Should I buy a digital or an acoustic piano?

Buying your first piano can feel quite daunting and could possibly be very expensive. This is one of the reasons why a lot of people either opt for a cheaper keyboard like the Alesis Melody 61 – or even not at all. Most of us have a budget when it comes to spending money on expensive items, and pianos are certainly quite a premium price when compared to other instruments.

In the following article I want to explore some of the benefits of owning a digital or acoustic piano and help you decide which one is right for you. So let’s try and answer the question – should I buy an acoustic or digital piano?

Pianos are expensive – or are they?

Before the age of the digital piano you would only have the option of an acoustic piano. You can buy a fairly decent second hand upright acoustic for anything around £600-£1,000, and you would have to fork out around £2k or more for a new one. Prices go up to as much as £35k for a new acoustic upright, but I doubt you’d be reading this article if you had that kind of money to spend!

So it costs hundreds and even thousands of pounds just to buy a piano to start learning, which is quite a lot considering you may not enjoy practising and decide it isn’t for you after a few weeks. This is quite a common dilemma for parents that are considering buying a piano for their child.

As a piano teacher I often get asked whether or not a keyboard is adequate to begin learning on before dishing out so much money on a piano. My answer would always be yes, and this is a viable alternative so you or your child can find out if this is something they will enjoy.

Here are my top 3 keyboard recommendations for beginners:

Should I buy a keyboard instead?

A keyboard can cost anything between £60-£100, which is of course a lot cheaper than going straight for an acoustic piano. Although a keyboard doesn’t have 88 weighted keys like a piano, it still does offer a good range with 61 keys. The lighter keys on a keyboard will still help you to build strength and dexterity and of course learn to read and play music.

When the time comes to upgrade to a piano you will hopefully be in the position of 100% committing to learning and playing – and if not, you just sell your keyboard and it has hardly cost you anything to find out.

Are digital pianos cheaper than acoustic uprights?

Digital pianos are much cheaper than acoustic pianos, mainly because of the materials which are required to make a real piano. Using microchips and circuit boards is obviously much cheaper to manufacture, and with every year that passes digital pianos get more and more authentic with their sound quality and overall playing experience.

I am a huge fan of digital pianos over acoustic because they offer a lot more value for your money. First of all, you can buy a brand new digital piano from around £200. For a beginner this would be a fantastic instrument to learn on and it would still have a good quality piano sound. To prove how great digital pianos are for their price, here’s a demonstration of the Alesis Recital 88 key which is just above £200!

What if money wasn’t an issue?

If money isn’t an issue then you are in a great position to choose exactly what you want. You can choose the more expensive option and go for a real acoustic piano. This will of course give you the genuine article, and the true sound of a piano will be yours. If however you still like the idea of having a digital piano because of the additional features, then you can spend more than £200 and get an even better sound and response.

Here is a demonstration of the Yamaha YDP-144 which is still less expensive than an acoustic at only £660!

What are the pros and cons between a digital and acoustic piano?

There are many benefits to buying a digital piano over an acoustic. We’ve already seen how much cheaper they are, but do they lose out in sound quality? For me, the answer is no. Even a digital piano for £200 has a great sound, and although it’s completely subjective as to which sounds better, a digital piano offers a very realistic sampled recording of a real grand piano. For that kind of money it makes it far easier to begin learning to play the piano when cost is usually a huge factor in the decision.

Additional pros to buying a digital piano over an acoustic are the added features. You can record and playback, connect and upload your piano to a tablet, laptop or PC. You transpose at the touch of a button and use the in-built metronome for hard core practice. You also usually get additional sounds, like organs, strings, and harpsichord. So you are not just limited to the piano sound, and you can also combine sounds like piano and strings which work well together.

An acoustic piano has none of these features and can only give you the piano sound. For some, this is more than enough and if you prefer the sound of a real piano then nothing will sway you towards digital. A good example of a great upright is the Yamaha B1 which retails for around £2,500. Here’s how it sounds!

An acoustic piano can also look fantastic, as you can see from the Yamaha B1. That matte black finish looks stunning and would look great in the home. An acoustic piano is not just a piano, but also a piece of furniture. They have a presence that a digital piano cannot match – especially if you take the front panel off to reveal all the hammers and strings when you play.

Are there any running costs?

The cost of owning a digital piano is simply the electricity you use. They use very little power and you are only talking a few pounds over the space of years – depending on how often you play. An acoustic however will cost you to even move it from the shop because transportation costs are required.

An acoustic is of course very heavy, and unlike a lightweight digital piano requires specialist transport and would usually need to go downstairs in your home. Every time you moved house or apartment you would again need to pay for the piano to be transported. An acoustic would also need tuning 3-4 times a year which could cost around £250 per annum.

So what does this information tell us? Which should you buy – an acoustic or a digital piano?

The choice is easy

If money is no object and you want the real thing, then you may decide to go for an acoustic. But if you are on a budget then you may be forced to go for a digital. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

A digital piano will pretty much fit anywhere in the house, it will easily fit in your own car and save you transportation costs, it can go upstairs in your own bedroom if you want, and it can do a lot more than an acoustic piano.

There are so many positives that always draw me to the digital piano, and I couldn’t ever see me paying so much more to have an acoustic when I can get a great piano sound for much less. But for those of you out there that just love the acoustic sound and have no interest in any of the additional features, then an acoustic is likely the best option for you.

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