Every guitarist should have a keyboard or synthesizer at home
Every guitarist and singer/songwriter needs a keyboard in their home studio kit, whether it’s for recording overdubs, jamming along with friends or simply learning a new skill that they can bring to the live stage thus adding a new dimension to their show. In any case, it’s a good idea to have a good keyboard or synthesizer lying around when inspiration strikes or when a hook for a chorus needs fleshing out or even if you want to add bass lines to your music as a synth bass line can really add something cool to your recordings. Whether you’re a seasoned piano pro, or can only play a few chords (like me) you can get some great sounds out of the right keyboard/synth/controller. So today we’re going to look at the top 7 keyboards and synths ideal for guitarists and musicians who want to add something cool to their sound, or for those who want to be able to experiment with a wide variety of different sonic options.
Experimenting with sounds
First on our list is the Teenage Engineering OP-1 Portable Synthesizer – an absolute treasure trove of sounds with a host of exchangeable effects and sequencers built in to a quirky, easy to carry and incredibly sturdy keyboard. One of the cool things about this synthesizer (aside from the fact it can fit in your pocket) is that it has a built-in 24 voice instant live sampler which allows you to capture audio and then edit or add effects and monitor what’s going on via the cool OLED display. The OP-1 can also act as a trigger pad, so multi layering effects with guitar sounds or looping riffs is easy. You can also record everything you’ve made via the built-in 4 track tape recorder that has a variable tape speed. Overall, it’s a very cool little synthesizer that has a multitude of different uses, for recording, overdubs and the live arena. Whether you’re multi-instrumentalist or not – you’ll find it easy to use and very interesting to work with.
Next up on our list is the Novation Launchkey Mini Mk2 Keyboard Controller – an excellent option for guitarists who want to be able to experiment with different sounds at home, add beats to a recording or put down some dirty synth or bass lines to their music. One of the really cool things about the Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 is the fact it comes with a copy of Ableton Live Lite 9 as well as bass station & V-Station virtual instruments which means you have a comprehensive selection of different instruments and sounds at your fingertips. Simply hook it up to your MAC or PC and get straight into creating some quality music at home. It can even hook up to your iOS device via an optional camera connection kit or USB to lightening cable making it another awesome portable option for the travelling musician or those who have limited space at home.
For those who want to really delve into sonic experimentation, we have to recommend the Roland Aira System 1 Plug Out Synthesizer. This 25 key, 4 note polyphonic synthesizer is an absolute powerhouse with its vast array of features and effects. This is not really for a beginner to the world of synths or keyboards, but don’t let that put you off as it’s definitely user friendly. The key benefit for guitarists will be the built-in advanced arpeggiator with scatter that creates random patterns adding a new dimension to your chord sequences and songs. The portamento offers sweeping synth lines too. Definitely one for the more EDM orientated guitarists/artists out there.
60s style organs and etheral strings
Trust Yamaha to deliver yet again when it comes to creating instruments that raise the bar. The new Reface range of mini keyboards and synths offers a host of different options, but for those who don’t want to drag a full size organ and Leslie cabinet around with them, we recommend opting for the Yamaha Reface YC Electric Combo Organ. At a mere 530 mm long, it’s definitely on the smaller size, but don’t let its size fool you into thinking it’s a toy, as this compact electric combo organ features a vast array of awesome sounds including Organ Flutes Tone Generator with 5 organ types including American tonewheel organ, British transistor organ, Italian transistor organ, Japanese transistor organ, and the Yamaha YC-45D – more than enough to recreate the sounds of Woodstock or pretty much any style of organ related music you could want. Add gorgeous overdubs to recording, create organ hooks or beef up your sound on the fly whilst you take advantage of the Rotary Speaker, Distortion, and Reverb effects on the 37 key mini action velocity sensitive keyboard. It’s also compatible with iPhone, iPad, and your MAC/PC too, so recording at home, playing onstage and getting ideas down on the go is easy. This is a professional quality organ keyboard that is ideal for musicians of all levels and one that will last a lifetime thanks to the solid construction.
For the guitarists out there who might not be able to play piano and want to expand their skill set, the Yamaha PSR-E353 Portable Keyboard is not only a great option for adding overdubs and extra layers to your songs, but a great starting point for learning. The built-in nine-step lesson function will have you playing the piano in no time and the iPad/iPhone and computer connectivity will also allow you to expand your learning capabilities with compatible 3rd party software and apps you may have. The Yamaha PSR-E353 features a collection of 573 voices, which includes a whole host of strings and bass sounds, making it a perfect option for those who want to write more ballad-style songs – in fact it’s pretty much the law to have strings in a ballad! You also have the option to route your keyboard through effects via the output jack, so if you’re not keen on using the host of on board effects like Reverb and Chorus, you can add distortion sounds (do it, it sounds great) or whatever else you have on your pedalboard. Overall, it’s a good option for those who want an easy to use workhorse that will offer the recording artist something to practice and record with.
Budget friendly options
If you’re on a smaller sized budget, you have to check out the Yamaha PSR-F50 Portable Keyboard. This excellent portable piano has a huge selection of Piano, Organ, Strings, Guitars and Synth sounds to choose from and a 61-note keyboard to play with! Ideal for those who want to add keyboard to their recordings without having to commit to a large investment.
For those who are keen on smaller, pocket sized options that can add a new element to your sound, the Korg Monotron Delay Analogue Ribbon Synthesizer is well worth checking out. The added ‘Space Delay’ makes this stand out from the Monotron analogue synth range and it’s addictive to say the least, giving you the option to get stuck in to some really cool effects. You can even hook a microphone up to it and use the filters to change your sound. Check it out!
Take a look at our complete range of beginner keyboards, synths and controllers at the Dawsons website.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.