Product Focus - What Piano Is The Best For Drama?

As a media composer, I often use pianos for the personal, humble and genuine parts of a story - there is a unique intimacy possible and with a great upright or grand you sometimes need to do very little to evoke emotion. As such, I’ve spent much of my life on a quest searching for that perfect ‘drama piano’. This has subsequently led me down some blind alleys - and thus mega-hacks of sample content - to actually creating samples of my own that offer highly satisfying results.

In this video I take us through the numerous virtual pianos we have made at Spitfire Audio, both commercially and for our experimental ‘free’ Labs range (where you can grab them in return for small donations to charities www.spitfireaudio.com/freesamples). I also suggest some non-Spitfire releases to look at and come to the conclusion that it’s difficult to find a piano that ‘fits all’. On my quest that has lasted for nearly 20 years, do I find the perfect ‘drama’ piano?

Conclusions of my Top 4 Favourites:

Spitfire Soft Piano - from the aforementioned ‘free’ Labs range, formerly known as ‘Felt Piano’

This was my first attempt at getting that super intimate sound. Recorded at Air Edel through some awesome vintage mics, this is a really magical piano sound. When I played it I was staggered at how hard you had to hit it to sound, so everything here is me playing a good mf. I think it is something to do with the thickness of the felt which gives it a magical otherworldly bell like quality, almost not like a piano at all. If I had one issue with its use, that would be its lack of top end, which disappears entirely when placed against dialogue. Away from media, pop writers and bladders love this instrument.

Gwilym Simcock Felt Piano 

Another felted, soft and very intimate piano. I was in the market for a piano to write on and was introduced to the fantastic Schimmel range, which are handmade in Germany. I was in the showroom and they were trying to sell me all sorts of massively expensive models but the one that touched me was the very cheapest upright, and this was because of how it sounded with the felt. I’d been obsessed with ‘felting’ pianos for a couple of years and had always struggled with the intimacy of sound versus the fact that you had to play them so hard. Here I was confronted by a beautiful tone but also a responsive touch. We got it back to the studio, rigged up a bunch of mics and hired a jazz great and Mercury Prize winner to produce a definitive set of massively detailed felt piano samples. For me this instrument sounds more like a piano - utterly beautiful and more controllable with the different mics, but still very mellow in sound.

Olafur Arnalds Composer Toolkit

At the centre of this suite of sounds is a 100 year old baby grand that has been refurbished and pimped by BAFTA winning composer Ólafur Arnalds in Iceland (yes we really will travel for this quest!). It’s a most characterful and extraordinary sounding instrument performed by Oliver Patrice Weder so quietly during recording that it was really at the edge of oblivion. With a signal path perfected over many years by Ólafur, this is a real treat if you want something that drips cool. There is a rare amount of top end afforded to the proximity of the mics and the signal path used to record it, so it responds well to top end EQ (the previous two don’t because they really don’t have any!). But one of the real treats is the live signal processing Ólafur uses to create organic pads by putting the piano feed through vintage space echoes. With a simple slider on the interface this dials up a match made in…. well, Rekjyavik.

Hans Zimmer Piano

It was a real honour to work with Hans on our collaborative percussion libraries - his exacting attention to detail and enthusiasm for rich feature sets really made us feel that we all had the greatest train set in the world. So when he rang and suggested “now the piano” we were both excited and nervous. A year and a lot of sweat (and peas) later we were pleased to release our most versatile piano; a real centre piece to our collection of instruments. Whilst I love the proud and broad dynamic versions of this piano, not to mention the vast mixing options, it is the soft piano that I find extraordinary. No felts here, it’s just played impossibly quietly to give a true intimate piano sound with a big heart - a sound that is capable of filling the auditorium of a cinema but also with that all important top end to cut through sound effects and dialogue. Absolutely awesome.

Finally, from our archive, a Quick Tip on how to combine our Soft Piano and Pendle’s Ships Piano to make the ultimate Tom Waits style piano: