Will you please help me start shopping for a music keyboard?
April 7, 2009 5:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I start to shop for a new music keyboard? I sing classical music (art song), but I like to play with the fun sounds and possibly play out - with a "real" pianist. My 12-year-old KT-88 seems to be slowly dying.

I am pretty sure I don't want a real piano, because I don't want to move it or have to tune it -- but I want a keyboard that will:
  • sound good enough for at least a decent small-venue recital (my house or maybe a small non-traditional performance space that doesn't have its own piano);
  • feel "normal" enough for a very good jazz or classical pianist to not be thrown off his game;
  • have high polyphony (many notes can play at once); sustain pedal;
  • I know it's cheesy, but I think my dude would LOVE to play with an auto-accompaniment feature. Maybe I would too;
  • my current keyboard has a ton of sampled, excellent sound patches built in, which I love to play with;
  • it would be awesome if it weighed less than my current keyboard, which is very very heavy;
  • price is a consideration; I'm hoping to find something for far less than the $2000 I paid for my Ensoniq KT-88.
When I bought my Ensoniq, I wanted to love the sound and be as hypnotized by it as I had been by real pianos. I think it worked; I'm picky enough that I like the second of it's five sampled piano sounds. I'll be very sad when the Ensoniq goes.

I probably won't be making a purchase for a year or two, but I'd like to keep my eye on Craigslist in hopes of finding one used (at least an amp, I'd think).

My current keyboard is an Ensoniq KT-88. It's pretty good, it has five piano sounds which are very nice, I love playing with all the features. It seems to be slowly dying, however, and the Ensoniq company is out of business and parts/repairs are difficult and expensive. The thing is also incredibly heavy -- I think partly because it has weighted action in each key.

amp recommendations too?
I know I'll need a good amp; would you please offer advice on this too? I started looking around and the range of stuff available was a little overwhelming. My old keyboard has been amped through my stereo, then through a very nice little speaker set that went with a computer.

I'll probably purchase the amp sooner, then the keyboard in a year or two, unless a really good deal shows up. I wish to be in a state of readiness for good deals.

Can anyone suggest the best way to shop for something like this, or even make specific recommendations? My local music store(s) (Chapel Hill / Durham, NC, US) seem to consist of piano dealers (not really what I want) or very small shops with limited selection.
posted by amtho to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry for the various grammar mistakes; I do know better. Unfortunately, I seem to be doing too many things at once. It's = its; etc. Thank you for any ehlp...
posted by amtho at 5:56 PM on April 7, 2009

A friend who plays really well recommended the Roland DP-970 and we really love it. It sounds as if it has the same sort of features as your current keyboard. We paid $1400 for it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:55 PM on April 7, 2009

Also, we got a better deal than it was offered for at the big fancy downtown piano store by calling a small suburban shop and asking to have it special order. That way, he didn't have to mark it up a lot because he knew it wouldn't be sitting there taking up showroom space.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:01 PM on April 7, 2009

It sounds like you need something somewhat portable so based on that, the sound on the Casio Privia line of keyboards is amazing and they have lots of fun sounds and midi and accompaniment features. I think they're around $1000 new but it varies by the specific model.
posted by entropyiswinning at 7:05 PM on April 7, 2009

Rolands tend to be good if you want "organic" sounds - so if you want a realistic piano sound (or realistic non-electronic instrument sounds), that brand is a good place to start. How much does your current keyboard weigh? It's a bit hard to find a light keyboard that sounds, feels and plays like a real piano (which would be, in my book, a keyboard that has 88 weighted keys at the very least). Weighted keys add quite a bit of weight to the keyboard, I think... but I absolute HATE playing keyboards without weighted keys (was trained as a classical pianist).
If you want a lighter keyboard because you intend to carry it around for recitals, a good carrying case might help. I have an 88 key Korg (it was under $1k when I bought it some years ago... but I don't have its model number on me now, and I think you should look at Rolands first anyway) which is pretty heavy, but having a soft case with wheels really helps when transporting it. And I would rather carry a heavier but realistic-sounding/feeling keyboard around than endure playing an lighter but ickier keyboard with a limited range and un-weighted keys...
posted by aielen at 11:50 PM on April 7, 2009

I hate keyboards without enough keys.You may not think the ones at the end get much use, but it really puts you off your stride when your left hand falls off the end of the instrument and knocks over your beer.

Proper weighted action is, as aielen says, heavy. It's also not easy to compromise on. I definitely prefer an unabashed synth-style action to a crappy piano-style one. Lots of very good keyboard players have grown up with synths; it's just a different way of playing.

There are quite a few active forums for gigging musicians for whom weight is an important factor.

You can get a lot of keyboard for $1000 these days. Semi-pro keyboards are cheaper than the "lifestyle" digital pianos which are as much furniture as instrument. Real musicians can't afford furniture.

Have fun!
posted by doiheartwentyone at 3:18 AM on April 8, 2009

Previously on AskMeFi....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:32 AM on April 8, 2009

Wow, where to start. I wish I was in your shoes starting to look for a new keyboard. Personally I own the Yamaha Clavinova, which meets all your criteria, except two: weight, and price. So that might not be what you are looking for.

Roland has great keyboards, but again your looking at a price issue. $2000 is pretty low on purchasing an instrument with what you are asking. Also, when you get a fully weighted keyboard, you add a bunch of weight. So based on what your looking for I would see if I could increase my price level a bit. Rolands new RK-500 is their flagship "fun" keyboard. Has lots of cool bells and whistles, but clocks in at around $5k. Rolands other keyboards that have fully weighted keys can be had for a bit less, but your looking at right around $3000.

Final recommendation is to find a good music store with many of the name brands in stock. I see that there is a Guitar Center in Durham. Usually Guitar Centers have a great keyboard room that has most of the latest keyboards set up for you to try out. I actually spent a day in mine here looking at the different keyboards, before deciding which one I wanted. I actually was sold on the Roland after playing all of the different brands. (Went in to purchase a Yamaha) So just like many things personal taste can make a BIG difference.

Good luck, I hope you find something that will work for you!!
posted by snoelle at 6:42 AM on April 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! I think I'm OK with the weight issue; if weighted action is what it takes, that's good to know. I'll stop worrying about it.

Great advice about Guitar Center; I'll check them out.

Any recommendations for amps?
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2009

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