I’m lucky enough to own a beautiful Steingraeber grand piano, which is an absolute joy to play and fabulous too for accompanying and for teaching. Previously I owned a Yamaha C5 grand that was worth every penny and in the past I’ve been well served by Yamaha U3 Uprights that proved to be remarkable workhorses. I’ve also played acoustic and digital pianos of all makes and in a huge variety of conditions. Which do I prefer? Give me a decent acoustic piano every time... but this is not the full story. Much depends on budget, on the space you have, on how closely you are located to neighbours, on what you really want a piano to do and on a host of other considerations. This blog will unpack some of the pros and cons that will help you make the best decision to suit your needs.
Six reasons to go acoustic...
- Even though the quality of digital pianos has vastly improved during recent years there’s nothing that quite matches the sound of the real thing.
- With an acoustic piano there is a direct physical connection between touch and attack that leaves the player completely in charge of how the hammers make contact with the strings, thereby giving the pianist absolute control of the resulting sound. However good the action might be on a digital piano this connection is always simulated, with some digital pianos overacting and others underacting in response to touch. Related to this is another important technical issue, namely that even with weighted keys digital pianos are often not ideal for building finger strength, an important issue for a serious pianist.
- A matter that is often overlooked is that the vibrations of strings on an acoustic piano create harmonic overtones that make a significant contribution to the overall tone. When blending with other instruments or voices this becomes even more noticeable, an issue I’ve often noticed when accompanying soloists and choirs. On a digital piano one often misses this contribution to the resulting blended sound.
- Acoustic pianos naturally respond to the acoustic and space of the playing environment. One can adjust elements such as reverberation on a digital piano but again, however good the result it is always artificial.
- For some owners there is an aesthetic issue, namely that acoustic pianos often make more attractive pieces of furniture than digital pianos. One piano shop I know sells expensive grand pianos to footballers who never play them but enjoy the look of them in their homes!
- Digital pianos quickly become out of date as technological development moves so quickly.
Six reasons to go digital...
- Digital pianos have improved beyond measure in recent years and value for money has been much enhanced. They also take up much less space than acoustic pianos and are much easier to move.
- There is no doubt that a decent digital piano is better than a bad acoustic piano. Much depends on budget but a limited budget might well point in favour of a digital option. Acoustic pianos also generally deteriorate with age so a digital purchase would often provide a more satisfactory outcome than say buying an acoustic piano that is older than yours truly i.e. 60+!
- Although digital pianos can sometimes be awkward to repair, acoustic pianos require regular tuning maintenance and regulation. Digital pianos are relatively maintenance free.
- Acoustic pianos are affected by their environment. Over many visits to the Far East, for example, I’ve encountered problems with tuning, sticky keys etc in acoustic pianos affected by temperature, humidity, and air conditioning. I’ve also experienced almost unplayable ancient acoustic pianos in freezing cold and damp churches in the U.K. In such circumstances a digital piano would often provide a more reliable solution.
- With a digital piano, it is possible to adjust the volume and to use headphones. This is perfect if you want to avoid upsetting the neighbours or if you want to play during unsocial hours. Digital pianos also often come with recording options, banks of different sounds, and options for interaction with software, making them fun, more versatile, and more useful for composers and computer nerds.
- Even though at the lower end of the range digital pianos often come with short compass, unweighted and narrow keys, with unimpressive sound quality, as one progresses up the range impressive instruments become available which, when amplified in a band context for example, can produce sounds well beyond the scope of an acoustic piano.
So it all depends on your circumstances, your budget, and what you really want from a piano. It’s a long-term investment so take your time exploring the market and comparing one option with another. It’s a minefield but I hope this blog helps you to make a fundamental decision between acoustic or digital. Good luck... and let us know what you decided!