Acoustic Pianos vs. Digital Pianos vs. Keyboards

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Acoustic Pianos vs. Digital Pianos vs. Keyboards Image

The first time I got in trouble at school was the second week of kindergarten. Mrs. Know-it-all was trying to explain to the class that the alphabet has twenty-six letters. I, the prodigal five-year-old, was correcting her, as the alphabet I knew only had seven letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

I consider music to be my native language, even before English.  Considering that my mother played piano, both my grandmothers played piano, and several of my great-great grandmothers played piano, I believe there is just a natural musical thread woven into my DNA. My fingers have just always known where to go.

This talent has proven to be both a blessing and a curse in my life. The former because I have a telepathic connection to other musical language speakers, the latter because I was raised as a tried-and-true traditionalist.

Like guitarists who still prefer a tube amplifier, or DJs who still like to scratch real vinyl records, for most of my life, I would only play an acoustic piano. I didn’t consider these new technical things to be worthy of the label ‘musical instrument’. What business does electricity have mixing with music?

Not that acoustic pianos don’t come with a lot of headaches. Like most manual instruments, most of the pianos I’ve worked with over the years have each had their own personality.

For example, the piano upstairs at my local church had a middle F key that would often stick when the weather got humid in the summer. To accommodate this, I would try to choose songs in keys that just didn’t use the F note so often, like G or Eb.

As it was constantly being moved around in a big breezy hall, the piano at the local nursing home was rarely ever in tune. I would need to schedule my arrival early, with my tuning hammer in hand, to get it reasonable-sounding for the afternoon hymn sing. Otherwise, I would have to face the wrath of the retired music teachers.   

The old chestnut Heinzman piano at the Town Hall was beautiful to look at, but since it was rarely used, was eventually converted into a rodent condominium. The felt parts hidden in the action of an acoustic piano are like luxury bedding to mice.

My ancestral abode came with a very large and heavy upright Mason-Risch piano in the living room.

Since I moved out over 20 years ago, it rarely gets played anymore. Rather, it is the proprietor of a lot of dusty knick-knacks.

Made in Toronto, it was likely purchased from the Eaton’s catalogue sometime around the early 1900s.

The touch has softened over the years, and many of the original ivory key covers have fallen off.

The average cost of this instrument at the time of purchase was about $1400, or the equivalent to $45,000 today. Ironically, a perfectly refinished similar Mason-Risch piano in 2022 is now only worth about $1400, if not less.

I now own a 1950s mahogany ‘apartment-sized’ Wurlitzer piano. As it is on castors, it is easier to move around than my parents’ old upright model, but it still needs regular tuning and takes up a lot of space in my living room.


Sound Quality

Although I love the sound and feel of my old acoustic piano, I now recognize why I no longer recommend opting for one of these beasts as a musical instrument (unless it was inherited with your house).

They’re big, heavy, go out of tune, attract unwanted tenants, you can’t mute them, and they do not increase in value.

So, if you do want to buy or rent a piano-like instrument, what options are there?

Technology has come a long way over the past few decades, and now the sound of a digital piano is outstanding - and even rivals the sound of an acoustic piano. 


The Difference Between a Piano Keyboard and a Digital Piano

The main distinction between these two instruments is the feel or touch. When you press down a key on a traditional acoustic piano, it takes some finger weight to make a sound. This is because of the manual configuration of the key hitting a hammer, which then hits a string inside of the cabinet, and the sound is echoed out from the soundboard. It is this component that is usually made of iron and makes an acoustic piano so heavy. Now, with electronic technology, this sound can be replicated digitally and there is an option to increase the volume through external speakers.

In order for a student to learn the proper muscle memory needed to play a traditional acoustic piano, a weighted-key digital piano is the best choice for taking formal piano lessons.

A keyboard uses simple spring-action keys, so it takes less effort and strength to make a sound. It is also often much smaller, lighter and more affordable than a digital piano.  


What is the Difference in Size Between a Digital Piano and a Traditional Piano?

A traditional piano has 88 keys (52 white keys and 36 black keys). However, the very top and bottom octaves are rarely used, and these are the keys that most often go out of tune. Now, there are keyboards and digital pianos available with 88 keys, 72 keys, 66 keys, or even 44 or 32 keys.

Rather than the 700-pound monster that can only live in one spot, a full-sized digital piano on a stand is only 81 pounds. A 61-key portable keyboard weighs less than 10 pounds.

Many of these keyboards and digital pianos also have the option to run on batteries, making them easily transportable and playable anywhere.


What About Price?

Electronic pianos are much more affordable than their acoustic counterparts. A new acoustic piano will run you several thousand dollars, whereas you can get an electronic piano for a fraction of that.

If you are looking for a keyboard to learn basic piano notes or perhaps encourage a child’s interest in music, the CASIO CT-S200 61-KEY PORTABLE KEYBOARD is only $169.99. This great electronic piano can be rented for $10 per month. A purchase plan with very affordable monthly payments is also available.

Casio CT-S200 61-key Portable Keyboard


If you are looking for an instrument that looks and acts like a traditional acoustic upright piano, the Cadillac of digital pianos is the ROLAND LX706 , which comes with a stand and bench for $7499.99.  It is available in a number of different colours and finishes.

Roland LX706 Digital Piano


Considering that tuning an acoustic piano can cost up to $500/year, a digital piano will always be in tune and does not require the maintenance of a traditional acoustic. But wait, there’s more...

Modern keyboards or digital pianos are actually sophisticated machines that offer tons more cool features than simply playing piano sounds. There are often built-in voices to change the sound of the instrument to an organ, a trumpet, a glockenspiel, a kettle drum, and more. There are functions that allow you to play two different instrument sounds at the same time. With the simple push of a button, you can transpose the key of a song. There may be drum pads, a note bending dial, or pre-loaded play-along lessons. Some models even come with free software.  

Probably the best feature of an electronic keyboard or digital piano: IT CAN BE USED WITH HEADPHONES! No longer will the student’s housemates be tortured by listening to them learning Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, or stumbling through repeated scales. (Something to note: Long & McQuade also sells electronic drum kits that can be used with headphones too.)

So, which model is the best? This is a trick question. Because what you really need to ask is, which is the best model for your needs? Long & McQuade offers a large variety of electronic pianos in a wide variety of number of keys and prices. A good starting point can be found here, in this link!

If you have a student beginning lessons but aren’t yet sure that they will enjoy piano, probably the most common digital piano rented from Long & McQuade is the ROLAND FP-10 PORTABLE DIGITAL PIANO W/ SPEAKERS. At a rental rate of only $52/month, this instrument offers Roland’s trademark touch-detection technology, so it feels exactly like an acoustic piano.

Roland FP-10 Portable Digital Piano


And with Long & McQuade’s rental program, up to 60% of your rental payments will go towards purchasing the same instrument if you decide you want to keep it!

If you are on a budget and looking for an instrument that explores sounds beyond the basic traditional piano, the YAMAHA PSR-E737 61-KEY TOUCH RESPONSE PORTABLE KEYBOARD is only $16/month to rent, or $269.99 to buy. This instrument features 622 different voices, as well as 61 note touch sensitive keyboard. There are also 205 different styles of accompanying rhythms to choose from.  Even if your student doesn’t seem interested in actually pressing the keys, they are sure to enjoy pushing buttons to find different sounds and beats.

Yamaha PSR-E373 61-key Portable Touch Sensitive Keyboard

Then, there is the ‘new’ category of beyond the basic piano or keyboard or digital piano, and into the world of Pro Audio & Recording. Long & McQuade sells synthesizers, audio interfaces, MIDI controllers, and various other equipment that will allow the player to not only perform, but also create.

The best way to choose which keyboard or digital piano to get is to come into any Long & McQuade store location and try them out. Press keys, push buttons, hear what the organ voice sounds like, find the Bossa Nova rhythm, and ask employees which their favourite model is.

After a lot of research, reading reviews, and trying out some of our digital pianos through Long & McQuade’s rental program, I finally purchased a WILLIAMS ALLEGRO III 88 WEIGHTED-KEY DIGITAL PIANO to use for busking at the market. At $529, it was within my budget. At only 33 pounds, I can transport it in a wagon to travel to my performance location. As I can operate it on batteries, I don’t need to rely on being close to an electrical outlet. It has a full 88 key keyboard.

And most importantly for my needs, it feels like playing a regular acoustic piano.

Allegro III 88 Weighted-Key Digial Piano


Incidentally, I have also rented an awesome YORKVILLE SOUND EXM MOBILE8 MINI BATTERY POWERED PA (public address system) to plug my digital piano into so it can be heard over the shoppers, for only $34 a month. This speaker can be used with a Bluetooth microphone too.

Just like my Kindergarten teacher finally persuaded me that there are, in fact, more than 7 letters in the alphabet, Long & McQuade has finally persuaded me that even a traditionalist can enjoy playing a digital piano. You can find the perfect keyboard or digital piano you’re looking for at one of our store locations throughout Canada.

Now if only I could find a spot to put all my knick-knacks that I kept on top of my old acoustic piano!


– by Kate Bishop, Account Services Rep, Waterloo Long & McQuade

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