Buying a Piano

When it’s time to buy a new piano, the question is often asked — should I buy a digital keyboard or an acoustic piano. As digital keyboards have gotten better while quality acoustic pianos have gotten more and more expensive, choosing between them gets harder.

Budget

For most of us, how much we can afford to spend for a new piano is the first consideration. New acoustic pianos cost more than new digital keyboards — sometimes a lot more. So, in many cases, the decision between acoustic and digital is already made — digital now and acoustic later — if at all.

Where You Live

But even when your budget can handle either an acoustic piao, you still might choose a digital keyboard. For example, if you live in an apartment or condo, an acoustic piano might be too loud for neighbors, especially when doing repetitive practice. (It might also be too loud for family.) A digital keyboard makes sense because you can play with headphones. In addition, a digital keyboard takes up less space and can be placed in a study or bedroom. And digital keyboards stay in tune — acoustic pianos have to be tuned and maintained regularly.

New or Used

If you want to buy a new digital keyboard, you have a lot of choices. Every major manufacturer offers a large line of digital keyboards with different features, key action, sampled sounds, and connectivity.

If you are looking for an acoustic piano, you can buy a new instrument from a reputable dealer. Prices for quality acoustic pianos can be breathtaking, but if you have been playing the piano for a while, you might consider it a worthwhile investment to have the joy of playing on a fine acoustic instrument.

In the used market, there lots of pianos available, usually from owners who no longer play, or are just tired of the cheap PSO (piano shaped object) that they bought for their living room. But do your homework. Cheap is still cheap. Find a good piano from a reputable manufacturer. one that has been maintained. If you find one that you like, hire a piano tuner to check out the piano before you buy.

Keys and Pedals

Your piano, whether acoustic or digital, must have 88 keys and the keys should be weighted and touch-sensitive. Acoustic pianos have these features and better digital keyboards also have excellent key action.

Your piano must also have two pedals — a sustain pedal and an una corda pedal. The sustain pedal does what the name implies — it holds the keys pressed to keep the sound alive until you release the pedal. The una corda pedal has the effect of reducing the number of strings struck when a key is pressed, creating a lighter piano sound. Most grand pianos also have a third pedal — the sostenuto pedal. This pedal lifts the dampers from only the strings whose keys are being held down before the pedal is pressed. Only those notes continue to ring while subsequent notes do not. Digital keyboards do not normally have this seldom-used pedal.

Tuning

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “The bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” This was never truer than when buying a new acoustic piano. The new piano marketplace is flooded with cheap acoustic pianos that have poor action and won’t stay in tune. Poor-quality acoustic pianos often can’t hold their pitch. Your motivation to practice declines as the piano goes out-of-tune. It would be better to consider a well-maintained used piano from a manufacturer like Yamaha, Kawai, or Steinway. Unlike acoustic pianos, digital keyboards never need tuning.

One Keyboard, Many Piano Sounds

Digital keyboards have another advantage — high-quality piano sounds. Manufacturers will sample concert-quality acoustic pianos to give the player a choice of piano brands in one instrument.

These keyboards also offer other benefits like bass, rhythm, and instrument parts to add to what you are playing on the piano. It’s a lot of fun to learn this way and provides additional motivation to students. Digital keyboards can also record what you’re playing so that you can upload your music to song sharing services like Soundcloud. Digital keyboards also offer a metronome on even the most basic models. As you will see, I am a believer in using a metronome when you practice in order to learn to stay in tempo.

The Acoustic Benefits

As you progress into intermediate piano literature, you will want to consider playing on an acoustic piano because of its inherent benefits. These include a keyboard action that is striking real strings, piano sounds produced by the strings, soundboard, and case. The pedals engage the strings and all of it works in a way that pianists have enjoyed for more than three hundred years. And don’t worry — your digital keyboard will go to waste after buying an acoustic one. Most pianists still use their digital keyboard, when the pianist just wants to play without anyone hearing, or when recording the piano into a computer.

Conclusion

You are now part of a fraternity of pianists who have shared their passion for this instrument for centuries. One thing is certain — every pianist has at least one view on the acoustic versus digital discussion.

This article doesn’t address two other options — digital hybrids and silent acoustic pianos. Those are the subject of another article.

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