Digital Pianos: What You Need to Know

In today’s world, portability is key. Almost every item on the market today has a portable option. Cell phones, TVs, and computers were all once tethered to a wall at all times. Now you can travel the world with all three on one device in your pocket. The same has become true in the music world and most notably with Keyboards and Digital Pianos. Modern pianos have drastically changed from their vintage predecessors. While it once took 3-4 people to bring the piano and speaker into a club, it can now be done by a single person in one trip.

The questions I am continually asked by customers are “What is the difference between acoustic pianos and digital pianos?” and “Is it worth spending more money on Piano A versus Piano B even though they look the same?” Allow me to explain the evolution of pianos, from the classic acoustic grand to the modern digital pianos we carry at Sam Ash.

Yamaha Grand Piano
Yamaha Arius Digital Piano

History:

While the first acoustic piano was invented around the 1700s by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy (based on the harpsichord), one of the first known accounts of the electric piano was in the 1920s. These pianos used metal strings with a magnetic pickup (A pickup is a sensor that captures mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments) and they were plugged into an amplifier with a loud speaker. This configuration is very similar to an electric guitar with amplifier head and cabinet. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s, that electric pianos like the Fender Rhodes, Yamaha CP-70, Hohner Clavinet, and the Wurlitzer EP-110 really start to take off. Artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and other big name musicians flocked to these electric pianos because of their ability to project their piano sound through a quality speaker system. The only true complaint was that bringing it from gig to gig was tiresome due to the weight of the pianos, as well as the added weight of an amplifier and loudspeaker.

Fender Rhodes Electric Piano

In the 1980s, the first digital piano was released. Unlike the electric piano which used metal strings and a magnetic pickup, digital pianos use computer samples to reproduce acoustic piano sounds when each note is pressed. When the key is pressed down a signal is sent to the internal computer and tells it what sound to make. A new feature that was implemented with digital pianos was the option of different key configurations. While both acoustic and electric pianos were all 88 key, digital ones now came in 61 key and 76 key models. This not only allows these digital pianos to be significantly lighter and more portable but also allowed companies to make more affordable models for the general consumer and beginner pianist.

Digital Pianos like the Casio CGP700 Offer LCD menus for navigating sounds and features

Acoustic Piano versus Digital Piano:

As I mentioned earlier, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “What is the difference between acoustic pianos and digital ones?” Well let’s go over some of the differences between the two.

Cost
  • Acoustic pianos can be very expensive. The starting price of a new one can start at$3500 but average around $7,500 to $10,000 and can cost well over $100,000 depending on the quality of the parts and maker. Digital pianos, on the other hand, are inexpensive. The starting price is around $500 for a good quality one and they range from $750 to $1200 with some getting as expensive as $3000 The more expensive ones normally have the closest sound and feel to a regular acoustic piano
Size
  • Acoustic pianos weigh anywhere between 300 lbs to 1000 lbs depending on the wood being used and the size of the piano. Two or more people with proper equipment are needed to move the piano as so not to damage any of its moving parts. Digital pianos generally weigh between 30 lbs and 50 lbs with the ones that most resemble an acoustic piano (Yamaha Arius and Kawai KDP-90) weighing around 100 pounds. With the help of a Keyboard bag or carrying case, these can be placed on your shoulder and taken anywhere.
Maintenance and Repairs
  • Acoustic pianos must be tuned roughly every 6 months and must be guarded against humidity as weather changes will affect the wood on the piano, and the strings will loosen over time. Other than basic maintenance, very few repairs are required on digital pianos. Since digital pianos use sampled piano sounds they do not need to be tuned. Repairs can be very expensive though, with some repairs costing as much (if not more) than the purchase of a new piano (Example: if the computer board were to break). Just like TVs and computers, due to digital pianos continually being updated and old models’ parts not being available anymore, repairs will become increasingly difficult over time.

Selecting Your Digital Piano

With multiple companies putting hundreds of pianos in the market, what is the true difference between them and is it worth the price? Let us go through some of the more popular models we offer at Sam Ash and show you the difference. Before we get started,

Here is a glossary of some words and acronyms that will come up in our product comparisons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entry Level:


Yamaha P-45
($449.99)


Casio PX-160
($499.99)

 

 

 

 

 

Intermediate Level:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced Level:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what are better, acoustic pianos or digital pianos? In all reality, there is no honest answer. Each has their applications where they are better than the other. If you have the money and space and are willing to keep it well maintained, then go with an acoustic piano. For someone of any age that is starting out or needs a piano that is portable for the gigs they play, then a digital piano is the way to go. I would suggest taking a trip to your local Sam Ash and trying out all the digital pianos we have to offer. Any of the keyboard associates can assist you with your questions. If you don’t live near a Sam Ash store, don’t worry, we have piano players ready to assist you, just call 1-800-472-6274.