Roland A-90EX Controller Keyboard is Fantastic!

Roland A-90 EX Controller
Roland A-90 EX Controller

Last week I stumbled upon a special find which happened to be the Roland A-90EX Controller Keyboard along with the VE-RD1 Expansion board for $200 bucks. The A-90 was in unusually “mint” condition so I had to ask the sales clerk in the used music store where he got it from. Apparently, a really old “grandfather” of someone brought it in with his truck and basically dumped on the store floor. The Roland A-90 to those who know about it is rather large and a bit heavy. The sales staff admitted they had a very difficult time finding a place to put the keyboard. I didn’t know much about the Roland A-90, but I did notice that the condition was exceptional. I also noticed that it had sounds in it even though it was classified as a controller. I later learned that the A-90 had the VE-RD1 Expansion board inside.

A few things I really liked about the Roland A-90 right away were the four ( yes four! ) midi outputs that were extremely easy to allocate and select. I also liked the fact that the on board sound module VE-RD1 has some great sounds including reverb, delay, and chorus effects. All of the parameters like attack, release, etc were easily found and manipulated on top. The 88 keys themselves were also very nice and I was immediately drawn to the great playing action. Other than a real piano, I have never owned an 88 keys synth or keyboard, so I’m probably easy to please perhaps. I did hear that the Roland A-90 keys are prone to break easily over time due to a hammer construction weak spot. However, with the condition of this A-90 I thought I likely would get quite a bit of mileage out of it before that happened… I hope!

I currently live on the 3rd floor of a building here in Japan and I have to climb three floors of stairs when hauling music gear. It was a bit strenuous getting the Roland A-90 up the stairs “by myself” but I eventually did it and realized the weight wasn’t all that bad. It could have been worse as I recently passed up a Roland RD-1000, but then later picked up a Roland MKS-20. I think that was a wise decision as I can now pair of the Roland A-90 and MKS-20 real nicely. I could actually get that combo to a gig if necessary too.

The overall build construction of the Roland A-90 is fantastic. I really like the wood ends and the big heavy duty buttons on top. The Roland A-90 is a really “cool” looking controller and so far it has been able to handle just about every controller situation I’ve thrown at it. The music store was just happy to get rid of it because in Japan anything that takes up precious space is difficult to manage. I was told the “grandfather” who brought in the Roland A-90 had it in storage for quite some time. Personally I don’t think its ever been played. It’s got that new feeling you don’t see often.

The reviews I’ve read about the Roland A-90 are all pretty much stellar. I was happy to find a nice “used” controller for my sound modules that has 88 keys and is built well. The Roland A-90 was a nice fine I thought and perhaps a lucky one at that!

The SynthFreq on Youtube really shows off the Roland A-90 well with the VE-RD1 expansion board.


14 thoughts on “Roland A-90EX Controller Keyboard is Fantastic!

  1. Jim, you are beginning to really make me jealous. Here in Kansai, i never come across the deals that you find. I’ve even bought a lot of the same stuff you have in recycle shops (GP-8, Kawai Q-80) and don’t get prices like you. An A-90 for 200 bucks. I would have jumped on that for double the price. Although a did just pick up a K4 with no AC adapter for around 57 so that’s not too bad.

    Seriously though, glad to hear your getting such great deals, even if i am jealous. Best of continued good luck to you.

    LOL, gigging with an A-90…

    1. Hi Kevin! Thanks for the comment.

      It’s funny, although I do find great deals it seems, it does sometimes feel like a lot of work. The last “keyboard” deal I got from this particular used shop was back in early August 2011 when I bought a mint condition Korg M1. Since then I’ve found a few effects processors but mainly it’s been relatively dry. Like I may have mentioned before, in total I have five used stores I hit each week at least once. I also have no idea what I’m going to find. Fortunately at the used shop where I bought the Roland A-90 they had a computer connected to the internet. I must admit I didn’t know much about the Roland A-90EX and so they were nice enough to allow me to search the internet for specs and prices. They also regularly give me a 15% off everything in the store because I’m a frequent customer. So if I can get a good price initially, they’ll even knock off 15% more. I chat with the staff a lot and so perhaps they think of me as a friend too, not sure.

      Overall though, I must say that despite what my blog might indicate, it’s actually been much harder than usual to find stuff. People don’t seem to be selling much yet but hopefully with Spring that may turn around. However, I don’t know if my music room will fit much more gear. Anything I find I may result in selling other stuff shortly. Just last weekend I passed up two synths I found. One was a Korg Trinity Pro with all the boards inside for $200. The other was a Korg RD-600 for $250. Since I already have a fully loaded Korg Trinity and the A-90 ( which is similar to the RD-600 ), I passed on both. Perhaps the Korg Trinity could be parted out, but I didn’t have time to really get inside and check it out.

      Hang in there though. Kansai should be a good “picking” area although you may have more pickers than what I’m competing with up in Nagano. The GP-8 and Q-80 are good finds. The K4 is awesome too!! Well done.


  2. Yeah, I don’t think gigging will happen with the A-90. It’s a bit of a muscle stretcher for me…laugh. My daughter loves playing it right now as well because it’s something different ( but similar in feeling ) to her regular Yamaha Acoustic Piano. The different voices on the VE-RD1 add variety to her exercises.

    1. Action Jackson

      Jim as an avid A-90EX user for years, I will say it is the best controller keyboard I ever used, and the heaviest. In its first 10 years I may have broken two keys. Then all of a sudden I was breaking one every time I used it. I bought several, and every time I ordered the lady would say “now the new keys don’t have the same touch as the old ones”… I learned that there actually was a recall on these and that if you could cough up the original sales receipt for it that Roland would send a full set of keys for free to an authorized Roland tech, and you would pay the install fee. I did so, and brought it back eager to roll on. What I found was I absolutely hated the action afterwards, so much that I picked up a cheap used Motif8ES just to get to the point where I enjoyed playing again. I don’t know what the crap they did, and I don’t know if I’m the only one, but the new keys totally killed it for me. So dead, I’ve only used it once in three years.

      I miss it every time I play though, it was so stinking easy to bring sounds in and out so fast with the big zone buttons, and there was nothing better for me with a few rack modules and a a few VSTs than to have that baby with four MIDI outs on it!

      And the RD board has a sample of the MKS-20 piano 3 patch, and if you tweak it a bit you can make it a decent stand in for the real thing in a pinch!

      1. Hey AJ, I experienced the same with the A90 keys, no problems for 10+ years then a snap every gig. I was originally paying £80 to an authorised Roland repair guy each time until I figured out how to fix it myself! I also noticed every hammer had a hair line fracture just waiting to snap, so I applied superglue on every key. Snaps are again thankfully quite rare.

        I’m so glad I didn’t have all the hammers replaced as I just love the thing! Have a Fantom X8 & XR but always gig with the A90, the action and piano sound 23 is just perfect for cutting through in a live band, and being able to chain up settings to match a set list is a dream.

        Recently I thought I would have to retire my old faithful as some keys were producing inconsistent volumes, other were making loud internal banging noises and the circuit boards kept falling away from the keys (leaving me with big dead sections, not good when half way through a set!). Although cleaning all the contacts and replacing the padded strips fixed the volume pand banging problems, and I noticed there wasn’t a single screw holding the circuit boards in place! They were clipped but not screwed. So either they never had screws or the Roland repair guy removed them and forgot to put them back :/ Either way it’s now as good as new!

        I would share your despair if I had to play with another board!


    2. Phil Testa

      I just got A Roland a-70, is like the A-90 less keys and different keyboards.
      I’m having hard time programming it.
      If you know how to, i’d be happy to pay you for your time.


  3. Octavio Padilla

    Yeah, I have an A-70JV with some great sounds in it and love this controller. It’s just not weighted. The new A-88 weighted though is phenomenal!

    1. Yes, the A-90EX does have sound on board, but only if you have the VE-RD1 Piano Expansion Card installed. I believe it comes preinstalled with the EX version of the A-90 EX version which means “Expanded” if correct. The regular A90 does not come with the sound board. The sounds are VERY GOOD by the way and highly recommend it. The Rhodes, Clav, Pianos, and MKS-20 sounds are great.

  4. Yes, it does have a good selection of synth pads and strings. They are geared towards layering with the pianos, so using it for Church would be no problem at all. It also has like 4 midi outs, so you could layer sound modules too. I’d say for Church purposes it should work very well.

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