Casio America, Inc., is a company whose considerable brand cachet extends across a number of technology-centered categories. Its company name and diverse assortment of products are commonplace in households across the globe, further buttressing the company’s enviable reputation. For Casio’s Electronic Musical Instrument Division, though, now is a particularly exciting time, ripe with product introductions that the piano and keyboard communities have greeted enthusiastically. “Today, players of all levels enjoy Casio instruments at home, on stage and in the studio,” noted Stephen Schmidt, the division’s Vice President. “Casio’s overall vision is to bring innovation to musical instruments—pianos and keyboards, for the most part—so that the experience is one that inspires creativity.” Few product launches in recent memory have generated the excitement of—and shown creative potential equal to—Casio’s CELVIANO Grand Hybrid pianos, which utilize a digital platform to uncannily approximate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
The original idea for the CELVIANO Grand Hybrid digital pianos—there are two models: the GP-300 and the GP-500BP—derived from Casio’s success with its Privia and CELVIANO pianos; that success inspired Casio to strive to achieve a new level of piano authenticity. “The Grand Hybrids were in the developmental stage for more-than-three years,” Schmidt stated, adding, “There were many challenges and learning experiences along the way.” One of the acoustic piano sounds the Grand Hybrids are capable of producing, the Berlin Grand, was developed in collaboration with C. Bechstein, a piano maker with a more-than-160-year history. “Collaborating with C. Bechstein was an integral part of the execution,” Schmidt affirmed, noting the loving attention paid to every detail, including the materials for the keys.
Casio’s CELVIANO Grand Hybrid pianos utilize a digital platform to uncannily approximate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
Since so much time and effort went into ensuring that the Grand Hybrid pianos had the right “feel,” let’s take a moment to discuss the Natural Grand Hammer Action Keyboard, which Mike Martin, General Manager of Marketing, calls one of a kind. “The full-length piano keys use the same materials and processes as in the C. Bechstein grand pianos,” he remarked. “Put simply, it’s a real piano keybed—not a simulation.” The hammer mechanism sends a weighted hammer along the same vertical path as a grand piano, using the same pivot points as a traditional piano mechanism, but with far fewer moving parts. That means no maintenance, no regulation and no deterioration. The hammers are striking sensors instead of strings, which means there’s no need for a traditional piano’s escapement mechanism. “The practical upshot,” Martin added, “is that it’s a true grand piano movement that allows for much faster repeated notes and trills.”
I noted at the outset that Casio sought to use the digital platform to closely approximate an acoustic piano. Well, capturing the ever-elusive acoustic piano sound is, perhaps, the toughest test. “The sound of an acoustic piano is one of the hardest to reproduce,” Martin admitted, “and it goes beyond simply recording the sounds.” When keys are held down, the harmonic relationships between the vibrating strings are exposed. Every possible relationship must be modeled. “When you press down any of the three pedals, you expect to hear the actual mechanical sound of its operation,” he said. “When you release a key, the note should decay at different speeds, depending on how quickly you released it.” All these aspects, as well as others, must be reproduced faithfully and accurately. “We want players to close their eyes and forget that it’s digital,” Martin stressed. “And that’s what the AiR Grand Sound Source accomplishes.”
The Grand Hybrid digital pianos include recreations of three legendary grand pianos: the previously mentioned Berlin Grand, the Hamburg Grand and the Vienna Grand. Martin discussed each of them in turn. “The Berlin Grand has generous midrange presence and a very melodic, ‘clear-sounding’ tone,” he explained. “The Hamburg Grand has a highly versatile spectrum of expression, and it provides great familiarity to those who swear by that specific piano. The Vienna Grand also has a wide tonal palette, and it’s known for its exceptionally low notes.” Casio encourages players to experiment with all three and find the sound that suits their preference and the piece of music.
Because the human ear can detect sound coming from different directions, and because an acoustic piano’s sound is more than just what’s coming from the soundboard, Casio reasoned that, to create a true piano experience, the company had to reproduce that entire sound field. “The Grand Acoustic System does this with six speakers,” Martin said, specifying, “Two on top to present sounds normally heard rising upwards; two near the keys to accentuate high frequencies; and two downward-facing speakers to reproduce sound emanating from below the soundboard.” For the player, this effectively conveys the feeling of sitting at a grand piano.
Casio has spared no effort to ensure that both the dealer community and the piano-playing world know about the Grand Hybrid digital pianos. Last September, the company hosted a launch event at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in Lincoln Square in New York City. The official U.S. unveiling of the new pianos to the media, the event generated tremendous buzz throughout the industry. “Since then,” Schmidt added, “we’ve also hosted a number of ‘Touch and Try’ events in cities nationwide, allowing dealers and musicians to experience the Grand Hybrid digital pianos firsthand.” He noted that the Casio team remains busy creating video content, designing retail displays and conducting training, both in person and via webinars.
Casio’s GP-300 ($3,999) and GP-500BP ($5,999) are currently available at select piano dealers nationwide. The GP-300 has a black satin finish, whereas the GP-500BP has a black polished finish. The GP-500BP includes a few more selectable instruments, and the piano sounds it delivers have more detailed resonance and mechanical sound reproductions. In addition, the GP-500BP adds a Scene feature, which allows a player to save and recall settings quickly.
Martin concluded by saying, “Casio is thrilled with the Grand Hybrid series, and we’re equally thrilled to hear our dealers, artists and customers asking for more.”
Given the splash these products have already made, it seems like Casio hit just the right note.