While many people may believe that the digital piano is a more modern development, its history started in 1946 when Harold Rhodes with the United States Army’s Air Corps started looking for a portable option that he could easily move between locations. Rhodes had already become an important musician, and he wanted a way to share his knowledge with the troops as they recovered following World War II.
Soon, he developed a model that included 72 keys and an integrated digital speaker. He then took his ideas to legendary musician Leo Fender. Together, the two men developed an 88 key model with added sounds. Since then, the digital piano has been improved many times over.
Finding the Best
After testing several digital pianos, we narrowed the competition down to just six. In the end, we believe that the best digital piano under $1000 (at time of publishing) is the Korg LP 180 because of its realistic piano sounds across its 88 weighted keys.
Top Pick: Korg LP 180Buy from Amazon
The naturally-weighted keys hit exactly the right pitch and felt like a grand piano with realistically-weighted and adjustable keys. We found the level of quality unmatched though there are a lot of good pianos to choose from, resulting in it being our top recommendation.
During research, we reached out to Dr. Kay Williams at Abilene Christian University who has over 25 years of teaching piano and to Robert Tucker who is the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Hardin-Simmons University.
I have also been friends with several church keyboard musicians who have shared their knowledge with us. In particular, we would like to thank Will Baker who served for five years as the music director at Abundant Life Church in Brownwood, Texas and is a high school band teacher.
How to Choose a Great Digital Piano
The key to buying a great keyboard without spending more than $1,000 is to decide on the characteristics that the keyboard must have to make you happy. Manufacturers often love to add bells and whistles that you are unlikely to use or that are duplicates of equipment that you already own.
Number of Keys
The larger the number of keys, the happier you will be with the digital piano because you will be able to play more complex tunes. Ideally, you will find a keyboard that has 88 keys as that is what is found on a regular piano. There are 52 regular keys and 36 black keys. Never settle for a keyboard that has less than five full octaves because they do not provide enough flexibility, even for the beginner.
Keys of Standard Width
While all the keys on your digital piano will not be the same size, look for keys that are the same size as those found on a piano. Unfortunately, some manufacturers in an effort to cut down on the instrument’s size and weight provide very small keys. That makes it tough to transfer the knowledge that you gain to a piano. Therefore, all keys should measure approximately 22 millimeters across.
Keys with Weighted Action
While you may find slightly different names, digital pianos contain one of three key types. If you enjoy the sound and feel of a grand piano, then look for those that are weighted. Alternatively, if the sound of an upright piano is more to your liking, then consider hammered keys. Instruments that have no weight at all make it very difficult to move from the digital piano to a real piano if the need arises.
Other Features to Consider
About 95 percent of the time, you will probably use the digital keyboard on the acoustical piano setting. The other 5 percent, you will use four or five other sounds such as:
- Fender Rhodes Acoustic Piano
- Fender Rhodes Acoustic PianoHammond B-3 jazz organ
- Hammond B-3 jazz organ
- Acoustical nylon-string guitar
- Electrical bass
- Acoustical bass
Manufacturers often add many different instrument sounds when you will never use them. They also often charge more for these options you will never use.
Digital keyboards often have split keyboards allowing the player to assign one part of the keyboard to one instrument and another part of the keyboard to a different instrument. Choose keyboards with dual-modal layering when possible allowing the player to control the volume of the different sounds. Watch the polyphony of the instrument because this is the number of sounds that the digital piano plays at one time.
It is nearly impossible to play music without a sustain pedal. Therefore, make sure that the instrument that you buy has one as it sustains the notes that the instrument plays. When you can find one within the price range, then choose one that has a half-dampen option. It is nice also to have a second pedal allowing the instrument to be played quietly.
After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.
|Instrument||Key Feature||Current Pricing|
|The sounds coming from the onboard speakers are clean and full||
|This instrument achieves 128 note polyphony along with a 25 step transposer||
|This instrument offers split layering and over 151 different instruments||
|This keyboard gives players the ability to split or layer music to create unique pieces that they will enjoy playing||
|Produces a very realistic piano sound from this 88 key digital piano|
|This instrument allows players to easily layer instruments to create different sounds||
Our Top Digital Piano Recommendations
We have searched high and low to bring you keyboards under $1,000 (at time of publishing). Each keyboard will delight you in their functionality while sticking to your budget.
Top Pick: The Korg LP 180
Our top recommendation is the Korg LP 180. This instrument, available in both black and white, provides very realistic piano sounds across its keyboard. The naturally-weighted keys are mimicking the touch of a real piano. Each of the 88 keys hit exactly the right pitch. The sounds coming from the onboard speakers are clean and full.
Unless one is going to use this instrument in a much larger venue, there is no need for additional amplification. Playing this instrument with its realistically weighted keyboard is very similar to playing an acoustic piano. Players can set the keyboard to respond to their natural touch choosing between light, heavy and medium settings.
This instrument offers 120 sound polyphony when the stereo sound is turned off and 60-sound polyphony when it is turned on, so playing any tune is incredibly easy. This instrument features two acoustic pianos, two electric pianos, a pipe organ, a vibraphone, a harpsichord and strings giving the player plenty of options. It also features reverb and chorus effects with a set depth.
This unit features three pedals allowing players to choose between soft, sostenuto and dampen. Players have the option of using the half-pedal allowing them even more control over the digital keyboard’s sound.
Including the stand, this keyboard measures 53.74 by 10.79 by 30.75 inches and weighs 51.37 pounds, so most players can easily transport this instrument from home to lessons or from home to play with friends. Two headphone jacks ensure that players can practice when they want without disturbing the rest of the house.
This is an entry-level model, so it does not include any layering effects. While Koenig may not be a household name, they have been producing digital pianos for over 25 years. Their quality across their entire line is well loved by musicians of all playing capabilities.
Current Amazon.com price:
If this instrument had been any lighter, it could have easily topped the list. When fully assembled, it weighs 90 pounds and the packaging and accessories weighs another sixty. If you do not plan on moving your keyboard, then this may be the perfect solution for you.
It is easy to hear the music coming from this 88 key digital piano because of the 8-watt, 12-centimeter speakers. This instrument produces clear sounds because of the Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator System that plays clearly regardless of how hard or soft the players tap the keys. This Casio instrument has ten different instruments with the ability to layer sounds allowing two players to play at the same time.
Creating a natural ambiance is easy because this instrument features four different types of reverb built into it. You can transfer songs directly to your computer from this digital keyboard because of its MIDI capabilities. This instrument achieves 128 note polyphony along with a 25 step transposer. This machine comes with three pedals and the ability to half-dampen.
Current Amazon.com price:
If you are looking for a digital piano that has many bells and whistles, then the Yamaha DGX-660 may be the perfect choice for you. This digital keyboard offers graded-hammer standard touch ensuring that it feels comfortable under any player’s fingering. The damper pedal, the only one available, offers sympathetic vibration between the piano’s keys.
Players can use Yamaha MusicSoft to see favorite songs on the clear LCD display. Smart Chord allows players to play a single note with their left hand while the instrument plays a complete chord. This instrument offers split layering and over 151 different instruments. This Yamaha features over 100 different songs, but it will not record or playback music created by the player.
Current Amazon.com price:
Parents who are looking for a digital piano for a new student need to take a close look at the Williams Legato 88-Key Digital Piano. This keyboard features semi-weighted keys, so it will be easy for the student to move on to a piano if they desire. While this is a basic model, it has the five most commonly played sounds that even experienced players use about 95 percent of the time.
This keyboard gives players the ability to split or layer music to create unique pieces that they will enjoy playing. A built-in metronome helps new students keep perfect time. Reverb and chorus effects can be applied to each layer independently. The polyphony of this instrument is only 32 notes, but that is more than enough for a beginning student. This instrument comes with only five preset songs forcing players to learn to make their music quickly.
Current Amazon.com price:
The Kawai ES110, new for 2017, is a great choice for beginners who can use the instrument’s lesson button to quickly master the instrument. This is a no-frills keyboard from a company who has been making pianos for more than 120 years. This keyboard provides listening enjoyment through two 7 inch speakers. A special slot allows players to hook this instrument up to a public address system. Players can choose from 100 different drum rhythms helping to keep their music lively.
Lighter than the ES100 by a few kg (3kg to be exact), it does not seem to comprise quality. The ES110 also comes with updated action, called “Responsive Hammer Compact Action.”
The Harmonic Imaging sound engine produces a very realistic piano sound from this 88 key digital piano. This keyboard features a fully adjustable sustain pedal along with a special plug for additional pedals. The addition of fallback hammer noises and damper rail noises makes the grand piano sound even more realistic.
A polyphony of 192 notes makes this one of the best sounding instruments available today for fast tempo pieces. Nineteen different sounds, including eight grand pianos and three electric pianos, allow players to choose from a variety of options.
Current Amazon.com price:
If you love technology, then the Roland F-20 digital keyboard may be the perfect solution for you. iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch apps allow you to play along with your favorite musicians. Use another app on your iPad to learn basic piano techniques. This instrument allows players to easily layer instruments to create different sounds. A dampen pedal allows the player the option to use it halfway.
Six piano sounds, seven electric pianos, and 23 other instruments provide players with many different options. The built-in rhythm section intellectually follows the player’s ability. Players can connect USB memory devices to save the music they create. This instrument weighs just a little over 44 pounds making it easy to transport.
Current Amazon.com price:
- Casio AP250 Review. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.digitalpianoreviewguide.com/casio-celviano-ap-250-review/
- History of the Electric Piano. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2016, from http://www.electricpianos.com/history-of-electric-pianos
- Houston, S. (n.d.). Five Things You Need To Know When Buying A Digital Piano or Keyboard. Retrieved November 26, 2016, from https://www.pianoinaflash.com/blog/5-things-you-need-to-know-when-buying-a-digital-piano-or-keyboard/