Plug-in Review—Mr. Ray 2.2 by Soundfonts.it

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     The one thing most electric pianos have in common is that the sound is tranduced in the same manner as an electric guitar using an electro-magnetic pickup. The big difference between them is how the sound is produced to begin with.

 

     Yamaha, Baldwin, Helpinstill and Kawai's electric pianos are all basically acoustic pianos with pickups. The Helpinstill has a traditional soundboard but the others are more like electric guitars in the sense that there is not a vibrating piece of wood to resonate. Of all the electric pianos, these models come the closest to sounding like acoustic pianos.

 

     Wurlitzer's e-pianos use metal reeds that are struck by hammers. By placing the reeds close to metal plates, a capacitative pickup system is formed which tranduces the sound produced by the reeds. This combination results in a very sweet, vibra-phone like quality when played softly, while striking the keys harder produces a more hollow sound. Depending on the amplification and effects used, you can achieve many different tones from crystal clear bell tones to overdriven, organ-like tones. Popular songs recorded using a Wurlitzer include Steely Dan's "Do it Again" and Queen's "You're My Best Friend"

 

     The most famous e-piano is the Fender Rhodes. Its method for producing its signature tone consists of a stiff steel wire that is struck by a neoprene hammer coupled with a tone bar. The tone bar is a steel bar that adds sustain and resonance to the sound. Each wire has a spring which can be adjusted to finely tune the pitch of each note. This allows the instrument to be detuned slightly which has the result of allowing it to cut through a dense mix more easily. The tone of the Fender Rhodes is bell-like and fuller than a Wurlitzer. Striking the keys hard has the effect of adding growl or distortion to the tone. Some of the artist that have used the Fender Rhodes include The Beatles, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and of course, Ray Charles.

 

     Hohner's Pianet e-pianos use a system of plucked reeds and electrostatic pickups similar to the Wurlitzer's to generate its tone. The tone is similar to a Wurlitzer but brighter with less sustain. The later model Pianet T uses more conventional electro-magnetic pickups and therefore has a tone similar to the Fender Rhodes. Different Hohner models have been used by Led Zepellin, The Beatles, The Guess Who, Stevie Wonder, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Steely Dan.

 

     This finally brings us to our plug-in review - Mr. Ray by Soundfont.it, an electric piano emulation with controls for pickup type (Fender Rhodes Mark I and II, Wurlitzer and FM - read Casio DX-7), tine adjustments, adjustable pickup symmetry and distance, mallet hardness and hammer noise. Also included are wah, distortion, phazer/flanger, tremelo/auto pan, and stereo delay effects. All the time based effects can be sync'd to the tempo of the host. My system seemed to have some problems when I used it in live play mode and when playing back some of the presets that were effects-heavy  but this was easily fixed by adjusting the latency of my sound card. I don't think having a bit more memory would hurt either. The presets (32 of them) really showcase what this instrument is capable of and give you a jumping off point to create your own tones. Again, I don't have a Fender Rhodes or Wurly in my studio, but I feel the sound is pretty close to the mark (pun intended). Sountfond.it  also has Mr. Ray '73, a pay-for ($100) plug-in that emulates all the imperfections of the Fender Mark II that make it so identifiable but it only models that particular electric piano. For my money, however, I think the freeware version is more versatile since you can create more tones with it. However, I could do without all the effects because most people have those effects on their systems already and it might make for a smaller more effective package. 

 

     As with last month, I'm using a riff I wrote from a project I'm working on to show some of the more interesting presets.

 

                 1) Welcome to Mr Ray Fender Rhodes Mark II

                 2) Early Model Mark I

                 3) Super Wurley Wurlitzer on steriods

                 4) My DX Casio DX7

                 5) Joe’s Chorus—Joe who? - Still pretty cool

                 6) Chick’s Gig—I’ll probably use something very close to this for my project

 

     I’m interested in what you’d like me to review in the future, so send your suggestions to thomas@yourhomestudio.com

 

 

 

     For this month's plug-review, I'm going to look at another Soundfont.it product, Mr. Ray 2.2. Also, because of the nature of the instrument, I'm going to need to explain how the instrument being modeled actually works so you can understand the controls of the plug-in. So without further ado, let's dig into how electric pianos produce those oh so cool sounds.

 

     Like the Hammond B-3, most electric pianos are electro-mechanical and were meant to emulate acoustic pianos. We'll they don't do a very good job of sounding like a baby grand but the do a great job of sounding like they do which is quite varied depending on the manufacturer and the method of construction.