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Page 2: Yamaha YC61 & CP88

Stage Keyboards By Robin Bigwood
Published September 2020


Before I got my hands on the CP88 I'd assumed it to be a Nord Stage competitor. Actually, despite the control panel positively bristling with knobs and switches it's far closer in scope to a Nord Piano, because it doesn't have a dedicated organ section.

Yamaha CP88 stage piano keyboard.Yamaha CP88 stage piano keyboard.

What you do get are dedicated sections for Piano, E Piano and a 'Sub' general soundset. Like on the YC61, they can be combined flexibly in split and layer combinations via buttons in each section.

I initially questioned the separation of acoustic and electric pianos, because normally you want one or the other, rather than a split or a layer of the two. However, it makes a bit more sense when you spot that each section has its own special repertoire of dedicated effects. Acoustic pianos get dedicated Damper Resonance and a choice of Compression, Distortion, Drive or Chorus. The E Piano section has no fewer than three processors in series: a straightforward Drive, feeding a first multi-effect with various modulation-type effects and wah, and then a second for Chorus, Flanger and Phaser effects. The Sub section, while we're at it, has just a single effect of its own, switchable between Chorus/Flanger, Rotary speaker, Tremolo and Distortion.

Beyond these insert-type effects there's a Delay with switchable analogue/digital characteristics, and a simple Reverb, both accessible to any or all of the sound-generating sections. Finally there's the same useful three-band Master EQ as on the YC61, but for some reason the CP88 is granted the option of having EQ settings and status stored for individual Live Sets.

Hammer Rite

The CP88's keyboard is one of Yamaha's own NW‑GH (Natural Wood Graded Hammer) models that has wood visible on the sides of the white keys. Under the hand the quite slender and strongly textured black keys made me think more than anything of top-flight acoustic grands from the early part of the 20th century, which is a big plus-point, as far as I'm concerned. There's no escapement-like resistance on the downstroke, aftertouch or release velocity, but the triple-sensor design makes for reliable retriggering even when keys haven't been fully released. Octave width is a standard 165mm (which makes a two-keyboard combo with the narrow-span YC61 a subtly strange mismatch), and the white key-dip an unremarkable 11mm. There's a bit of a hollow clatter on the downstroke, much quieter than some cheaper actions, and the release is more muted again. Subjectively, I found the weight and resistance beautifully judged, fast, precise, neither light nor heavy, and musically rewarding for both acoustic and electric piano sounds. Just as I remember the CP4. It's a good 'un.

The piano sounds themselves are identical to, and exhibit the same very high quality as those in the YC61. Here though, fittingly, there are additional grands. The desirable and versatile CFX, C7 and S700 are joined by a plummy Bosendorfer Imperial 290 that reeks of old-world class and a really good, balanced and neutral CFIII. There's also one more upright, an SU7 with a surprisingly complex and attractive character. You also get the same layered CFXs and CP80s as in the YC61, along with a rather coarse, clangourous (and bizarrely noisy) 'Digi Piano'.

There's extra value in the E Piano section too, with the YC61's already generous line up supplemented by two more Rhodes models, a 73 Studio and 74 Stage. These are excellent, amazingly responsive, with pronounced key-release noises. Really, the CP88's Rhodes sounds are right up there with the very best of the modelling or sample-based competition.

Finally the Sub section has 17 pad and string sounds (varying from the Oberheim-esque synthetic to the naturalistic, by way of a single choir and Mellotron strings). Also, 10 organs that encompass a handful of preset Hammond registrations, a single Vox, Farfisa and an (unusual but nice) Elka Panther, plus full-ranks and single-flute church varieties. Then it's 11 chromatic percussions (think vibraphones, xylophones and some percussive synth bells), and 25 'others' that include basses, synth leads, steel and Strat guitars, a few brass instruments, jazz and Mellotron flutes, and a harmonica.

I don't want to keep repeating myself, but just for the avoidance of doubt, the CP88's pianos are really good. Timbral complexity across the pitch range, velocity gradation from the NW-GH action, decay phase plausibility and nuanced pedal response all stand up to scrutiny. As with the best of the hardware and sample library competition, you'd be hard-pushed to tell you weren't listening to the real thing on a recording. Only anti-musical, forensic single-note 'pixel peeping' would give the game away.

Having said that, I was surprised how subtle the piano Damper Resonance effect is: I often struggled to tell whether it was on or off, especially for the CFX. It's not adjustable like on the YC61.

And then, while I'll readily acknowledge that the provided Sub sounds maintain the quality I saw in the YC61, I struggle to understand why there are so few: fewer than 65 compared to the 300 on the CP4. There's virtually no naturalistic pop/jazz or orchestral brass, no section or solo woodwind and no orchestral combos, timps or drums.

Sound-editing facilities are close to non-existent too. The CP88 doesn't even get the YC61's single-knob filter control, so there isn't a filter at all here, not even lurking amongst the effects. It is perversely equipped with separate envelope Attack and Release knobs, but once again they don't work for all sounds: Attack is too often disabled for some string sounds, for example.

I'm also bound to mention the odd misfire in the current soundset (and actually these specific comments hold true for counterparts in the YC61 too). The single glockenspiel sound is out of tune, quite sharp and together with a xylophone it has a big unnecessary baked-in room ambience. The two clavinets, meanwhile, are presented an octave lower than everything else.

Another grumble concerns the insert effects, which when toggled on and off cause momentary interruptions to their sound generator's output. I remember a similar problem with the CP4, and it's annoying it hasn't been solved, especially as the same problem is not evident on the YC61. It's also a shame that the shared Delay effect has no ping-pong option or tap tempo button.

On a brighter note, a menu-accessible 'Advanced Mode' provides a useful workaround for when the strictly preconfigured effect provision in each section becomes a limitation. It allows any generator to access sounds outside its normal repertoire: so you could load the Piano section with a bass guitar, say, to access the Compressor there. Sound selection becomes a little less intuitive, because the big categorised selector knobs are disabled, but that's a small price to pay. It's also good to see the CP88's reverb being equipped with a (Decay) Time parameter, adjusting the tail between about 1 and 20 seconds. It's especially valuable as (unlike the YC61) there aren't any section-level reverbs.

Are they Nord beaters? Not unquestionably, no. But they're an entirely viable alternative in a hotly contested market sector, with persuasive strengths and characters of their own.

Back To Black

Having spent a lot of time playing and generally getting to know the YC61 and CP88 I really applaud Yamaha for giving the player a more hands-on experience, quite literally. I personally have always clicked with and enjoyed using Nord's user interfaces, and there is a heck of a lot of overlap here. It feels up to date, in a pleasantly retro sort of way.

I'm also aware that Yamaha have done something clever in dovetailing these models' capabilities. As I mentioned before, the YC61 bears comparison to a Nord Electro, and the CP88 to a Nord Piano. Each makes for a useful gigging keyboard in its own right of course, and yet put the two together (for only a little more than the cost of a Nord Stage 3, notably) and you have a complementary pairing that solves the age-old problem of playing organ sounds from a hammer action keyboard, and pianos from a waterfall action.

Nothing is perfect of course, and the most disappointing aspects for me are how sparse the CP88's non-piano soundset is, the lost opportunity of the YC61's transistor organs, and the relative weakness of both keyboards' abilities as synths. A similar criticism about synth sounds can of course be levelled at the Nord Electro and Piano, which don't have a pitchbend, mod-wheel or cutoff knob between them. But the Nords score highly in the availability of a large number of super-vibey vintage string machine, synth, Mellotron/Chamberlin and even Fairlight sounds in their user-configurable sample libraries. These chime with a funky 'gigging' keyboard character much better, I think, than Yamaha's smattering of more generic, general-purpose sounds. I could pick out a few other little negative points too, like how it's difficult to see panel section divisions in low light, or the sound category knobs, which feel redundant when there are only two sounds in a category, and might have been better employed as endless encoders.

Take the YC61 and CP88 on their own terms, though, with their clear strengths in the worlds of tonewheel organs and acoustic/electric pianos respectively, and life with these keyboards could be very sweet. The YC in particular is a hoot to have around: a little ripper! Its Hammond emulation is one of the best out there, all set for two-manual use, and with a beautifully implemented rotary speaker effect that is arguably only beaten by specialist pedals like the Neo Ventilator. The CP88's grands and Rhodes are uniformly excellent, musically rewarding and fruitfully allied to the much-admired NW-GH action. Construction quality of both models is impressively high, and they look set to endure long, hard working lives. Then there's the (mostly) glitch-free sound transitions, extensive audio and pedal connections, highly configurable operating systems and clear, useful memory management. This stuff is less sexy on the spec sheet, but often makes all the difference to usability in a whole variety of use contexts.

Are they Nord beaters? Not unquestionably, no. But they're an entirely viable alternative in a hotly contested market sector, with persuasive strengths and characters of their own.


I've mentioned Nord's current line up several times, and those really are the closest competitors in terms of the basic design concept. For piano players the Korg Grandstage and Roland RD-2000 stand out, for different reasons, and organists should check out the 'new' Korg-manufactured Vox Continental as well as Roland's budget-friendly VR‑09 and 73-key VR‑730.

Exits & Entries

The YC61's rear panel is a tick list of everything you want to see on the back of a keyboard. IEC power supply: check. Full-size MIDI ports: check. Full provision of quarter-inch pedal inputs and audio I/O: check.The YC61's rear panel is a tick list of everything you want to see on the back of a keyboard. IEC power supply: check. Full-size MIDI ports: check. Full provision of quarter-inch pedal inputs and audio I/O: check.

In keeping with all the under-the-hood niceties, these new Yamahas are well equipped to meet the outside world. Alongside the stereo quarter-inch line out sockets the CP88 gets line-level balanced XLR outs. Both have a stereo pair of line ins too — often very handy — with adjustable gain. You can attach four pedals: two switches (including a continuous-type damper pedal) and two expression pedals. MIDI connections are via DIN in and out, and a B‑type USB socket.

In fact MIDI is a strong point here. All controls can generate and respond to controller messages, and (on the YC61 at least) controller numbers are shown in the LCD as you work. There's also full-blown master keyboard functionality, with up to four independent keyboard zones, working alongside internal sounds or separate from them, and with the option to broadcast bank and patch changes, volume, pan and other information on the recall of a Live Set.

Lastly, computers see these keyboards as two-channel in/out audio interfaces. Computer audio can appear at the output jacks (balanced with a menu USB audio volume parameter), but whilst internal sounds can be recorded to a DAW, signals arriving at the input jacks never get into the USB feed. So this is a useful additional feature, but not one that'll let you record your vocals

.The CP88's rear panel is much the same as the YC61's, but also offers a pair of XLR audio outputs.The CP88's rear panel is much the same as the YC61's, but also offers a pair of XLR audio outputs.

Live Sets

Both the CP and YC store patches as what's termed a Live Set. This is basically a snapshot of all parameters, and there's room for 160 of them. Over half are occupied by factory presets on both models, but all slots are user-writable. Eight dedicated buttons give direct access to pages of eight at a time, or you can use the big clickable encoder next to the LCD to select one from a long list. Loading is pretty much instantaneous.

There's some impressive supporting facilities too. Live Sets can be saved and loaded quickly to and from a USB stick, and individual ones picked out from previously saved bulk dumps. There's even a Manager page in the menu system for swapping positions and copying them from place to place in the internal memory. When you have them where you want them, a footswitch can be used to advance through the list sequentially.


  • The YC61's Hammonds are state of the art.
  • The CP88's rich piano complement is perfectly matched by a refined and renowned hammer action.
  • The knobby interfaces invite experimentation.
  • Great-sounding effects and lots of them.
  • Sophisticated configuration options and good memory management.
  • Looks like they'd survive a nuclear war.


  • The CP88's non-piano sound provision is sparse.
  • YC61 transistor organs are far from being faithful recreations.
  • Panel controls are not always as intuitive or powerful as you'd wish for, and menu-diving is still required for many tasks.
  • No aftertouch.


A pair of pro-level gigging keyboards that represent a significant departure from typical Japanese stage piano design, combining strong piano and tonewheel organ capabilities with an inviting knobby and somewhat retro user interface.


CP88 £1729, YC61 £1599. Prices include VAT.

CP88 $2499.99, YC61 $1999.99.