Tag: piano

  • Review: Yamaha AvantGrand N3

    Update: Thoughts after 21 months.

    Update 2: I’m very slightly amending this post to make it less informal because of a shift in readership that I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s not because of this kind of garbage, although feel free to read what they quoted to see what sort of friend-oriented flippant sentences were here before.

    Yep, I bought a new instrument. Here’s a little bit of backstory, some pictures, and my thoughts.

    Yamaha AvantGrand N3

    I’ve had a Technics SX-PR303 since 1995 and I still love it. Weighted touch sensitive keys, sounds galore, easy multi-track recording – I’ve used and abused the thing. It’s gone with me to gigs in Virginia Beach, in and out of several apartments in Richmond, and in both of my apartments here in Rochester. It’s dealt with me playing crappy musical numbers, singing while playing, and shoddily realizing figured bass without a word of judgment. But finally, the time had come to replace it. The damper pedal was going in and out and I just couldn’t do the level of practicing that I needed to do on it anymore.

    In November, Vivian sent me this Slate article on this “digital hybrid” piano that Yamaha was touting. Besides the fact that it name-checked Donald in Mathmagic Land (a nice memory from grade school math class) and compared the Tactile Response System to an N64 Rumble Pak, I found myself thinking, “why haven’t all digital pianos been like this before?” Maybe it’s gimmicky, and anything with marketing speak is sure to sound that way, but it seemed sensible to me.

    Fast forward to the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s performance at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to get to go along as a performer in the ensemble, photographer, and student-wrangler (more on that in another post), and lo and behold, there was a Yamaha AvantGrand N3 in the exhibit hall. Admittedly, it was very difficult to hear in that crowded conference room, with everybody else trying all sorts of band instruments, but I fell in love. I dragged everybody over to try it out, and started thinking about how I could justify buying a new digital instrument.

    Trying the AvantGrand N3

    Some internal justification, phone calls, and measurements later, I bought it. It was just meant to be. Turns out that, while there were no dealers in the entirety of NYS, the Piano and Organ Warehouse next to my father’s house had one in stock and was willing to sell it to me for [redacted as of 2012] with no tax because I am no longer a VA resident. My father was unbelievably supportive throughout the whole process and went not once, but THREE separate times of his own accord to measure the instrument to be absolutely sure that it would fit in his minivan so that I wouldn’t have to rent a truck or pay for movers (also his idea). He found some friends to help get the piano into the van and let me keep it for a week and half while I recovered enough to make the long drive back down (made even longer by one of the VA snowstorms). Anyway, when I got back up to Rochester, a couple of percussionist friends and Adrian helped me move it upstairs, reattach the legs, and get it into place. So here it sits in our living room, beautiful and loved:

    AvantGrand N3

    I’ve been doing quite a bit of practicing on it, as I have committed myself to a very musical semester. I’ve been working on: Brahms – E-Flat Clarinet Sonata (finally), Bruch – 8 Pieces for Clarinet, Viola/Cello, and Piano, Schwantner – Percussion Concerto (2 piano reduction), Bach-Busoni – Chaconne, John Adams – Chairman Dances, and a whole host of church music and other smaller things. Basically, I’ve really gotten a feel for this piano and how it helps me learn all sorts of styles of music, in addition to just how great it feels to be able to just practice when the mood strikes and be able to do more last minute learning (happens a lot in church). I wouldn’t call it an acoustic piano killer, but I think it has great potential as a practice instrument and even in places like churches where extended techniques aren’t necessary on the piano. Sadly, I won’t be playing Berg’s Vier Stücke on this thing.

    Finally, my (former) professor, Dr. Jean Barr, came over for coffee and a little piano playing a few weeks ago and was very impressed by the touch, feel, and pedaling. I don’t expect it to be a performance instrument, but the blessing of my professor was enough for me.

    The rundown:


    • Having a grand piano action = constructive practicing
    • The tactile feedback and half pedal effects = even more constructive practicing
    • The artist bench feels goooooood and gets high enough even for high sitters (such as myself)
    • Having a real grand piano action with Ivorite keys and that little snap at the bottom of the key allow me to forget that I’m playing on something digital
    • Doesn’t need tuning or regular maintenance
    • Volume control or headphones are perfect for apartment or small space living
    • Light and small enough to move around without professionals (still hefty, though)
    • Full and short stick for the full-weight lid allow for realistic collaborative rehearsals
    • 12 speakers definitely make for a surrounding playing experience
    • While you don’t get the unique feel of a harpsichord just by changing to its sound (nor would I expect to, digital harpsichords exist as separate entities), the sound is actually eerily accurate, down to the release twang.


    • Some notes seem suspect in terms of tuning and can’t be individually changed (as far as I know). This is probably just the effect of equal temperament, what one is accustomed to individually, and not having true sympathetic resonance.
    • Sometimes will run into the boundary of the max polyphony (256 voices), or so it seems – rare, but annoying when it does happen
    • Soft pedal does not shift the keyboard, I guess because it doesn’t need to (but considering the rest of the details, I’d like to have seen that one)
    • Not useful for music involving interaction of dampened strings with other sounds (other notes/instruments) or prepared piano
    • Setting options is not at all intuitive – could use a better display than just 2 calculator-style blocks, especially given the price

    Control panel

    If you want more details about the instrument (including more talk about how it looks and all that, since I clearly didn’t end up writing a whole lot in that arena), here are a few links:

  • We’re famous!

    Well, if not famous, at least I’m finally on the Collaborative Piano Blog for more than just being their designer / web help. It’s me and Adrian playing the last movement of the Gabaye Sonatine for his MM recital at DePaul in May 2007.

  • What Zoolander would be like if it was about playing the piano

  • The wonders of an unexpected package

    Yesterday we arrived home to a package notice in our mailbox. I could not think what it could be and was pleasantly surprised to find the Brahms Piano Quintet score that I had won on eBay and promptly forgotten about. Excitement! Don’t you love getting a surprise package?

    If you don’t know the glory that is the Brahms Piano Quintet, you should check it out. I particularly love Ashkenazy with the Cleveland Orchestra String Quartet, but I believe that recording is long out of print (see it at Amazon). Here is a YouTube video of the last movement with Zukerman, Ida Kavafian, Paul Neubauer, Gary Hoffman, and David Golub:

    If nothing else, watch the last 2-3 minutes or so. Pure magic. Also, in self-loving news, Gary Hoffman once told me that I was a great accompanist.

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