Review: Spitfire Audio Firewood Piano
Weathered and warped: Spitfire Audio breathes new life into a neglected, unusual upright piano.
⊕ Simple user interface
⊕ Has unusual sounds aplenty
⊕ Lots of variations possible via sliders and presets
⊕ Built-in reverb
⊖ More velocity layers would be welcome
If you enjoy the quirks of real upright pianos and you’re looking for new sounds to broaden your palette, then Firewood Piano is undoubtedly worth checking out. Not beautiful in the conventional sense, but certainly interesting and intriguing given the bargain price!
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When The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites fell in love with the unique resonances and creaks of a small, battered upright piano, he decided that these sounds really ought to be sampled for posterity. Michael Jackson (not that one), a piano tuner, once deemed Fraites’ family piano only fit for firewood, and so the name stuck. With Jeremiah himself sitting at the keys and Spitfire Audio capturing samples, the Firewood Piano instrument was born.
The instrument is part of the popular and keenly priced Originals series, where the aim is to offer new, unique sounds, each taken from a single instrument or group of similar instruments. With Firewood Piano, the install size is around 7.3GB, and getting underway is simple enough via the Spitfire’s installation manager app; once you’ve bought the product, the license appears in your account.
Like all Originals plug-ins, operation is largely preset led with several sliders that shape the sound. This all begins with three controls to blend different mic and sound source combinations. ‘Close’ – as the name suggests – is a close-mic’d stereo pair of condensers for a dry, focused sound. ‘Mid’ offers a more ambient stereo pair with a mono spot mic for focus in the centre.
However, the ‘Pad’ setting is where things get more interesting. It’s not a mic combination this time, but a resonant swelling pad made from samples recorded with the sostenuto piano pedal pressed down. Also in the plug-in interface are options for technical aspects such as hammers/pedal noise, dynamic range, and a one-knob onboard reverb. A felted preset is also available for softer sonorities, and a ‘Warps’ combination gives a more experimental mix of piano samples plus analogue effects.
The sampled instrument is technically a spinet – a smaller piano design with less height than the more common upright, limited string length and shorter keys. As such, its high registers give a pleasing, bright and thin sound, a little like a Yamaha CP80. With the damper pedal down and in felted mode, the sound changes dramatically, often leading to the introduction of (often clashy) sympathetic resonances from neighbouring strings in the higher registers. This is not always comfortable for whole chords up high, but it is dramatic and cinematic on single-note lead lines. Adding a dense reverb to these sounds offers a micro-tonal, world music flavour reminiscent of a hammered dulcimer.
Firewood is excellent for mid-range chordal textures, particularly when combined with lo-fi heavy reverbs and high-feedback tape delay. Pad elements catch long chords and swell pleasingly, while felted presets bring warmth and a hint of muted percussion to lighter musical moments.
Sometimes, though, there don’t seem to be quite enough velocity layers causing an obvious switch between samples at some velocity strengths on our weighted keyboard. However, this is perfectly forgivable given the accessible price point.
- Mac OS X 10.10+, Windows 7+
- Intel Core 2 Duo CPU or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 8GB RAM
- 7.4GB disk space required
- Performed by Jeremy Fraites of The Lumineers
- Blendable Close, Room and Pad signals
- Felted and warped options
- Hammers and pedal noise control
- Dynamics control
- Built-in reverb
- Standalone plug-in for VST, AU and AAX formats