Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano in Japan

Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano
Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano

I just scored a vintage Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano Module today from a good friend in Nagoya, Japan. I’m really excited about this because I’ve been dealing with MKS-20 multi-samples for some time now with just ok results. I can now finally get busy with the real thing and do some sampling of my own if I wish. In Japan, the Roland MKS-20 is pretty hard to find and we all know it can be quite expensive to get one off Ebay. I got a very good price for this one and feel it should serve me well now and into the future. As I mentioned I have tried quite a few MKS-20 Sample sets but they always seem to be lacking to me. I also noticed that those who created the samples have never really gotten rid of their MKS-20 modules at all, so I figured samples would never really beat the real thing. Why would they keep their MKS-20 module then?

Incidentally, I recently passed up a working Roland RD-1000 keyboard for $60 bucks at a local used shop here in Nagano-city. The reason primarily was the thing was HUGE!! I mean I really didn’t have the space for this beast of a piano at all and it drove me nuts that I had to pass up such a deal, but oh well. I have acquired a lot of gear but the RD-1000 was just too darn big to have sitting in my room and I really didn’t want to put it in storage. So I passed it up and kept waiting for the day I would run into a Roland MKS-20. Sure enough about three weeks later I found one and it’s on the way! I did take some pictures of the Roland RD-1000 I found earlier and will post them here shortly for those curious about it. Currently they are on my cell phone which is out in the car.

In any event, I’m finally glad to have found the elusive Roland MKS-20 in full working order here in Japan. I really like the sound and will enjoy working it into my current setup. Samples are good, but I really think the real thing is better in this particular case. I only wish I had saved the money I spent on the samples…laugh.

Here’s a quick video demonstration of the Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano Sound Module found on Youtube.

27 thoughts on “Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano in Japan

  1. steven

    I have read your different reviews of this module and I too share the desire for this piece I hear it all over records now that I have been listening to the demos it is just about everywhere it seems

    now that you have it you really need to do a real comparison.

    the one piece that you left out in your reviews is you compared mks sensation (for motif ) against precision sound for kontact which is a little unfair
    because the mks sensation is now released for kontact and it is bigger.
    and it seems to sound better than the motif version.

    I am going to pull the trigger on one of the kontact versions not sure which yet..I think I am just going to bring the laptop to the gig. all in all I believe it is the best way to go

  2. My first impression after playing with the Roland MKS-20 digital piano module is that this is EXACTLY what I was looking for. I’m sorry but my samples don’t sound anywhere near like this module although I know that may be an exaggeration a bit. I think the chorus, tremelo, and a few other things really add to the dimension of the sound, not to mention the age perhaps.

    The LCD screen is actually excellent. It was reported initially that the LCD was faint, but I simply found that the contrast dial was turned down. My MKS-20 wasn’t without issue though. I did find a bit of static from the volume slider and output jacks which cleared up after cleaning them. I also had a slight bit of distortion which I found was due to a dirty relay. This is very common with other Rolands such as the D-50, D-10, and my Roland S-50. The Casio CZ5000 also had relay issues so it’s apparent these old synths need relay cleaning.

    Everything else works fantastic and the body is in pretty good shape. I didn’t get any rack ears with it either but that’s ok. Overall, I’m very happy with the Roland MKS-20 and although I’ve enjoyed the samples, it’s just not the same as what I’m hearing coming out of this box. We’re not talking a big difference, but it is definitely noticeable and much smoother. I now know why nobody seems to be letting their MKS-20 go after buying samples.

    I can definitely get that 80’s and early 90’s piano vibe going with it which is exactly what I was after.

  3. Peter Ehrlich

    I got my MKS-20 right after you! I have a pretty nice piano patch that I made on the ESQm, but no vibe. MKS-20 is all vibe. I’ve left for the Church of Roland. I didn’t mean to do it, but my studio is heavy on the Roland classics. They just sound so sweet. I enjoy reading about your adventures…thank you.

    1. Hi Peter! Thanks for the comment and blog visit.

      Indeed I’ve really enjoyed playing the MKS-20 since purchasing it. I had to do a good cleaning though with contact cleaner, especially in and around the relay. I had some minor distortion issues when playing at high velocities. Now it just sounds heavenly. It’s really hard to explain but the MKS-20 just sounds so alive. Perhaps that is what you meant by “vibe”. The samples are fine and probably people listening will not notice the difference really, but as a player, I’m totally feeling the Roland MKS-20. Boy, when you click on that chorus it’s so lush and beautiful. I’m also a big fan of the Vibraphone patch too being a “Steps Ahead” Jazz fan in the early 90’s. I also have found the piano and EP patches to be very clear or I should say they cut through the mix very well. They are not “muddy” at all. I highly recommend the Roland MKS-20. I just hope it doesn’t require too much maintenance.

      By the way, is your LCD very bright? Mine looks fine but it is a bit darker than some of my other modules. It looks normal to me for the age of the module and not a problem at all. I’m just curious though how bright they should be. I have a blue LCD display. I have no problem in a dark room or on a stage seeing the LCD so far and hopefully it will stay that way.

      Thanks again! Jim

      1. Peter Ehrlich

        On mine the backlight is totally out, but the lcd is good. I might replace it someday, but I have a lot of stuff with aging displays and I just roll with it mostly. Some of them I have to look at sideways to tell what’s going on. 🙂 I struggled with NI Akoustik Piano for a few years, then started using my ESQm as a dedicated piano, but now that I’ve got the rest of my rig dialed in it falls flat. I had to step up to the MKS. 🙂 I come from sort of a 4AD, Harold Budd, house music background and tend to like piano synthetic and elastic sounding. MKS-20 is the holy grail it seems. Do you feel the chorus is similar to a Dimension D? My unit is coming from a working pro musician here in LA so I’m pretty confident it’s in good shape sonically…it’s got the usual bumps and bruises though. I’m gonna layer that baby on top of my FS1r for some real LA piano! I got the MKB-300 to go with it since I don’t have a controller. It’s all so exciting!

        Keep groovin’

      2. Peter Ehrlich

        I wanted to follow up on your comment. Have you been noticing any distortion coming back?
        I notice some distortion here and there on my MKS and it sounds like the caps in the relay are failing.
        I’m going to upgrade the caps going to the panel board and the ones coming out of the relay to Nichicon DB’s and see if it helps. I was curious as to whether your problem was solved. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. The MKS20 is by far the most professional sounding instrument in my studio! There’s no skimping in there…I’m hoping for a little smoothing of the sound too with the new caps. I saw a post on gearslutz where the OP just jumpered those caps which I thought was weird as they seem like they smooth the audio going to the jack board.

      3. Hi Peter,

        I currently have my MKS-20 midi’d to a Roland XP-80 and running through a Mackie Mixer with two channels panned for stereo. When I first received the MKS-20 I had a tremendous amount of distortion when the volume was at around 4-5 and most definitely at high velocities when playing the keyboard hard. I actually tend to play very hard on the keyboard in more of a percussive “funk” manner. Thus I lately have been really working the MKS-20 at higher velocities.

        I read somewhere that cause of the distortion could be due to the caps in part, but it seemed the majority was caused by either a faulty or dirty relay. My last project which was the Roland S-50 had major relay issues and after giving that a good cleaning it’s in near perfect “sounding” condition. So, I figured it might be a Roland thing so I proceeded to squirt a bunch of Dioxit in and around the relay of the MKS-20. I should add, the project before my S-50 was taking care of a Roland D-50 which had a very similar static/distorted output issue as well. Similar with the Roland D-50, the MKS-20 gradually became less distorted as it warmed up and “I suppose” the dioxit worked through the cracks. About 2-3 hours later I would say the distortion or static was almost completely gone.

        Now, I have the volume set around 8-9 and I frequently use the chorus. ( That chorus is really sweet by the way ). What I do notice is that when I strike the keys really hard I can sometimes hear and ever so slight bit of distortion but honestly not enough to bother me at all. It’s also very erratic and doesn’t follow a pattern other than occasionally happening at very loud velocities or when striking the keys hard. In addition, I’ve kind of grown accustomed to it but again it’s not always present. In addition, the sound could also be affected by the Mackie mixer as well.

        Honestly, if I hadn’t had the initial distortion problem in the first place, I likely wouldn’t notice anything right now I suppose. It’s possible I could likely get that last 2-3% distortion out of there by replacing the caps or even cleaning the relay more.

        I’m not sure how your playing style is so I don’t know what may be initiating your distorted output, but if you’re getting a tinge of distortion at the top when playing really “hard” then it’s likely we have the same issue. At the moment it’s not bothering me enough to change the caps, BUT, I would be greatly interested in how that progresses for you. I have two Juno 106 synthesizers both capped differently and I can definitely tell the difference. Allen at the Synth Spa capped my first Juno 106 with components found in the Jupiter 8 and that one definitely sounds different ( better ) then the recent one which has stock components. That capping stuff is interesting to me and it does make a difference it seems.

        – Jim

      4. Peter Ehrlich

        just to clarify my new comment…it looks like the relay is a cpu controlled gate so you don’t hear the chorus noise…removing it like I saw on gearslutz seems like a lame solution for a beautiful instrument like the MKS20…

      5. Indeed I wouldn’t think with the MKS-20 it would be a good idea removing the relay altogether. I had a similar situation and advice with my Casio CZ5000 relay problem, but ultimately found the replacement part here in Japan luckily. It now works great. It sounds like my MKS-20 distortion is likely due to the caps as well. Interesting.

      6. Peter Ehrlich

        from looking at the service manual…the voice section post chorus goes to the volume slider and then into the relay (noise gate)…I’m pretty sure the distortion is from the caps failing as I know the sound from working on the Juno’s. The reason I’m upgrading to the Nichicons is that they have a smoother sound with a lot of bass…more jazzy overall. I put Nichicons in my little M-Audio speakers and it made a lot of difference…a lot. They went from brittle and kinda lame to smooth even it you push them. The distortion on my MKS is happening even if it is less than audible with a lot going on. The mids are crunchier and with balanced outs if think it is worth it. I’ll keep you posted. I’m getting 10 pieces and there are 4 around the volume knob. If I get good results you could consider taking some from me or something.

        I have never had a keyboard with this much dynamic range so I’m getting into it. I can tell already that I want to be able to hit it hard and keep it crystal clear though.

        pure sweetness from this baby!

      7. Hi Peter,

        Thanks very much for the info. I’ll definitely be interested in the same modification if this works for you. As you mentioned earlier, the MKS-20 is also becoming the centerpiece of my preferred setup. It’s quite funny recently. I sometimes sit down and turn on my keyboards and start playing but then realize something isn’t quite right. I then realize the MKS-20 isn’t on!! I then turn it on and again although better it isn’t quite where I want it. I than snap out of my “daydream” and realize the chorus isn’t on. When I turn on the chorus it just catapults me into another world. It’s interesting how when you turn things on in increments, you can really hear the differences in sound. If I just had everything on initially, I sometimes wouldn’t notice those things. I primarily like to play a lot of Gospel and RnB oriented stuff on the MKS-20 and for that it’s been fantastic. You can say I pretty much shelved my MKS-20 samples after acquiring this module. However, I may go back and do some comparisons sometime in the future if I feel up to it. For now I really enjoy just playing. Thanks again for the comments Pete, and please keep me posted. – Jim

  4. Peter Ehrlich

    I will definitely keep you posted. If you come up with a patch you really like please throw the settings my way. I’m going to put in a battery holder when I recap. With no cartridge, I’m going to be starting fresh since I’ll lose the patches. Not a big deal obviously, but I’m curious to hear what you’ve got going…and I love patch sheets. I noticed with chorus on the acoustic piano tones it almost starts to sound like a string patch on the release. I’m gonna throw some big reverb on there and see what I can get.

    Have you tried the soft pedal or the sustain?


  5. Peter Ehrlich

    I’m back with an update: MKS-20 fully restored
    It was a 2 layer problem on mine. Heat from the power supply killed the capacitors and the relay was cutting out on one side.
    Recapped the power supply, recapped the output section, replaced the relay. Sounds perfect and strong! Also put in a new backlight.

    How is yours holding up?

    1. Action Jackson

      I’m glad for finding you guys talking about these MKS-20 issues, I’ve got two that I’m about to bust open and recap and fix the relay. However where did you guys find a replacement relay?

      I also have one with an issue that I’m hoping someone else can confirm… while playing, a note that may not even had been hit sounds at full velocity, and it is usually right in the middle of the keyboard. This only happens once in a few months. Funny however, I had a older model RD300s (which shares most of a MKS-20’s guts) with the same issue, but I always had thought it was a case of completely worn out key switches (and soon decommissioned).

      Also, while I’m talking about one of my favorite boxes of all times, I would like to say that for some reason I have always liked the chorus in the RD300 better than that in the MKS20 in the live environment, even though it was just a push button and not tweakable. I had this crazy idea of taking the old RD300 and making it into a rack module, but now I’ve got kids and just NO time.

      Thanks Jim and Peter, let’s keep the MKS-20 alive!!

    2. Pietro Luzza

      Also I have the same problem of distortion sull’MKS 20 and would like to know, in addition to the relay, such as capacitors you replaced?
      Thank you

      1. Peter Ehrlich

        I replaced the bipolar caps around the relay and the relay itself.
        here are the schematic locations:

        you can see them on the analog effect board.
        here is the link to the service manual:

        Click to access Roland%20MKS-20%20Service%20Notes.pdf

        don’t mess with the digital board…there’s nothing there if it is making notes

        on the power supply I just pulled it and replaced the large capacitors with newer smaller ones…seems like better airflow

        this is the relay that I found: DS2E-M-DC5V NAiS AROMAT RELAY NOS

        the replacement I got has an orange cover…the original old one has a clear cover

        you can try cleaning the relay but mine was just worn out and there was significant channel imbalance

        do the power supply first before hunting down the relay…it might resolve the issues…I noticed a lot of change in performance depending on how warm the machine was…I wound up cleaning everything up in one session on my machine since I had the parts.

      2. Pietro Luzza

        Thanks for the valuable information.
        Where I live I found a relay like this:
        with the following characteristics
        JRC-19F-6VDC-0.2W —– 1A 125VAC —– 1A 28 VDC.
        I have not found a relay 6V – 2A and the shopkeeper told me that it should fit the same.
        What do you think? Proving it can damage something?
        It ‘better to order online one with the same characteristics?

      3. Pietro Luzza

        I replaced the relay and capacitors C6 C7 C8 C10 and C11. Now the distortion will only be inserting effects but unfortunately there is still. Anyway thanks again for the info Peter.

  6. David Webber

    Why bother with old Adaptive 12bit Synthesis resolution I think the latest Roland equipment comes with a tunable supernatural built in RD-1000 and I‘m not talking about samples I mean v-piano type modeling technology

    1. Peter Ehrlich

      MKS-20 has its own vibe. it seems to my ear more of a synthesizer than a piano. you can get into similar territory when comparing Akai samplers. might be cool stacked with the hyper real style digital piano if you were going for something very slick…it is just its own beast especially on the tails…you can hear the samples shifting


    Lucky enough to have 2 of the MKS 20 modules, one from new and another I picked up on ebay. My concern is battery failure and I read in the manual that backup to the external cartridge M-16C is required in case the internal data is lost during battery replacement! Unfortunately I never bought a cartridge and don’t think there is any other way to back up the sounds. Having said that I have also read that replacing the battery can lead to a factory reset which I presume to mean that the sound isn’t lost but maybe any tweaks to eq, chorus etc arn’t saved in any of the other internal banks.

    Does anyone have a cartridge to sell or borrow?


  8. Sibusiso

    Hi guys.

    I just got my mks20 today. My concern is a non responsive chorus effect. What could be the cause and what could possibly remedy this issue?


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