The Grateful Dead Keyboard Rigs - Yes, All of Them
Pigpen, Keith, Brent, Vince, and Bruce! Every keyboard rig used during the Grateful Dead's 30-year tenure!
Welcome to my breakdown of all the Grateful Dead keyboard rigs! As with any of my posts and rundowns, please contact me if you have anything to add/fix!! Enjoy :)
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – 1965 to June 1972
Pigpen began the Dead’s career playing a Farfisa combo organ before switching to a Vox Continental organ in 1966. He began alternating between this and a Hammond B-3 in 1967, returning to the Vox during the late 60s tenure of Tom “TC” Constanten. A Wurlitzer 120 electric piano was also used by him in the 60s.
Pigpen played upright piano briefly during the Dead’s 1970 acoustic sets, but other than that used the Hammond exclusively until his departure from the band in 1972.
Pigpen playing his Wurlitzer, 9/24/67.
Pigpen with his Hammond B3 and various percussion instruments, 1970.
Keith Godchaux – November 1971 to September 1975
Keith began his tenure with the Dead in the fall of 1971 where he played grand piano and a little bit of Hammond organ (thank you to Jesse Jarnow for correcting me on Fall ‘71 - Keith did not play an upright piano on that tour), before settling on his signature concert grand sound in early 1972. Keith used both nine-foot Steinway and Yamaha instruments with a state-of-the-art pickup system.
Keith added a Fender Rhodes Mark I to his rig in mid-1973, which he used less frequently than the piano - though it was his only instrument during the band’s handful of shows in 1975. In 1974 and 1975, Keith also used a Roland SH1000, an early monosynth meant to sit on top of organs - this setup was also used by Ned Lagin. (Thanks to @otdispace on Twitter for helping fill this in!)
Keith in early 1973 - note the Rhodes right behind him.
Keith with his Rhodes and SH1000 in 1975.
Keith Godchaux – June 1976 to February 1979
After the Dead’s hiatus, the rig remained the same except Keith swapped the Rhodes for a Polymoog synthesizer in early 1976. He continued playing grand piano until the fall of 1977, when he began using the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand until his departure from the band in February 1979.
Keith in 1977 - the keys visible at the bottom of the image belong to the Polymoog.
Keith playing the CP-70 on 12/31/78.
Brent Mydland - April 1979 to July 1990
The one part of Brent’s rig that remained constant through his eleven years with the band was his Hammond B3 organ - Brent also had ten Leslie speakers on stage so the band members didn’t ever have to hear it coming through a monitor.
Brent’s other primary keyboards:
1979-1981: Fender Rhodes Mark I with the “bell” sound turned WAY up.
1982: Yamaha CP-70 electric grand
1983-1986: Yamaha GS-1 (an early FM synth that loaded sounds with punch cards)
1987-1990: Kurzweil PC-88 (that classic Brent twinkly sound from Without a Net)
Synthesizers (these were all in the rig in flux and I’m not 100% sure on the dates - please help me fill that in!):
Minimoog, Prophet-5, Prophet-10, E-mu Emulator II, Roland MKS20, Roland Juno 106, Yamaha DX-7, Korg M-1
Brent in 1979 with his B3, Rhodes, Minimoog, and Prophet-5.
Zoom in to see Brent with his CP-80 in 1982.
Brent in the mid-80s with the GS-1 and the Emulator II - the B3 is just out of frame to the left and you can see one of the Leslies at the back left.
Brent in 1989 with his PC-88 - the MKS20 and B3 are to his right.
Bruce Hornsby - September 1990 to March 1992
Bruce was in the band at the same time as Vince Welnick, and offered the classic piano sound in contrast to what Brent and Vince played. He also used an accordion frequently.
Main Keyboards: Steinway & Sons Grand, Korg M1 synthesizer
Bruce playing accordion in 1991.
Hornsby with his Steinway & Sons grand and Korg M1 in 1991.
Vince Welnick - September 1990 to July 1995
Vince used a variety of synths and MIDI controllers, but was not allowed to use a Hammond B3 organ - it reminded Jerry too much of Brent.
Kurzweil MidiBoard, Hammond XB2, Korg T-1, Wersi Zone Masterboard, and possibly Brent’s PC-88.
Vince playing his Hammond XB2 digital organ.
Great write up! I have an issue of Keyboard Magazine from the early 90s that gave a lot of insight into Brent's rig. He didn't use the PC-88, but a Kurzweil Midiboard to drive a rack of equipment including 2 Roland MKS-20 piano modules and a Kurzweil K250 sound module. He would blend the Piano 3 patch from the MKS-20 with the Kurzweil K250 grand piano sound to get his distinct jangly sound as heard on Without a Net and Dozin' at the Knick.
I was in a Dead cover band for many years and once ran a rig where I had a PC-88 MIDI'd to an MKS-20 and P-330 (MKS-20 in a single rack unit) to approximate his sound and man, those Roland SA piano sounds could shatter rock when cranked. But damn that was some heavy equipment to cart around.
Thankfully, the same piano sound is now available on cards and makes getting that classic Brent sound much easier.
Keith's keyboard from '75 looks like a Roland SH-100 https://www.vintagesynth.com/roland/sh1000.php