Since the portable keyboard revolution that took hold in the 70s and 80s, the instrument has taken on a whole new life. Roland has been instrumental (pun intended) in that ongoing evolution. And our Roland GO-61K Review will give you an idea why.
However, there was a time previous to then, when the number of people playing the piano was beginning to dwindle. Not so much through a lack of interest. More in terms of practicality.
You needed space…
To have a piano in the home, you needed space. Some accommodation options got smaller, and with the rise of apartments and flats, the room was just not available. And of course, how are you going to get a piano up to the 10th floor.
Other instruments became the norm to have your first musical experience. The portable keyboard with its ‘piano-like’ sounds changed all that. It is now possibly the leading instrument given to young people as their first musical experience.
And as technology developed, these scaled-down little pianos went further and further. Incorporating sounds and features unimaginable even twenty years before.
Plenty to choose from…
There are plenty of options today. Keyboards at various price limits and quality. Some are little more than just toys. Get a good one of those, and that is fine for a very young child. And there are some good ones.
But then there are some designed for the younger player that you might say are the real deal. Not a toy or ‘half-toy’ but the real thing. A fully functioning keyboard with full-size keys. Playable by adults but also great for the beginner and child as well.
The Roland GO-61K is one of those instruments which we are going to take a look at. Before we do, who is this Roland chap, we hear so much about?
This Roland chap happens to be one of the most influential names in music today. The Roland Corporation was founded in Osaka in Japan in 1972. They have since relocated to Shizuoka in Japan.
They are one of the big noises. Boss pedals, possibly the most used effects pedal in the world, are part of their Corporation. But Roland is known for many other things under their own name. Keyboards, of course, but also some guitar products, electronic drums, and recording equipment, as well as multimedia and audio processors. Oh, and did we mention synthesizers?
The Roland Synths…
They have been known to produce a few decent ones. There was the TB303. Released in 1981, it had a profound effect on the development of Acid house music. There was the Juno, and then, in 1985, there was many people’s favorite at the time, the D-50. The first synth with digital reverb. Followed by the JD-800 in 1991.
There was a time in the 80s and 90s when they also owned Rhodes pianos, previously run by Fender. They have shown they know what they are doing.
In the 90s, the catalog was full of innovative products. Particularly in the emerging markets of analog-modeling synths. The Roland business model became wider, and history-making synths were not on their new agenda. They continued to produce great keyboards, of course, but they were all-rounders.
Of such comes the Roland GO-61K keyboard. It has a range of applications and uses. Let’s have a look to see what it is all about.
Roland GO-61K – Overview
Let’s cut straight to the chase with this keyboard. Roland has designed this for the beginner. And as such, it looks like it may well be one of the best starter keyboards out there. We will see as we go along.
This is an easy to play keyboard that has been developed to generate a sense of fun. But in doing so, it maintains its more serious instrument feel. It also holds one or two little surprises.
There are plenty of those covering just about everything you will need. All the favorites are there. With full-size keys, it has its serious side. But it has, as we said, a little more in the option of onboard sounds.
A new way of learning
It has a wireless operation and has Bluetooth connectivity. That opens up a whole new concept for the young player. It means they can connect up their smartphone or tablet, choose a song, and play along with it. This is possible because of the built-in speakers. This is a new way of learning to play that kids will love.
You can access anything that’s on the internet or on your own playlists. And if you choose, even just listen to it during a break from rehearsals. Compact, very portable, and running on mains or battery, this keyboard is ready whenever and wherever you are. And do we like the idea of the color? So, let’s take a closer look in our Roland GO-61K Review…
There is a standard kind of look for the vast majority of electronic keyboards. They have a certain style to them. This is a keyboard that bucks the trend in quite a way. It is made from plastic like they all are, of course. In fact, it is a decent quality plastic that feels substantial in your hand. The difference is this keyboard is red, and a rather attractive red at that.
It tends to stand out a bit. Something we feel sure is going to make it attractive to the younger users, and probably quite a few of the older ones as well.
Lightweight as well
Given that it measures 34.6 by 10.7 by 3.25 inches, it is a decent size. However, it is still not a heavy keyboard at just 8.6 pounds. In fact, this is one of the lightest portable keyboards of this size that we have seen that has full-size keys.
It is therefore going to be easy to carry around with you if you need to.
So what about the Keys
Full-size, as we have said. That will please those who believe that even first time users and complete beginners need the right size keys. There is a good argument for this, of course. A learner may get used to playing in a small key set. When they come to transfer to a full-size keyboard, they might struggle. On the GO-61K, the keys feel nice and easy to play.
The keys are not weighted; they are touch-sensitive. There are three levels of sensitivity, so you can adjust them to suit. It features 61 keys with a traditional box-shape, and they have been given an ‘ivory-feel’ to make them more like a real piano.
As you play, you will want to hear what you are doing. There are two 2.5 watt speakers built-in that sit on each end facing up on the front fascia. These are not the most powerful of speakers, but they are adequate for home practice, but that is about all. The sound quality is best described as slightly above average for a keyboard like this.
If you prefer to use headphones to play quietly, there is a ⅛ inch headphone socket. It will operate either on mains supply or on battery power. There is also a ⅛ inch aux-in socket.
If there is one area that this keyboard might be considered average in performance, it is polyphony. This is simply the ability for a keyboard to play a number of notes at the same time. If you are playing bass chords and moving quickly over the keyboard, then you will need a higher level of polyphony, or you will lose notes. Therefore, the more complex the piece, the more you will need.
The Roland GO-61K has a 128 Poly, which is considered by most to be acceptable. A 64 Poly (or even 32) is what you get on the very cost-effective keyboards. Next up is 128. Then the better, more expensive keyboards have 256.
For a beginner, this won’t be a problem, but it could have an impact on performance at a later stage.
There is a built-in recorder with storage for up to 99 songs. This, along with the Loop mix facility, allows you to create and record for playback any music you create. We shall look at this in more detail a bit later.
There is a Layer option allowing you to split up and use two sounds, but that is available only on the preset sounds. There is also a key transpose option.
This keyboard does not possess a dual play option allowing a teacher to play along with you.
One of the reasons you buy the keyboard in the first place. The sounds it makes are important. But maybe not so important to a complete starter.
There is a novelty factor that applies to all these beginner keyboards. That tends to revolve around how many sounds it has rather than the quality of them.
Not short of a few
Is how you could describe the Roland GO-61K. There are over 500, well, 554 tones, to be precise. They include pianos, organs, and synths. Plus bass, brass sections, woodwind, and just about everything else you can imagine.
As is the case with these instruments, some of the sounds are quite good, others just about passable, and some, where you might say ‘what on earth was that supposed to be’?
The pianos, it has to be said, are quite good, as is the organ and some of the synths are spectacular. But then you might expect that from a company that made some of the best synths in musical history. Roland knows a thing or two about that aspect.
It is also fitted with Reverb and Chorus to allow you to create some interesting alternatives.
We go a bit further with 52 different drum patterns with twelve separate rhythm styles. Drum machines and Boss effects are also something that the Roland Corporation knows a thing or two about. Are you surprised the sounds are good?
This keyboard can excel
The basic sounds, as we have already mentioned, are coming at you through two 2.5 watt speakers. You can’t expect too much. So can this keyboard excel, sound-wise?
You can answer your own question by plugging it into a decent amp. Then you will hear just how good the Roland GO-61K can sound.
The controls are all laid out quite neatly in front of you, with a small information control screen in the center. The buttons are labeled and grouped by category, and they are easy to use. The buttons will navigate to your chosen instruments quickly.
There are also ten performance pads. These allow you to manipulate and adjust the sounds you are creating. A big feature for those who are experienced musicians. Another good example of how Roland has catered to a wide potential audience.
There are plenty of sound options inside this little frame to keep you busy and to fascinate the new player.
How does it play
We have already mentioned the keyboard and its design. This obviously affects the playability of this keyboard. Having standard-sized keys will help to create good technique that will pay benefits later on.
One big plus with this keyboard is its ability to connect to your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth. This Bluetooth 4.2 also opens the options of using music production apps when you move into recording.
Using this, you can utilize the playlists on your phone or other devices. There are also plenty of teaching apps that further your musical knowledge and ability.
Another of the big features of this keyboard is the Loop mix facility. This is a design that will let you create and build your own music.
Even if you have little experience, you can begin creating the production of your own music. Using this function, you can trigger loop phrases that are built-into the keyboard. These include all the instruments as well as drums and bass patterns.
Layering the loops allows you to create a full, produced song. The performance pads allow the manipulation of the sound. Using the recorder, you can record and listen back to your masterpieces.
The Roland GO-61K is also able to work with ScratchX. This will help anyone working interactively with animations and games.
Roland GO-61K Review Pros and Cons
- Well made with an attractive red finish.
- Easy to use control buttons.
- Built-in speakers.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Built-in recorder storing up to 99 songs.
- 554 tones and 52 drum patterns.
- Built-in chorus and reverb.
- Full-size keys with three levels of touch-sensitive controls.
- Bluetooth capability.
- Built-in Loop Mix facility for automated music production.
- 128 polyphonic performance is not the best.
- Some might think it a bit expensive as a first instrument.
Looking for Something Else?
There are plenty of keyboards out there to satisfy everyone. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Portable Keyboard Pianos, the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano, the Best Digital Grand Piano, and the Best Keyboard Synthesizer you can buy in 2021.
Or, if you’re looking for more superb options form Roland, have a read of our in-depth Roland Juno Review, our Roland FP 90 Review, our Roland Juno DS88 Review, our Roland FP 30 Review, and our Roland VR 09 V Combo Organ Review.
Roland GO-61K Review – Final Thoughts
Let us get straight to the cost. This is not the cheapest keyboard for a starter you will find. Some might think it expensive as we have just said. But with all the features packed in, this is not over-priced.
It might be cheaper initially to buy a more cost-effective option. But then you will only have to upgrade in a fairly short period of time. That second purchase with the first will cost more than the price point of this Roland. It is unlikely you would have to upgrade from this for quite a long time, if at all.
A quality keyboard by a quality manufacturer and an excellent choice for a starter. The Roland GO-61K is a great option in every way.
Until next time, may the music make you merry.