Pianos: actual and digital
April 30, 2010 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Digital pianos for real pianists: talk to me, pianists of AskMe.

I'm thinking about the replacement of a very good acoustic piano with the very best digital piano I can find. For all kinds of reasons.

Assuming cost is no real object (OK, assume a limit of around $25K), what would come closest to satisfying the ears and hands of serious pianists while providing new capabilities (MIDI interface, ability to change tunings on the fly, synthesis, etc.)? I am also interested in reducing the carbon footprint entailed in manufacturing, maintaining, and moving 1500 pound blocks of rainforest hardwoods and metal, while proving to anachronists who are married to the idea of a "real piano" that the modern concert grand is a 19th. amplifier, designed to look like 19th century furniture.

What I really want to hear is testimony from the serious pianists of AskMe about instruments you have *loved* (or hated) playing. And why? Or from music gear geeks who know about the very latest (or soon to emerge) developments in digital piano technology. Educate me.

I get that there is a fundamental shift entailed -- I don't necessarily need to replicate the experience of playing a Steinway grand, but I need to provide so much value of other sorts that the transition is worth making. This would not be a concert instrument, but it would be used for rehearsals by professional classical and jazz musicians, and for teaching classical, jazz, popular, and even non-western musics. The physical conditions are rough and the use heavy (another reason I want to make the change is to lower maintenance costs over time).

Preference, other things being equal, for smaller footprint, lighter weight, lower cost, easier maintenance, interfaceability, etc. But above all, it has to be a joy to play and listen to. Not a perfect substitute, but a worthy alternative.

Thanks so much.
posted by fourcheesemac to Technology (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an expert myself, but I'm pretty sure you can find all your answers here
posted by volpe at 7:18 AM on April 30, 2010

The Yamaha CVP509 seems like the top of the line digital piano. I think these are around $6-7000. Piano forums seems to like them, and there is a whole website devoted to the CVP line from Yamaha.
posted by bove at 7:45 AM on April 30, 2010

An idea to consider is to concentrate on buying excellent but affordable keyboard controllers. I have an older model Studiologic SL-880 and I love the feel of the keys. Coupled with a computer running a high quality piano sampler, you get the best possible samples in a compact package, and a very realistic experience for the pianist. This gives you a setup that is easily upgradable as new and better samples come out, which happens every year.

The big downside is that you have to deal with amplification for acoustic sessions. I use mine in the studio only, so not a concern, it is always used with headphones.
posted by SNACKeR at 8:31 AM on April 30, 2010

Related, albeit with a smaller budget.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2010

I've been rocking a Korg C-45 for nearly 20 years. I've basically pounded it into its dotage. It's still quite functional, despite some creeping decrepitude. I haven't yet decided on a replacement for it, but I'm inclined to to get the top of the line concert Korg... and not a real piano ...for the following reasons1:
What the korg is sampling is a piano that i'll never be able to afford or house. So i've got a spinnet sized piano that sounds like a steinway grand.
There has never been one lick of maintenance on it. Despite moving it 4 times, always to 3rd floor apartments.
While some 'real' pianos have better touch and are slightly more responsive, many are not, due to poor maintenance and general wear. They get loud in the high end and stiff in the low. The korg abides.
Because I'm delicate about sound and touch, it's better for me to have the devil that I do know, which is constant, versus a shifting set of problems individual to each instrument.
So, overall, you get tremendous bang for your buck on digital pianos; great sound and adequate touch, plus all the techno bells and whistles. The bang increases over time in that you basically plug it in and never think about maintenance again, compared to constant tuning and repair. It sounds like a fabulous piano, for a tenth of the price.

1. reasons are subject to change once i've gone and actually played one of the new ones. I'm planning on doing that soon.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:26 AM on April 30, 2010

Fatar makes the best piano actions sans acoustic piano bits.
posted by phrontist at 9:52 AM on April 30, 2010

Best answer: I recently went through this.

After a lot of research, I finally went with the Roland RD700 with a Roland KC550 amp. I absolutely love it. I really can't say enough good things about it. I have the the SX (bank account reasons), but the newer GX has even better action with wood keys and the whole thing. The bass range especially is fantastic. The amp has incredible fidelity and can be loud as hell (silly, but being able to play loudly was key for me). It's a workhorse of a piano and will do whatever midi-interface stuff you want to do - but it also sounds and feels great as just a piano (which is what I mostly use it for).

The 700SX I have has an expansion pack - and there's virtually every piano, rhodes, or organ sound you'd ever want. Heck, you can even adjust the stick level on the basic grand piano setting. It's pretty sweet.

That said, a lot of people swear by the Nord 88. Great fucking piano, but a little out of my budget range.

No matter what you decide, definitely find someplace where you can go and play them all.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:10 AM on April 30, 2010

A couple of notes, although it's been a few years and I didn't have your sort of budget (was a college student). I got a Yamaha P-90 (which is discontinued now), which is an 88-key weighted action professional-grade digital piano. Also, disregard anything you already know.

* Don't buy a piano until you get a chance to play it.

* Get a piano without built-in speakers. This will allow you much more control over the quality of the sound output. Also, bring along a pair of the best headphones you can find when testing in a store. (My Yamaha has a bit of static output and buzzes slightly on one of the lowest keys.)

* Touchscreens seemed like gimmicks on the ones I tried out. (They may have improved since.) All they seemed to do was distract from the actual piano.

* Go professional-grade if there will be heavy duty use; get a sturdy stand. The weighted key pianos are MUCH heavier than older stands are built for (one collapsed under me while I was playing).

* There are several interfaces you can use, from straight audio out (1/4" jack; uses headphone adapters or standard audio cable to an amp), MIDI, etc.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:04 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a Yamaha grand piano, and a Kurzweil PC88 (now discontinued). I've had both for about 15 years now, and I chose the Kurzweil in particular because it felt closest to the Yamaha. Back then I was preparing for a big recital and I needed to be able to practice at all hours on a keyboard instrument -- but it had to feel like a real piano, same action and everything, or as close to the real thing as possible. I've been very happy with it over the years. I would definitely recommend going in person to try out various keyboards, just the same way you'd go in person to choose an acoustic piano -- it's the only way to really gauge the feel of the key response (and the way it sounds).
posted by mothershock at 1:03 PM on April 30, 2010

Best answer: Roland RD700 GX or Nord Stage 88, for me. You don't need to spend 25k; maybe if you want a big mac, monitors, logic, a couple of sample libraries and so on and have money to burn you could blow 7 or 8.

I'll never be without a digital piano, I love my Roland (especially while my music room's on the second floor) and I feel for it like the 'real' instruments I've had in the past, but if I found myself with a spare room on the ground floor and 25k there'd be a baby grand in there before you could say 'user-editable velocity response curves'.
posted by cromagnon at 7:43 PM on April 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. You bet whatever we look at will get played first -- by serious professional pianists. I don't want to waste their time, just blow their mind.

Anyone familiar with the newest thing -- Yamaha Avant?
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:11 AM on May 1, 2010

You might want to read this thread and this thread at Pianoworld.
posted by bove at 7:25 AM on May 1, 2010

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