So, you’re looking at buying a piano, but don’t know whether you want a traditional acoustic piano or a digital piano. This is something we hear a lot in the shop, so thought we’d put together a guide for our online customers.

Choosing the right piano isn’t easy. You’ve got to think about, from the costs to the sound, the feel to the maintenance, etc. Being a player myself, I’m fully aware of your predicament so this article compares the different features of digital and acoustic pianos to help you make a decision.

Acoustic Pianos

There are two types of acoustic pianos: the grand piano and the upright piano. A grand piano has a frame and strings that are extended horizontally. It has a longer body and thus takes up more space. After playing the keys and releasing your fingers, gravity resets the keys and brings them back to their resting positions.

An upright piano has strings that run vertically. It’s a lot more compact than the grand piano. The upright piano often fit comfortably in houses or apartments and is thus a more convenient choice. When your fingers are released from the keys, they are reset via a spring mechanism, which is subject to wear and tear.

Inharmonicity is another factor that distinguishes the grand piano from the upright piano. Inharmonicity is the degree to which an overtone sounds higher in pitch than its primary pitch. A sound with lower inharmonicity is therefore more accurate. The grand piano has longer strings that give it not only a richer tone but also less inharmonicity. The upright piano has shorter strings and thus more inharmonicity, leading to octaves that sound less in tune. But don’t assume that the upright piano is inferior. Many other things can also determine the sound, such as the quality of the materials used and the craftsmanship.

Digital Pianos

There are three types of digital pianos: the grand piano, upright piano, and portable piano. The grand piano has a higher-quality sound system and better key movements. It is, however, costlier and only offered by certain manufacturers. Like its acoustic counterpart, the upright digital piano is commonly used in homes. The digital and acoustic versions are similar in size, but the digital version weighs less. The portable piano is the lightest of the three. It comes with a stand rather than “legs.” The keys and exterior of a portable digital piano are usually made of plastic.

Acoustic VS Digital Sound

One of the most important factors to consider is the sound of the instrument.

An acoustic piano produces a sound when the hammer strikes a string. It gives you an authentic sound that has a warm, more resonant tone. You also have better control over the articulation and expression of the musical notes.

The string-striking mechanism, referred to as the “action” and composed of around 5,500 individual precision parts, convey the subtle nuances of finger movement to the hammer. Intuitive response to touch.

Acoustic pianos can sustain notes over a long period, from the note beginning to sound to when it fades. Depending on the strength or softness of touch, not only the volume but also the timbre, from mellow to brilliant, affords a rich expressive potential.

Timbre and sound quality varying according to how the instrument is played, due to the complex effect of resonance in strings not directly struck. This offers the pianist abundant expressive potential.

Advances in technology have made it possible for digital pianos to reproduce sounds very close to those of an acoustic piano, and even the feel of the keyboard can be closely simulated by various mechanisms.

Using extensive, detailed recordings of sounds of acoustic pianos, and technology that smooths the transition between timbres produced in response to firm or gentle touch, approaches the expressive capabilities of an acoustic piano.

It is worth noting that a high-end digital piano could sound better than a low-end acoustic piano.

Maintenance

An acoustic piano requires more maintenance than a digital piano. The wooden exterior, the felt on its hammers, and the steel strings are all delicate features that need proper care. Therefore, you have to be mindful of the following:

  • Tuning. To keep your piano in tune, it has to be tuned about 1-2 times every year. This should be done by a professional piano tuner.
  • Vulnerability to humidity and temperature fluctuations. Wood and felt are highly sensitive to big changes in temperature or humidity levels. If not kept in a suitable environment, the components of an acoustic piano could be affected. (Ideally, your acoustic piano should be kept in an environment of relative humidity ranging between 45% and 70% and a constant temperature of approximately 20˚C or room temperature.)

Digital pianos do not require the same maintanence as an acoustic piano due to it being electronic and not mechanical.

Versatility – Utility and Portability

Digital pianos have many different features which makes them a much more versatile instrument when compared to an acoustic piano. These features include:

  • Other instrument sounds: With the digital piano, you can produce the sound of almost any instruments, ranging from a saxophone to a choir. You can play around with the different types of sound, and choose the sound that suits your music best. Moreover, you can start a drum beat track and play to the beat, which will transform your keyboard into a small ensemble.
  • Recording: Residing at the side of the digital piano is a port that connects the piano to your computer. This connection allows you to record and store your playing as a digital file. This is a very useful tool, especially for budding songwriters, who can manipulate their recordings with softwares.
  • Volume control: The digital piano comes with a volume knob and a headphone output, allowing you to practice anywhere without disturbing others.
  • Portable: Digital pianos differ in types and sizes, but they are all more portable than their acoustic counterparts. Most digital pianos can be moved by one person. Their smaller size also makes them a keyboard-instrument of choice in gigs or performances.

Pedals

An acoustic piano comes with three pedals: soft pedal, sostenuto pedal, and sustain pedal. (The sustain pedal is commonly used in all genres of music, while the soft and sostenuto pedal aren’t frequently used.) But some digital pianos come with only a sustain pedal, and some (in particular portable digital pianos) don’t come with any. Of course, you can purchase a sustain pedal separately, but the other two pedals—sostenuto and soft pedal—aren’t always available as an add-on option.

Price

In general, an acoustic piano costs more than a digital piano. A low- to mid-tier upright acoustic piano could cost £1000-£3000, while a digital one could be priced at anywhere from £200-£500 onwards.

Our digital stage pianos range from £239 to over £2000

Our digital upright pianos range from £749 to over £5000

Our digital grand pianos range from £4000 to over £17,000

Our acoustic upright pianos range from £850 through to over £13,000

Our acoustic grand pianos range from £6000 to over £40,000

I hope this has been useful and has given you a few things to think about when choosing a piano, but if there is anything that you want to know more about, please get in touch with me at the shop on 01524 410 202.