Reface CP: Yes, I played one!

Finally got a chance to try a Yamaha Reface CP and a Reface DX. Given the genres of music that I play, I’m the most interested in the Reface CP and YC models. The CP and DX were on the floor at Guitar Center, so I decided to try the DX, too. I’ll catch the YC another day when it’s in stock.

As we all know, Guitar Center on Saturday afternoon is not the ideal environment for a trial. I demo’d through headphones mainly to cut out the din from the rug-rats randomly pounding on keyboards and the sonic self-stimulation from the guitar department.

Even under these degraded conditions, the CP sounds excellent. The sound is the stuff, if you know what I mean. (This is a family web site.) Quick impressions of the main sounds:

  • Rhodes I: Nice, mellow, laid back, smooth.
  • Rhodes II: Bright, snarky, barks like a dog (in the good way).
  • Wurli: Solid performer, not too polite, more Ray than Supertramp.
  • Clav: Solid performer, good body.
  • CP: Bright knife, brings make the old days without the back ache.

The effects are excellent. Dial in the drive and/or the appropriate effect and you’re good to cover:

  • Smooth Operator
  • Do It Again
  • What’d I Say
  • Higher Ground

and a whole lot more! Max out the drive and it doesn’t get that annoying digital fizziness. The wah needs to be tuned into the appropriate frequency range, but that’s SOP. The wah can be made so bright that it cuts glass and pokes holes in the eardrums. (Not a recommended practice.)

One part of Yamaha’s marketing pitch truly rings right. The CP is a “live panel” instrument. Be ready to dial everything in with no presets. Very old school and a nice change from menu diving. This kind of interactivity bodes well for the YC organ, when I finally find one.

Mini keys. Sigh. If you’re a player, then expect to MIDI the CP to a real keyboard. That said, Yamaha are right to be proud of these mini-keys. They are very responsive. I didn’t have too much trouble laying down block chords or noodling a solo line. However, three octaves is at least one octave too short for stretching out or laying down full right hand jazz chords while holding down any kind of bass. My chief adjustment problem with the mini-keys is playing left hand stride or arpeggios. You probably saw this coming, too.

Build quality is reasonably good for a small, light-weight instrument. The knobs have a solid feel. I’m somewhat less enamored of the volume slider and octave switch. They feel a little bit cheap. The toggle switches are retro in a Home Depot kind of way. Yamaha had better mind their Chinese suppliers because this board could easily degrade to trash if someone sneaks cut-rate components into it.

The built-in speakers are just OK. You’re probably going to connect the CP to a decent amp and speakers anyway.

Bottom line, the CP sound is nicely crafted. I hope to hear these sounds with this kind of interactivity in a new full-size ax soon.

I had to give the DX a try especially since I had a DX-21 back in the day. Turn on the DX and soon you’re back in 4 OP FM yesteryear. Folks in electronic genres (EDM, etc.) dig FM, but for the kind of music that I play today, I’m not ready to return to FM. If you are into FM, then you really should give the DX a try. It, too, is the real stuff.

Extra credit

It is a long drive to GC, so I tried a few other instruments, too.

I had a discussion with one of the salepeople about the CP, mentioning electric piano, jazz chords, etc. This guy was so desperate to make a sale that he insisted on trying the Roland JD-Xi. Only a Carpathian would recommend a JD-Xi to a retro-jazzer. Well, it turns out, the guys was a Carpathian — a guitar player trying to make sales in the keyboard department. Cheesh.

I did try the JD-Xi. Definitely not my cup of tea. Plus, the Yamaha HQ mini-keys really are much better than the JD-Xi.

The keyboard department had a used Tyros for sale. Yes, the original Mark I. I tried it just for grins and to see how much Tyros and mid-range PSRs have progressed over the years. Needless to say, the PSR-S950 — and definitely the newer S970/S770 — are light-years beyond the Tyros Mark I.

Finally, I gave the DigiTech Trio a try. The Trio is a stomp box accompanist. You put it in learn mode, play a rhythm pattern on guitar, and the Trio identifies the tempo and key. Then, in play mode, the Trio adds a bass and drum backing track selected from one of several genres. The Trio is based on musIQ® technology licensed from 3dB Research Ltd. Some of the backing tracks are provided by PG Music, developers of Band-In-A-Box (BIAB). (There’s quite a music technology mafia in Victoria, BC.) Harman, who own DigiTech, liked MusIQ so much that they bought 3dB Research, too.

I couldn’t teach the Trio a thing. I am a lousy guitarist, I was hungry and I definitely was tired of the sonic assault in the guitar department. The backing tracks that I heard were OK although I think BIAB itself sounds better. If you intend to try one in a store, be sure to read the manual ahead of time…