In 1983, Yamaha introduced an electronic keyboard that was to have a huge impact on the music world all the way up to the present day, 40 years later. That product was the first Clavinova — a term derived from the blend of the words Clavier, meaning “keyboard instrument” and nova, meaning “new.”
The instrument was indeed new; in fact, it is widely acknowledged as being the first digital piano. For the first time, aspiring pianists could learn on an affordable (and maintenance-free) instrument equipped with both built-in speakers and a headphone jack enabling silent practice — an instrument that not only sounded like a piano, but had the authentic feel of an acoustic piano.
Since that time, Yamaha has introduced dozens of new Clavinova models, all incorporating modern technology, but each with its own distinctive set of features. Here’s a guide to the different kinds of Clavinovas available today.
Though organized into three “Series” of instruments (see below), all current Clavinovas feature full 88-note weighted keyboards with “Graded Hammer” technology, a mechanical system of small metal hammers designed to be similar to those of an acoustic piano. They offer a graded action that’s intended to reproduce with great accuracy the varying weights of the hammers of an acoustic piano, ranging from “heavier” keys in the low register to “lighter” keys in the higher register.
Unlike acoustic pianos, Clavinovas produce their sound by means of a built-in sample-based tone generator that utilizes small snippets (“samples”) of actual recordings, thus providing a high degree of realism. Clavinovas can reproduce a large array of acoustic and electronic instrument sounds (known as “Voices”), including many types of pianos and organs (some that utilize binaural sampling for three-dimensional sound that recreates the perspective of the player position through headphones), as well as string, percussion, brass and woodwind instruments, plus modern and vintage synthesizer sounds, along with effects such as reverb and delay.
They also all provide onboard recording so you can capture your performances — a must if you want to be able to review your playing objectively. Additionally, you can record up to two tracks for simultaneous playback, so different hands can be recorded separately, or you can overdub parts with different Voices.
All current Clavinovas are housed in wooden cabinets, and most models are available in a wide range of cabinet designs, finishes and colors so they can fit into any décor. Some are designed to look like acoustic upright pianos, while others replicate the look of an acoustic grand piano.
CLP Series digital pianos are the longest-standing members of the Clavinova family, dating back to 1985. These are considered to be the more “traditional” Clavinovas because they focus more on the piano playing experience, with fewer bells and whistles than the newer CSP or CVP Series models. If you mainly want to play piano but also would like to have some cool digital features at hand, such as extra instrument sounds, recording/playback features and Bluetooth connectivity, then CLP Series Clavinovas may be the better choice depending on your budget.
There are currently seven CLP models available in the U.S. These are the CLP-725, CLP-735, CLP-745, CLP-775 and CLP-785, each of which are housed in cases that resemble upright pianos, plus two models that look like mini grand pianos: the CLP-765GP and CLP-795GP.
All CLP Series models accurately recreate the tone, power and nuanced colors of our flagship Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand pianos, along with dozens of other instrument Voices. You can even play two Voices at the same time — piano and strings, for example, or French horn and cello — either layered together or “split” over different areas of the keyboard.
In addition, all CLP Series instruments incorporate innovative Virtual Resonance Modeling (VRM) technology that recreates the resonance of the soundboard, rim and frame to emulate the natural feeling of an acoustic piano, even when playing with headphones. Other features include weighted, graded keys that reproduce the authentic touch, response and natural key return of an acoustic piano, along with Smooth Release Technology that creates the colors and nuance of dampers returning to the strings when playing staccato, legato and everything in-between.
All CLP Series models are compatible with a free proprietary iOS/Android app called Smart Pianist, which enables handy remote control of the instrument’s features from your smartphone or tablet. In addition, Smart Pianist adds 100 popular and classical songs by artists like Adele, Sting, Elton John and Coldplay, along with 303 lessons by Beyer, Czerny, Hanon and Burgmüller — all accessible with a touch of a button.
The two current models in the CSP Series are the CSP-150 and CSP-170. Both are packed with thoughtful technology geared toward helping you become a better player. They allow you to lead a virtual orchestra, join a jazz ensemble, add backup singers and more … and they are both fully compatible with the free iOS/Android Smart Pianist app (see above) for expanded functionality. The app’s unique Audio-to-Score function can also analyze songs in your music library and then generate a piano accompaniment and score so you can easily play along; you can even adjust the complexity of the arrangement by choosing how many notes you’re comfortable playing with each hand.
CSP Series Clavinovas offer a wide variety of Voices, including the sound of Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand pianos, along with “Super Articulation” Voices that add genuine performance attributes of the real musical instruments (such as fret noise from a guitar, or inhalations/exhalations from wind instruments) as though they were being naturally performed on that instrument instead of from the keys of a piano keyboard. They also provide auto-accompaniment backing tracks called Styles. These range from traditional dance and classical orchestration to more modern club, pop, rock, big band and jazz accompaniments.
But perhaps the most innovative feature offered by CSP Series instruments is something called Stream Lights. These are ladders of cascading LEDs above each key that illuminate in sync with tempo of the song you’re playing along with, essentially turning learning to play piano into a game that draws inspiration from popular titles like Guitar Hero™ and Rock Band™. When the song starts to play, the lights move down towards the keys and all you have to do is strike the keys as the lights reach them. It’s a new, fun, technology-driven way to play along with original artist recordings of many of your favorite songs — something that can inspire you to make music in ways that conventional lessons never have before.
The CSP-170 model features a Natural Wood X (NWX) keyboard, cut from wood that has been carefully dried specifically for use in making musical instruments, resulting in a keyboard that is resistant to buckling and warping. Both the CSP-170 and CSP-150 also come equipped with an onboard multi-track recorder and a mic input — simply plug in a microphone to sing along with your playing; with the use of the Smart Pianist app, the lyrics of your selected song are shown on your smartphone or tablet and the words change color as the song advances, so you know exactly when to come in. What’s more, a Vocal Harmony engine can add harmonies and enrich your voice — it’s even capable of correcting your pitch!
Top-of-the-line CVP Series Clavinovas provide the widest range of Voices and Styles, along with the very latest in technological innovations, including a futuristic control panel with a built-in color touchscreen. In addition, they incorporate astonishing Piano Room technology, which not only enables you to enter a virtual “selection room” to choose a favorite piano from several options, but then raise or lower its lid to change the brightness of the instrument, change the venue or location where the piano is playing to alter its reverb and ambiance, and even adjust the tuning and touch responsiveness. An associated Session Mode allows virtual musicians to be brought into the Piano Room to accompany you as you play.
The current lineup of CVP Clavinovas includes the CVP-701, CVP-805, CVP-809 and CVP809GP (the first three are housed in cabinets that emulate upright pianos, while the latter is housed in a mini grand piano cabinet), and at the recent 2023 NAMM show, Yamaha unveiled three new CVP-900 models: the CVP-905, CVP-909 and the mini grand CVP-909GP.
All CVP Series Clavinovas offer Grand Expression Modeling that accurately captures the subtle variations in sound offered by an acoustic concert grand piano. Most come equipped with GrandTouch™ Keyboards with escapement; some also incorporate carefully adjusted counterweights for improved playability as well as GrandTouch pedal technology that allows the player to “half pedal” with the damper pedal held at middle depth — the CVP-909 even replicates the weight of a grand piano damper pedal.
Other advanced features offered by various CVP models include Virtual Resonance Modeling, Super Articulation Voices, Follow Lights with Guide Mode, USB Audio (MP3/WAV) recording and playback, and Display Output via USB. You can also plug a mic into CVP-800 Series Clavinovas, as well as the CVP-905 and CVP-909, and sing along with up to three virtual background vocalists, with the ability to adjust level and correct pitch.
No matter your level of expertise, there’s a Clavinova that’s right for you!