Korg has a long legacy of keyboard design; from the company’s first programmable organ all the way back in 1967 to the current day offering of over 30 keyed instruments of all shapes and sizes. The range, which extends from basic midi controllers to offbeat key-tars and herculean synthesizers, is a testament to Korg’s ability to innovate and refine over the decades; innovation in terms of technology and refinement in terms of design.
It is no different when it comes to stage pianos. In fact, the company has released a stage piano approximately every ten years; the SG-1 went on sale in 1986, the SG ProX in 1997 and the SV-1 in 2009. Korg’s most recent stage piano offering is the Grandstage which released last year. Unlike the 2009 SV-1, who’s design mimics the vintage electric pianos of yesteryear, the Grandstage aims for simplicity and elegance. Like any instrument designed for stage it is essential that it not only sounds the part but that it looks the part also.
There is no doubt that a musician’s instruments contribute to the overall aesthetic spectacle of a live performance. This happens on several cognitive levels. Firstly, there is the intrigue level which is usually limited to other like minded musicians; what are they playing? i wonder why they chose that over something else? etc. Secondly, there is the pure aesthetic level. The use of certain instruments add to the look and feel of a performance; think Prince’s flamboyant guitars or James Hetfield’s Snakebyte. Finally there is the contextual level; how the look of the instrument fits with the overall performance and evokes certain feelings. To appreciate what i’m trying to get at think of a solo pianist wearing a tuxedo sitting in front of an immaculate gloss black Steinway & Sons grand piano.
I mention all of that to say this; any stage instrument must be visually evocative in order for it to be considered a design success. My question is then, is the Korg Grandstage a design success? Spoiler alert, it is.
I am a firm believer that, more often than not, ‘less is more’. As i write this i am surrounded by products refuse to adhere to this maxim. A nice suede jacket with overly garish lining. A computer monitor with excessive branding. This might come across as prudish but don’t get me wrong, I love over-the-top as much as the next person – but only when it adds something. When product designers add something seemingly ‘just for the sake of it’ the design is diminished rather than enhanced.
Unlike my computer monitor and suede jacket the Grandstage embodies the ‘less is more philosophy’. As i alluded to earlier, the Grandstage is not a piano concerned with flamboyance and braggadocio. Rather than beauty pageant glitz and glam the Korg opts for what i would call ‘elegant minimalism’. The R-shape gloss surround is reminiscent of the soft curves of a traditional acoustic piano. These curves are juxtaposed against the clean straight lines of the rear. Blending modern and classic elements in one product can often be a fatal design mistake, however the Grandstage combines them beautifully.
While the Grandstage exudes a sense of refined minimalism it is not without some hints of showmanship.It’s front panel is made from a striking hairline-finished aluminium. A thin red felt strip separates the aluminium control panel from the keybed, a little reminder of what is responsible for silencing the mechanical key action. Set into the control panel are a series of red LEDs that provide visual feedback of various parameters and settings and give a sense of overall uniformity with the felt. The clean lines of the aluminium meet the equally clean vertical lines of the woodgrain patterned panel, which wraps around to the backside of the piano and varies its hue depending on how the light falls on it
The iconic Korg logo, strategically placed on the ‘crowd facing’ backside of the piano is the most exhibitionistic feature of the piano. Not only does it illuminate but it allows the user to choose it’s colour, brightness, and illumination mode.
While the Grandstage overall is a beautiful looking piano, it is let down in a few areas. Firstly, the woodgrain rear panel is not actual woodgrain but a laminate. Secondly, the side panels are constructed from a moulded plastic in place of a more refined material such as wood or aluminium. Nevertheless, this is a stage piano and these omissions reduce the overall weight of the product considerably. With any instrument that is going to be ‘gigged’ there is a trade off between looks, materials and weight. While these touches would have furthered the perception of expense and quality, Korg designers clearly thought it prudent to reduce weight in these areas. As gigging musicians we can’t really argue with the choice.
Aesthetically we think the Korg Grandstage is beautiful. It ticks many design boxes and represents the Korg’s years of experience and evolution as a piano designer. Keep in mind that Beauty is only skin deep though and we have not attempted to review the sound of the piano. For a sound demo check out the video below.