ACOUSTIC AND DIGITAL PIANOS....and how they compete


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It seems like were in a funny spot in the piano universe when it has come down to the choice that is before us concerning the purchase of a piano. Acoustic or Digital? But then again we shouldn't be too surprised, not really, when we consider the advancement of electronics in these days. 

By way of introduction may I point out that the Acoustic Piano has changed very little since the days of it's inventor Bartolomeo Christofori (see "Piano--a history like no other). That thought alone should make you want to sit up and pay attention.

So what I'm saying in effect is that over 300 years have passed since the first Christofori piano slid down off his workbench that cold January day in Italy and it's "essentially" the same piano forte as then. The only real difference is that in these modern times our solid Acoustic Piano has a challenger and it is a mighty foe taking the world of piano by storm. Is Mr Digital Piano an enemy or a friend? Let's compare the differences shall we.

Acoustic Pianos

I will give just a brief explanation as I have told of the Acoustic Piano in greater detail in "Piano--a history like no other" (see side menu). So, the question is this "Why would I want to purchase an Acoustic Piano when I can purchase a Digital Piano for usually less money and easier maintenance, not to mention, handling? Not an easy answer but here's what I think.


As far as cost goes you could look at it this way. A good Acoustic Piano may cost a little more than a Digital Piano although not a significant amount more, but, in about four or five years time your Acoustic Piano will be worth more money than the digital.

This is a strange statement to make but the truth is that the Digital Piano you nearly purchased will have depreciated to almost nothing in that short time frame. Yet the Acoustic Piano will still be holding its own place in society and you will find that the price of the acoustic has not wavered.

Acoustic Pianos may require a great deal of TLC and repairs too. This is a fact and I ought to know as I am a piano technician by trade and I can honestly say they do go out of tune sooner than you want them too. And, yes this can get expensive and replacement parts are overpriced.

Not only that lets try to get it all out here, there is the cost of delivery and the maddening procedure to unpacking it. And, yes once it is delivered new or not so new the piano needs to be tuned at a cost of $80 to $120 and as high as $150 depending on who your tuner is. It will also need regular maintenance for tuning at least once a year regardless.

There's more. The size and space of an Acoustic Piano often demands our attention and will beg the question, " we have a room in the house where we can put this animal?"

Let's not forget to mention that small Acoustic Piano can weigh 300 to 400 lbs but the big upright Acoustics can go from 500 to 800 lbs. Then there is the grand piano lineup that can weigh from 500 to 1200 lbs.

This all goes without saying that it would take special moving equipment and three to four strong armed men to get your Acoustic Piano to the place of choice in your home. But it's worth it all and here's why:

(1) Acoustic Pianos hold their value and often appreciate. Yes, sir, a good quality piano can be looked upon as an investment at purchase if kept in good condition over the years. 

(2) Acoustic Piano keys are what I call "true-weight" and are instantly recognized as such the minute the player pushes down on an ivory. 

(3) Acoustic Pianos have a musical sound that is not compromised and cannot be duplicated by synthesizers. 

(4) Acoustic Pianos live longer lives than their Digital counterparts. I have tuned Acoustic Pianos that out-date the invention of the automobile by quite a bit in some cases.

The life-span of Digital Pianos, after the novelty wears off, is around five years although, to be fair, I should mention that the "good" Digital Pianos can work for an easy 20 years but still there is the novelty factor to contend with as previously said. 

(5) Acoustic Pianos, upon first viewing, are instantly revered as a force to be dealt with. Sometimes they make you stand in awe of their elegance and royalty with their sleek design and shiny solid colors or wood grains. 

(6) Acoustic Pianos are all some piano teachers will use and will refuse to teach students beyond a certain level of training who are playing and practicing on Digital Pianos.

Digital Pianos

I love Digital Pianos. I love the variety of sounds I can make when playing them just by pressing a button or flipping a switch. I will try to bring attention to some of these functions that seem to be common on the Digital Piano as we know it in today's society.

I often wonder what Beethoven in his stoic approach to playing piano would think if he sat in front of a modern Digital Piano with all the bells and whistles at his command. We'll never know so let's not waste time dreaming. 

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We don't have Beethoven today but we do have the instrument and so what can it really do and how does it make the sounds it makes? These are interesting questions so lets have a look.

Digital Pianos are electronic devices that have sound chips in them that when any key is pressed then the speakers reproduce the piano sound being heard. They do not have piano strings or piano hammers or any of the mechanisms that Acoustic Pianos have. They are free from this.

Like I said they are electronic devices and the way they manufacture sound is completely separated from the way Acoustic Piano manufacture sound. I think it's important that we get these points established from the get go.


The following historical information, concise as it is, will surely enlighten and stir your imagination as to how Digital Pianos developed early on and where they are going as the future unfolds.

Jack Benny and President Harry Truman entertaining at a function at the White House around 1946.....

Jack Benny and President Harry Truman entertaining at a function at the White House around 1946.....

It is surprising to learn that in actual fact history tells us that the first roots of experimentation of the "electronic" piano began some 88 years ago. A company called Neo-Bechstein built the electric piano. The year was 1929. Eight years later in 1937 the Vierlang-Forster electric piano was introduced built and experimented with.


Then came the World's Fair in New York City in 1939 and here the RCA Storytone electric piano was introduced to the world. The funny thing about this Storytone electric piano was that it had normal strings and hammer action like the acoustic piano but no soundboard. It seems that the sound was amplified through electromagnetic pickups, circuitry and a speaker system.

This was the very first "commercially available" electric piano. Hence, the beginning of what we know them as Digital Pianos. They have come a long way in 88 years and it begs the question where will they go in this age of electronics. It seems to me that again, the sky is the limit don't you think?


Enter one Clarence Leonidas "Leo" Fender (1909-1991) of Fender Guitars in 1946 and working along side Harold Rhodes (1910-2000), an inventor and Acoustic Piano manufacturer in his own rite, there emerged the Fender Rhodes Electronic Piano.

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Little by little the Digital Piano began its journey to stardom. The break-through came when Harold Rhodes was able to produce three and one half octaves of sound which included an integrated digital "speak and amplifier system". A phenomenal discovery.

The patented design was a 72 note model that Leo Fender developed which is the model that has been improved upon to be the Digital Piano we know today. As for Leo Fender he expanded his reach from classical guitars to Digital Pianos improving year after year until they introduced an accurate 88 key product in the 1970s.


Today's digital pianos have some very cool features. Should you get bored with the Acoustic Piano sound you should remember that the Digital Piano offers a very wide variety of uplifting and invigorating inflections.

These range from strings to conventional orchestra to organ and all points in between. To experience these delightful  tones singularly or in a variety of combinations is like taking a journey into an uncharted land in that you never know what is up ahead.

It's fair to say that the sounds on Digital Pianos are actually duplicates of samples of real piano sounds that Acoustic Pianos make. These are gathered and stored in a ROM (read-only-memory) within the electronics of the Digital Piano.

They are at the beck-and-call of the keyboard and resurrected at the push of the keyboard keys during the process of playing. I should inform you that these sounds are of a very high quality made from the very best acoustic pianos available.


Today's Digital Piano market is booming it seems to me. Especially since improvements in electronic feedback have allowed musicians to incorporate digital technology with studio-quality audio feedback standards.

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The major manufacturers such as Casio, Clavia, Kawai, Roland and Yamaha continue to develop technology for both sound and feel covering a wide range of quality and cost. Like I said previously "the sky is the limit" and you and I and the world, quit literally, will sit in amazement very soon as the new models and inventions are revealed year after year.


What qualities do Digital Pianos possess now days that make them so appealing? The following list is not exhaustive but will suffice to stir up in you an image of how the Digital Piano seems to be suited for the modern 21st Century home.


(1) Digital Pianos are normally maintenance free.  

(2) Digital Pianos are not overcome by conditions of humidity or dry air or cold or hot, etc. 

(3) Digital Pianos are electric therefor will never need to be tuned. 

(4) Digital Pianos fit in rooms where its Acoustic counterpart will not. 

(5) Digital Pianos stave off the boredom of hearing the same sound day after day offering a broad choice of pianos and other instruments. 

(6) Digital Pianos are an attractive option if you move periodically. 

(7) Digital Pianos are outfitted with plugins for private practice with headphones. Generally a positive quality for parents with young children. 

(8) Digital Pianos have weighted key action and many of these have keys which are adjustable to satisfy player preference. 

(9) Digital Pianos are designed for or have built in pedals that function much like those on the Acoustic Piano. 

(10) Digital Pianos weigh less and can generally be carried and moved about by one person. 

(11) Digital Pianos quit often have a builtin metronome which is a handy tool when learning time signature of a new song. 

(12) Digital Pianos will often have the ability to record and then play back what you have played. 

(13) Digital Pianos are significantly cheaper than there Acoustic brothers making them a terrific substitute.


It would be nothing more than grand-standing for me to make a list of the disadvantages of owning a Digital Piano as opposed to owning an Acoustic Piano.

Therefor I will not bother but will sum up by saying the standard and recognized heavy weight (literally) king Acoustic Piano now has a challenger. This challenger wants to work his way into becoming the number one contender for the title.

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The fight is on and will no doubt go on for years to come but I am afraid that the Digital Piano will reign supreme one of these fine days.

That is not to say that the Acoustic Piano will have no place in our ball rooms and music halls. My crystal ball does not reveal that but the idea of how this electronic age is advancing world wide and at such a clip tells me that changes are in store.

These days traditional values are for the most part worthless. We have seen cultural mainstays fall away over night in lieu of faster more cost efficient inventions. Technology is skyrocketing and seems to be a bottomless pit of smoking good inventions crowding out crafty trades.

The only thing in life that is achieved without effort is failure. the end who will be the King? the end who will be the King?

Therefore my opinion and prediction is that the Acoustic Piano will make a valiant drive to win hearts and sell their product. They will push to be king again and their motto should be that it is better to look where you are going than to see where only where have been.

A prudent man once said "...when all is lost the future remains..." With this I will end my comparison but just to say as the battle heats up we who love the piano, be it Digital or Acoustic, will surely reap the benefit, don't you think?


Written by Duane Graves