Not satisfied with acoustic piano sounds

I’ve played in live bands over the years and after a pause of a couple, I’m playing with some friends for low-key gatherings- family birthdays, block parties, etc. While we don’t have an awesome sound system, it suffices for vocals and (electric) drums. It produces good sound for many of my keyboard patches such as EPs (ounge lizard), synth leads and pads, and organ (Hammond Xb3). Last night I noticed that my piano sounds were pretty muddy in the mix, not sounding nearly as vibrant as the other sounds I was pumping through the system. This was particularly noticable on Ain’t No Sunshine where the first verse is just piano and vocal. I know some of this is because while the acoustic piano can sound great in headphones, it’s sourced from an acoustic, not electronic sound- i.e., it’s hard to reproduce the original acoustic sound in any electronic setup, but maybe more so because of our less than optimal PA. I’m wondering if others have encountered this. Do you suggest any tweaks such as EQ, particular piano software apps, etc? I use Pianoteq instruments and love the sound for headpones and recording. In a live setting it’s been ok in the past but now I’m not satisfied. I’m also using CFX lite (Yamaha grand) and this does provide a brighter sound than the Pianoteq patches.

One other thing- I also have an option of running my keyboards through a pair of Electro-voice Zx1 speaker rather than the sound system. Haven’t tried that yet.


There’s not really enough info here to know exactly what’s going on. First, from a practical and gigging standpoint, reproducing an acoustic instrument vs. an electric isn’t really a factor these days… sample players and high quality VSTis changed all that (but if we’re talking about pro recording at 96K then I’d choose a great, real piano and great mics/pres etc.). I’ll add the caveat that I’m not primarily a keys player, but I run a few piano patches through C3 in our sets, and I run a ton of other instruments, from synths, organs, guitars to sax and brass sections. All with varying levels of brightness. And I do EQ most of them, not only for matching but to get them to sit in the mix or to fit a particular song or style.

I don’t own it but Pianoteq should sound good. If all your other sounds are bright enough in your PA, then the problem is coming from your piano or your piano’s signal path. OTOH, if you’re comparing the piano to instruments that are already muddy but they sound OK to you (like a muddy organ), it could be anything anywhere in your PA or your PA speakers.

Try putting an EQ after the piano (routing only the piano to it, no other sounds) and try increases around 5k-10k to get it brighter. I won’t get into all the nuances of EQing, but reducing the mud around 250-350Hz helps too.

Hope that helps… maybe some real keys players will chime in with other thoughts!

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A few years ago, I created a utility rack, composed of EQ, Reverb, and a few other fx. I drop it in all my songs, and can run anything thru it. Every venue has differing acoustics, so I adjust accordingly. I learned the repeated venues needs, and usually know what to do. If I am playing thru a different amp/speaker combo, I also adjust settings on the combo and my rack. I also use rotary knobs on my controller to adjust fx in real time, usually for EQ. It sounds difficult, but it is really not.

Thanks for the EQ ideas. fyi, the other instruments (EP, organ, synth punch through loud and clear)

For those piano players out there, has anyone had experience with both Pianoteq and Keyscape?

I have both.

Look at Pianoteq. Tiny footprint and load. Lots of models and endorsed by manufacturers such as Steinway.

You can download a demo version to try before buying.

Key thing to get a good piano sound is avoid options that don’t support sympathetic string resonance. That makes a heck of a difference to the realism.

I tend to use my Kronos for pianos as it set it up years ago to my taste. It is a sampled piano, but all samples are unlooped and uncompressed and it has the sympathetic resonance so sounds great. But Pianoteq is my next choice and it has an awesome Yamaha CP model

I’m a firm believer in relatively bad piano sounds live. Tinny, bright, and 2 velocity layers. They cut through, and usually in a way with more character than a great grand piano sound reproduced badly. Live I’m far more apt to use a CP80 or Korg Triton piano than a nice Kontakt library unless it’s a solo spot. I also use Pianoteq’s Steinway D, a sound I loath under studio conditions. At church I use the Nord Stage’s upright sound, it’s really good. Especially through a Big Sky pedal.

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I would try some eq, compression and little dose of chorus to give a piano some live presence. I do it always with Pianoteq (rock piano presets), switching off internal effects and pumping a little with MixBox. Sometimes I use CP70 sounds where it wasn’t in original recording, it gives just that live aggressivity I need

One piano vst I have is sonivox eighty eight. this has a nice sound to it.
It is multi sampled and you can hear the hammers and dampers as well.
There are a few varitaions of piano on this.
I’ve only started on VST’s myself so i haven’t had much experince with anything else. This VST blows all my keyboards away. There is trial version and it’s on special too.

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I’ve been using Mrs. Mills Piano - that fits in with Fred’s theory of live piano sound


Thanks Furio. In general, would you agree with the EQ guidelines that TWAW shared in this thread?

FredProgGH, I’ve also looked at the Triton pianos but ruled them out because they didn’t sound authentic in my headphones. But as you suggest, they may be what’s needed in the environment of living gigging.

Yes. Less low frequency and some push on mid high can give an acoustic piano a live presence. In the past there was a piano patch in Korg M1 synth. Very low fidelity but perfect for a disco mix. Today I wouldn’t use that but it’s just for comparison.
Eq and compression. I always use that

Laura- Downloaded and installed the Sonivox Steinway. Very nice sound, but probably not different enough from my Pianoteq patches to make it worth the cost(although the sale price is very attractive)

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@FredProgGH is right. It’s tricky to get a good “live sounding” piano using all those 200-velocity-layer libraries. I know that very well, being a compulsive hi-end lib buyer (OK, I’m a feticist). :rofl:
Most of times a piano from Sampletank is good enough. Or a bright Yamaha (C7 or CFX).
Very important, programming the sounds on headphones is deceiving. PAs quality often craps.

My 2 cent.

100% agree - I’ve tweaked and re-tweaked my piano sounds using monitor speakers and my P.A. - getting used to the resulting sounds on headphones or in-ears is not a problem…

But it takes some brutal EQing to make these sounds live compatible - here is the EQ I use with Addictive Piano (I have a pretty bright patch set up within the plugin, that’s why there are also cuts in the high mids and the highs):

As you can see, for live sound it’s often more useful to carve out the stuff that gets in the way (boominess, honkiness) rather than doing too much boosting, which can become very nasty at loud volumes…

Here’s the curve for Pianoteq - I use a slightly worn version of their Bechstein:

Here’s the Bechstein as I have set it:

Plus a slight dip in the highs:

The Bechstein works nicely where you need a more organic, resonant 70’s piano sound - think Elton John, Queen (Don’t Stop Me Now, Bohemian Rhapsody), Jethro Tull (Locomotive Breath).

Addictive Piano is more clinical and precise, but cuts through well in busy songs.

These two are my essential piano sounds - I do use some variations of EQ settings (maybe give the Addictive a bit more low-end substance and less sparkle for ballads, etc.), but after lots of experiments with pretty much every piano library there is, I keep returning to these two for my live sounds.

Sure, there may be simpler pianos from e.g. the M1 or Triton plugins that could do the job in busy mixes (also depends on style), but I want a certain degree of ‘playability’ as well for my personal enjoyment on stage :wink: - and these two make playing a lot of fun!




The piano that works best for me, and after using others I keep going back to, is Acoustic Sample’s “Academic Grand.” The other one that seems to work nice in a guitar heavy mix is their “A-Pian.”

  • Paul

This has been my go to Piano for several years. It always cuts through the mix, and has given a great sound on everything I play. I was fortunate to have played the actual piano AS sampled at the University of Arkansas. It was a treat for sure.

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GREAT information! Thank you Torsten.