Mod Your Sampled Piano for Better Sounds

Just because sounds are sampled doesn’t mean you can’t enhance them

I really don’t need another sampled piano…but I check them out anyway! Sometimes, they do everything I want. However, there are some occasions where I want to make some changes in the sound, and the following are simple and basic – yet effective – ways to mod the piano sound.


At one point in my life, I had the unenviable task of fitting a sampled piano into 64K of RAM (no, not 64 Megs)—which meant pulling out every trick in the book. In the process, I found a “cheat” that can add a subtle enhancement to sampled piano: adding a low-level sine wave to reinforce the fundamental. Here’s how to do it:

  • Add another layer to your sampled piano, and load a sine wav.
  • Create an amplitude envelope for the layer so that the sine wave decays at a slightly faster rate than the decay of the sampled notes
  • If possible, have the level track the keyboard so that the higher you play, the more the sine wave is attenuated.

When you mix this sine wave in the background behind the samples, the piano will have more “authority” and a more powerful sound, particularly in the lower register. The image above shows this mod applied to a sample piano in Cakewalk’s late, great Rapture synthesizer.


Adding a shelving-type tone control can make a major difference in the sound. Reduce the highs for a warmer, more classical tone, or raise the highs and cut the bass a bit for a rock piano sound that can cut through a track.

For the low shelf, a corner frequency of around 200 Hz works well, and if there’s a Q control available, set it to 1.0 so that there aren’t any resonant “bumps” around the corner frequency. For the high shelf, try a corner frequency around 2 kHz, again with a Q of 1.0.


Distorted piano has its uses! In fact when I wanted a distorted, electric piano sound for a song, it turned out that adding distortion to an acoustic piano sounded better than any of the electric piano presets or samples that were hanging around. You probably don’t want to fuzz out, but a little overdrive can be a beautiful thing, and give an acoustic piano.