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.

9 Answers 9


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.

  • Excellent summary, I feel exactly the same way.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 23:35
  • 9
    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
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 6:08

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.

  • "Digital pianos require no maintenance" is a bit of an overstatement. Even moderately expensive ones tend not to hold up very well.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 5:51
  • @Babu I'd count you lucky :P or perhaps I am just too rough lol.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 8:18

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.

  • If the asker were a professional concert pianist, they would almost have to buy at least an acoustic baby grand. The grand action is different from upright action in a way that is significant at higher levels of performance, and there's no digital piano available yet that will feel close enough to the real thing to be valuable for practice at that level. Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 19:34

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.

  • 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).
    – user28
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 5:57

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.

  • 2
    I would say that learning to cope with different feels and imperfection as a player is important.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 23:46

I think a lot depends on the type of music that you want to play.

$600 can get you quite a good digital piano especially if you buy second hand, but at this price point the sound will only really be good for more up tempo classical music, rock music, or as accompaniment for pop songs. For these types of music the digital piano is probably preferable. Where the cheaper instruments fall down is generally on the sound of sustained and softly played notes. If you want to play slow, contemplative music (Ravel and Debussy come to mind) it will sound pretty terrible because of the obvious looping of samples and harsh tone when played softly.

On the other hand unless you do a lot of hunting around auction rooms, house clearance sales, etc and happen to find a lucky bargain, a $600 acoustic piano is going to be pretty much worn out. But, speaking personally, I would rather hear Debussy played on a worn out old upright than a cheap digital piano any day. The old upright will possess a "character" that no digital piano will ever possess.

A third option is to consider a Software Piano. Any recent computer coupled with a low latency sound and MIDI interface could run something like Ivory Piano. The quality of the sampled pianos is exceptional with as many as 12 velocity layers and every key is sampled in full from onset to eventual decay with no loops. So if you were to buy a digital piano with a reasonable action but a "cheap" sound you could use this option to upgrade the sound at a later time.


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


I just bought a Kemble cambridge which has a traditional piano sound but also the silent system. It's the perfect blend of 'real' piano and also has the option to plug in headphones to play digitally without disturbing anyone. It's a lot more expensive than a digital, but I wouldn't want to keep trying to improve my playing on the digital piano, when the touch isn't as responsive as I know a real piano is. It's a long term investment, but music is worth it.


Normally an acoustic piano could be a problem if one lives in a block of flats, because practice piano could be really annoying with the neighbours. There are rules about the acceptable hours. You could buy an acoustic piano with a "silent" option, but this means having a digital piano with a good action. and they are quite costly anyway. An acoustic piano is a loud instruments and generates deep bass, so even if you have had do problem listening music with your hi fi, you can have problem with a piano. Especially on reinforced concrete and hollow brick houses like the ones built after 1960 bass propagates a lot.

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