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The Crow Hill Company – The Vertical Piano (Review)

In a time where the digital recreation of historical sounds is not only possible but can be done with absolute precision and depth, The Crow Hill Company’s Vertical Piano stands out as a significant achievement. This brand-new virtual instrument created by the creative team around Christian Henson (co-founder of Spitfire Audio) not only seeks to replicate the sounds of a unique and historically significant piano but also serves as a bridge connecting users to the profound history of how music was used in wartime for keeping the morale up. In this review, we will delve into The Vertical Piano, exploring its unique interface, creative features, its sounds, and the rich history this instrument brings to life.


The Vertical Piano is a virtual piano instrument that replicates the Steinway Victory Vertical Piano, originally manufactured during World War II for the American troops. This digital version aims to bring the same sense of history and emotional impact through a meticulously sampled upright piano, recorded in a world-renowned studio in Santa Monica with historically accurate equipment. It offers a range of creative features designed to provide musicians with both historical tones and modern sound-shaping capabilities.

The Vertical Piano contains almost 23,000 samples and occupies around 34 GB of hard drive space. These are some of the instrument’s most unique features at a glance:

  • 4 Unique Mixes, each with variable distance control
  • Advanced Tape-Modelling with included pitch and degradation effects
  • Period accurate speaker emulation
  • Noise controls, captured from various vintage equipment
  • Full effects suite featuring algorithmic reverbs, worn delays, and futuristic granular processes
  • Precision processing tools for shaping your sound including, EQ, Saturation, and Bus Compression
  • Settings to finely adjust mechanical sounds as well as define the instrument’s responsiveness and dynamics
  • Included presets, specially crafted to spark creativity

The Vertical Piano is shipped as its own VST plugin, so no additional software samplers are needed to use the instrument.


The history of the Vertical Piano is deeply intertwined with the narrative of World War II and the innovative response of piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons to a crisis. During the war, raw materials like brass, copper, and iron became scarce, leading to significant changes in manufacturing practices. Steinway, traditionally known for their exquisite pianos, took on a new challenge by producing rugged, durable pianos for the American and Allied troops, known as Victory Verticals. These instruments were designed to withstand diverse climates and rough handling, being parachuted into war zones to provide soldiers with the comfort and solace of music.

These pianos were not only designed as instruments but symbols of resilience and reminders of humanity in one of history’s most challenging periods. They featured in numerous historical moments, being played by soldiers in the field and used by entertainers like Bob Hope to boost morale among the troops. The emotional impact of these pianos was profound, as they offered a connection to the normalcy and culture of home, uplifting spirits amidst the backdrop of war.


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By the end of the war, approximately 5,000 Victory Vertical pianos had been produced. While many were sent to various military and public institutions, the harsh conditions of war meant that not all survived, and many were lost or irreparably damaged over time. Today, these pianos are rare, with few remaining in playable condition.

The story of this new, sampled piano begins with the team of the Crow Hill Company discovering a preserved Victory Vertical piano in Los Angeles, which they set out to sample in a world-renowned studio using vintage equipment to capture its historical essence. This piano, a relic of wartime innovation and resilience, symbolizes the enduring power of music to heal and unite even in the most challenging circumstances.


The user interface of the Vertical Piano is a thoughtful blend of vintage aesthetics and modern usability. The interface provides a user-friendly experience that makes accessing its extensive features intuitive. Users can easily navigate through various sound layers, effects, and settings. While the GUI allows new users to instantly start playing, its multi-page design makes it easy to find all the controls for comprehensive sound shaping.

The Preset Browser found at the top center of the GUI allows you to quickly switch between pre-made patches, making it easy to quickly explore the different sounds and textures the Vertical Piano has to offer. The collection of presets offers plenty of options and is nicely curated, ranging from classic piano sounds and lo-fi aesthetics to experimental and granular soundscapes.

The Vertical Piano – User Interface

Sound Shaping

The four main elements for sculpting your general piano sound are the Source, Distance, Apparatus, and Noise controls found on the left side of the interface. The Source menu offers four distinct microphone setups ranging from an all-around classic piano sound to an accurate representation of what a piano recording in the 1940s sounded like. The Distance control is connected to each sound source and changes the balance of the microphone mix from close and in front of the piano, to a more ambient room position. This facilitates finding the right amount of space for your piano to sit in the mix without having to juggle multiple mic position faders.

The Apparatus menu lets you introduce various types of noise into your piano signal. The Noise control underneath is there to dial in the amount of noise you want to add. At full counter-clockwise position, no noise will be added to the signal. Some noise settings like “Vintage”, “Tape”, and “Cassette” add a nice sense of analog patina to the signal, while others like “Old Radio”, “Bad Wiring” or “Damaged” can introduce heavy crackling, clicks, pops and ground hum.

The Vertical Piano – Tape Reel

Tape Reel

The right side of the interface is comprised of another vital sound-shaping element of the Vertical Piano, the Tape Reel. The Crow Hill company managed to replicate the sound, characteristics, and quirks of an old tape machine you can virtually run the piano signal through. The tape reel provides controls for tape saturation at different tape speeds, wow, flutter, and signal drop-outs, as well as a dedicated tape loop section that also allows for authentic tape stops and starts.

On top of all that, the developers went to great lengths to meticulously model the sound of 8 different historic speaker models, including old radios, military field transmitters and WW2-era civilian receivers. Activating these speaker models can drastically alter the piano’s sound into an authentic vintage soundscape.

The Vertical Piano – Effects Rack

Reverb, Delay & Granular Synthesis

The second tab on the right side of the GUI is comprised of three spatial effects: a reverb, a delay, and a granular synthesis module that lets you create beautiful clouds of sound. Each module has its own controls for fine-tuning, the reverb even features a freeze function that lets you spread out your piano sound into infinity.

A nice additional function is that the developers give the user the option of choosing where each effects module is placed in the signal chain, which allows for drastically different results.

The Vertical Piano – Master EQ & Dynamics

Master EQ & Dynamics Section

The third page of the effects section is all about tone shaping & dynamic control. A basic equalizer offers both a low- and high-shelf band as well as a high-cut- and low-cut filter. A saturation control can be used to add more harmonics to the piano signal and introduce some grit on higher settings. Finally, an easy-to-use compressor can be engaged to smoothen out the dynamics of a piano performance.

Again, the processor modules can be switched around in the signal flow according to your preferences.

The Vertical Piano – Settings

Utility Settings

Finally, the Settings page allows you to adjust various performance-related parameters. The velocity curve adjustment and humanize settings introduce variability in how the piano responds to MIDI input, making programmed performances feel more natural and less mechanical.

You can also turn the amount of mechanics and pedal noise up or down, control the piano‘s resonance, and shorten or lengthen the release portion of a sound after you let go of the key.


The sound quality of the Vertical Piano is impressive, delivering everything from subtle, intimate tones to heavily processed, almost synthy piano soundscapes. The ability to manipulate mic positions and tape effects on the fly allows users to tailor the sound to their specific needs, whether for traditional compositions or more experimental arrangements. The additional layers of sound manipulation such as vinyl skips and static further enrich the sound palette, offering creative possibilities that go beyond a standard piano library.

The Vertical Piano excels in delivering a deeply immersive auditory experience. The core piano sound is rich and full-bodied, with each note encapsulating the historical essence of the original instrument. The additional layers of sound effects, such as the tape warble and the vintage speaker modeling, enhance the piano’s authenticity, allowing users to produce sounds ranging from clean and classical to distorted and atmospheric.

The instrument’s adaptability is showcased in its ability to blend seamlessly across different musical styles, from solo piano pieces evoking the somber tones of wartime to vibrant, layered compositions suitable for modern soundtracks. Whether used in a simple, stripped-down setup or as part of a complex production, the Vertical Piano offers musicians a versatile tool capable of both preserving a historic sound and inspiring new musical creations.


Now that I had the chance to play around with this new instrument for a while, it quickly became apparent to me that the Vertical Piano is more than just a virtual instrument; it is a homage to a remarkable piece of history encapsulated within a state-of-the-art plugin. It stands out in the market not only for its sound quality but also for its unique features and historical significance. While it may not be the first choice for those seeking a straightforward piano sound, it is an excellent option for anyone looking to infuse their music with character, history and a touch of lo-fi goodness. The plugin’s versatility, combined with its visually engaging interface and deep customizability, makes it a worthwhile investment for those drawn to its vintage charm and extensive sound-shaping capabilities. Whether it’s worth the investment ultimately depends on the user’s specific needs and interests. For those passionate about blending musical history with contemporary sound design, the Vertical Piano offers a unique experience, making it a valuable addition to any modern composer’s toolkit.

The Vertical Piano is available through The Crow Hill Company‘s online shop for £169.


  • High-quality sound
  • Visually engaging interface
  • Extensive sound manipulation options
  • Historical authenticity


  • Limited microphone position control
  • May not suit every musical style




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