Elton John gear.

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by manco, Aug 25, 2019.

  1. manco

    manco Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Is there any website that has an exhaustive list of all the pianos, synths and other keyboard instruments he's used for his whole career?
     
  2. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    None that I know of. But it's been discussed in various forums. From what I know,

    - 1970s - he mostly used Steinways. In '79 he did solo shows that also had a Yamaha CP-80.

    - 1980 thru '86 he used a white Steinway, which was ultimately rigged with sensors that could trigger MIDI data; sounds were often layered in. (You can hear it on the live in Australia version of Candle in the Wind). No details on what those sound modules were, but in some concert footage, you can see a synthesizer literally mounted to the side of his grand.

    - 1988 thru 1992 he switched to a Roland RD-1000 digital stage piano (supposedly he wanted to face the audience equally). This would be featured on studio albums, like Reg Strikes Back and Sleeping with the Past. He toured exclusively with this setup, where he'd often use piano sounds and electric sounds (on songs like Daniel, for example). The RD-1000 was a 100 lb beast that featured all wooden keys and a synthetically created piano sound (it was not sampled) that was quite effective at cutting through in a rock 'n roll setting.

    - 1993 He suddenly switched to Yamaha, a CFSIII concert grand, equipped with MIDI triggers to allow layering of string sounds, or electric piano sounds. Several others have been added to the mix, he has something like 4 or 5 "rigs" of equipment that can be positioned anywhere in the world as needed. The general concert setup is he has the MIDI acoustic CFSIII concert grand, which is mic'ed. There is a rack of equipment that includes Yamaha Motif sound modules - his "piano" sound is actually layered. The audience hears a mix of the acoustic blended with a MIDI-triggered Grand. The triggered pianos were at one time a mix of a Roland MKS-1000 piano (the same engine as the RD-1000) and Motif grand sounds (sampled from real Yamaha grands). On songs like Philly Freedom, a FISHER sound module electric piano is layered in instead. Strings from the Motif are layered in under the piano, typically when he's playing solo. His sound guy literally dials up the sound as needed, and fades it out. Due to the loud volume of Elton's stage monitors, the real piano is mixed out of his mix, because of the feedback that'd result from it. The grand is real, though - it's tuned before each show - the MIDI data is merely triggered by optical sensors that detect every keystroke (pressure, hold, etc). Yamaha is the leader in this technology.

    Here's an old but insightful article on Elton's rigs from around early 2000s.

    ELTON JOHN - SIR ELTON!
     
  3. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
     
  4. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    I've read about Elton using Gulbransen MIDI sensors in his piano, but don't have specifics. Do you believe this was his first Yamaha from '93, which was a regular acoustic that was outfitted with the Gulbransen system? Because I'm pretty sure later on, the Yamahas were using built-in systems developed by Yamaha and factory-built with MIDI optical sensors.

    He had a system like this on his '80s Steinway, so it makes sense he'd want the ability to control MIDI modules.
     
  5. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    Yes to my knowledge the Gulbransen was on his first Yamaha in 93. There was an article/interview with Dale Sticha around the time. The current Yamahas are Disklavier type setups but modified ones.

    I would have thought the 85-87 Steinway was fitted with an earlier mechanical midi piano strip (the Gulbransen was I think anyway an optical sensor strip).

    Notably, to my ears anyway, the white Steinway had three distinct set ups: 1980 sounds different to me to the 82 to 84 era. Then in 85-87 it had more of a metallic and midi-fied sound.

    There were still Helpinstill pickups in it up to the end of the Australia 86/7 tour - there is a glimpse of the piano lid open in a documentary on the tour showing the pickups screwed in place across the raised parts of the plate.
     
  6. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    Very interesting. Makes sense, because Sticha said Elton literally refused to play the Roland one night in '93 and they scurried to secure the Yamaha Grand from a local university or something. And Elton kept it. So, they obviously had to mod it to do MIDI per Elton's using electric piano sounds, string sounds, etc. I do also recall reading he uses a Disklavier/Silent System now but modified to his needs.

    Yes, the Steinways did have different sounds over the 1980s. The 86 era definitely sounded metallic-like, you can hear it on the Australian album. I don't think Gulbransen came until mid-late 80s, so it's likely he had something else in there earlier in the 80s. In fact, during the '84 tour you can see a synth bolted onto the left side of the piano.

    The article I posted above is quite old (around 2001?) so his whole rig is likely updated by now with newer Motif rack units - and I think they use a newer mixer now. Clive Franks used to talk about it extensively, but he retired from being Elton's sound man quite a few years back now.
     
  7. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    Yes I guess the sampled/modelled sounds have been updated here and there but apparently he still uses the MKS20 Roland module in there.

    The synth mounted to the Steinway didn't come in until late 1985 I think. My assumption has always been that there was no midi in the Steinway until 85. Plus, the 85 onwards white Steinway was either not the same piano as the 80-84 one, or it was rebuilt...it has different legs at very least. From memory at some point during late 85 the Steinway had a decal on the audience side which wasn't there on the previous model (see the video of EJ on The Tube in 1985). The Live Aid piano had no decal but different legs.

    If it was rebuilt/refinished then they may have put in whatever midi set up during the second half of 1985. The Live Aid sound seems to me to be almost the same as 1984, and there's no synth mounted on the straight side.
     
  8. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    Good observations. I always assumed at some point the piano was rebuilt or a diff. model - simply because Elton beats the heck out of them, tours so much - eventually he'd need a new model. Likely he had a backup one, too. When I saw him in '98 on the Big Pic tour he announced near the end of the show that he had to use the backup piano that night and apologized if his playing wasn't as good as usual. This was Philly around October '98.
     
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  9. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    I'm sure he would have too. He certainly had at least three Yamahas knocking around in the 2000s although they were in different rigs in different parts of the world. I'm not sure they originally had much done to them other than to adjust the actions so they were similar. It may be that the backup piano you saw hadn't been adjusted as well so it wasn't as easy to play. He also now (not sure about then) has the front edge of the black keys re-angled so they are not so steep at the front.

    The Red Piano was a 9ft Disklavier I think. There was a vertical box mounted on the pedal lyre which was part of the Disklavier mechanism. Not sure what for in Elton's context though as the Disklavier was primarily designed as a player piano.

    There is quite a bit of polyfoam padding put inside all the Yamahas (except the MDP) which is presumably to stop feedback from the internal mics as much as possible. Interestingly the Red Piano also had what looked like a cloth sheet fixed along the underside of the long/tail section so the bracing wasn't visible. The only other time I have seen that was on a Yamaha baby grand digital piano which was housed in a full case. You wouldn't have known it was a digital unless you lifted the lid. That may have been a sound insulation/feedback limiting idea as well.
     
  10. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    Very interesting stuff about the padding - I know Clive Franks used to mention how hard it was to isolate the mics, which is why he'd often mix out the acoustic for Elton's on-stage mix.

    I saw a documentary on the MDP, and there's a clip where someone is hand sanding each of the black keys to remove the sharp edge - this was done once the piano was delivered to the U.S. I was fascinated that he has the keys customized to his liking. I didn't know he had the front angles changed, too. These must all be recent requests, as he pretty much has a Yamaha team at his disposal.
     
  11. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Forum Resident

    Since he is playing a Disklavier piano, does anyone know if recordings of his playing are available to play at home on similar pianos? I know some musicians have done that, with isolated vocal tracks to play on the stereo in sync with the Disklavier piano.
     
  12. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    No, I don't believe so. His primary pianos use more of the tech from the Silent Piano type systems - which have optical sensors for MIDI transmission.

    However, the Red Piano was a Disklavier, and Yamaha did a special demo where Elton played in one part of the world, and other special Disklavier "red pianos" in Yamaha showrooms worldwide were synced, playing what Elton played in realtime. There were Elton John Disklavier discs though - which one could use to have the player piano play his tunes.
     
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  13. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    It would be good if EJ.com could run an indepth feature on his piano setups and perhaps more widely as to instruments used on record/stage.
     
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  14. krock2009

    krock2009 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Elton didn't play synths on his records. Fred Mandel, James Newton Howard, and the late Guy Babylon played them. Guy Babylon played a Kurzweil K2000 on "The One". Elton played a Yamaha GS-1 for "Sacrifice" with a Jupiter 6 or 8 providing the bells.
     
  15. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    By the way, when he switched to the Yamaha I have a recollection it was the Steinway rather than the Roland he was complaining about. Elton was still uaing the Steinway for some of the solo and Ray Cooper shows at that time (whilst for band shows he was using the Roland) and the tour datea line up with Elton and Ray being in or around New Orleans at that time.
     
  16. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    Elton did play synths on Too Low For Zero and Breaking Hearts, as well as some of the synths on Leather Jackets and Ice On Fire.
     
  17. Neonbeam

    Neonbeam All Art Was Once Contemporary

    Location:
    Planet Earth
    Initially I thought this would be about plateau shoes, spandex glitter suits and glasses with windshield wipers. :biglaugh:
     
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  18. Benn Kempster

    Benn Kempster Who else?

    Location:
    Tring, UK
    I immediately thought - narcotics......... Would be an extensive website should it exist. :biglaugh:
     
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  19. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    Sure he played a GS-1 on Sacrifice? He was playing the RD-1000 at the time and the GS-1 was pretty old tech at the time.
     
  20. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    Agree. Elton was using the Roland. Even if he was triggering other sounds. And he often played synths on his own albums. In fact, he played some on the Made in England album, too. Guy Babylon mentioned this in an article once.

    It's also possible an acoustic was used on some of the tracks - but I do hear what sounds like the Roland RD-1000 on Sleeping with the Past.
     
  21. OobuJoobu

    OobuJoobu Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    I have a little story to add rather than any useful info!

    My father in law's ex partner's son (yep, I know, a stretch!) was high up in Roland UK and one of his responsibilities back in the 90s I believe and possibly beyond, was to spend time with Elton ahead of his tours making sure Elton could try out, and then have access to, exactly which of Roland's products he was wanting for that particular tour. I never met the guy but through my father in law I did at least manage to get a free (Roland) Boss guitar pedal left behind the counter for me when he came to my town to open a new music store about 15 years ago :)
     
  22. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    Cool story. He used the RD-1000 pretty much from '88 through '93, but it showed up again in the 2000s. I read a story that Don Was, the producer who did the new tracks on Elton's To Be Continued box set, loved the RD so much that Elton had one delivered to him after their sessions. I imagine that this person might have been the one to make something like that happen.
     
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  23. EddieT

    EddieT Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    I don't think they used an acoustic on SWTP - even on songs like Amazes Me and Blue Avenue -which sound more acoustic than the others I'm sure it's just the RD-1000/MKS-20 or another digital piano module.

    I had forgotten he played some synths on Made In England - good memory!
     
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  24. JamesRR

    JamesRR Trashcan Dream

    Location:
    NYC
    I just checked - and in the liner notes, it does in fact say "Elton plays a Roland piano." So, I presume he really stuck to that, to the point it was called out in the book (and I'm sure part of the endorsement deal). And I'm sure it was only the RD-1000 as that was the best one action-wise.
     
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  25. krock2009

    krock2009 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA

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