Buying a Digital Piano Versus an Acoustic Piano

4 Comparison of Electric Keyboards and Traditional Pianos

A traditional acoustic piano is an instrument of beauty. It can hold its own against a full symphony orchestra, and has complex overtones and an organic feel and sound. But it's big, heavy, expensive, and requires tuning at least twice per year.

A digital keyboard can mimic the sounds of an orchestra (not to mention the sounds of a piano); it's less expensive, light, movable, and doesn't need tuning.

3 Which Piano is Best?

This depends on your needs and circumstances. Will the piano be used for classical music?, for playing in a group or with a rock band?, for a child or students practice?, for a serious classical musician?, for an apartment dweller who needs to practice late at night?

All of these issues, and more, go into the decision of whether to buy a digital keyboard, digital piano or an acoustic piano.

2 Cost, Care, and Considerations when buying an Acoustic Upright or Grand Piano

Most piano teachers strongly encourage the purchase of an acoustic piano; some insist on it. The great classics were written for the acoustic piano and can best be realized on an instrument that the great composers would recognize.

In practical matters, the heavy, expensive acoustic piano loses to the digital piano. However, the acoustic piano, particulary the Grand Piano, has a certain sound and feel that is unique and a beauty that cannot be easily duplicated. For the development of proper hand position, finger strength and dynamic control, acoustic or well made digital pianos are essential. A beginner can start on a cheaper keyboard, but once the basics are learned the switch should be made to an acoustic or digital piano.

  • Cost of new acoustic pianos: Upright pianos start at around $2500. Good student uprights
    run $4000 - $8000. Grand pianos start at around $6,500 and, with name brands such as Steinway or Bosendorfer, can run upwards of $100,000 -- clearly not an appropriate oreven possible purchase if the user is a six-year old beginner.
  • Price of used pianos: Used pianos can be found in retail shops for less than half the price of new pianos. They can also be found when people move or are disposing of estates for far less. Always bring a qualified piano technician when looking at a used piano. Craigslist,, can be a good source to find a decent used piano for little money.
  • Acoustic pianos should be placed away from windows, sunlight, and heating vents: No exceptions!
  • Acoustic pianos are extremely vulnerable to changes in temperature and humidity and in a volatile climate, they may need frequent tuning or repair work.
  • Acoustic pianos should be tuned twice a year.
  • If properly maintained, acoustic pianos hold their value and may even appreciate.

The verdict: Acoustic pianos are expensive, require maintenance and space, and are completely inconvenient when it comes to moving. But people still fall in love with fine acoustic pianos. And that is not going to change.

1 Buying a Digital Piano: Basic Facts and Features

Digital pianos are also known as electronic keyboards or synthesizers. If the keyboard is a synthesizer, it usually has a full range of sounds, including percussion tracks and sound effects. A digital piano typically has fewer sounds and effects; its design is more concerned with achieving a piano-like feel and sound; it may even (sometimes) have a baby-grand piano look. Good synthesizers have both good piano-like quality and the full complement of synthesizer sounds. To be used as a substitute piano, a keyboard should have 88 weighted keys, touch control, and a pedal.

An electronic keyboard can be purchased for $100-$300 and for that, you get an instrument with very limited use and poor sound and feel. Digital Piano's start at $300 and can go as high as $2500. 88-key Synthesizers with good piano tone and feel are available in the $1000 - $4000 range. Name brands (with a long history) include Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Kawai, Korg and Technics.

Digital piano benefits include:

  • Multiple instrument voices, which can be used for composing and performance. A split keyboard lets the pianist play one voice with one hand, and a different voice with the other.
  • Rhythm tracks and built in metronomes.
  • Transposing buttons for use in performance situations.
  • Maintenance-free operation (mostly). Digital pianos don't need to be tuned, and are not subject to the tone and wood damage problems that affect acoustic pianos suffering from changes in humidity and temperature. However, when something does go wrong, it can be hard to find someone to fix a digital piano. It is always a good idea to purchase the manufactuer's extended warranty.
  • Upgradeable with new software.
  • Attractive and easy; can be good choices for young children's piano practice, because kids are likely to be intrigued by the multiple sounds and possibilities.
  • Ear phones allow pianists to practice any time, anywhere there is an electrical outlet.
  • Recording capability for practicing one hand against the other, or checking a performance.
  • Computer compatibility for composing and learning software.
  • Better overall piano sound, feel, and reliability at $1000 to $4000 price-point.
  • Likely to depreciate more quickly than a well-maintained acoustic piano.

The choice between an acoustic piano and a digital piano will be affected by budget, the kind of music, performance and traveling requirements. Many keyboard players and pianists ultimately end up with both a traditional piano and a digital keyboard, or two.




Piano Shopping Advice

One piano does not fit all! You need to discover your own musical preferences before deciding on a piano; test out different piano brands, styles, sizes, and ages to appreciate the different timbres, key weights, and levels of quality among them. Don’t settle for the first piano available; give yourself enough time to visit at least five pianos before deciding on one, and never buy a piano without first having played and inspected it. Also, if available, it is a good idea to have a piano technician, teacher or performer with you when deciding on the purchase of your Piano.

Should I buy an older Piano?

Don't get too hung up on a piano's age.  The more relevant issue is how much use the piano has had.  For example, if a piano is 10 years old and has been in a music school, being played for 40 hours a week - that's nearly 21,000 hours of use.  A 30 year old piano, which has only been played for 4 hours a week during it's lifetime will only have had 6,240 hours usage!  Signs of a well used piano include worn and deeply grooved hammer heads.

Digital Pianos and Keyboards

A digital Piano or Keyboard does not take the place of an authentic acoustic Piano, however, they have many advantages that should be considered. You can achieve an excellent Piano sound through a digital Piano. These instruments actually have a recording of a concert grand piano stored in individual microchips for each key. In addition these pianos usually have other available sounds recorded into the microchips that sound very realistic. Two big advantages a digital Piano has is that they never have to be tuned and they can be played with headphones which allows the student or performer to practice at any time desired day or night.

Contact Information

Frank Chappell

29269 Masters Drive

Murrieta, CA 92563

(951) 234-1359