What Kind of Piano Should I Buy?

Acoustic vs. Digital

A good quality acoustic piano is still the ideal instrument for learning and, ultimately, playing enjoyment. And I say this a musician who has invested heavily in all matter of digital music equipment. The reason is simple: with an acoustic piano, you have a direct connection to the sound you are playing. You press down a key, the hammer strikes a string almost instantaneously. The hard you press the key, the louder the sound. The direct connection to the sound-making source allows for the most realistic experience of making music.

Having said that, it’s also true that you are better off with a decent digital piano than a poor quality acoustic. A poor quality acoustic would include a piano where several keys don’t work, the soundboard is cracked, or there has been serious water damage. It does not (necessarily) include a piano that needs to be tuned. If you own an old acoustic that looks fine, you may just want to call a tuner (see my recommendation below.)

Weighted vs. Non-Weighted Keys

But if you either don’t own an acoustic or your acoustic is beyond repair, a digital piano is a viable option. There are many different models to choose from, but they fall into two general classes (I’m going to ignore more advanced synthesizers): those with weighted keys and those without.

What are weighted keys? On an acoustic piano, the keys take a certain amount of pressure to push down because of basic physics: the key you press on the keyboard is attached to a complex mechanical mechanism that causes a felted hammer to strike a string. When you release the key (or the pedal) the damper comes down and mutes the string. So this mechanism adds some natural “weight” to the key.

Of course, on digital pianos, MIDI controllers, and synthesizers, there is no need for this weight, because there is no physical mechanism. You are pressing down a key that activates a signal on a circuit board.  But since digital pianos are specifically meant to imitate “real” pianos, the weighted feature is simulated. For very young children the less expensive non-weighted keyboards are probably fine, but I recommend going with a fully weighted 88-key digital if possible. (Digital pianos and synths come in keyboard lengths of 25, 49, 61, 73, and 88 keys.)

Digital Piano Recommendations

If you are considering purchasing an acoustic piano and want advice, please contact me. There are far too many variables to discuss here. For digitals, on the other hand, please keep reading…

Full 88-key digital pianos range in price from around $200 to several thousand. The lower-end models tend to have semi-weighted keys, which should be OK for beginners. Most digitals now come with onboard speakers, which you will want unless you plan on hooking it up to a sound system, which I don’t recommend.

There are several reputable brands, including Alesis, Casio, Roland, and Korg. But I’m highly partial to Yamaha. Yamaha makes some of the best acoustic pianos in the world, so they really get a lot right about the action and sound. A good mid-priced option is the P125, which starts around $600.

P125 Keyboard Only

Note that if you purchase this model, you will need a stand that supports the keyboard (37 pounds.)

P125 With Stand and Bench

You’ll still need a pedal, but you can purchase a simple sustain pedal for this if you don’t want to pay extra for the full three-pedal set ➔

Deluxe Bundle

Includes the full 3-pedal unit.

Lower Priced Alternatives

If you don’t want to spend that much but still would like an 88-key digital with weighted keys, the Yamaha P71 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano is a good option. It lacks the more subtle graded hammer action, has few sounds, and no direct iPad control, but otherwise should be fine. An even lower-priced option is the Alesis Recital Pro.