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What should I take in consideration to make my final decision on selecting a $500-600 price range digital piano or old upright piano for classical music (practicing at home).

Some part of me tells me digital piano might be just easier and simpler (settings & price), while the old upright piano might bring that classical and natural sound to performance.

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7 Answers 7

Unless you're a professional concert pianist, go with digital. I've played on old uprights all my life, then I got me a new Yamaha DGX 650, hooked up a nice monitor with subwoofer- and it's like heaven. Sounds 10x better than my old upright. I can record to usb for playback, use head phones. I'm not one that cares about whether or not it feels just like a real piano or not. I only care how it sounds when I play it. And it sounds fantastic to me. Piano tuners will always tell you to buy acoustic since tuning pianos is their lively hood.

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I just sold a 20 year old Roland 3500 digital piano for $175. Should I have asked more? Had a good feel with weighted key action. Two notes played slightly louder than the rest. Just didn't play it often enough to justify moving it again. For the ease of moving this type of piano (only 95 pounds) over the traditional type, my husband was glad when I gave my other to my sister and went for the digital. Now...since I only play it very sporadically I decided to sell the Roland and went for a Yamaha keyboard we can carry in our arms.

If you're going to keep the piano tuned and in one place, go for the traditional type. If you're going to be moving the piano and won't spend the money to tune it up, go for a good used weighted action digital piano.

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I think having a weighted-action keyboard makes a huge difference for electronic pianos. Gotta have a good feel.

Perhaps Steinway itself will get into the act. Otherwise, like Kodak, they are headed for belly-up, as their traditional costs keep rising, and demand is sinking.

We need a melding together of the very best action, and the very best sound. What a package THAT would be.

Nicholas Kormanik

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I would choose the digital piano, assuming it has 88 weighted keys and a good pedal. The new digital pianos sound very close to acoustic pianos, upright or grand, and generally have more than one piano sound setting.

The old upright will require regular tuning, and most likely, not all the notes will have the same sound and not all the notes will have the same feel. (This is important.) There is also a chance that an old piano will not hold tuning, and will require some repairs.

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I would say that learning to cope with different feels and imperfection as a player is important. –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 23:40
    
That's true, but I have used old pianos that are so far out of whack that it is nothing but a distraction to play them. It would be a good idea to play the old upright (or get someone else to, if the buyer is a beginner) for a while, loudly and softly, to see how what the action is like and how it holds the tuning. –  xpda Jan 27 '12 at 23:46

You say that the purpose of your piano is practising at home, yet you finish by saying a real piano may bring a [better] sound to performance.

I think you need to think some more about the purpose of the instrument you're buying.

I am no piano expert, but I have played on:

  • The upright piano my parents bought second-hand for £50 in the 1970s
  • My piano teacher's baby grand
  • Various uprights in my school in the 1980s
  • Various weighted electronic keyboards that did not purport to be "electronic pianos"
  • Electronic pianos owned by friends

The real pianos vary dramatically in feel, with my parents' piano requiring a much firmer touch than the school pianos and my piano teacher's baby grand.

Electronic pianos felt closer to the baby grand than my parent's upright.

What you can take away from that is that good electronic pianos can be very close in feel to a real piano. The technique you learn will transfer directly to real pianos.

Real connoisseurs can hear the difference between real pianos and electronic pianos. For most of us the difference isn't that important -- and the simulations are getting more sophisticated all the time.

There is a pleasure in being able to open up your piano and poking around at the real physical bits inside. But the downside is that bits wear, they go out of tune, tuning costs money, they're heavy to move, and all the stuff I'm sure you've already thought about.

Whatever you buy, try it first. If it sounds nice and feels nice, you're halfway there.

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I can't say that your experience is "wrong", but it's exactly the opposite of mine. The grands I've played have always required more effort, and even the expensive keyboards I've played have been terrible. Some good ones might approximate a real piano, but at that point you're paying just as much (or more -- there are a lot of take-this-off-my-hands-please pianos out there). –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 23:43
    
+1 for testing the action. I've been lucky to have the opportunity to perform on many different pianos (acoustic and digital), and they've run the gamut, from having a feather-light action to requiring a touch like a sledgehammer. There really is no relationship between the form of the keyboard and the weight of its action; you'll have to try it for yourself. –  Babu Jan 28 '12 at 5:57

Have you asked a professional piano tuner to check out the old upright piano you are considering buying? It may need a great deal of expensive repairs and maintenance to get it to operate correctly. First there is frequent tuning. But it may also need to have the mechanism regulated, the hammers re-felted or replaced, or it may need new strings, and so forth.

Digital pianos require no maintenance and never go out of tune. That is their chief advantage.

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"Digital pianos require no maintenance" is a bit of an overstatement. Even moderately expensive ones tend not to hold up very well. –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 23:36
    
@Matthew Read: Hold up very well to what? I've been using an $800 keyboard pretty much daily for 5 years with no issues. (heh....maybe I better knock on wood after these fighting words....) –  Babu Jan 28 '12 at 5:44
    
+1 for asking a tuner to check out the piano. I've seen some really ugly things playing for friends, nursing homes, schools, etc. –  Babu Jan 28 '12 at 5:51
    
@Babu I'd count you lucky :P or perhaps I am just too rough lol. –  Matthew Read Jan 28 '12 at 5:53
    
I've had a Yamaha P60 on an ocean-going sailboat for several years and it's as good as new. Not as good as a new acoustic piano, but still good. Good advice on having it checked out by a tuner. Even if the piano is cheap or free, it's worth it. –  xpda Jan 28 '12 at 8:18

I don't consider the "classical music" criteria to be a determining factor. A piano is a piano is a piano, and though digital pianos generally do have some feature overlap with things like electronic keyboards and synthesizers and midi controllers, the reason for buying a digital piano should only be because an acoustic piano is impractical for whatever reason.

So, given that we're set out to purchase a piano (regardless of what kind of music we are playing on it), I see four determining factors between the acoustic and digital. I will always choose the acoustic piano given that the following criteria are filled:

  1. Portability - Do I have room for an acoustic piano?
  2. Feel - Is the mechanism (all keys, pedals, strings) fully functional and not likely to break?
  3. Sound - Does it stay reliably in tune and is not so old that the lower strings sound like they're made of yarn?
  4. Price - Can I afford it?

1 and 4 are pretty self-explanatory. It's very hard to match the exact feel of an acoustic piano with a digital one without fully replicating the key action. Both Yamaha and Roland have tried this, but those options are extremely high-end and pricey. Sound-wise there are all sorts of different sampling tricks that manufacturers can use to make a digital piano sound close to a real one, but it's never going to be exact--after all, one has a speaker and the other is being produced in a large resonating box, complete with sympathetic resonance and the sound of felt (again, Yamaha and Roland are trying to model even this, but the same applies as above).

The last three criteria are incidentally how I would judge between different digital pianos: how well do they replicate the mechanism's feel, do they sound good, can I afford it.

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Excellent summary, I feel exactly the same way. –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 23:35
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I would also keep in mind that pianos are fairly noisy instruments; a digital piano will let you use headphones, which gets rid of all the sound save the 'thump, thump, thump' of the action. –  Babu Jan 28 '12 at 6:08

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