Exploring 7 Classic Keyboards and Their Software Counterparts

In recent years, market prices for original vintage keyboards and synthesizers have continued to rise, while the technology for the software models of them (VSTs) has become increasingly more accurate and affordable. There is now, more than ever, a new world of pragmatical use cases emerging in the virtual instrument landscape.

Whether you are looking for a way to test out the sounds of iconic keyboards before you buy or are just looking for a cheaper alternative to achieve that classic sound without breaking the bank, the software market has many options available.

We rounded up some of the best, most iconic keyboard and synthesizer virtual instruments, including Arturia’s V Collection, IK Multimedia’s Syntronik, Waves Piano & Keys Collection, and also a stock Logic Vintage Electric Piano plugin and headed down to The Analog Ranch in Dallas to stack them up against the real thing.

The Analog Ranch is the personal production palace of Adam Pickrell, a sought-after studio musician and keyboardist. His work has been featured alongside artists Kimbra, Astronautalis, Ximena Sariñana, and he has received a Grammy Award for his work on St. Vincent’s self-titled 2014 album. In 2015, Adam was brought in to be Nelly Furtado’s touring music director after helping to write and produce what she calls a “Dallas sound” on her most recent effort The Ride.

Adam Pickrell perfoming live with Nelly Furtado

Adam is an avid collector of iconic and custom vintage keyboards and synthesizers, and his collection constituted just the right testing ground for this experiment. Below, you'll see samples of both the original instruments from Adam's collection paired with samples of the VSTs playing the same riffs. Read Adam's thoughts on each instrument and hear how they all compare below.

The Showdown

"I thought it would be best to mimic my on-stage rig for Nelly. The rig is a Suitcase Rhodes, which I typically put a Clavinet on top of. Then, I have a Hammond B3, and I’ll put the Minimoog on top of that. A lot of the time, I’ll want an Arp Solina as well for that textured string tone. Because pianos are impossible to source, I’ll usually use a Nord Stage 2 piano on tour. That’s my standard setup."

Rhodes 73 Suitcase Mark II

"The first one is a Rhodes 73 Suitcase Mark II. It’s one of the mid-to-late production units that Rhodes made once it purchased the Rhodes schematic from Fender. Fender was only involved for the first part of the Rhodes history, and this one specifically has a cool story. I have rented it out a few times to different artists, like Robert Glasper and Taylor McFerrin, amongst others. Robert Glasper signed the inside wooden soundboard of it and after he did that, I’ve had all the other people sign it as well.

"The other one I have is one that’s kind of a Holy Grail for Rhodes collectors. It’s a Fender Rhodes 73 Suitcase Sparkle Top in all its sparkly glory. It’s an early edition Rhodes piano, so it has wooden keys as opposed to the plastic keys on the other Mark II that I have. The hammers are a little bit different of a structure, and the tines are a little bit different as well, so it has a distinctly particular tone. The Mark II is a bit more lush and soft, whereas the sparkle top has more attack on the front end and a slightly more instant presence.

"I'm so influenced by classic R&B, soul, funk, gospel, and blues. The Rhodes has played such a pivotal role in so much of that music. I can tell you for a fact that I was hearing that sound before I ever knew what it was. Right around the time when I was in 8th grade — when I first started hearing A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and all that — I was trying to figure out what that sound was, and somebody finally hipped me to the fact that it was a Rhodes piano. It’s like instant vibe."

Rhodes 73 Suitcase Mark II
Arturia Stage-73 V
Logic Vintage Electric Piano
Waves Electric 88

Fender Rhodes 73 Suitcase Sparkle Top

"I then started going out trying to find them. At that time, you could get Rhodes for $50 because nobody wanted them. That goes along with most of the instruments that I own. A lot of them I bought, have collected, and refurbished from when I was younger, and people thought they were toys. There was a time when you could walk into a pawn shop and buy a Minimoog for $300."


Moog Model D

"I have both an original Moog Model D and the Model D Reissue, not to be confused with the Voyager. To me, the Moog Model D is the greatest synthesizer ever made, period. It can go from the lowest, most disgusting, rumbly, nasty, gut-wrenching sound all the way up to a really soft lead, as well as those real gritty leads that became a hallmark for Dr. Dre and a defining tone of ‘90s West Coast G-Funk, as well as many whole genres it has helped create.

"I think that Moog faithfully recreated the Model D with the reissue, and it sounds absolutely fantastic. It would be hard for anyone to to find the difference between the two. It’s the one instrument that I will always bring with me to every session I ever play."

Moog Model D
Moog Model D Reissue
Arturia Mini V3
IK Syntronik Minimod

Hohner Clavinet

"I’ve wanted a Clavinet for a really long time. I found this one about six months ago, and it’s a Hohner E6, which is the same thing as the legendary D6, except it’s in a touring cabinet instead of the wooden cabinet. But it’s identical to the legendary D6.

"The Clavinet is easily one of the funkiest keyboards on the planet. It was made for keyboard players to be able to cop a guitar tone. Made all from strings, with really long Fender Stratocaster-style pickups inside of it. I often run it through a guitar amp, as well as a wah pedal, so it’s kind of gritty, just like a guitar. However, it’s got keys, so you can perform more percussively and stabby on it.

"Nathan Smith from Smith Piano Servicing here in Dallas took it and completely stripped it. He put custom wood sides on it, rebuilt the preamp, and then we sprayed it with 1965 Chrysler sage green auto paint with a clear coat over it.

Hohner Clavinet
Waves Clavinet

Arp SE-IV Solina

"Arp bought a company in Italy called Solina that made string synthesizers, so people call it the Arp Solina because Solina made the exact same synthesizer. Arp bought it and stuck its name on it, but it’s the Arp String Ensemble IV.

"It sounds kind of like strings, but it’s a very specific synthesized version. It’s one of those things that’s so iconic that when you hear it, you just immediately get ideas for parts with the textural vibes that come out of it.

Arp SE-IV Solina
Arturia Solina V2
IK Syntronik String-Box

Hammond B3

"A friend of mine’s father was a touring organ player, and he called me a couple years ago after his dad had passed away because he didn’t know what to do with his father's organs. They were pretty beat up. I bought the Hammond B3 and the Leslie speaker from him and had them completely restored so that we could keep his father’s memory alive. That’s what this specific one is — it’s a Hammond B3 — and then there’s a Leslie 122 speaker cabinet.

"There’s nothing like the sound of a Hammond going through a Leslie cabinet. It will literally change an entire room with the top that is spinning inside the cabinet and pushing sound pressure waves out at a rate that you creatively control. The organ immediately brightens up a space, it’ll change the atmosphere. It can be everything from real gritty and angry to uplifting happy and gospely, but it’s always full of emotion. It’s a big sound, and once it comes into a track, it makes it’s presence known."

Hammond B3
Arturia B-3 V

Roland Juno-60

"I bought this one Roland Juno-60 from a friend, probably 10 years ago. It might have been my first analog polysynth. I always had a collection of monosynths, but at that time, I didn’t have any polyphonic ones.

"The Juno-60 is super lush, equipped with thick pads, huge basses, has great leads and many textural layering capabilities. It’s a workhorse synth because of it’s natural versatility. "

Roland Juno-60
IK Syntronik J-60

Shootout Takeaways and Final Thoughts

"I was really impressed with the Arturia V Collection. You can tell that Arturia cares about accurate modeling. It just feels like Arturia’s focus is truly having the most authentic reproductions of the iconic keyboards, offering people who can’t afford to buy all these different instruments the chance to play them.

"Furthermore, Arturia’s interface is very realistic. It’s all of the stuff that you see on the actual instrument, plus a few extra things that make it a lot more user-friendly for the computer, like patch browsing and editability.

"These virtual instruments give people the opportunity to look at a synthesizer and learn what portions of the filter do, what an oscillator is, and all the unique aspects of synthesis that these legendary machines require you to know if you’re going to use the analog originals."

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For more information about tour dates that he musically directs for Nelly Furtado check here, and for further information about Adam Pickell and The Analog Ranch, check his website here.


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