I attended the 2018 Winter NAMM show, skipping a year after a long run–which is like being thrown into a time machine ahead four years. As a worship leader, I am always looking for things that will help me and my tribe improve our craft and delivery of music ministry. This is the largest trade show in Southern California so one could spend a lifetime reporting on new and improved gear. I met innovators who are passionate about improving the life of music creators like us. Without these artisans, perhaps we would become stale and not grow our skill or match the zealousness of these incredible business people. I am going present just a small snapshot of some interesting and useful gear for today’s church musicians and worship leaders. My focus lands more on the keyboard/synth world as I know there are too many out there with their pedals and such.
The VOX Continental Keyboard
The Vox Continental Keyboard is what I would like to call a “Nord-buster” for the church worship team with a competitive price for gear that may also be an improvement. At MRSP of $1999 for a 61-key and $2399 for a 73-key model, this vintage-looking beauty simplifies live playing. The drawbars are digital but feel intuitive and analog. The keys feel just right, with good action good for both piano and organ. I loved the look and the stand, of course. But the VOX tube preamp that’s built-in for overdrive sounds ridiculously good.
How about the piano, strings and vintage sounds? I loved them all, honestly. The Nord Electro is a good workhorse, but the samples here unexpectantly grabbed me. It seems to have fewer controls than the Nord. Or, it feels like it does! That trick, well played. I must additionally mention that the pads and strings will work well in modern worship settings. The Vox Continental is now not only on my radar but on my wishlist. (My birthday is coming soon!).
On-Stage Microphone and Guitar Stands
I turn a corner, knowing that microphone stands are a staple of any house of worship today. I see one product that caught my eye. If you lead worship with a guitar, you can rid the stage of the unsightly boom! Aaron, my good friend and worship leader, models the Lower Rocker-Lug stand (MRSP $62.95) which has an iPad holder attached. In fact, they had a new straight microphone stand that operates as you would expect–until you bend the elbow. It’s called the Upper Rocker-Lug Mic Stand (MRSP $41.95), and I want this for our singers who play guitar! Cleaner looks and smaller storage footprint make this stand a no-brainer purchase for a worship team.
If the microphone stands were not enough, two brand-new guitar stands will save your gear and make moving guitars a simpler activity. The Push-Down Spring-Up Locking Acoustic Guitar Stand (MRSP $21.95) and its electric counterpart allow you to safely move your instrument and take the stand with you! The spring works just as the name indicates. If you have to carry your guitar off the platform or move it even a bit, this saves you from holding your stand. Also, the guitar will not simply fall out if bumped.
The Nord Electro 6
We cannot forget the Nord Electro, a very popular keyboard in houses of worship. It’s still a great model, but this year’s release of the Nord Electro 6 adds some crucial upgrades. There are many good things we all know about this line from the past, but one single improvement will make worship teams and worship leaders want to trade in their old Nords. You can now change patches while holding down keys and not have the old sound patch cut off! Seamless transitions! This one feature ends many complaints from worship leaders.
Like the older models, the Nord Electro 6 comes with waterfall keys or hammer-action keys, depending on your use and preference. The same great sounds are there with new features such as split point crossfades and extended voice polyphony. More layers, notes, and transitions make this more than the excellent vintage keyboard/electric-piano workhorse it already is. There is a reason this and the other Nord products end up in houses of worship. Now, more features make this pricy-yet-excellent piece of gear appropriate for worship teams. One problem: I don’t have that new expensive MRSP for you yet.
Our dear friends at Loop Community have released the Looptimus Mini and in yummy colors, too (MRSP $99.00). My favorite one is the green, of course. This little box is a powerful tool all on its own, allowing you to control Ableton, Prime, or your MIDI software of choice. You can Start, Stop, and Advance, adding an expression pedal in the mix as well. But, there is more.
The Looptimus Mini expands the functions of the Looptimus by switching modes or as stand-alone buttons, for instance. The Mini gives three additional buttons per bank. That has to be good news for the many power users out there. Your Looptimus Mini comes not just in the green that I love but in blue, yellow, red, and black. If you already use loops, this is an excellent way to free your hands. As a keyboard worship leader, advancing loops via hand toggles seems somewhat clumsy. If you do not need all the bells and whistles or you are a power user, the Looptimus Mini is as helpful as the rest of what we receive from the people at Loop Community.
Sipario MIDI Router
You have several old keyboards that now are finally cool to play again. Let’s say you have a Yamaha DX7 and a Roland Juno and use Apple’s Mainstage on your laptop. Controlling and switching via an app on the computer gets hairy when you are in a live setting such as leading worship at your church each Sunday. Imagine a switcher that can remember scenes which include layers, splits, and choose which keyboard you want to play for each song!
I introduce you to the Sipario MIDI Router (MRSP $379.00). The CEO and inventor gave me a demo, and now I regret selling all my cool and old keyboards! But, it is not too late for you. His Italian accent made me want some pasta, but my hunger abated for food, and the possibilities of seamless transitions with software and older keyboards filled me up. With up to eight levels of splits and layers, advanced management of sustain, and all your settings saved on a USB memory stick I might just start collecting some old MIDI gear.
If you have some new gear to share or any questions, I would love to hear from you here on the blog or elsewhere. Happy shopping!