Throughout college, I had the privilege to play at many different venues, churches; as well as helping others constructing their keyboard rigs so that they were usable and reliable. Personally, I’ve had my fair share of controllers, keyboards, stage pianos, vintage boards, and effects. I have come to be content with what is involved in my rig. Why? Because it works for everything I need, and it can do more than I sometimes need it to. I will, in depth, break down my current rig, and explain the parts, and why and how I use them. As a disclaimer, this is what suits ME as a worship keyboardist, and is strictly my opinions as well as my personal preferences as to why it makes a great rig for me as a keyboard player. There is no “be all end all” rig. Let us begin.
The Brains Of The Rig
I used to hate Apple products. Then I bought my Macbook, and my world changed. This is the center of my rig. I run a 13”, Macbook 7,1. I have upgraded my RAM to 8 GB. I highly recommend doing this, it makes your computer run faster and better to support the use of many programs and plug-ins. My Processor is the 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo. I plan on getting a new Macbook soon, but mine is still running strong. ALWAYS MAKE A BACK UP OF YOUR HARDDRIVE!
Western Digital 7200 RPM Hard Drive
I use this for a few reasons. One of them is simply I have so many samples in my programs, that I needed more space to keep them all. This has more than enough room. It is a physical spinning hard drive, so I only have about 20% used on it and keep it low because seek time is less when my MBP searches for samples that I call up. The next reason I use this is that it runs at 7200 RPM, where most internal hard drives in Macbooks spin at 5400 RPM. This, in return causes my computer to search the better, external drive first before going to the internal, creating faster transfer speeds. The hard drive is connected via a Firewire 800 cable.
In The Rack
Technical Pro Power Conditioner
This power conditioner makes every thing in the rig stay on safely. It has about 8 outlets on the back and then another 4 on the front. It’s simple, and it was very affordable. The switch also glows blue, which is a nice touch. It really is a no frills and thrills power conditioner, but if the power ever blew, it is going to protect all my gear.
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Interface
I absolutely love this interface. It has multiple in’s and out’s so I am able to route whatever I want, wherever I want. This rack also doubles as the integral part to me running loops. It was not too long ago that I was able to run loops in surround sound! Routing different parts of tracks in between about 4 to 5 speaker sends. I was able to do this because I had all these separate outputs to split whatever I wanted and send it to FOH. On the recording side of things, the preamps in this piece of equipment are pristine sounding. With two direct inputs on the front of it, as well as padding, phantom power, and gain control capabilities. It’s very simple for me to record and playback on the fly, or do a quick setup or demos and such. The sound is also pristine as well coming out of the interface, and there is absolutely no latency. This interface is daisy chained to my hard drive, and runs from a Firewire 800 to 400 cable.
Alesis Multimix 8 Line Mixer
This is where everything is summed together to send to front of house. The mixer features Volume, FX Send, and Pan for each channel. If I am at a venue that only has me mono, I still run all sound stereo, and then just pan each channel hard right or left, and take the respective output to front of house. I use all my own direct boxes. I have two, Rapco Stereoline Direct Boxes. They’re solid, and have the ground lift feature just in case of the dreaded buzz. The ability to mix my own sounds and keyboards and send one mix to FOH is very accommodating not only to what I hear in my ears, but also to the engineer who only has to tell me what should come up or down, and not figure out what should be done on his own. And it uses less channels, and that’s always a plus.
M-Audio Axiom 49
This has been my work horse of a controller for the past six years and it is still running strong. I love it for the faders and trigger pads. I’ll control scene changes within my programs, and map the faders to volume sliders within my DAWs. 49 keys is the perfect amount, I prefer the number of keys to purposefully limit myself in how I play chords, especially on pad sounds. Not being able to spread my hands out so far is very good for the mix, and it keeps the tonal options for myself in one play for the most part so I don’t step on the toes of the other musicians in the band that are carrying the different parts of the songs.
73 Key Korg Stage Vintage Piano
This is the newest and most impressive addition to my rig. I wanted some hardware, and looked hard to find what would suit me. Personally, I don’t play a lot of organ any more in my worship sets, so quality B3’s were not necessary for me (please don’t smite me). I wanted great sounding pianos, and amazing Rhodes and Wurly samples. On top of the that, the weighted keys of the SV-1 made it an easy decision. And as a lot of people will say, it is an inspiring instrument to play. With the analog feel of the knobs, no menus, its very user friendly and gets up and running in a matter of seconds. This is also my safe haven because if my computer ever fails, I can still always get sounds from the SV-1.
I have a lot of different software, but only use what I feel I need to in a gig. I will go over what I have and the different uses.
Ableton Live 9 Suite – This is my host for all my plug-ins. I use to create loops, click tracks, as well as to play sounds in general. This is the center of my software rig.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere – This synthesizer is incredible. It is not just a soft synth, it truly is an intuitive synthesizer. Pads, leads, bass, effects, spacey, it does it all It also has incredible expressive string patches which I have come to love. All the samples of vintage synths like Moog, Oberheim, Juno, are incredible. I do 90% of tracking as well as live patches with Omnisphere.
Native Instruments Massive – Another great synthesizer plug in. I use this especially for more abstract sounds. I usually go to Massive when I need more sounds, than tonal patches. Some of them can be very eerie and create lots of tension, it is perfect for doing things such as scoring for short films (or long ones!).
*when I produce more, I use other software including but not limited to
Logic Pro X
Waves Effects Bundle
Lounge Lizard EP-4
Arturia Analog Factory
How it all connects
On this page, you will find a diagram that I have created. Though simple, it shows where everything goes, but here is a detailed write up.
The M-Audio Axiom 49 is connected via a MIDI-to-USB cable. The cable then goes into a USB port on my Macbook Pro. Here it controls any software that I want it to, lets say Ableton Live. My Hard Drive is connected via Firewire 800, and streams samples to my Macbook. Audio is passed through the Firewire 800 cable, through my hard drive, through another Firewire cable to my Interface. It is my interface that spits out the sounds through any of the multiple outputs that it has. For now, lets say I am only using one set of stereo out puts, so I will route my Omnisphere Plug-In in Ableton Live to channels 1 and 2 of my Saffire Pro 40. From Channel 1 and 2, I will send stereo signal (2 mono cables) to a stereo input on my Alesis Multi Mix 8. Then I will take a stereo signal (2 mono cables) from my Korg SV-1, and occasionally send signal through my Strymon Timeline (not in the diagram), then stereo out (2 mono cables) into a stereo input on my Alesis Multimix 8. It is at the mixer that I will mix signals to equalize my levels, and then there will be one stereo feed sent to front of house. And that is my basic connection for my keyboard rig.
*click on images for bigger view*