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I've always assumed keyboards and electric pianos (except maybe super-cheap 'toy' ones) are designed to last virtually for ever, or have a life-span similar to a real piano. Probably because I'm used to musical instruments like pianos and guitars, that will last for decades with a little care and can be repaired when bits wear out.

But looking at other electrical products, this would be uncommon - even white goods often fail around the 10-15 year mark. With anything computer-based, you can't get in and "replace the tuning knobs like on a guitar".

I'm starting to consider buying something - I don't want the bulk and weight of a real piano - but for something as potentially expensive as this I would expect serious longevity. Is it something that can be expected? Do such products have a lifespan and one should expect to replace them, or can/should one of these things last you a lifetime?

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Certain brands of synth/keyboard are very high quality: Nord, Technique, Kurzweil. These can and do last for years with common-sense care. Sometimes there are internal parts that wear out and need to be replaced, which a qualified keyboard technician can do pretty inexpensively ($100-$200). Perform such "maintenance" regularly and you'll have a keyboard that lasts for a long time. If you want a keyboard that best gives you a similar experience to playing on a piano, then in my opinion there is none better than the Nord Electro series.

  • Nord seem to be the top dog in this category – Dave Engineer Dec 22 '14 at 13:51
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Extremely dependent on how much they get played. Imagine an electronic piano (keyboard) that sits in the parlour only to be played on highdays and holidays, compared with the same model being played, say, in a teaching situation, 6/7 days a week. Mechanically the latter will wear out sooner, whereas the former may start to break down (capacitors leak, etc.) through lack of use.

Organs from 30, 40 years ago are still going strong, the problems being when they do malfunction, parts are not available any longer.

On quality makes of instrument, they are likely to last several decades, the ageing problem is more likely to be "are those the only functions it has?" 10/15 years ago, pianos were just starting to be ported to connect to computers - now all are. In 10 years time, computers will probably be 'old fashioned' and new technology in vogue, so older pianos may well not be usable with it.Manufacturers only keep spare stock for a short time - it's capital tied up, and they'd rather you bought a new model, anyway.

It's not really like buying a Bosendorfer which WILL go on for ever. I guess new ones are very similar to ones 80 yrs old. Electronic stuff isn't the same idea at all. Fender Rhodes pianos, from maybe 40 yrs ago, are still around, but not many people use them - all the sounds are now available on many keyboards, most of which are lighter, if nothing else!

  • Good point on obsolescent functionality. But I was thinking more about an electrical alternative to a 'real' piano for reasons of portability and convenience (space, weight, playing through headphones). – Mr. Boy Dec 18 '14 at 15:31
  • @Mr.Boy - Get yourself a fairly up-to-date piano, expect to get at least 10 years out of it, if it's looked after, and by then, you may well feel the need to move on to something more 'up-to-date' then. – Tim Dec 18 '14 at 15:37
  • Other than "bells and whistles" have the basics of getting a realistic sound and action been 'cracked' for many years at this point, or is that quite recent? Clearly I mean for a competent player's touch/ear, not someone used to playing concert pianos – Mr. Boy Dec 18 '14 at 15:44
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    Not ultimately, but getting pretty close. I still use a Roland, 10+ yrs old, which I find has an acceptable action, and half decent sounds. Wouldn't expect a concert pianist to be happy with it, but it works both in the studio and on stage with nothing wanting. – Tim Dec 18 '14 at 15:51
  • @Mr.Boy: the Nord Electro gives you the most realistic sound and action. – Michael Martinez Dec 18 '14 at 18:58
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I wouldn't know about lifespan of electric pianos, but as for keyboards I remember hearing about a problem with Dave Smith Prophet 08 Pots, so he offered a DIY upgrade kit (which involved soldering). ---link---

I think if something is designed as a signature model / flagship or designed to be a timeless keyboard then a good designer would make it fixable with some DIY and a browse for parts from vintage synth shops on-line.

This is as long as the parts that break are standard things like capacitors etc.

I don't see how this is any different to things going wrong on a guitar, like my treble/mid /rhythm switch being a bit temperamental which I really need to take apart and re-solder at some point.

  • I think it's more like older and newer cars - old ones everything is mechanical or simple electronics. The moment you start putting who chunks of functionality in a single chip, and then multiple chips on a circuit board, you have to replace bigger and bigger parts of the thing when one thing goes wrong. My concern was if an electronic keyboard has one central circuit board it might just 'stop' and you'd never get a replacement 10 years later. – Mr. Boy Dec 18 '14 at 16:52
  • The prophet 08 came out in 2008 so I don't think all new keyboards are in that category, just most new keyboards. But I agree with your point that "everything on one chip" is hard to replace in a decades time or more. Everything on one chip is cheaper to mass produce, with a bit of research I think you could find something fixable and suitable. – Dave Engineer Dec 18 '14 at 17:01
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Nord's warranty on a $4000 stage 2 HA88 is one year (some purveyors offer +1). It is up to you to determine whether this would have been an economical purchase if it broke after that. Only time will tell and I suggest against buying any hardware that isn't properly vetted. Tried-and-true.

My super-cheap 'toy' 25yo Casio SK-5 still works like a champ even after being mishandled by three brothers and now three nephews. I never expected it to still be working but it obviously isn't a lemon; hindsight is 20\20. Serious longevity is to be expected with any respected manufactures' products as they will use only the parts that they deem up-to-spec. The more complicated the hardware the more weak links in the chain, though. Probably the reason my SK-5 still works and a HA88 might not at that age. If it says Yamaha on it I'd expect it last upwards of 10 years without any problems. Including after being left plugged in while your studio got flooded...

As a hobby I repair discarded computers. You'd be amazed at the negligence low voltage equipment will put up with. Most 'white-goods' run at line voltage and when that kind of stuff fails it's usually spectacularly and at the point where other mechanics are worn out; a totaled unit. A bad bearing can blow out a motor and now you'd need both (if not other parts as well).

Moving into the realm of electronics might mean you we can't fix it (like modern cars) but it certainly can be fixed by someone. I have never encountered a computer with such catastrophic failure that I couldn't recover it with a parts swap. Embedded electronics require more patience and expertise than I have to fix them; someone who does is an actual repair man. Without a giant leap in electronics this field is only going to increase. The fact that some brick and mortar stores are entirely devoted to cellphone repair would alleviate some of my immediate buyer's remorse of a unit with no user serviceable parts inside.

Seeing as that you had to ask this question I'm curious as to why you are skipping directly past all entry level equipment. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for professional gear but that is a lesson I've learned on the cheap. You're going the expensive route of discovery; skipping past I wish it did this... Never having the chance to learn that a $2000 one would do everything you want it to that your $400 one doesn't; making a $4000 purchase frivolous.

For all but a respected manufacturer's bottom line products I'd expect an increase in cost to only reflect an increase of functionality or sound quality. Anything past the halfway mark is likely to have most of the same quality parts as their flagship model.

Hopefully this all helps you somehow. Expect is a rather subjective term. The only definitive answer I'd accept would be a known factor and delve into the realm of specifics; my unit x HAS lasted this long. However, that information is useless for all products that have existed for less time than their expected life span. Personally being a pessimist, I don't expect anything to work three days after the warranty expires; that's all gravy.

  • I don't know what you count as entry-level to know if I am skipping it. Possibly - I'm not after a $100 keyboard but neither am I planning to spend $thousands. However even spending "only" a few $hundred I'd rather expect some quality. If I bought a guitar for $300 and after two years the neck broke that wouldn't be acceptable :) – Mr. Boy Dec 19 '14 at 8:58
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    @Mr.Boy I would consider most gear under $1k to be entry level. I probably wouldn't find a $300 guitar acceptable in the fist place even with a lifetime guarantee. But if it was and it did, it would certainly be my first purchase and my go-to when the cool one breaks down. Stick to name brands and you should be fine. Google the model you intend to buy, adding the word repair or something derogatory. The fewer the hits, the better. I find it nowhere more true than the music world that you get what you pay for. – Mazura Dec 19 '14 at 9:42
  • @Mr.Boy If $1k seems steep, there's always the second hand market. Advantage being that the best instruments hold their value. So your not really spending money, your "investing". – Dave Engineer Dec 22 '14 at 14:02
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From my experience, at least with Yamaha digital pianos, ALL will have some wear after just few years. Even an expensive clavinova, as with cheaper keyboards, will have some of these problems, which are VERY common:
- Touch sensitivity will break, most likely the rubber contacts needs to be replaced
- Keys will become noisy
- Sticky keys (do not return properly) And more problems, mostly related to the keys. (other problems like for example with the speakers - are far less common).

Honestly I wonder if Yamaha on purpose made these instruments to last only for few years, or maybe that's how these instruments are simply built, to last no more then 4-5 years, maybe.

  • Built in obsolescence is quite possible. Don't see many people playing DX7s or DX9s these days - mostly because there are later instruments which do all they did, plus a load more. So they are obsolete more for that reason than being worn out - which a lot of them are! – Tim Aug 27 '17 at 6:48

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