Virtual Steinway....

anybody tried this before???

I’m working with a group of university students in an environment where some of our studio equipment is, er, crappy.

Actually it’s not the studio equipment that’s a problem (we got a legit copy of ProTools and even a nice Control24 panel, plus some OK microphones). But our selection of available pianos is pretty bad.

One of our enterprising students suggested taking a plain old electric piano, feeding its midi outputs into ProTools, and then adding some phenomenal patches to make the electric piano sound like a zillion dollar Steinway, or Bosendorfer, or whatever.

With this kind of setup, an adventurous and willing keyboardist could conceivably coax good, or even great sounds, out of a simple electric.

But we’re not sure of how difficult it is going to be to include the pedals of our electric piano in this. Either we’ll find something out there that neatly and cleanly interprets pedal action and modifies the keyboard sounds (which would be great), or we’re gonna have to roll our own, instead, which might be a challenging software job that could be a little to tough for us right now.

So… I was wondering if any of you guys out there have tried a similar thing, i.e., trying to create a virtual “good piano” out of a simple electric piano, albeit it one with midi outputs and functional pedals. We know the pedals work, because when the piano is making sounds through its own speaker the pedals work sort of like they would on a real piano. We just want to create something that will sound better than a pedal-less Steinway. We want the whole nine yards, pedals and all!

Any thoughts?

Gary in Istanbul/

A MacMini with GigaSampler sounds like what you want.

There is a lot of different opportunities and possible approaches to this.

The hardest one is to find a great grand piano and multisample it. This is very hard to do properly without the right equipment and a skilled pianist at the keys. For now, I would dismiss that one…

Then there is a lot of good, free VSTi’s out there. One I like personally is this free one from NaturalStudio. It is a Soundfont, so some VSTi that are capable of playing soundfonts is needed. Another one I like is the Grand Piano patch that comes with the free version of SampleTank 2 at IK Multimedia. Good, clear, and no-nonsense Grand. Period. The mda piano listed on n-Tracks link page is also a reasonably good place to start - for a shortcut, go here and get to the bottom of the page for the mda Piano.

All these VST plugins support pedal via midi, provided your electric piano has pedal via midi implemented in its midi protocol - not every keyboard has that, especially older ones.

All these suggestions link to free stuff - if you want to spend some serious cash there’s a lot of commercial VSTi’s out there - check with your local music store.

regards, Nils

Here is a very convincing (free) virtual Steinway for you:

http://www.pianosounds.net/soundfonts/WST25FStein_00Sep22.zip

It’s a . SF2 soundfont. Use sfz or something to play it.

hansje, what’s the password for that?

Right: I suggest you start out with soundfont pianos, using “sfz” to play them (you can find it at http://rgcaudio.com – it’s an excellent free plugin soundfont player. Note that it only runs on PC, not on Mac.)

I don’t know whether ProTools supports VSTi plugins, though. ProTools is great for pros, but it’s not the best choice for everyone, not by a long shot, especially since they only support two soundcard manufacturers (ProTools and M-Audio). Definitely give n-Track a try!

Personally, I think ns_piano is very weak, especially in the dynamics department. Playing softly creates a quieter sound but not a softer one, so it’s only good for roadhouse piano or styles like that where every note is struck fortissimo or higher.

The best free piano soundfont I’ve found so far is Splendid Grand 136. Unfortunately, it’s no longer free, but you can get it (and more) on DVD for just $15, which is a real bargain. You can try the 72MB version for free; find it HERE.

The WSF25Stein isn’t bad – I have it in my folder of pianos to use though I don’t use it very often. TO download it, go to http://www.pianosounds.net/freesoundfont.htm. The user name and passwords are there.

Another one to try is Akai-steinwayIII.

You can use any MIDI keyboard to play these, but for best results you’ll want a keyboard with fully-weighted action.

While you’re at it, pick up my jRhodes3 soundfonts, sampled from my 1977 Rhodes Mark I Stage Piano. I use the stereo version myself. I’m sure some of your students will find use for it.

Also, download all the VST and VSTi plugins from Guido at soundfonts.it. The name says soundfont, but that’s not what he’s into any more. For one small donation you’ll get a code to register all of his programs, which are excellent and include:

- MrRay72, a Rhodes electric piano simulator
- Organized Trio, a hammond organ sim
- MrTramp, a Wurlitzer electric piano sim
- MrDonald, a Leslie rotating speaker simulation

Your student was right. For a small fraction of the cost of a real piano, you can get a wide variety of different instruments. Even if it means you have to add another computer (Win PC) just to play the instruments – you can always feed the output from the PC’s soundcard into your ProTools machine if you have to. (That’s just one of many ways, post back for more details.)

The things we’re talking about herer are called “plugin instruments”. There are 4 interface standards for compatibility:

DXi - Win PC only (DX stands for Direct X)
VSTi - invented by Steinberg, most are for PC but I think there are some for Mac
RTAS - for ProTools only, and I believe Mac-only
AU - Apple interface, Mac-only.

You’ll have to check your software to see what ones you can support, but for Win PC there are plenty of cheap and/or free programs that support DXi and VSTi.

BTW, leave out the “i” and these are plugin interfaces for effects rather than instruments (DX and VST).

Finally: I happen to have a copy of “Native Instruments Bundle” for Mac/ProTools, which I have no use for. It includes B4, a truly excellent Hammond organ sim (the best available for computer), as well as two other programs, one modeling a classic synth and the other for sequencing drums. I’d be happy to donate it if you’ll PM me info on where to send it.

Tom: sorry it’s “april” & “showers” now.
Or you can go here:
http://www.pianosounds.net/freesoundfont.htm

I know you guys are trying to be frugal, but really, for day in/out use… despite my own preference to PC, I tihnk you will be hard pressed to find a better option than Giga on a MacMini. It will certainly be much less expensive than a real grand and the sound quality will be excellent. Included in this whole mess will be amplification of some sort too… so the expense of a good Giga library and Mac will be maybe 1/3 of the total cost once you figure in a weighted controller and PA.

The price of Gigastudio is only part of it, of course – then they’d need to pick a piano. But there are plenty of great ones, all much better than these free soundfonts (way, way better). Another option to check out and probably the best of them all is Ivory.

The soundfonts are just to get started, whilst investigating, because you don’t want to spend $300 on Giga and then $300-$500 on a piano sample set without doing some serious investigating.

A PA is not necessary for recording. Headphones or studio monitors are fine.

For a good weighted controller, consider the Radio Shack Model DP-4073, which is just a simple copy of the Casio Privia. At only $300, it’s really quite good, and has a decent piano sound built in as well (again, better than any of these soundfonts with the possible exception of the Splendid Grand, for some pieces where you want a woodier tone).

Quote (learjeff @ April 06 2006,16:15)
A PA is not necessary for recording. Headphones or studio monitors are fine.

I must have missed the point. I thought there was a performance component to this as well... as in the music department didn't have the budget for a piano so we are trying to get the nezt best thing. If recording is your only aim, then there are 100 excellent VSTi pianos available from The Grand, Ivory, the piano included in the Garritan Personal Orchestra, Bosendorfer 290, Akoustic Piano, plus a bunch I am sure I am forgetting.

No reason those can’t be used for performance too, but then you do need a PA, of course.