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Advice for a "beginner" digital piano around £400

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Hello. 

Something I have been pondering for quite a few years, is getting myself a digital piano. 
I used to play, lazily, when I was a child, but never reached any sort of decent standard, I think I finished up playing a few pieces around the Grade 3-4 borderline but no musical theory. I can still read music but am long out of practice. 

A long time ago the received wisdom was "don't spend less than £1000" but I gather that things have moved on and you can do fairly well for around £400-£500. I don't know if this is true but in any case that's my budget. Lower is good! As it might be a phase, and I don't want to end up too much out of pocket if i don't really pursue this. 

Tick-list:

- "Weighted" keys so it feels similar to a real piano
- Not a "keyboard controller" - I want it separated from computers, it is meant to be a diversion from screens etc. I am not currently interested in "making music", it's just for a pastime. 
- Can live without a stand for now, or just a basic "X" or "scissors" stand. Don't want a bulky "looks like a proper upright wooden piano" thing. 
- around the £400 mark. Please don't advise "you are wasting your time if you don't budget £3000". 
- purpose is to give myself some sort of mental exercise which is also tactile, as we (as a population) are said not to be using our hands as much as we used to. Consider this my knitting, or something, as I don't indulge in any handicrafts and I also don't do crosswords, Sudoku etc. I hope that playing music will be a nice brain stimulator, basically. 


I always thought "got to be the full 88 keys" but I'd be interested to hear the pros and cons of losing the bottom and top octaves. I am not playing any fancy stuff that ever goes to those, and a space saving might be nice. 

I Googled very briefly late last night and seemed to see a lot of "beginner" bundles at under £300, seems too good to be true....?

I have no rush on this, and second hand is fine but what do I need to look out for on second hand? Do the common keys start to wear out or are good digital pianos immortal?

Thanks!

Post edited at 10:53
In reply to Blue Straggler:

PS I can budge a little bit on budget. I understand that I'll need to budget for a good stool - that is separate, the numbers I am talking about are for the keyboard alone. Having had a think, I think now that I would regret not having the full 88 keys. And I understand that really, if I know sort-of what I am after, I should just go to a couple of shops and try out some. I'm just a bit embarrassed that I am so rusty, it'll look like I have no idea, when I do a test-play

In reply to Blue Straggler:

I have a cheap Casio, but my brother has a very good Yamaha (don't know the model), and on the basis of that, and everything I've heard from elsewhere, I'd say Yamaha is the make to go for. There seem to be a quite a few at around your price range.

I used to have a fine upright piano, but it was a bit anti-social to play in my terraced cottage, so I've lent it on a permanent loan to my local Ritz cinema. It's in the foyer and it's a joy to see some local talented people playing it.

 LucaC 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

You should be able to get a second hand Yamaha Clavinova for that sort of money. Theres a few on eBay to get you started looking. A lot of people won't post these (for obvious reasons) so you can sometimes get a bargain if it's local and easy to collect. They are great electric pianos to get started or practice on. All of them have headphone sockets too, so go to a music shop and try one out with the headphones on, then no one can hear your rusty playing!

 jonny taylor 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

My wife is a piano teacher and she recommends Yamaha for that sort of budget range.

 stevevans5 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Are you only interested in piano sounds? I would look at something like a second hand Yamaha P90, and some speakers to amplify (or some nice ish headphones). These have a lovely realistic piano sound and feel but some of the other sounds are not the best.  I've found the older/cheaper clavinova style digital pianos sound fairly uninspiring. 

 deacondeacon 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Ive recently (about a year ago) been through this exact process. Constant recommendations for the Roland fp-30 and I did a LOT of research and trying out different options from other manufacturers. I, went with the Roland and I love it. The piano quality, sound and key feel is defo better than other similar makes but they've saved money by having no digital display. Although I don't find it hinders me you can Bluetooth your phone to it to get a screen.

In reply to deacondeacon:

Thanks, I remembered someone had been asking this about a year ago but failed to find the thread! Happy to manage without a display. 

Thanks everyone for replies, all very useful and reassuring that my price bracket is "OK", which I think maybe was my main reason for posting. 
Elsewhere a friend reminded me to check for polyphony so I'll do that. 

Might start "physical" research in shops at the weekend (any recommendations Nottingham/Leicester/Derby? I can Google of course but if anyone knows a particularly good or bad one, let me know! I can't think of any pitfalls, they are just selling me a standard product after all!)
 Seems sensible to stick to Yamaha, Roland or Korg, and to consider Casio. 

Deadeye 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

My son went for a Yamaha and has been delighted.

In reply to Blue Straggler:

> Might start "physical" research in shops at the weekend (any recommendations Nottingham/Leicester/Derby?

>  Seems sensible to stick to Yamaha, Roland or Korg, and to consider Casio. 

Ha! I didn't expect to get far on day 1 of asking around but somehow I seem to have already narrowed it all down to two models - Roland FP30 and Casio Privia PX-160!

Will visit shops on Saturday hopefully

 Phil Anderson 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I was in exactly the position you're in a while back and went for the Yamaha P-45, which I really like. It's VERY bare bones, but if you just want an electric piano that has a decent keyboard and sounds like a piano then you could do a lot worse. I bought the better pedal recently and am very glad I did as the one that comes with isn't brilliant.

With respect, I'd suggest you might want to try as many as you can, hands-on, before you start to narrow down your search as weight and feel can be a very personal thing. 

In reply to Phil Anderson:

> With respect, I'd suggest you might want to try as many as you can, hands-on, before you start to narrow down your search as weight and feel can be a very personal thing. 

Oh, sure! That's why I was so surprised to find myself this afternoon looking at two! 
I will definitely try a few in the range, and am certainly not ruling anything out just because my initial "sweep" of opinions (here and elsewhere) didn't flag them up. 

Am seeing a fascinating variation in pricing, by the way, on the same models in different shops very near each other! 
 

Thanks

 deacondeacon 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Pricing seems to be all over the place on instruments! The piano world forum is good for reviews there are some good comparison threads. Try fp30 vs casio privia. There will defo be threads comparing them

In reply to deacondeacon:

I chanced upon pianodreams which is like a review blog sort of thing. The chap writes very well, well enough to convince me. But yes I'll check that forum. Of course it can be easy to get caught up in reviews. I think I am going to visit a shop in Lincoln on Saturday which is priced at the high end but he has a couple of the Casios listed on eBay (one ex-display with some marks) and more importantly has both the Casio and the Roland in stock. If I like the Casio well enough I might buy on the day. If I prefer the Roland I may have to negotiate (he is £130 dearer than PMT which admittedly seems like a "Go Outdoors" kind of business model - pile them high and all that - but still....). I'll try other stuff in store too, there may be sale stuff that is not on the websites. May also go into one of the bigger "warehouse" type shops in Nottingham and try a few more out. 
 

 Snyggapa 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

eBay and a well looked after Yamaha dgx might suit. Half your budget if you are lucky.

 deacondeacon 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Tbh I'd expect you'll be fine with any of them. If any of them were crap you'd have picked up on it by reading the reviews by now. Probably best to just try a load and see which one feels/sounds right.

Enjoy

I can't walk past mine without having a little play, and I still have a lesson every week. I thought I'd have packed  but pretty sure I'm a lifer now! 

In reply to deacondeacon:

Now looks like, instead, a trip to Bonners in Milton Keynes!

The Casio seems to mostly have been superseded by another model which amongst other things is only 9" deep, which is attractive. Bonners also have the Roland FP30 and the Kawai ES110 in stock, amongst loads of others. 
This is good, saves me an awful lot of busking around between towns! I'll just bed in at Bonners for the day and play lots of pianos badly  

 philipivan 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I had similar thoughts recently. I wanted a real piano really but due to not knowing what to look for I ended up going for digital upright as a safer bet. I got a Yamaha arius ypd 143 on Ebay for around 400 pounds. It plays very similar to a real piano and sounds similar/ identical to me too. I don't use any of the features, I think having the full range of keys is a must but not sure what you want to play. It sounds very nice when my piano teacher plays it! 

Good luck in your search, I found a couple of real piano refurbishers around Nottingham but not anyway particularly awesome for digital keyboards. Second hand made sense for me as I'm pretty sure resale would be easy  ( unlike a real piano)

In reply to philipivan:

Thanks Philip. Sounds like you are happy enough with your purchase! Did you have a lot of time of not playing, and are you now playing regularly?

I thought this was going to be a gentle quest over several months. It now looks like I will be choosing between three specific ones, plus having a look at whatever Yamahas are in range, on Saturday, and buying one (maybe even coming home with it if I can fit it in the car!). Which is a nice surprise. Usually I overthink and procrastinate, you should have seen me choosing a wrist watch in 2016, ridiculous! 

 keith hal 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I've used a Casio Privia(helping my daughter to learn) And I also have a Casio Celviano at home. Not much of a player but I think they are value for money with a reasonable action. 

In reply to keith hal:

Thanks. Some criticism of the Casio I am planning to look at, is that the keys are a little stiff if you try to play near the pivot. However I don't think I'll be playing such difficult pieces as to require that; and I am sure that if I do get to such a level, I'll adapt especially as I'll have known nothing else. This criticism does not apply, I guess, to your models. It's specific to the shallow depth of the PX S1000. 

I saw a nice offer on a used Celviano but that was a full-on fixed upright, a heavy and "serious" thing. Looked lovely though! 

In reply to LucaC:

Another vote for a second-hand Clavinova. It is in a totally different league to the cheap budget stuff, which will never satisfy you.

In reply to John Stainforth:

What is your definition of "cheap budget stuff", please, John? 

 

Post edited at 22:55
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I paid about £400 few years back for one from Gear4music.com (their own branded ones) and it has been brilliant.

 philipivan 07 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I had played keyboard a little bit before as well as self taught guitar, bass, banjo, etc. I saw it as an opportunity to get some lessons and learn "properly" I play most days now 3 months on. Probably 4-5 hours a week. Have made more progress than expected and really enjoy having a good teacher! 

In reply to philipivan:

Thanks. I had not really properly thought about getting a teacher when I started this thread yesterday (aside from the notion of getting some refresher lessons from an acquaintance who I’ve learned has long ago moved away from the area!) but now I am considering it 

In reply to mick taylor:

Thanks Mick. 

 ElArt 07 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler: I bought the FP10 because the action of the keys allows better natural expression.
 

Its excellent but would consider a second hard FP30 as it has more sounds. 

Good luck. 

In reply to ElArt and thread in general:

interestingly the second hand prices on the sort of models I am considering, are barely much different than the new ones! It looks like I’ll be buying new unless something comes up that is fairly convenient and worth the “bother” 

 deacondeacon 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

How did you get on at the weekend?  

 Xharlie 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I am pretty much in the same boat as you are -- also a lapsed pianist, having played RSM grade 4 as a teenager, in school, and barely touched a keyboard for at least 20 years -- but my budget is much much higher so not so much of my research is relevant but perhaps you might find some of it to be useful.

On the sounds:

I actively don't like the Roland sound. I don't know if this statement holds for their older approaches but their newer products are not sampled like most digital instruments but rather simulate the physical piano and produce sound signals from that simulation. As a computer scientist, I find this approach to be fascinating and undeniably "cool" but, as a musician, I find the result to be underwhelming, uncanny and awfully "boring" and "clean". (Your mileage may vary.)

Both Kawai and Yamaha produce world-respected concert grands and both of them know a fair amount about sampling their concert grands and using those samples to produce mind-blowing digital instruments. Choosing between them is a matter of taste -- they're both brilliant.

On the actions:

Between Kawai and Yamaha, I find the Kawai actions to be the better. The Yamaha actions just aren't as smooth and linear at the very beginning of the key depression -- particularly if you're playing white notes near the back of the key.

Apart from this difference, they're both fine. Both makers can produce realistic imitations of proper piano keys, both of them do a good job of emulating the escapement mechanism and, certainly, I've played real uprights in school music rooms that were far nastier than these digital facsimiles of today.

Plenty of better pianists have NO issues with the Yamaha feel. My preference is certainly for Kawai but your mileage may vary.

On internal speakers:

Digital pianos without internal speakers are annoying in the extreme. Internal speakers can also be annoying, poor quality or the cause of buzzes. There's no way to win, here -- just be aware that internal speakers both are and aren't a good idea.

If you only intend to play for yourself, just go with good headphones and waive the requirement for any speakers at all. If you already have a sound-system or speaker setup in the room in which you intend to play, consider just using those. If neither of the above apply, you'll probably need internal speakers within your budget range -- test them thoroughly for misbehaviour, particularly if you're buying a second-hand instrument.

On the topic of "furniture" digital pianos:

These look pretty. They also sound pretty -- they have a lot more mass to resonate with the sounds they emit from their internal speakers so I suppose that that plays a part. However, I'm pretty damn sure that I don't want to be carrying these -- or even bits of these -- up and down stairs.

I also question how well they retain their pretty good looks after one or two house moves.

If you're buying a digital instrument and it isn't portable, I can't really see the point anymore. (Disclaimer: this opinion might be influenced by my planned, upcoming house-move requirements.)

My personal opinion is this: buy a military-grade metal job and put it on a bomber stand. Robustness over aesthetics.

2
 Mike Peacock 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I have a Yamaha P95 which I bought from a friend, so I'm not sure what it cost new as they don't make them anymore (I'd gess a few hundred pounds). But I've been happy with it. It's relatively narrow so doesn't take up too much space, and has a good key action and a lovely sound (even better when played on headphones). It doesn't have a digital display which doesn't bother me in the slightest. When it comes time to upgrade I'll likely stick with Yamaha. For your price range you can certainly buy something that should keep you happy.

In reply to all responders:

Thanks everyone for helpful input on this thread. 

I visited Bonners Piano Centre in Milton Keynes on Saturday and had a more-interesting-than-expected session there. 

I really thought that as I can barely play, I would not really detect much difference in key action or sound or any "intangibles", between the obvious candidates in my price range (I had checked that they have a Kawai ES110, Casio PX S1000, Roland FP 30 and Yamaha P125 in stock, and they did, and also a cheaper Korg B2 (£320)


I took some of my own books of sheet music from my childhood in there without much of a plan, and slowly and very rustily started to pick my way through some basic easy stuff. My playing is a lot more rusty than even I thought it was! I'd spend a couple of days last week fretting, feeling daunted at going into a proper piano shop and looking like I don't know what I am doing, but it was fine - I am sure there are many customers just like me (comments on this thread suggest this). 

From all my reading up last week, I had a feeling I was going to "fall in love" with the Casio. 

I absolutely didn't. I am sure it is a fine instrument, there was just something intangible about it that I didn't like - really can't say what it was, but to be honest I was glad to get rid of a candidate quite quickly!

Where it got interesting for me was in how to evaluate them. A good pianist in my position would have gone in with maybe 3 diverse recital pieces in mind and played them perfectly a few times on each candidate piano and made a decision in maybe 20 minutes. 

My problem was that I am so rusty that my playing kept improving with each run-through!
So if I hadn't liked a piano, then went to two more to play, I would have to go back to first in order to make sure that it wasn't just my struggling that was the problem. 
So I was in there for three hours  
After a while I settled on just repeating the same piece, to make the fairest "scientific" comparison. Just a Grade 2 thing, the ubiquitous Minuet in G from Anna Magdelena Bach's notebook (but ascribed to JS). 
Rotating round these five pianos and to my great surprise, actually picking up the instruments' nuances. 

So I didn't like the Korg's design, or its too-bassy speakers, and its keys felt weirdly too chunky. 
The Kawai and the Yamaha seemed fine, preferred the Yamaha as the Kawai keys seemed to have inconsistently sized gaps between them and it felt a bit "wrong". 

I was testing everything with speakers on (low volume!) and on the default piano sound. I know you can customise the "brightness" of tone on all these but I didn't want to get into all that otherwise it would have been a very long day. This does mean that possibly I am a bit unfair on the Yamaha and Kawai by saying they did seem a bit more "bright" than I'd like, given that I could change that. 

But it was the Roland that I kept wanting to go back to whenever I was playing any of the others. Somehow I seemed to play a little bit better on it, I liked its sound, I liked its feel, and it looks nice. 

So I am buying one of those. 

Minor fly in the ointment is that on Saturday night I spotted that another shop had that model as a refurb (looks "as new") for about 20% lower price or in absolute terms, £90 less (no pedal, and 12 month guarantee instead of 3 years). This put me in a bit of a quandary but in the end I am ordering a brand new one from the shop I was in. Not out of "guilt" for taking up their time (they were not busy, they really didn't have to do much with me apart from turn the things on, and they didn't offer me a tea or coffee...and they sell £30000 pianos...) but just because I think the risk of regret if something goes wrong with the refurb after 15 months, is a bit high, and yeah a little bit of "feels like the honourable thing". 


If anyone following this thread IS interested in an as-new refurb Roland FP30 at £381, it's at Sound Affects in Ormskirk. 

I am just getting the keyboard for now, as I have not yet decided how to site it in my house and I don't know if I might be able to get away with no stand or stool at least in the beginning. 

Exciting times!

 

In reply to Xharlie:

Very interesting points. Funny that it was the Roland sound that I liked best, and also their key action. As you say - mileage may vary, and this just shows how subjective it can be!

You've confirmed my thoughts about "furniture" pianos although the bespoke stand for the Roland FP-30 doesn't look too intrusive. 

Thanks

In reply to Blue Straggler:

One more thing, in my OP I mention maybe making do with a slightly shorter keyboard ie not the full 88 because I thought I would t play pieces that go to the extreme octaves. Well guess what, that old standard that is just about grade 3, “Bagatelle Fur Elise”, dips into the top octave. And if that does, then I bet plenty of “easy” pieces do!

 doz generale 14 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I have a real piano and a Korg sp280 digital for practicing on when everyone else is sick of hearing me. My real piano is an octave short, half an octave missing from each end. I'm Currently playing at about grade 7 standard and so far I've only had one piece which I ran out of keys for. Fur Elise is within range of my piano with half an octave missing.

For me I've always preferred the sound of Roland or Korg. However, you cant beat the sound and feel of a real piano, especially playing anything pianissimo.  

In reply to doz generale:

>  Fur Elise is within range of my piano with half an octave missing.

Thanks. It is possible that I misread my music and got lost, or is it more a case that it has one note in the lower half of the top octave?

I am not trying to "beat the sound and feel of a real piano". 

 

 doz generale 14 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I think perhaps it just reaches the bottom half of the top octave, i'll check later when i'm in front of the piano. From memory the high part is just before the last section. a rising set of arpegios followed by a descending chromatic scale back to the classic fur elise riff. Great piece of music! It's one that I learned on returning to the piano after a 30 year gap.

 deacondeacon 14 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I had pretty much the same experience as you. Spent about 3 hours trying the keyboards and the fp-30 repeatedly drew me back to it. Mainly the 'feel' of it as I couldn't play much more than Three Blind Mice back then but as the shop was quiet the guy gave me lots of demonstrations.

I initially bought just the keyboard but upgraded to the stand, then the pedals on my birthday and Christmas. The pedal supplied with the fp-30 is crap so if you're at a level where you use a pedal bear this in mind. 

 SAF 14 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I paid around £600 for a Roland F50 in 2003. It's still working now, although gets fairly infrequent use.

It was a basic digital piano then in the sense that it had a very simple stand (now disposed of as we have built a shelf for it in an alcove), no real internal recording capabilities just a midi output, and separate pedals, but it did have fully weighted hammer action keys, and as a Roland piano the note sounds are sampled off a Steinway. 

When I got it I was playing music from the grade 8/ diploma syllabus and it was totally adequate.

Post edited at 20:27
 Xharlie 15 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

> Very interesting points. Funny that it was the Roland sound that I liked best, and also their key action. As you say - mileage may vary, and this just shows how subjective it can be!

Indeed. In the end, music is about taste and expression so buy (and play) what YOU like.

> You've confirmed my thoughts about "furniture" pianos although the bespoke stand for the Roland FP-30 doesn't look too intrusive.

My wife's a massive fan of the "furniture" or "cabinet" design but even she agrees that even the best looking wooden box is going to look properly shite as soon as it's scratched or dinged a few times -- fine for a permanent fixture in a sedate living room but not at all appropriate for close-quarters city living in the "gear staging area" cross "war zone" that ours really is. And that's not to mention the probability of ruining it in a move.

In reply to doz generale:

> Great piece of music! 

It is, isn't it (Fur Elise). I think at least in my childhood it was overused everywhere, of course every piano pupil was learning it and I got tired of it and then whenever I heard a bit of on television or in a film I'd think "oh REALLY?!" but actually playing it - well, muddling through sections of it, all piecemeal - on Saturday I thought it was "good value" with a bit of everything - the main arpeggio motif, some cheeky trills, the left hand joining the treble clef, possibly some crossed hands or was that CPE Bach's Solfeggietto. 

Actually I even thought the more basic (easy Grade 2?) JS Bach Menuet in G (Anh116) from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach was surprisingly good value (it's the one being played somewhat expressionlessly here and possibly with a little mistake?). This is the one I settled on for testing out the pianos. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CalTyLWy6gg&

In reply to deacondeacon:

> The pedal supplied with the fp-30 is crap so if you're at a level where you use a pedal bear this in mind. 

Thanks! A strong recommendation is the M-Audio SP-2 so I will get that. It is a single sustain pedal, well build with proper realistic action, and only £14. If I feel a need to get a three-pedal set at some point. I will do so. 

Pedals start to be used at quite an easy level!

Post edited at 09:15
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Today’s “well DUHHH” revelation is that a boxed new Roland FP-30 won’t fit into the passenger seat of a Nissan 350Z. Who’d have thought it?!

(sorted by unboxing and repackaging more ergonomically!)

Piano safely home and currently sitting nicely on a big desk. 

This thread is virtually finished but one thing I've learned in the last couple of days with respect to "let's see if we can at least at first get on without a stand and stool" is that all standard pianos have the top of the white keys between 28" and 29" off the floor, and you adjust the stool to accommodate this. 

I am of average build and height. 

All of my "make do" options are about 2.5" too high and to be honest I already felt this on my first practice session last night. I will be investing in an adjustable stand and adjustable stool as I intend to spend time sitting at the piano and I don't want to get bad posture and even back ache, from it. 

I would factor these items in to any budget. Your mileage may vary, and one could argue that maybe I should just fashion some sort of little platform for my chair and pedal to make all the relative heights OK, but that's a mess TBH. 
 

Post edited at 11:19
 SAF 16 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/p/kullaberg-stool-pine-black-10363651/

This is what I have, it's cheap and available mail order. It's a little fiddly to change the height, but easy enough and has a good range of adjustability.

In reply to SAF:

Thanks, hopefully I am sorted for everything now !


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