By John Chevalier
For the last two months I’ve had the opportunity to play the new Yamaha YC61 Stage Keyboard/Organ. The YC61 is an “Organ Focused” stage keyboard, but don’t let that description fool you because there is a lot this keyboard can do. From authentic Hammond organ sounds to classic digital pianos and more, the YC61 has it all.
To be honest, I had read up a little on this unit before receiving it, however, that didn’t take away the “Wow Factor” when unboxing. This keyboard looks amazing! At first glance you can’t deny the organ characteristics with 9 draw bars on the upper left located right next to the speaker/amp section with full rotary speaker controls. Looking past the organ features there is a full keyboard section as well with effects, choruses, vibrato, speakers’ amps and reverbs.
When powering up the first thing that caught my attention was the drawbars have LED lights which is a logical combination, but still a really cool feature considering the changing in stage lighting in many of today’s worship services. The YC61 also sports a high contrast LCD screen that were clearly shows you what patch you are on along with any additional modifications to that patch.
For full disclosure as to how I did this review, I want our readers to know that under normal conditions I would not only test out all the features of a product, but also would be using it in the live worship environment for a few weeks. Unfortunately, at this time, due to the worldwide pandemic, everything here is currently shut down and this was not an option. With that said, I was able to use various tracks in my home studio to duplicate live worship as much as possible. In a very short time, I was able to access a number of different sounds that fit the bill for each song I was playing.
Here is what I see as the most important features of the YC61:
Intuitive User Interface
The controls on the keyboard are set up in an easy-to-use logical fashion. On the far left is your master control section with volume and rotary speaker/bend controls which are all assignable and very easy to access while playing. Followed left to right by the Organ section, the Live Set section where you can pre-program and recall stored sounds for live performance, the Keys section that gives you the ability to customize, select voices, and layer sounds, followed by Effects, Speaker/Amp, Reverb, and Master EQ. Each section has its own ON/OFF switch which makes it very easy to see what section is controlling the keyboard at any point. The whole layout just makes sense, and the various controls are super easy to access while playing.
Drawbars with LED Lighting
The organ sections tone generator allows you to choose from several organ styles where you can then, using the drawbars, change the organ sound in real time, as well as letting you add vibrato, chorus, split the keyboard and add a percussive sound when you press the keys. You can also customize the drawbar lighting to differentiate between upper and lower sound by splitting the keyboard.
Real Authentic Sound and Feel
With 61 semi-weighted waterfall keys, the YC 61 plays very much like a traditional vintage organ, allowing the player to easily use slide techniques, etc. However, it still plays enough like a keyboard to not be distracting at all when using digital piano sounds. This is the first keyboard to use Yamaha’s Virtual Circuity Modeling (VCM), although not stated appears to be borrowed from the Helix line. This together with the rotary speaker simulator nails the vintage organ sound, but also has some other amazing high-quality sounds.
Live Set / Keys Section
This area of the keyboard has very more jazz/rock organ sounds, but also gives you quite a few high-quality Acoustic and Digital Pianos, Pads and Strings, as well as synth sounds. You can see exactly what you are doing and how you have modified the sounds on the LCD display that allows you to see the setting that you are on along with modifications and other system information that you may need to access. Operation of this sections is very intuitive if you are familiar with any production model keyboard, however what is really impressive is the quality of the sounds. Again, with using the VCM technology, you not only have a very unique organ, but also a fully versatile keyboard. With features such as 61 waterfall keys, the ability to split the keyboard for different drawbar settings, two different rotary speaker simulators, the additional sounds that include vintage 70’s digital keyboard to grand pianos, synths and pads, all with various effects ant the ability to layer sounds and add effects makes this, what is perhaps the best value in a keyboard out on the market right now.
Although Yamaha shows and MSRP of $2499.00 (USD), you can find it from most music retailers for $1999.99 (USD). You will have to look a long time before you find a keyboard this versatile. In closing, when I review any piece of gear, it’s my philosophy to really start out looking for the downside and then putting it through the paces to see how it overcomes what I had deemed to be the negatives. This didn’t happen on this keyboard. As a worship leader and a professional musician for over 40 years I can tell you that the star rating below of solid 5’s is an honest look at the YC61. The only negative I see is that I have to send it back.
John has been involved in multimedia communication for over 20 years. He is an Apple Certified Trainer and a full time Digital Video Instructor in Sonoma County, California. He also travels extensively presenting at workshops and seminars, focusing on Team Building and Leadership Development to improve organizational performance.www.johnchevalier.com