with a C-20 and C-50. Both had the same internals and keybeds, the C-50 had a harpsichord-looking cabinet to it.

I had a C-20 back then. The keys were reverse color, black naturals/white accidentals, and the keybed was an exact copy of one of Roland's synthesizers, I think maybe the JV-80. I know this because I swapped out the original keys with other Roland synth keys, they went in perfectly.

The C-20 and its' more harpsichord-looking counterpart, the C-50, had the usual harpsichord registers, front & back 8', 4', lute, 2 organs, and strings. And of course, built in speakers & amplifer. The basses sounded great, but I was never pleased with the sound of the trebles (above mid-C), even when played through my stereo. But the dark register 8' voice had a sampling defect in the f-b range just beyond one octave above mid-C. Press a key there and almost right away the sound would produce static. For me, that register was totally unusable. I sent the C-20 back to Roland for analysis, the technician told me it was a sampling error and nothing could be done about it. (Note: Someone over in Harmony Central remarked that he did not percieve any distortion in that key range with the C-20.) I seem to recall the volume being well balanced, no single key volume problems. The action had a strange feel to it, slightly mushy, and for me, rather uncomfortable and awkward.

The samples on the C-20/C-50's were eventually put on sound cards compatible with Roland's JV-880 synth modules. The dark register distortion problem was still present on the sound cards. I tried reprogramming them with the synth parameters with no luck.

Fast forward: Today:

Roland harpsichord sound samples are contained in the Roland SRX-06 'Complete Orchestra' Expansion Board. You can see the samples list by downloading the owner's manual from their website. The expansion boards can be plugged into the Roland Juno Stage (76 key, $1,400US) and Juno G (60 key, $900, but read the caution here) synthesizers. The board will cost $250US. The board contains 3 fronts, 3 backs, 3 lutes, and some other patches which are combinations of those.

I eventually will purchase the Juno Stage (caution: the Juno G keys are about 1/4 inch shorter front-to-back than standard, and the accidentals are too narrow on top for real playing comfort, I do not recommend this keyboard):

Pros:

> The keybed is weighted, and has a good synth feel. It does not feel like a harpsichord or a piano. But try it out to be sure about the action, it's still pretty much OK.
> The accidentals, while not square on top, are "findable".
> 76 keys will encompass the entire harpsichord repertoire, including a couple of Scarlatti sonatas which go up to G.
> The manual is well written and easy to understand, and the synth itself does not need programming, it's ready to play, so you do not need to read deeply into the manual.
> The voices, both internal and on the SRX boards, can be synth-tweaked by use of the knobs right on the synth, it's not necessary to punch in parameters. Or you can just leave it as is.
> The key range can be "zoned", with up to (at least) 4 zones, each with its' own key range, so you can set the volume balance as you like.
> You can set up your own coupled patches, combining front & back 8', and maybe even detuning them as well.
> It's a lot cheaper than the C-30.
> You can turn off the velocity in case it affects the harpsichord samples

Cons:
> You will need an external sound system.
> There is no music rest. That's a real problem. I've already devised a prop, a Yamaha music rest attached to wooden supports.

Unknown items:
> Are those samples from the old or new digitals? The new has French and Flemish samples. The SRX-06 manual does not specify. The old C-20 had only only flavor, it didn't specify which.
> Is the distortion problem still present with these sound board samples?
> If the distortion problem is still there, is it possible to re-patch (re-zone) those keys, properly changing the octave to match?
> External amplification is simplified by self-contained studio monitors, or self-contained computer speakers. The latter has proven quite good if you get the right ones (I'm using Creative Lab).

Other:
> The Juno Stage also has internal harpsichord samples, but I wouldn't rely on them.

How good would a set up like this be? Maybe by the end of this year I'll just spring for it and be able to have an answer to that. Granted, the absence of a music rest and need for external amplification is problematic, but that's life in the digital world.

Thanks all, and stay tuned! To this thread, that is.

By the way, my C-20 met with an unfortunate accident and was a total loss, and the JV-880 and the sound card were stolen during a break-in.
Posted by: kdr152004

Re: Roland Digital Harpsichords: The Complete Scoop - 03/02/12 11:48 PM

still can't afford a C-30 : (
Posted by: dewster

Re: Roland Digital Harpsichords: The Complete Scoop - 03/03/12 10:38 AM

The only way I'd consider dropping huge cash on a synthesized harpsichord is if all the voices in it were SN or similar (unlooped, unstretched, no layer switches). Having SN positive organ stops and forte-piano samples would be a huge plus. And I want it housed in a cute wooden box with decent stand / speakers / amp / music rest. For that I'd pay $3k USD easy. Narrower inverse keys would be a plus.