The Great Debate: Digital Piano vs. Acoustic Piano

My training on the piano took place before the age of technology, so there wasn’t a debate on whether I should have a digital piano or an acoustic piano. My family were not musical, so when it came to purchasing a piano, they did what most families do when they have a child wanting to take lessons. They looked for a used piano that would fit in a small section of the house. It was a spinet. At the time, I was excited because it was mine and “new” to me. My piano instructor had a beautiful grand piano. Quickly, I discovered it was a challenge in producing the same quality of technique and tone on my piano that seemed relatively easy on my teachers instrument. I vowed to myself, I would own a quality grand piano of my own some day.

Times have changed, especially with pianos. If and when you get to the point of making a decision on the purchase of an acoustic or digital piano, you may want to take some time to research which option would be best for you. Here are some factors to consider in making your selection.

Definition of Good Quality

Let’s place money to the side for a moment. First and foremost, you will want a piano of good quality. This can vary and depends upon the quality of materials used in making the piano. There are three levels of quality for both acoustic and digital pianos, the Entry Level, Mid Range and High Quality. No piano is made to last forever and should not be purchased as an investment.

Acoustic Pianos

All acoustic pianos are considered a live instrument. Meaning, when they are played, there will be vibrations creating a more intimate interaction of energy between performer and instrument. Most acoustic pianos play their best when they are brand new. With time, they lose vibrancy. The hammers and strings are constantly changing. Just like vehicles need maintenance, so do acoustic pianos. They should be tuned and voiced every six to twelve months along with other types of service through the life of the instrument. An Entry level piano should last for about 5 years. Mid range pianos last 10 to 20 years and High Quality should last between 40 and 50 years. PROS: These instruments have more of an intimate interaction and are timeless, aesthetically appealing to the eye, provide more inspiration for the true artist and composer.

Digital Pianos

A good digital piano is not one that can be picked up and placed under the arm when carrying, nor purchased from Sam’s Club. Digital pianos do not have the same energy and interaction as acoustic pianos and usually only last 20 years. These pianos don’t have to be tuned, but do need electricity to be able to play. There isn’t any resale after owning it for 5 years. You might be able to find an Entry Level under $1,000 at a reputable company. These pianos at this level will have older technology. They may or may not have weighted/resistant keys. Mid Level digital pianos will not have as many features as the high quality digital pianos. You could find one between $2,000 and $3,000 that would be decent. They are better than old used acoustic pianos and comparable to the cheapest entry level acoustic piano. High Quality digital pianos have long wooden keys with the latest technology ranging $4,000 to $5,000. They are the closest replica to a grand piano. PROS: You can use these with headphones. They never need tuning or voicing and you can record on them.  

Which Piano is Right for You?

First, evaluate your nature. Are you the type of person who is willing to maintain and keep regular maintenance of an acoustic piano, or are you the type of person that will be neglectful of these details? Second, what type of person will be using the instrument? Student? Adult? Artist? Composer? Professional? When I’m asked what type of piano should a family purchase, I recommend the best piano they can afford. I compare wood workers to my piano students. A wood worker can do so much more with good quality tools than just basic or dull tools. So the student can do so much more with a good quality instrument. A reputable piano company will want to learn as much as possible about you, to find the piano that’s right for you. They won’t sell you a piano just to make a sale. A reputable piano company will often offer financing and have a program for upgrading in the future.