Ever since I can remember, I’ve set up my DAW templates to open with a Fender Rhodes sound called up and ready to play. There’s something about the sound of a Rhodes that I find inspiring; particularly when the sound being used is responsive to the touch. They feel good to play, stimulate my creativity, and are generally a good starting point to get me into a creative mindset that encourages musical experimentation. In the earlier days of MIDI these were sounds from external modules. Now, with software instruments, I’ve used sounds based on either sample sets or on physical modelling. They both produce excellent results when done well.
Sampling Or Physical Modelling?
Enter e-instruments to an already crowded playing field, with their latest Fender Rhodes incarnation; Session Keys Electric S. On the heels of their very successful Electric R version which was based on a specially modified vintage 1976 Mk 1, Electric S is created from a carefully restored vintage 1973 suitcase Rhodes. Hosted within Kontakt 5, and weighing in at close to 10 GB, it is comprised of two sample sets.
The Studio samples capture the original unaltered sound directly recorded from the line output through high end preamps and converters. And the Live samples are the product of micing the 80 watt amp and cabinet that shipped with the suitcase models.
One of the things e-instruments does so well with their Session Keys instruments is blur the lines between sampling and physical modelling by allowing us to shape the sound in ways normally associated with physical modelling. With it’s unique Tonality controls, we can control aspects like resonance and the amplitude and position of the virtual tines. Add to this the ability to shape the sound’s envelope, as well as adding in mechanical noises and a set of reversed sounds, and this becomes much more than a traditional sample set. It becomes a rich palette of possibilities producing everything from pads to percussion.
Yeah, But What Does It Sound Like?
Electric S ships with an integrated collection of on board effects that include tremolo, chorus, phaser, amp simulation, compression, delay, and reverb, all perfectly tweaked for electric piano. Combine these with the unique Pentamorph tool, which allows you to control the balance of reverse samples, mechanical noises, processed samples, and the un-amplified tines, and you have a huge range of sounds and colours that come out of this instrument. It ships with a great collection of presets, but of course everything can be tweaked. And to round out the sound shaping and playability parameters, there are very musical and useful Dynamic and Crunch controls, as well as settings for velocity response and tuning.
Here I’ve played a short phrase based on a blues progression, with a simple bass and drum accompaniment, and bounced down four different versions using four different tweaked presets. The first two utilize the Studio samples, the latter two the Live set.
Don't Worry If You Aren't A Great Piano Player!
No worries if you’re not a proficient keyboard player. e-instruments provides two tools that allow non keyboardists to create rich vibrant electric piano parts to fit any chord progression across a wide variety of styles.
Smart Chords lets you play musically correct chords by pressing one or more keys or pads on your external MIDI controller. And like the other Session Keys instruments, it also comes set up to work with Native Instruments’ Maschine. After selecting a root note and chord map, chords are automatically assigned to the white keys (or pads). The black keys trigger various extensions and sus chords. There are additional keys modify the bass notes, and knobs to humanize the timing and velocities.
The Animatior is an adaptable MIDI phrase player that contains pre-programmed keyboard phrases in various styles, grouped as collections called songs. You can mix and match phrases from different songs and apply them to your own chords. Controls to alter the feel, timing, and dynamic response round out the Animator features that allow you to generate quick and correct piano parts that will fit almost any chord progression and groove. Smart Chords can even be combined with the Animator phrases for easy triggering.
Do I Really Need This?
e-instruments have something for everyone in their instruments, and Session Keys Electric S is no exception. For the novice players and programmers, Electric S has very useable presets to great a great sound immediately. Combined with the Smart Chords and Animator functions, anyone can generate a very useable great sounding keyboard part to fit original compositions in a wide range of styles.
For the more seasoned keyboard players, there is detailed control over parameters not usually found in sample sets that will allow you to customize the sound and feel of the instrument to suit your personal tastes and playing style. For composers and sound designers, the pentamorph features, combined with the built in effects, envelope, and reverse controls, allow for a wide palette of other worldly sounds. Everything from long dreamlike pads to short percolating percussive attacks are a few parameter tweaks away.
Session Keys S comes in all the popular formats that support Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5. It’s flawless sampling and mapping feels great to play whether you are a newbie or a Rhodes aficionado. I think it’s a great choice either as your first third party keyboard instrument, or as a valued addition to a collection of electric pianos that brings interesting and unique variations to the party not found in other Rhodes emulations.