Keyboard stands are a bit like coat hangers or car batteries: youmust have them, but you don't want to spend your life researching oreven particularly caring about them as long as they work. At leastthat's what I thought until one happy lunchtime when EM editor Steve O.asked me to evaluate a representative collection of stands.
What a revelation! Having required the services of keyboard standssince (gasp) the '60s, and having used every form of keyboard standfrom Mom's ironing board to multilayered scaffolding, I was amazed atthe range and variety of the models and designs available today. Onecompany alone offers almost 80 different models. What is this, a secretbranch of the Inventors Guild? Patents seem to fly about like UPCstickers, and over the past few weeks I've probably seen morevariations on locking devices than your average prison inspector. Itdoesn't just seem crazy-it is crazy.
To keep this project manageable, I focused on keyboard stands fromfour companies: Yamaha, K&M, Quik Lok, and Ultimate SupportSystems. Because the latter two companies offer an extraordinary numberof models, I checked out several stands from both.
THE SIMPLE CHALLENGE The purpose of a keyboard stand is to take theweight of one or more keyboards being played on stage or in the studio.In itself that's not an earth-shattering accomplishment, but there areconsiderations that include assembly speed, adjustment potential, thewobble factor (particularly if you're the Jerry Lee Lewis of electronickeyboards), the look, the size, the extras, and the cost.
If you play a lot of one-night stands, you're occasionally going toarrive late. When that happens, having to spend 15 minutes assemblingyour keyboard stand could bring on a heart attack. If you play an88-note weighted-action piano, choosing a $20 X-frame from Kmart is afalse economy. If you play supper clubs, a structure that makes thestage look like a remodeling project isn't going to cut it.
If you're up for the Mariah Carey gig, on the other hand, a slim-Jimone-tier stand will make you look as though you're playing with a toyon the World Enormadome stage.
Appropriateness is the keyword when looking at keyboard stands.Consider the type of keyboards you already have or are likely to havewithin the year, what type and size of venue you'll be playing, andyour own lifestyle. Are you punctiliously early for every gig, or doyou tend to skid in at the last minute? Are you "handy" or a klutz? Doyou care how you and your rig look on stage? If so, what appeals toyou: a busy, techie look; a clean and empty look; or down-homeclutter?
The range of models I tested, while not exhaustive, nonethelessembraces most of the current thinking on the design of keyboard stands.Factors discussed and identified here should enable you to assess anysimilar model "direct from the Czech Republic" that you might find atyour local music store. Let's take a look at our representativesample.
YAMAHA YKA 7000 X-FRAME This simple X-frame stand ($99.95) isbeautifully made (see Fig. 1). It has no rough edges, its oversizerubber feet keep it in place on even the most raked of stages, and youcan set it up more or less instantly.
All X-frame stands look alike from a distance. The differences liein the particular mechanism that locks the frame in place and in therelative sturdiness of each model. Not only is the YKA 7000's QuickAction locking device very rugged, but the simple spring-loaded pinthat sets the stand's height is both immediately obvious and easy toadjust quickly: just grip the lever underneath one of the support barsand then fold or unfold the frame to the height you desire.
The support bars themselves have thick rubber gripping rings to keepyour keyboard nice and steady. Retractable extensions support deeperinstruments. I tried the extensions with my fattest synthesizer, aRoland JD-800. It fit, but just barely. The extensions' flip-up,locking safety clips must be carefully angled to stop them from jamminga key at the front or obscuring an output at the back, but it's a snugand safe fit.
Without going overboard, the YKA 7000 is a good-looking, pro-levelstand. In my estimation, it's a high- quality interpretation of atried-and-tested design.
QUIK LOK QL-623 X-FRAME What if you have a load of keyboards butyour gig doesn't pay you loads of money? Then you're looking for atriple-tier X-frame stand like the Quik Lok QL-623 ($199.95), whichsprouts a series of extensions that let you rig three keyboards orinstruments on top of one another (see Fig. 2a).
The QL-623 has a solid metal construction that doesn't seem"industrial." You adjust the basic stand height with a spring-loadedlever that inserts a metal tongue into a series of holes on a circularmetal plate. Although the stand was perfectly sturdy in the studio, Iwas concerned that after a couple of tours, the relationship betweentongue and hole could possibly get realigned to the point of danger.(Of course, I was unable to confirm that long-term prognosis in theshort time I had to test the stand.)
The bars for tiers 2 and 3 slip onto the end of the main supports.You adjust their angles using a pair of toothed metal "cookie-cutter"cups aligned around a central plastic bushing. I like the fact thatboth width and rake of the tiers are adjustable. You can, for instance,have an arrangement whereby tier 2 is angled very steeply and tier 3 iscompletely flat-or vice versa.
When the QL-623 is fully loaded with three instruments, the wobblefactor is potentially dangerous; you'll need to play around with anglesas well as keyboard size and placement until the wobble is minimized.Setup and teardown is fairly quick, as long as you can transport thestand without having to remove the tiers every time. But if you don'tdismantle the stand, it is, understandably, bulky.
Overall, the QL-623 is a good choice for budding Rick Wakemans ontight budgets. Quik Lok also offers a single-tier stand, the QL-746($99.95), and the fully adjustable double-tier QL-641 ($169.95).
QUIK LOK IS Z-726L Z-FRAME Weighted keyboards, digital pianos,organs, and the like will not be terribly safe on an X-frame stand. Astand's specs might say it can withstand the weight of 100 pounds ormore, but your instrument will not only be precarious as it danglesover the ends of even a fully extended pair of support bars-it's goingto look inappropriate as well. In this scenario, a Z-frame stand wouldbe a better choice.
I liked Quik Lok's double-tier IS Z-726L ($279.95) for itssturdiness and all-around professional look (see Fig. 2b). Setting upthis fairly substantial stand took 10 to 15 minutes the first timearound-and believe me, I'm no handyman. You'll learn to do it morequickly with a bit of practice. Assembly of the high-grade steel standfollows a screw-fit bolt-and-hole design (the documentation trumpetsthat the Z-726L is all "computer-controlled welded"). The Z-frame isbuilt to take up to a 250-pound load.
You should consider this model only if you have an 88-noteinstrument (or its equivalent in length) because the main frame's44-inch width cannot be altered and won't fit most 61-note keyboards.For smaller instruments, check out the regular Quik Lok Z-726($269.95), which is 34 inches wide and well suited to 61-notekeyboards.
The Z-726L's second tier is fully width-adjustable. Two arms bolt(literally) onto the backplate and can be angled any which way.Gripping supports prevent a steeply angled keyboard from sliding backdown onto your fingers. It's a sensible arrangement, and there is nowobble at all. Unlike most X-frame stands, this Quik Lok Z-frameprovides unlimited space for pedals. Numerous options include a micboom, a two-page sheet-music holder, and shelves that can accommodatesmall speakers, mixers, and the like.
Setup is not as speedy as with an X-frame stand, of course, and thismodel wouldn't be the thing to take to a blues jam. But for a smartresidency, a supper club, or certainly a pro tour with a keyboard techin tow, Quik Lok's IS Z-726L Z-frame is just the ticket.
QUIK LOK QL-609 X-FRAME Quik Lok's name does suggest speedy setups,and no stand sets up more quickly than the QL-609 X-frame ($69.95) (seeFig. 3a). You simply open the stand to its widest position and thenslowly adjust inward until the arms reach your desired height. There'sreally nothing else to set. A design like this doesn't seem as if itwould hold much weight, but in fact the unit is recommended forinstruments up to 180 pounds.
Accessories fit easily onto this stand. Options include the QLX-4adjustable microphone boom ($39.95) and the QLX-5BK music stand($44.95). I checked out the mic boom but did not receive a music standwith the test unit. Mic stands are the bane of the singingkeyboardist's life: they root you to one spot while the microphonesways and droops this way and that over the course of a set. I can'timagine why, in some 30 years of playing onstage, I've never used anattached mic stand like the QLX-4. Although this device may not alwayshelp the droop factor, it keeps the fundamental relationship betweenmouth and mic somewhat stable. The QLX-4 clamps onto the end of one ofthe keyboard supports and has a nifty locking mechanism; height, angle,and boom length are all adjustable. You can further expand the QL-609X-frame's utility with a variety of optional add-on tiers.
As with other X-frame designs, the QL-609 suffers from somewobble-despite the nicely designed adjustable cam-due to the height anddepth of the stand's feet. But I love its setup speed and range ofaccessories.
QUIK LOK T-10 X-FRAME This very basic X-frame stand ($44.95) issuitable for players with minimal instrumentation and a minimal budget(see Fig. 3b). The unit can be set up quickly, and you adjust itsheight using little gripper plates that screw together to lock. Itdidn't exactly inspire my trust, though, especially when my firstattempt to tighten the plates resulted in a quarter-inch area of paintflecking off around the mechanism. (According to the manufacturer, theproblem has been fixed.)
To minimize wobble, Quik Lok uses generous rubber sleeves on boththe top and the bottom of the stand for keyboard rests and feet.However, the overall quality of construction suggests that this standis best restricted to light home or studio use. The company makes adouble-braced version, the T-20 ($59.95), as well as TL versions of thesame accessories offered for the QL-609.
ULTIMATE SUPPORT SYSTEMS APEX The Apex ($270) has to be the moststylish and cunningly original keyboard stand ever (see Fig. 4a). Thelegs sprout from the base of a triangular column and unfold and clickinto place to form a stable platform from which the column rises at anangle of about 70 degrees. In a small compartment at the top lie foursupport arms, which slot into a pair of movable housings that determinekeyboard height. Construction is of anodized aluminum, and UltimateSupport guarantees the Apex for life.
The first time you set up the stand, you will need a few extraminutes to set the position of the arm housings, cable clip, and so on.After that, it sets up in seconds, packs up in seconds, looks great,and is extremely well balanced-but only to a point (I'll explain in amoment).
Keyboards, even 88-note weighted ones, sit very snugly on eithertier of the stand. For larger instruments, you can use 18-inch arms,called tribars, rather than the standard 13-inch arms. My wide-bodyRoland JD- 800 is a little cramped on the Apex, and leaning too heavilyon one end of a longish instrument will make it flip up.
I've owned and used Apex stands since 1989. I've taken them all overthe United States a dozen times, as well as to South America and Japanand all around Europe. They were even thrown about in some madman's vanon a particularly hairy gig in Transylvania (I kid you not). And I'venever had a problem with them.
Nevertheless, the Apex does have some limitations that I've had towork around. The first involves pedal space: the Apex's feet splay outat an angle of approximately 80 degrees to the column, thus providingan impediment (literally) to footpedals. The answer? Buy a slab of1-inch particle board, cut out slots for the legs, and glue Velcro-typefastener strips on the surface to keep your pedals in place. This is agood thing to do with any type of stand, but with the Apex it iscrucial.
Second, although the longer tribars handle the shape and weight ofan 88-note keyboard, the Apex will wobble significantly if you try tolean into a large keyboard-say, to play hard-driving rock 'n' rolllicks- especially in the lower and upper few octaves of an 88-keyinstrument. This stand is best suited to musicians who play with alight to moderate touch.
ULTIMATE SUPPORT SYSTEMS DELTEX On the face of it, the lessexpensive Deltex ($180) looks just like the Apex (see Fig. 4b). Butdon't be fooled: where the Apex is a dream, the Deltex is a pain; wherethe Apex is rock solid, the Deltex feels insubstantial; where the Apexis simple, the Deltex is complicated.
Instead of legs that unfold-the real beauty of the Apex's design-theDeltex's legs must be attached and detached separately for every useand stored in an included tote bag. Rather than slipping snugly intotheir housings, the arms (which appear to be made from vastlyinferior-grade metal) hang loosely-and indeed, their recommended loadcapacity is less than half that of the Apex.
Given that the Deltex requires you to use special keys for setup(which you'll lose in no time) and provides considerably less weightcapacity and security than the Apex, I can honestly see no reason topurchase it.
ULTIMATE SUPPORT SYSTEMS IQ-3000 X-FRAME The IQ-3000 ($130) is avery sturdy stand that uses double struts, high-grade rubber sleeves togrip and protect, and a canny "memory" locking mechanism formaintaining setup height (see Fig. 4c). In fact, the lockingmechanism's chunky pair of spinning plates resembles nothing so much asa Transformer; twirl it and you'll expect it to change into a MartianSupport Vehicle or some such thing. Luckily, instructions for the7-position memory lock are explicit, and although grabbing and twistingthe two plates without the whole stand falling on top of you is alittle tricky, once the stand's been adjusted it opens to the correctheight every time.
Optional extra tiers (the IQT-100 and IQT-200; $60 each) for theIQ-3000 fasten onto the back of the stand. I found the method ofattachment a bit confusing at first, but the whole arrangement isimpressively strong once you've set it all up. Tiers 2 and 3 can beangled this way and that (in 7.5-degree increments) to suit yourkeyboard size and desired playing position.
Although I find any triple-tier design on an X-frame stand a littleworrisome, the IQ-3000's double-strutted frame and exceptionallyhigh-grade metalwork and fittings make it as trustworthy a stand asI've come across. Ultimate Support recommends that tier 2 hold nothingheavier than a 100-pound instrument, and 75 pounds is the maximum fortier 3-fair enough. (To put these numbers in perspective, a Korg M1weighs less than 50 pounds.) The bottom tier can hold up to 300 pounds,which should be more than adequate, unless your keyboard weighs morethan a Saint Bernard.
Even when loaded, the IQ-3000 is nice and steady. The extra-thickrubber end caps, which can be twist- adjusted to different thicknesseson one side if you need to adjust relative height, certainly contributeto the stand's sturdiness. So does the generous 22-inch span of thebottom legs. The IQ-3000 looks cool, too: the top and bottom of theunit have a sculpted molding that smooths out the typical shaped-edgelook of an X- frame.
ULTIMATE SUPPORT SYSTEMS IQ-2000 X-FRAME This double-struttedX-frame stand ($80) strikes a good compromise between the heavy-dutydesign of the IQ-3000 and that of many simple X-frames on the market(see Fig. 5a). The double struts reduce some of the potential formovement, and as with the IQ-3000, the rubber end caps can betwist-adjusted to balance out an uneven floor. (The IQ-2000's end capsare not in the same league of thickness as the IQ-3000's, however.)
The locking mechanism is a straightforward tongue-and-plate system.Its 4-stop "memory" is based on Ultimate Support's original memory-lockdesign. Because there's not much tongue protrusion (as it were), I fearthat a bash or two could severely impair the stand's reliability. Thebottom legs' 20-inch span is generous, and the 17-inch width of thekeyboard arms accommodates wider instruments very satisfactorily.
Even though the IQ-2000 does not offer the top-quality features ofthe IQ-3000, it is still a major cut above the standard X-framedesign.
ULTIMATE SUPPORT SYSTEMS APACHE A-FRAME Some keyboard players wantto be seen, whereas others like hiding behind racks of instruments. Ifyou're among the latter, Ultimate Support's A-frame design may be foryou (see Fig. 5b).
Named to reflect its angled (as in the letter A) design, thetriple-tier Apache is, not surprisingly, somewhat bulky. Once you'veset up the basic frame, you can slide each tier's angled brackets alongthe support bar to customize width or angle for almost anything:keyboards, music stand, drum machine, computer-you name it. Each tiercan hold up to 150 pounds.
The primary limitation of the Apache design is its overall width-60inches on the AP-26BPT version ($310), 48 inches on the AP-22BPT model($280)-which may restrict the stand's utility for 88-note keyboardusers. Size is also an issue: these imposing stands are bulky to store,and they occupy a lot of space onstage. True, you can use the stand ata 90-degree angle in the studio, but don't even think about doing thiswhile performing live. A significant amount of setup time is required,too.
With the A-frame design, there is no wobble at all, which isespecially important if you're an energetic player. On the other hand,A-frame stands can make your rig look like the keyboard department in amusic store. This design has been around for a while; although classicin its functionality, it harks back somewhat to the days of stagescluttered with stacks of keyboards.
A similar but double-tier Dakota model is also available in twowidths, the 60-inch DK-18BPT ($264) and the 48-inch DK-16BPT ($218). Aswith the Apache, each tier can hold 150 pounds.
K&M MODEL 18962 X-FRAME Germany's Konig & Meyer is a veryexperienced builder of stands for keyboards, harmonicas, brassinstruments, speakers, and more. The two K&M stands I examined aredistributed by two unrelated companies-Ultimate Support Systems andGorg International-and the two distributors list different prices forthe same stands. Certain accessories are offered only by Gorg, and inthese cases, I list Gorg's price. In addition to the two X-frame standsI tested, K&M makes the Model 18950 A-frame ($210), thedouble-strut aluminum Model 18980 ($159.90), and the double-bracedsteel Model 18990 ($85.90). These were not available for review,however.
The lightweight (7-pound) Model 18962 ($46 from Ultimate Support;$35.90 from Gorg) is a classic single-strut X-frame featuring a pair offlop-down metal strips that lock together at eight different heightpoints with a locking screw (see Fig. 6). The design is simple and verysecure, although it is rated for only up to 90-pound loads.
The Model 18962-apparently K&M is not big on product names-comeswith no frills. Its single- thickness rubber end caps mean it's goingto be only as sturdy as the floor and your playing style permit. Youcan add a second tier (Model 18968, $57), which is composed of twoL-shaped brackets that lock into the back of the main keyboard frame.The brackets are strong, but you can't adjust their fixed 90-degreeangle.
Single-strut X-frames will do their job onstage, of course. But atthis level, you shouldn't expect much in the looks department. And ifyour fellow band members include run-about guitarists or dancers, youmight want to consider something a little sturdier.
K&M MODEL 18940 X-FRAME An X-frame stand with a tongue-and-platelocking mechanism, the Model 18940 ($63 from Ultimate Support; $59.90from Gorg) is another example of a very simple design and has a loadrecommendation of up to 165 pounds (see Fig. 7). The 18940 can be usedwith several of K&M's accessories, principally a music stand (Model18949, $41.70 from Gorg); an adjustable mic boom (Model 18946, $46.50from Gorg); and adjustable, tilt-style tier arms (Model 18941, $27 fromGorg).
The 18940 is a single-strut stand with adjustable rubberized endcaps on the feet and the keyboard rest. To open and close the standquickly, you pull a patented quick-release lever on the upperright-hand side beneath the keyboard rest; this action inserts orretracts the metal tongue from its plate. It's a nice feature.
TAKE A STAND More choices and variables seem to abound amongkeyboard stands than among keyboards themselves. And although yourchoice of stand is not as crucial as your choice of instrument, it willhave far-reaching effects on your comfort, performance, and possiblyeven your job as a keyboard player.
After basic functionality, I'd say that the overall look of a standand the space it occupies are the most important things to considerwhen choosing a keyboard stand. Z-frames and A-frames, of course, offerlots of leg and pedal space. X-frames are ergonomically ideal but tendto look a little dorky in any venue beyond a small stage-and they can,depending on your stature, interfere with your access to footpedals. Mysuggestion of a custom-cut piece of particle board (as described in theApex entry) really makes sense no matter what type of stand you gofor.
Your choice of stand helps define how your equipment looks on stage.To the untrained eye, all instruments look the same, but a stand canmake you and your rig look professional, amateurish, techie, sloppy, orimportant. So spend some time making the right choice.
Julian Colbeck, besides playing in Transylvania, has touredeverywhere from Trenton to Tokyo and from San Jose to Sao Paulo, withartists as varied as ABWH/Yes, Steve Hackett, John Miles, andCharlie.