What Do You Use for a second keyboard and why?

I am trying an Arturia MK2 61 as a second keyboard, intending to use for organ (Blue3) and I am underwhelmed so far by its usefullness. So, my question is, for any of you that use multiple keyboards (61 keys or something else) how have you incorporated the second keyboard into your mixture of instruments? Do you play instruments exclusively on one or the other or do you mix? Is there another controller that I should look at?

My trial period is up on 1-31-2021 and I would really appreciate your valuable input!!

Hi sgarman, and welcome to the forum.

You will get many different answers on your question, as it is personal preference. Many times, my second keyboard is determined by the gig I am playing. My main keyboard is usually a weighted 88 key, mainly for pianos and horns. My 2nd key is usually my trusty EMU Xboard, mainly because the keybed is very close to a Hammond keybed. I also use the 2nd key for synth and special sounds, such as Organ, Oboe, and Sax. Sometimes, a gig will be in a tight area, and 88 keys take up a lot of room, so I will go to a shorter keyboard, which usually has sliders, knobs, buttons, and pads, which also works better for my 3-piece band. Again, it really depends on the gig, and even which band I will be playing with.



BTW…the EMU is no longer produced, but I’ve found them available on EBay.

@Corky how much interconnection of sounds between boards do you do or does each board have its own sounds and there is no overlap.

My keyboards are all controllers. No internal sounds. I have some workstation type keys and modules, but never use them anymore. With Cantabile, my sounds can be managed within a song, or changed when going to another song. There are too many VSTs that sound much better than hardware synths. AND it is much cheaper, and lighter carrying than normal workstations. Every sound in the world is available to me on my laptop. That’s not true for hardware. I’ve been completely softsynth now for many years, and never looked back. Hope that answered your question.

I’m close to @corky in my use of keyboards: my main board is an 88 key weighted, so I use it mainly for piano, rhodes, wurlie (with a bit of pads or organ layer mixed on top), while the upper keyboard with an organ keybed and aftertouch is used mostly for hammond leads, brass phrases, all kinds of solo synth sounds, sax soloing etc.

Sounds are mostly separate, but in a number of setups, I have a left-hand setup that routes to the same sounds as my lower keyboard, so it is easier to play comping chords to my soloing (I can have my left hand in a lower octave on the upper keyboard instead of contortionist moves to hold the chords on the lower keybed. In some other songs, the upper keyboard plays the same sounds as the lower, but with an additional layer added. E.g. a Rhodes sound on the lower KB and a Rhodes layered with Hammond and strings for the chorus on the upper KB. And of course, I have dual-manual Hammond setups with both keyboards playing the same Hammond VST instrument (Great and Swell manual). There’s no hard rule - whatever works for the song and makes life comfortable. I try to stick with “lower = main sound, upper= lead sound”, but I deviate whenever the song requires it.

For me, having two keyboards has two main advantages:

  • two different keybed characteristics (weighted piano-like plus light organ-/synth-like with aftertouch).
  • less fiddling around with keyboard zones (and trying to remember where the brass patch is on the keyboard :wink: ) and less state switching - there are a number of songs in my list that have just one song state

Re alternatives: My criteria for the upper KB would be a keybed you feel comfortable with, plus a reasonable amount and layout of knobs, sliders and buttons (maybe pads) to control your entire rig from the upper keyboard (most controls of the lower keyboard will be covered by the upper…). Controller-wise, the Arturia looks nice; the feel of the keybed is for you to decide if it fits your style. Beyond that, there’s not much - for me, Cantabile does all the fancy configuration work.



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I also switched to a full VST setup.
My Montage and Kronos stay at home.
Power of software instruments and Cantabile cannot be matched anymore.
I think gap will become wider in the future.
When I play live I use s Studiologic SL73 as lower manual (pianos) and a Native Instruments Control S61 as higher manual (organ, brass, synth, pads)

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Thanks guys for your input. I too am only using VSTs, for the reasons that @furio mentioned. i use a SL88 grand as the lower main board, an arturia beatstep for control and now am adding a second controller as mentioned above. i looked/tried a MPK249 and 61 but the key length is 1/2" less that the arturia ( the arturia MK2 keys are about a 1/2" shorter than a piano key). I think the problems I was running into stemmed many from bad programming. My thinking turns out to closely parallel @Torsten comments. I think if I refine my setup of embedded racks that will also help.

I am still open to other suggestions for that best 61 key controller though!!!
Let me hear from You…

I had the Arturia keylab 61 mk II, but I recently sold it. There were problems when playing lots of notes with glissando action (Hammond style), new firmware improved performance on this last issue but keys for me were too soft. My new Native is for me better on that parameter. I find all keybed of midi controllers as low quality.
A Yamaha, Korg or Kurzweil devices have always better keybed, weighted or not

Of course the best 61 key controller is the one that Christian (@FantomXR) built for me :wink:

Before that, I was using the Akai MPK 249 quite happily - the somewhat shorter keys weren’t really an issue, the keybed feels really solid and trustworthy (unlike the Alesis VI 49, which just felt too “cheap”). The spring-loading of the keys is something to get used to - that’s to me the key difference between synth keyboards. For the Akai, the spring-load is a middle-ground - tight-ish, but not too hard.

What I really like about the Akai are the backlit (!) pads with customizable colors and the faders, pots and buttons (fully assignable). You have four banks of pads and controls, so tons of options. If I hadn’t invested in Christian’s custom-build, I would probably have moved to MPK 261 for my upper keyboard.

Hope this helps!



Upper keyboard - Roland A800
Lower keyboard - Alto Live 88
Control - Elgato Stream Deck (Velcro-ed to the A800)

These are a pretty good combo for me.

Would love to have Christian’s custom built, but I need to stick with what I’ve got for the current time. They opened live music last weekend here, and I am being hounded to play, but not quite convinced it is time yet. I am rehearsing with my 3-piece, but staying safe in doing so, and using 1 keyboard…with lots of switching. It is quite a learning curve after using an upper keyboard for years. Also, I am looking at possible back surgery soon( thank you Hammond and Altec Voice of the Theatre), so the light weights will be my go to for awhile. :wink:
Hopefully I will be contacting Christian sometime in the future, if all things return to some normalcy.




@Torsten, Do you set up both keyboards to point to the same instrument/rack for instruments you want to play from both boards or do you use separate instances? If you share an instrument between do you have problems with note on/off collisions?

How do you set that up? (just a thumbnail sketch)

When I use layer variants or left hand comping on my upper, I route my upper notes to the same rack that my lower keyboard is routed to - no stuck notes or on/off collisions yet. Simply two MIDI routes to the same target.

I have some songs that have the same sound on upper and lower keyboard, but I want to control volumes or reverb / delay separately. For simplicity’s sake and to avoid funky side-effects of juggling with complex routing, I use a copy of the rack for such scenarios.

I could use the same rack and use bindings on the routes, but that would break my standard faders paradigm, so I live with the duplicate racks - easier to understand and modify.



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I use every combination of dual sounds, multiple splits and same sound on both. But I don’t stick with just two keyboards - that wouldn’t work with much of the music I make.

I created a ‘Hub’ Linked Rack that makes creating any combination of any number of keyboards very simple. I can choose the size of rig to suit the gig and it’s simple to allocate what I need.


Too many splits are too confusing, and I often need to get to multiple sounds. Unlike others I don’t usually play a single sound per keyboard (e.g., lead upper, piano lower), but it’s rare that I’ll play organ on lower and piano on upper :slight_smile:

I’ve been using a Novation Impulse 61 as my second keyboard for about 3 years. It has a light action that works well for me on organ and clav, and the keys are almost waterfall (they have a bit of lip on them, but I’ve yet to cut my hand up doing palm glisses). I setup a simple “live” preset on it so that I can use the faders as drawbars, and use the buttons under the faders for things like advancing songs and song-parts.

I will also be using the encoders for some volume work, but haven’t’ gotten that done yet. I originally used the faders for this but I like the idea of using encoders as they (hopefully) won’t reset the volume like the faders do.

I don’t use the pads much, but I am playing with them a bit for some sample triggers.

I use a Roland A88 for the lower weighted keyboard. Always use it for acoustic piano and EPs, might add a second layer for a pad or strings sound. Upper keyboard is Roland A49 which I use for Hammond B3x, synth leads and sometimes pads or strings. Occasionally I’ll split the A49 into an upper section for a synth and lower section for Hammond, transposing octaves up or down as needed.