Have you ever tried riding a skateboard without knowing how? You know that feeling you got when it slid out from under you and your stomach sinks …
Well, that’s how a bad sustain pedal feels while playing keyboards!
If you’ve been a gigging keyboardist for a while, you know how it feels to be playing something awesome, only to have your pedal slide across the floor or squeak like a mouse.
Top 3 - Keyboard Sustain Pedals
Thankfully, there are plenty of quality pedals on the market. Below are four that are worth considering. I’ll give a brief overview of each before giving advice on how to choose.
Best Sustain Pedals for Digital Keyboard Pianos
Table of Contents
1. On-Stage KSP100
Modestly priced for sustain pedals, the On-Stage KSP100 is my top choice for digital sustain pedals. It packs everything a keyboardist needs in a compact design.
It doesn’t have to flaunt special features because it provides solid fundamentals needed in any quality pedal.
It felt and functioned like an acoustic pedal when I tried it. The all-metal base kept it anchored on my carpet, although I’ll admit it slid a bit on my classroom’s tile floor.
Despite the sliding, two other features won me over. First, it was quiet. Some digital pedals squeak like rusty hinges, others click when fully depressed.
Even acoustic pianos can be horrendous – once, my professor played a sonata on a $150,000 grand and it squeaked the whole time! Fortunately, the KSP100 caused no such issues.
Secondly, it’s truly “universal,” thanks to its polarity switch. I’ll explain polarity later, so I’ll keep this brief.
Some pedals are designed for certain brands, but not others. In contrast, On-Stage consciously made the KSP100 work with anything.
For its authentic feel and compatibility, I can recommend the KSP despite its shortcomings. With some DIY tinkering, you could easily use Velcro to prevent it from sliding.
2. Nektar NP-2
While I personally picked the KSP100, the Nektar NP-2 was a close second. For many readers, it will be their first choice.
The Nektar outdoes the KSP100 with its rugged design. Nektar says, almost comically, it’s “ready to withstand your worst abuse.” Eight times heavier at 1.5 pounds, you definitely won’t feel the NP-2 sliding any time soon.
The one problem I have with the NP-2 is it functions as an “on/off” switch, rather than a “momentary” switch.
What does this mean? Because they’re electronic, digital pedals function like buttons. A “momentary” switch means its effect (sustain, in our case) lasts for the duration the pedal is physically pressed.
It doesn’t have to go all the way down to be considered “pressed,” and its effects change based on how far it’s pressed.
“On/off” switches, however, simply turn sustain “on” when it’s fully depressed, and turn “off” when depressed again. You can’t control the level or tones of the sustain, because it’s just switched on or off.
With that said, the KDP100 offers more control and nuance. For many players, however, the NP-2’s on/off switch will be just fine.
3. Roland DP-10
Like the NP-2, the Roland DP-10 has a solid base that prevents slipping. Even if it did slip though, Roland thought up a nifty “Plan B.”
When I unpacked the DP-10, I found a rubber flap attached underneath. I gave it a little push and it swiveled out, extending off the pedal’s tip. I could keep the whole pedal anchored in place with my heel.
It was thin enough to be comfortable, and with shoes I didn’t even notice it was there. Kudos to Roland for taking this extra precaution against slipping!
As a digital synth nerd, I like stacking multiple keyboards above each other. Most pedals have 6-foot wires, but the DP-10’s extends 7.2 feet. The extra slack let me connect it to my highest keyboard without problems.
Lastly, I found the DP-10 responsive to nuanced playing, thanks to its momentary switching. Unfortunately, its nuanced playing has to translate through your keyboard model, MIDI signals, and DAW.
Sometimes this works without problems, but several online reviewers said it didn’t. You’ll want to do research based on your specific keyboard model and DAW choice.
4. Yamaha FC4A
The Yamaha FC4A is one of the heavier pedals listed, making it another great choice if you hate runaway pedals. My piano teacher used one, and she used it for ages with dozens of students.
Interestingly, she had a special reason for using the FC4A. It’s quiet and feels like a real one, but is similar to others. However, it’s built so tightly that debris and dust can hardly get in it.
Growing up in Africa on the border of the Sahara, I’d clean my entire living room only to see it caked in dust fifteen minutes later.
My teacher used the FC4A because it withstood the brutal weather. If you live in a hot desert environment, this is a good factor to consider.
There is one thing that is less ideal about the FC4A, unfortunately. It doesn’t have a polarity switch. If you have a Yamaha, Roland, or Kawai keyboard, you’re good.
However, if yours isn’t from those companies, the pedal might function backwards – in other words, sustain when it’s up. You can fix this, but they’re finicky. For better or for worse, Amazon recognized this issue and explained troubleshooting on its sales page.
Picking a Good Sustain Pedal
As you’ve no doubt figured out, there’s a lot more to digital sustain pedals than just feel and a metal flap going up and down. Yet at the same time, they aren’t the most complex kind of gear you have to worry about.
In the next section we’ll look at the important features to look out for, so you can make the most informed decision for your musical needs.
And don’t worry, things aren’t complicated 🙂
Pedal Entropy: Your Pedal Can and Will Run Down
That’s just the truth. Just like entropy, irreversible laws of physics, and that terrible date you went on three years ago, some things just get worse with time.
All gear runs down over time, we know that. But because sustain pedals get knocked around a lot as “get and forget” items, they wear out faster.
What does this mean for you? It’s simple: the more you plan on using your pedal, the sturdier it should be. It should be durable regardless, but if you’re gigging, it should be a lot tougher than if you just play at home for pleasure.
I mentioned polarity switches several times earlier. They sounded like a big deal … but what if you don’t know what that means?
Don’t worry, it’s definitely a niche term. Thankfully, it’s not hard to understand (it’s actually harder to explain.)
Picture a pedal in your mind; it’s either all the way up, or pressed down a certain amount.
If you’re thinking of an acoustic pedal, it’s connected to a giant wood and metal lever. If you’re thinking of an electric pedal, it’s controlling wires and electric currents.
This is all pretty obvious – I know --, but we need to establish the basics first.
Now, since the electric currents are communicating with a computer, they say either “on” or “off” – just like a light switch.
Here’s where it gets weird: not all computers are the same, right? They use different software and hardware. The same goes for keyboards and keyboard brands. This means they speak “computer language,” but not always the same way.
Imagine you’re testing a single pedal with two keyboards.
You plug it into Keyboard 1, DON’T push it down, and the keyboard doesn’t sustain. Normal, right?
Now you plug it into Keyboard 2, still DON’T push it down … but suddenly the keyboard is sustaining!
Why? Because the first keyboard understands the unpressed pedal to mean “don’t sustain” while the second one understands unpressed as “sustain.” It’s just different interpretations.
So, what does this mean for a buyer? First, you will need to pay attention to the brand of your keyboard and pedals you research.
If they’re the same, they’re compatible. If they’re not, they could still work, but you’ll need to make sure.
Lastly, if they have a polarity switch, you’re in luck. All a polarity switch does is “swap” the signals being sent to the keyboard. If things are wonky, just flip the switch and the pedal will switch signals, reversing the mixed-up signal. This makes it compatible with any brand.
A Special Case for Lacking a Polarity Switch
What if you already have a pedal and keyboard, but the signals are swapped and there’s no polarity switch?
If this is the case, you might just have to get another pedal. However, there are two troubleshooting tricks you can try before dishing out more money.
First, make sure your foot isn’t pushing the pedal down while turning on your keyboard. That will just confuse the poor guy.
If you try that and it’s still not working, try this; turn off your keyboard, plug in your pedal, then turn it back on. Sometimes this resets the signal configuration.
As you can see, this situation isn’t very promising, and quite frankly, frustrating. Still, it’s worth trying those tricks before hunting for a new pedal.
Using Your Pedal for Other Effects Besides Sustain
So far, we’ve only talked about keyboard sustain pedals for keyboards and sustaining (duh!) But you can use them for other purposes too!
Abilities and usage will vary with models and DAWs, but you can actually use sustain pedals to trigger events on a DAW or control other effects besides sustain.
As long as you have a way to send its signal to your computer and make it MIDI, you can explore a lot of options. For example, an “on/off” pedal can trigger looping, while a “momentary” pedal can alter audio effects (review the Nektar pedal section for an explanation of “on/off” versus “momentary.”)
For many pop pianists, using a sustain pedal might not be high on their priorities. However, no matter the genre, learning to effectively use sustain can elevate your playing to a new level.
Certain passages become easier to play, the piano’s tone becomes richer, and you get more control over the sonic soundscape of your playing.
If you’re a novice, I encourage you to give one of our recommended pedals a try. If you’re a seasoned pro, then happy searching. Either way, have fun and enjoy the journey!