- Korg 100S2, Roland Ax-Edge: too expensive
- Alexis Vortex, Roland AXIS, Roland Ax-7: no voices / midi only
- Yamaha SHS-10: not instrument grade
- Yamaha SHS-500: poorly designed
- Yamaha SHS-200: too rare
- Roland Lucina Ax-09: doesn’t look like a keytar
- Yamaha SHS-300: Met the minimum for essential features but honestly just not good enough overall (my factors of consideration being looks, build, design, and voicing).
My most recent obsession has been keytar. I can play piano, I can play guitar. I can’t play piano well enough to be in an orchestra, I can’t play guitar well enough to be in a band, even in my dreams. So in an attempt to go jam with my friends and live out my dreams I figured I could master the keytar; how hard could playing with one hand be? Primarily I just want to quickly jam out to some synth solos I come across. I found that there are really no keytars that meet my requirements which I think are pretty basic requirements. In this article I’m going to overview what I perceive as the entire keytar market as found by a beginner consumer. If there are more keytars that aren’t on this list, they’re not easily found. If I’m missing any sub $1000 keytars let me know.
I figured that a beginner keytar should at least…
- Work as an instrument stand alone. This mean’s I’m not going to include midi-only keytars. It should have its own voices ready to use. Beginners probably don’t have the software prepared to power a midi-only instrument. I actually do have some setup ready for that since I use a launchpad but I’d much rather “plug and play”. The Alexis Vortex falls into this category and so do the the cheaper Rolands like the AXIS and the Ax-7… and the Mad Catz Rock Band 3 keyboard.
- Look like a keytar on stage so I’m not going to include basically strap mounted keyboards. The Roland Lucina Ax-09 fits into this category in my opinion, some of you may disagree but it’s my article and I want a keytar, not a keyboard with a strap.
- Have at least something close to instrument grade build quality.
So here’s what I found that matched all my requirements:
1. The Roland Ax-Edge
Wow, this thing looks so cool. Did I mention it’s over a thousand dollars?
2. Korg RK100S2
This one is my favorite and the most instrument like of all the options mainly because it’s made of wood. If I had a thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I’d get this one.
Now every other sub-$1000, non-midi-only, keytar basically comes from the same Yamaha lineup:
2. Yamaha SHS-300
This is probably the defining entry level keytar at the moment. It retails at a reasonable $200 and has a front facing speaker for casual jams alone or with softer instruments. However it doesn’t really look like a keytar, it’s small and would likely be out of place on stage. Second, it only has twelve voices: 3 synth, 3 piano, 3 other. This is currently my top contender and if they have it at my local guitar center I will likely pick one up. Though seriously my first keyboard from the 90s had 100 voices.
3. Yamaha SHS-500
This is the 300’s older bigger brother. It has 30 voices which I find much more acceptable and though it looks slightly bigger, I still don’t like the look. People honestly might not recognize it has a keytar on stage, more of a strap mounted keyboard though in Yamaha’s defense they don’t advertise these as keytars. Now the main problem with this keytar is well covered by keytar youtuber Pink. The instrument was made by retooling the VKB-100 Vocaliod from Japan. This means that the design of the instrument is not made for purpose. Buttons, knobs, and features are in weird places such as the speaker being on the back. To learn more about the shortcomings of this keytar’s design see youtuber Pink and the Keytar Cat.
4. Yamaha SHS-10
This may be the most famous keytar. It was released in the 80s and it’s the grandfather to the two SHSes above. The keytar is small but the shape is more recognizable as a keytar than its modern equivalents. I’d be getting this one if the build quality wasn’t awful. These currently resell for over $200 and most of them have broken battery covers and most importantly broken strap buttons. If the strap button breaks off well… you just have a keyboard.
5. Yamaha SHS-200
The SHS-10’s larger variant. I believe it’s more rare than the SHS-10 and in my opinion it looks so over the top that I like it. It has stage presence, works stand alone, and has a variety of sounds. I expect a perfect example of this to sell for around $300. However as of this writing there are only two available on eBay, neither of them are in fully functional condition and one of them is across the Pacific ocean in Japan.