The Ensoniq ZR-76: A 64 Voice Expandable Stage and Studio Keyboard

By Ralph Sappington, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

I didn't begin this review process thinking I needed a new keyboard. My studio has an 88 note controller keyboard and plenty of modules from Yamaha, Roland, Korg and Alesis and any one of those could be put in a rack for a live gig. At church there are electronic keyboards from Kawai and Yamaha, so I felt pretty well set for any situation. Besides, there just wasn't any room in my studio for one more large keyboard.

I began to mentally look for a spot for the ZR-76 when I turned the unit on and heard the PerfectPro patch. This sound alone almost sells the entire instrument! Exploring the sounds further I discovered that great Rhodes sounds like the Suitcase EP and the RealThing patches and the Hammond sounds are varied and have touch controlled Leslie effects. Keep listening and you will find hundreds of useful sounds with great effects.

Two days after I received the ZR-76 I took it on a gig at a college blues festival where I sat it next to the grand piano intending to use it sparingly. The rest of the band was so knocked out by the organ and EP sounds that it became my main keyboard that night. Just a warning: the ZR-76 is not a lightweight keyboard and it's a bit wider than most. It wouldn't fit into any of the many keyboard cases I have, but the quality of the sound inspires you to take it to every gig!

I was mixing a recording project that took children's and Sunday School songs and cast them in new settings. There were R&B, SKA, Rap, Rock and Jazz tracks with different artists on each track and all of the keyboard tracks had been recorded via MIDI using my favorite patches. The ZR-76 replaced all the piano, organ and electric piano and added real sparkle and punch to the tracks. If you want to hear this project for yourself, its working title is "A Child Shall Lead Them," and shipped to 11,000 ELCA Lutheran churches sometime in May. Contact your local ELCA church or email me at and you will receive a copy.

Back to the ZR-76. One of the powerful features of this unit is its 16 track recorder with FX/mix down facility. For six weeks I did a Wednesday night worship service, leading from the piano. I used the ZR-76 to lay down bass and drum parts with a few extra things to sweeten the sound. The recording process is very easy to use and storing to floppy makes access simple. I used the ZR-76 all six weeks, playing the piano parts live to my recorded rhythm section and had nothing but positive comments from a congregation not used to recorded music. For small churches, this would be a powerful tool to beef up the music without the hassle of recorded tracks or uncomfortable pauses while someone fumbles with loading MIDI tracks. Everything can be one keystroke away! By the way, the drum set sounds are so real and set up so well that your regular drummer will get nervous!

I could go on about the many features the ZR-76 contains: the 44kHz CD quality sounds; the warm, clear effects, the IdeaPad that captures your musical thoughts instantly, all this and more make the $2795.00 ZR-76 the most affordable workstation on the market today. My only problem is finding a place to put this old 88 key controller!