Japanese music gear titan Roland is celebrating 50 years in business this year, and has combined the timeless beauty of wood with cutting-edge digital technology for its latest party piece – the 50th Anniversary Concept Model Piano.
Roland was founded in Osaka, Japan, in 1972 and began with a trio of drum machines followed by a couple of synthesizers. The new company’s first electronic pianos – the EP-10 and EP-20 – were launched in 1973, adding the world’s first velocity-sensitive model the following year.
Although the early 1980s will forever be linked with the launch of the mighty TR-808 drum machine, Roland also released a 61-key portable piano with integrated speakers and an analog drum machine called the EP-11. The Musical Instrument Digital Interface protocol was also unleashed during this period (with Roland playing a key role in its development), and the company responded with two MIDI-capable home pianos.
Thus far, Roland’s electronic pianos rocked digital components but analog sound synthesis. That changed with the RD-1000 Stage Piano, which used sample-based algorithm-enhanced sound synthesis, and proved such a success that a dedicated production facility was opened in Hamamatsu, Japan. This Structured Adaptive Synthesis technology made its way to other models, and proved its mettle during a sponsored performance with a full acoustic orchestra in 1991.
Acoustic realism stepped up a notch with the development of the V-Piano in 2009, and a collaboration with Japanese hand-made furniture brand Karimoku in 2015 resulted in “a gorgeous, hand-made, all-natural piece of art” digital piano called the Kiyola KF-10. An online subscription service called Roland Cloud was introduced in 2018, which allowed folks to download and use a bunch of modeled Roland hardware as plugins.
High tech met futuristic design head on with 2020’s Facet masterpiece, and that quick trip through Roland’s extraordinary digital piano history brings us to its latest half-centenary creation.
“In this 50th Anniversary Concept Model, we’ve developed and installed cutting-edge sound field realization technology,” said Roland’s head of Piano Development Division, Yoshiyasu Kitagawa. “Beginning with the EP-10, we installed sounds from 1973, the RD-1000, JD-800, V-Piano, SuperNATURAL, and other historical sounds. This allows you to relive the evolution of technology since the introduction of the digital piano into 1973.”
The concept piano is built around the company’s PureAcoustic Modeling engine for sonic realism, and incorporates a patent-pending sensing algorithm to offer a more natural response. Engineers sought sound assistance from a veteran engineer to generate authentic legacy piano sounds, and even reproduced the sound made by the mechanisms of the physical pedals found on acoustic pianos.
Designed as a stand-alone home grand of the future showpiece rather than something to be tucked away in a corner, the 50th Anniversary Concept Model Piano is wrapped in single-body cabinet produced in collaboration with Karimoku, incorporating stacked Japanese Nara oak pieces arranged layer by layer and shaped into flowing lines and smooth curves. And it comes with a similarly built piano stool with contoured padding up top.
Upon opening the hinged lid, players are treated to a sizable tablet-like color display panel for access to player settings and an adjustable metronome. There’s Bluetooth connectivity onboard too, so there’s likely mobile app integration as well (although Roland doesn’t specify).
Players power the unit on via a button to the left of the 88-key piano keyboard, and there’s a gold-colored volume control for the built-in sound system and speakers.
Sadly, the 50th Anniversary Concept Model Piano will not enter production, but folks are being given the opportunity to “get past the digital and acoustic concept and enjoy the natural performance and beauty purely as a piano” as it embarks on a global tour as part of Roland’s half-century celebrations.