Here at Andertons Music Co. we understand that buying a new piano can be a lengthy process with lots of questions that need answering. The piano market is full of confusing terminology and lots of different products for different types of people.
Whether you're a beginner, a student, a seasoned classical player or a studio producer, our guide aims to cover the important stuff so you don't have to. Read on for the full lowdown...
What to consider when buying your piano:
What Is a Digital Piano?
The term 'digital piano' has two meanings in the musical instrument world. It could mean either of the following:
- Any electronic form of piano i.e. an instrument with black & white keys that makes a sound.
- An electronic instrument that specifically aims to mimic an acoustic piano in sound, feel and appearance.
The broader definition technically spans everything from home pianos to synthesizers. The latter definition is more commonly used in the industry by brands like Yamaha, Casio and Roland to describe their flagship ranges; instruments that feel like real pianos, with weighted keys, full 88-key range and beautifully replicated acoustic piano tones.
Whatever type of digital piano you're after, this article aims to cover everything, so don't worry!
Digital Pianos vs. Electric Pianos
What is the difference between a digital piano and an electric piano? Again, the term 'electric piano' could broadly refer to any electronic instrument that resembles a piano format. Generally speaking though, it refers to a specific type of keyboard instrument developed in the early-mid 20th Century with a distinctly soft, swirling tone.
Notable models include the Wurlitzer Electronic Piano and the Rhodes Piano. Both of these use a hammer action like an acoustic piano, but instead of striking strings, it strikes metal reeds or tines. This produces a unique tone which is frequently replicated by digital means, including on many synths and software releases.
Weighted Keys vs. Non-Weighted Keys
If you're in the market for some sort of digital piano, you probably will have encountered the term 'weighted'. As it suggests, it simply refers to the feel of the key action. Acoustic pianos have a distinct feel; the keys are heavy and responsive to touch - when you compare them to synths or smaller keyboards, they're worlds apart.
What are the types of weighted keys?
- Non weighted - keyboard controllers and smaller keyboards normally have thin, lightweight keys with little resistance.
- Semi weighted - thanks to a spring-action mechanism, you'll get more resistance with semi-weighted keys. This means a slightly more realistic feel.
- Hammer action - this is simply replication of the feel of an acoustic piano. It's often achieved by weighted leverage to add extra resistance to the key action.
- Graded weighting - this is more advanced replication of acoustic piano weighting, in that lower keys are made to feel heavier than higher keys, with a gradual increase up the keyboard.
Should I Buy a Weighted Keyboard?
Consider the obvious questions; portability, cost and playing ability. If you intend to travel with your instrument, non-weight and semi-weighted keyboards are lighter. Weighted keyboards are also more expensive - ask yourself whether you'd like to stretch your budget for this feature.
Finally, if you're a seasoned player or used to playing acoustic pianos, weighted is a no brainer. By extension, weighted keyboards can also be good for beginners, as they encourage finger strength and ensure that you're used to the traditional weighted feel. If you learn on non-weighted keys, you'll find it difficult to adjust to weighted later on.
Should I Buy a Portable Piano?
As technology has progressed, portability has come on leaps and bounds. Nowadays you can get relatively compact keyboards and pianos that sound great, feel great, look great and slip right into a bag or carry case.
Ultimately it depends on you as a player. If you're a performing musician, portability is potentially a useful bonus. It's the same age-old argument as laptop vs. desktop computer; if you can afford a laptop with good enough specifications, it's usually a pretty good idea!
While portable keyboards have advanced drastically in recent years, stationary pianos tend to have their advantages. Many digital and home pianos have hammer action keys and full 88-key ranges, and advanced controls for in-depth tweaking and performance. At the risk of sounding shallow, they also look pretty good in any room.
Stage pianos could be considered the middle ground; many boast weighted keys, advanced but intuitive controls and top-notch sounds, but can be easily packed down and transported.
How Many Keys Should I Go For?
Again, this comes down to how you'll be using your piano or keyboard. There are a number of common key ranges to consider:
- 25 - smaller synths, great for occasional use on stage or on your desk in the studio
- 32 - medium-size synths like semi-modular/desktop (Moog, Arturia)
- 37 - medium-size synths like semi-modular/desktop (Moog, Arturia)
- 49 - pushing into 4-octave territory, a balance between portable and professional
- 61 - traditionally the next step up from 49 keys, often seen on more advanced workstations
- 73 - again, the traditional next step, offering almost-acoustic-piano range
- 76 - a slight extension, often used by Yamaha and Roland
- 88 - full acoustic piano range, often also used on home & stage pianos
Digital Piano, Stage Piano or Keyboard?
Here at Andertons, our selection essentially consists of three categories: digital pianos, stage pianos and keyboards (including synthesizers). Each category is fairly distinguishable by features and appearance, though many brands blur the lines. Let's take a look at what's what:
Digital Pianos (AKA Home Pianos)
Designed to closely emulate acoustic pianos, and stylistically suited to use in the home, a digital home piano is often the right choice for those who want to focus on learning the piano for the first time. Whether it’s Beethoven or Dave Brubeck that you like, a digital piano will get you started on a musical instrument journey made by the all of the world’s best-known pianists.
Almost all digital home pianos have some kind of “weighted” or “hammer action” keys. All this means is that the instrument is designed to ‘feel’ like an acoustic piano where, when you press a key, the feel of the mechanism that makes the hammer strike the string inside the piano is mechanically replicated within the digital piano’s keyboard. Rather than pressing a generic “button” like on your TV remote, you feel like you are pressing an acoustic piano key.
We distinguish between stage pianos and home pianos. As you can probably tell, both are digital pianos but they are designed for different environments…
Jack demonstrates the Roland LX17 Digital Piano in White:
Pianos are heavy things! Acoustic pianos are not an instrument you want to take to The Dog and Duck for an open mic night! Stage pianos are digital pianos that are designed to be transported and used at gigs. They often have all of the features of a digital home piano, but the casing is more portable and more suited to the stage. They can be disassembled and bagged-up for easy transport.
Of course, just because something is designed for use on stage, doesn’t mean you can’t use it at home too! Some people consider pianos to be “part of the furniture”, but if it’s versatility you’re after, maybe a stage piano is right for you.
As well as the aforementioned brands, Clavia’s Nord stage pianos also deserve a mention in this category. You might have seen their famous red pianos gracing stages at gigs and on TV.
Jack takes a look at the Clavia Nord Stage 3 on Andertons TV:
Keyboards & Synthesizers
As much as they look like pianos, keyboards & synths are very different beasts to an instrument that one might call a ‘piano’. For now, it’s best to consider these as instruments with a huge amount of versatility when it comes to producing different kinds of sounds.
They emulate the sounds of all sorts of instruments (including pianos), and are also great learning tools if you cannot afford, or do not have space for a piano yet. However, it’s important to note that most are not designed to feel like pianos – so moving from a keyboard to a piano will be an additional learning curve.
If you’re still not sure which is right for you – a keyboard or a piano – do contact us by phone or email for some more advice.
Here's Jack giving his first impressions on the mighty Waldorf Quantum Hybrid Polysnth:
Now that you've considered many of the important questions, you'll probably want to think about brands. We have one of the largest selections of digital pianos and keyboards in the UK, so we're thrilled to offer the best brands in the market. Here's a selection of some of our most popular:
Japanese manufacturer Roland are truly titans of the category. We're a Roland Planet specialist, meaning we have one of the most extensive selections in the UK. Roland digital pianos, stage pianos and keyboards are among some of the most sought-after in the world!
Clavia Nord are well-respected in the industry, known for their distinctive bright red instruments. Offering everything from compact old-style synths to 88-key stage pianos, they're used by some of the biggest performing artists in the world. Key products include the Stage and Lead ranges.
Yamaha are known for producing musical gear in just about every category. But this isn't a master of none scenario; they remain at the top of their game, with Yamaha digital pianos being among our all-time best-selling items! They also produce a reputable selection of synths, keyboards and workstations for all applications.
Casio offer a fantastic range of affordable pianos and keyboards to suit every stage in a pianist's journey, including their flagship Celviano range. Featuring keyboards with built-in lessons for the beginner, to professional digital pianos with a real Bechstein Piano action, there really is something for everyone.
Perhaps better known for their synth offerings, Korg also produce a great selection of digital pianos with a variety of features. From compact synthesizer keyboards to world-class workstations like the Kronos range, Korg are firmly established as a key player in the category (no pun intended).
How much will it cost?
Good question. Well, like any instrument… how much have you got to play with?! Piano & keyboards manufacturers make instruments that are affordable for all levels from sub £100 keyboards to multi-thousand-pound digital grand pianos. In truth – features like weighted keys are costly to make, so “digital pianos” tend to be a bit more expensive than “keyboards” which have less-refined keys. However, with digital pianos starting at around £400, manufacturers have come on a long way from the days where a piano was an instrument that was solely for the rich.
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of pianos, browse our online store and use the price, category & brand filters to narrow down your search to suit your use and budget.
What about delivery?
We know what you're thinking; sure it won't fit in the car? Another amazing thing about the digital piano market is how much progress the big names like Roland and Yamaha have come on solving this issue. An acoustic piano is bulky, probably at least 100 kilos, and you can’t take it apart. Digital pianos mostly range from 20-70kgs and are normally packed in multiple boxes. They are easily assembled at home with no specialist skills required.
For most of our digital pianos, they will fit into an estate or saloon car, or if you prefer we can deliver (for free within most of the UK) with a courier like UPS. Please note that someone will need to be present at home who can take the piano into your property.
Some digital pianos ARE still heavy; they are wood after all, and the higher end ones have mechanics in them for the most authentic key action. This applies only to a small number of the largest pianos. For local customers, we can arrange “man on a van” delivery for these pianos, however for deliveries further afield you may need to arrange your own transport. On our website, you will see a message on the pages for extra-heavy pianos warning you that delivery needs to be arranged before ordering.
Andertons Music Co. Piano Department
At our Guildford store, we have an extensive dedicated piano department with one of the UK's biggest selections of keyboards and pianos on display.
We have piano & keyboard experts in-store and on the phone 7 days a week to guide you, and there is no pressure to buy – just come in, look, try and speak to our friendly team!
If you cant get down to our store and you have further questions, feel free to get in touch - we'd be happy to help!
If you've enjoyed this handy what's what, don't forget to check the rest of our buyers' guides here - you may just find something that interests you!
And if you haven't already, don't forget to check out our selection of keyboards and pianos. You should be feeling a little more informed about the digital pianos, stage pianos and synthesizers - go forth and browse!