What's the Hype About the 'Red Keyboard'?

Don't Judge a Keyboard by its Color

I’ve heard so many keyboardists ask, "what keyboard should I buy?" The consensus from most is…. Nord (a.k.a. the ‘red keyboard'). Are so many keyboard players buying Nord simply because it looks cool and it’s red? Or is there more to it?

As a Nord Artist, I can honestly say that there is definitely more to it than its color. We'll unpack a few of the great features on the Nord Stage 2 to help you decide whether this is the keyboard for you.

Modular

The best feature about the Nord is that it is ‘modular’. To give you a bit of history, most keyboards for the past few decades have been based off of presets and banks. After turning on the keyboard you would dial thru a vast amount of sounds. You might have different banks to categorize your sounds, but you were still sifting through sound after sound until you found the right one. 

The Nord does have presets like most keyboards. You can sift through if you like, but what makes this unique is its ‘live mode.' Within this mode, you have 4 modules to choose from: Organ, Piano, Synth, and Effects, each with its own On/Off button. If it’s not on, you won’t be able to hear it. So if you want a B3 organ sound, you simply turn it on and adjust the settings. Same thing with the pianos. If the green light isn’t on, you won’t hear it. It’s that simple. Turn it on, select your sound, and you’re ready to rock and roll. If you can get a basic understanding of each module, then you can quickly master the Nord. 

The Organ

This module features 3 distinct organs: B3 Tonewheel, Vox, and Farf. All three have unique sound characteristics. This module is easy to use. Simply turn it on, set the level using the ‘level’ knob, and adjust your sounds. You can craft your organ sound using the drawbar buttons. The only downside to the Nord is that it doesn’t actually use drawbars, but the buttons are very responsive. You can easily add and subtract certain tones by pressing any one of the buttons located underneath the corresponding tone. You can also easily add in vibrato and chorus as well as percussion. Everything is clearly labeled and each has an On/Off button. 

The Piano

This module works just like the organ. It has an On/Off button as well as a level knob. You can select between Grand, Upright, EPs, Clavs, and Harpsichords at the push of a button. Each category allows you to choose between a few different models as well. You can adjust the acoustics of the piano and easily shift the octaves in case you’re not using the 88-key version. Simply turn it on, select your piano, and get ready to play some Billy Joel!

The Synth

This module functions just like the others: turn it on, set the level and customize your sounds. If you aren’t familiar with the different aspects of a synth, the Nord is a great place to start. The Oscillator is easy to use. You can choose between sources like samples, FM, and waves to easily adjust the shape of the sound. The ‘filter’ section is easy to use--simply turn the knobs and hear how it customizes the sound. Start with the frequency knob, then the resonance, and finally the Mod if you want the sound to change over time. You can also add in LFOs or Envelopes on the Amp and Mod. Additional options include glide, unison, legato, delay, and more. There’s also a built-in arpeggiator, and it’s easy to sync the tempo to a master clock!

Effects

If you want a delay on your EP, simply turn it on. Select the piano as the source, dial in the rate and amount, and you’re good to go. You can adjust the rotary speaker for the organ and add in overdrive and EQ. Compress the entire keyboard as well as add reverb to the entire sound. 

Flexibility

As you can see, you have the ability to customize your sound. You can combine any of these into a single performance, and best of all, you can save all of these into a ‘live preset’. That way, if you want an EP with delay plus a subtle B3 underneath and a synth with a little movement all at the same time, you can have that all programmed on to one preset. You can then have a regular acoustic piano on another preset. Simply change back and forth at the push of a button. It’s that easy and that flexible. 

Conclusion

The Nord is an amazing keyboard, and not just because its the ‘red keyboard.' (Although about half of those who purchase it do so because of its color.) It’s modular, it’s flexible, and it sounds great! The price tag for the 88-Key Stage 2EX comes in around $4500. It’s a hefty investment, but well worth it if you have the resources. So, if you are in the market to buy another keyboard, then you should definitely check out the Nord!

Ryan is currently the Worship Director at The Church at Wills Creek in North Alabama. He has been the keyboardist for many Christian artists and has served with several churches including Christ Fellowship and Church of the Highlands. Ryan is the keyboard instructor for WorshipArtistry.com and also works as a producer, music educator, and studio musician. Ryan has two children, Josiah and Vivy, and they love spending time on their 100 acre farm.

What's the Hype About the 'Red Keyboard'?

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Any cheaper options?

Hi Ryan,
I'd love the stage 2 but it's out of my church's budget. We are trying to replace our current outdated keyboard with something new so the youth can inherit the old one.
What are your suggestions for buying a keyboard on a tight budget?
Thanks

I recommend the Nord Electro 5 HP

I couldn't swallow the size and price of the Nord Stage 2, so I went with the slightly smaller Nord Electro 5 HP. Before that I had the Nord Electro 4, but I quickly traded it in on the newer model. The Nord Electro 5 HP has 76 keys (leaving out a few keys on either end that are seldom used anyways). The HP stands for Hammer Action Piano, which refers to the beautiful weighted piano keys. The sounds are amazing, but I went to several forums as well as the Nord web site to refine the sounds - I deleted ones I don't like, and added others that were missing. The pianos, organs, electric pianos, and pads are all stellar. Lastly, I love the SET LIST feature, that allows you to set up all your songs, in order, with up to 4 quick access sounds for each song. This makes playing for worship on Sunday stress free. I'm not hunting around for random access sounds and settings. Everything is dialled in, and literally labelled by my Sunday song titles. I believe the Nord Electro 5 HP is the only Nord keyboard that has the screen size to offer the set list system.

All in all, this piano was worth the investment. There is nothing worse than playing a keyboard on Sunday that feels awful, and sounds fake. Nord sounds great, feels great, and - as a bonus, looks great!

Nord...

Nord is great if you can swing the price tag. There are other options out there that are potentially cheaper like buying a controller and using MainStage on a Mac.

From Kurzweil to Nord

A few years back I regularly packed up one or the other of my 55 lb. Kurzweils to church for practice and for weekend services. Loved these boards . . . a ton of great synth sounds. But heavy and tough to handle and no solid realistic acoustic piano sounds. After a lengthy search though music stores in NC and in CT I discovered Nord. What stunning acoustic piano sounds (realistic string resonances) these boards offer . . . after two years with this Nord board I remain totally amazed. Well, my budget could not handle the exalted Stage 2, but I got a great deal on the Nord Piano 2 ($2999 sticker plus a great discount). A full bank of pianos, acoustic and electric and a full bank of synth sounds. And direct from either the Nord website or the User Forum a whole raft of different sounds are offered at no cost that you can download to your Nord Piano 2 or any of the other fine Nord boards. If you don't like a particular acoustic grand or upright you simply remove it and replace it with a brand new piano. It's like having a huge music store at your fingertips. One of my favorite electrics is the Yamaha DX7 perfectly rendered by the NP2. Synth sounds range all over the extremes of historic synthesizers like Oberheim, Moog, etc. plus strings, orchestral, pad sounds, choral, etc., all in this particular set of selections. I cannot give this board a rating that is too high. Even after two years I find new hidden tricks, e.g., I now have the middle of the three pedals set to latch a pad sound on as long as I hold that pedal down. Nice for holding a pad beneath any portion of a song. Also the volume pedal - comes in handy to fade strings or pads in or out. An effects section including an Eq, reverbs, tube amp options, echo/delay effects, etc., enable independent adjustment of sound outputs from either the piano side or the synth side. And a wide array of layers and splits can be set up (touch of a button) with each range of the split keyboard adjustable for pitch. I use the non-volatile memory to set up and name and store my various sounds for each successive song and can then step through that list during worship on a Sunday morning. Once this memory is set you can turn off the board and have your setup ready again next time you power up. Last, it only weighs 40 lbs. If you are in the market for a new board the Nords are worth checking out.

Last years' model

So I just got a great deal on Stage 2 EX 88 from Kraft. $3200.00 Now that Stage 3 is on its way to becoming the new standard, there are a few new in box Stage 2's left around the country. If you can find one, you can get a fine instrument that was the latest and greatest just a few months ago at a substantial discount.

Then there’s the Hillsong

Then there’s the Hillsong video where their main keys guy shows how he used a $5,000 Nord to control Mainstage.....