The Kurzweil PC88: My Present-Day Gig Instrument

Today I’d like to talk about my present band practice and gig instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 Performance Controller Keyboard. Why would I do so? Because I like this instrument very much, plain and simple. For any of you out there looking for a review of this fine instrument, read on.

Before I discuss the ins and outs of this instrument, I’d like to tell a brief history about how I stumbled across this “portable” stage piano and eventually became its owner. I was looking for a portable 88-key replacement for a Yamaha SY-77 I had sold a few years back. In July 2012, I browsed through the Philmusic classifieds and found a seller who was selling a PC88. The price seemed reasonable, and then I thought to myself I could use something a bit similar to Jordan Rudess’s Kurzweil K2600. To cut the long story short, I bought it and have been using it since then.

The Kurzweil PC88 was exactly what I was looking for, a keyboard with a pianistic range and some very good sounds. My favorite patches in it are “Classical Piano”, “Suitcase E. Piano”, a number of organ sounds and the “Slow Digital Pad”. In my mind, these sounds should serve as my bread and butter presets. My particular unit is the “MX” variety so it also has a general MIDI bank and a generous 64-note polyphony. Because it’s not a synth, its selection of sounds is limited but it has powerful layering capabilities via the “MIDI Setup” mode where you can layer four sounds, each of which has its individual volume slider. In a limited way, you can create some fantastic patches with real-time control over each sound. Whether I’m playing progressive rock, praise and worship music, or jazz, I can pretty much cover good ground.

I’m not really doing multitrack orchestral stuff with it so 64 notes is pretty generous for my purpose. The feel or touch of its key bed is definitely weighted, similar to the feel of a Yamaha grand I had used about 4 years ago in a company Christmas party, but has a bit of a springy bounce that you will never find in an acoustic piano. How would I know? It’s because it feels very different from the acoustic upright piano I use at home. The rugged metal casing provides me with confidence that it would withstand the rigors of playing out.

As much as I love this instrument, it is not without its faults. I bought this particular PC88 used, and so some of the lead weights were loose. I had to hire a technician to have all the weights of the key bed fixed with a stronger adhesive. My technician said that the original adhesive used doesn’t hold up well to tropical weather, and that’s why they would become loose as the instrument ages. Given the fact that it’s not a synth, I could not use the sort of analog-ish lead sounds I enjoyed in my former Yamaha SY-77, and so I have to stick to organ or piano sounds for my leads.  Lastly, the PC88 is heavy! You will not enjoy climbing up stairs lugging this keyboard on your own. When I set this up in the church (UCCP-MCCD) where I occasionally play, I usually have to ask for assistance from friend and bandmate Pastor Chaz to carry it inside the church. Yes, Kurzweil didn’t lie when it said that the PC88 was portable. They forgot to write down a caveat that it’s only portable if you have a car, if a buddy to help you carry it, or strength comparable to a well-trained athlete. If you plan on carrying it around while commuting, I’d probably laugh at you.

So, in summary, other than the initial key bed lead weight issue, the lack of decent synth lead sounds, and the weight of the instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 is a great piano analog and an impressive MIDI controller.

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7 responses to “The Kurzweil PC88: My Present-Day Gig Instrument

  1. hallo schöne grüße wollte nach fragen was ein Kerzweil noch werd ist wer mir sehr hilf reich danke

  2. what would be a fair going rate for a used pc88 in really good condition with a hard carrying case and manual? I’ve seen a wide range of prices on the internet

    • Perhaps about $700 would be a good deal. I got mine for somewhere around $600 but I don’t have a case or manual. I have to say though that with the weight of the thing, it’s not going to be fun to carry around especially with a hard case. The best kind of hard case I think would be one that has wheels like a stroller.

  3. About the weight….please remember that this piano was introduced in the mid 90s.
    At that time, 55 lbs was lightweight, in comparison to other electric pianos. The Yamaha CP70 was about 300 pounds, the CP30 about 120 pounds, and the Fender Rhodes was over 100 pounds.

    • Yes, I understand and appreciate how much lighter 55 lbs is from behemoths weighing 300 pounds like the Yamaha CP70. But a 55-pound keyboard is still heavy. It’s more portable, but still heavy. I don’t see myself strapping it on myself like a backpack. I do use a way more lighter M-Audio Keystation 88es now for gigging. The semi-weighted keys are less than ideal (I always favor weighted or hammer-action keybeds), but it works well for me.

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