Keyboard Care

We invest a fair amount in our studios and gear rigs. Yet despite their importance and value in studio environs, electronic keyboards are often — surprise, surprise — neglected. A little extra care and diligence, however, can help keep your keyboard controllers, synths, and workstations in good shape for a lot longer.

Public Enemy Number One?

Dirt and unwanted material working its way into your keyboard. Electronic keyboards use one or more sensitive key contacts to trigger a note when a key is pressed. When these contacts get fouled with foreign matter, keyboard responsiveness suffers. You can’t prevent every speck of dust from sneaking in between the keys, but some preventative medicine will help. Shield the keyboard with a non-porous dust cover when it’s off and not in use. Watch out for liquids. Soft drinks are the most damaging, but all kinds of liquids (coffee, beer, wine) can cause expensive damage to keyboards. So make a conscious effort to keep drinks and other liquids away.

Common symptoms of dirty or damaged contacts are: No note when a key is pressed, “doubled” notes when a key is pressed, or no velocity sensitivity (often maximum velocity is experienced). In some cases these contacts can be cleaned to alleviate these problems. Disassembling the keyboard is necessary (and can be rather complicated), but if you can get that far, a dry cotton swab can often do the trick. (Check documentation to make sure servicing a keyboard yourself is safe and doesn’t violate any warranty eligibility BEFORE taking it apart!) In other cases, key contacts may need to be replaced to fix the problem.

If your keyboard is moving around with you for gigs, tours, or other purposes, make sure it’s got a safe home while in transit. While the original box is often safe for a shipment or two, it’s not made to be used over and over again. Find a sturdy hard-shell case that fits the size and profile of your keyboard. Yes, it’s an investment, but a good case can cost far less than many repairs.

The other side of protecting your keyboard is often overlooked. The rear panel — opposite the keys — contains the essential connections to your system. Audio, MIDI, and power cables dangle behind the keyboard awaiting a wrong step by a zealous assistant or a clumsy spectator. One good yank on a cable plugged into your keyboard, and internal wiring could be easily damaged. I like to simply loop all my cables under the keyboard and on top of an arm of my keyboard stand. That way, there’s a little slack and the worst case is more likely to be a broken cable (much cheaper to replace).

Last but certainly not least, keep the data in your keyboard protected. Use whatever backup method is available for your keyboard: floppy or hard disk, smart media cards, or sysex dumps.

Like with the rest of your studio, use an ounce of prevention . . . or two.