Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Portable Piano Buying Guide

Dear Fellow Friend of the Piano:

I recently received a few questions about what kind of
portable piano I use and recommend today. So I'd like
to address that. Please keep in mind that

1) I do not represent myself as any kind of an expert
when it comes to "gear." So what you get here is just
my humble opinion based on very little first hand
knowledge. And

2) I'm not getting paid to endorse anything, nor am I
an affiliate of a piano company, nor will I get
commissions, kick-backs, spiffs or anything like that.
So here you get my total unbiased ignorance. It's a
buying guide. Just in time for Christmas.

With that in mind, with regard to portable pianos,
people generally are looking for one or more of the
following features.

number of keys
portability (light weight)

Keep in mind you will not get all these features in any
piano, so we have to make some sacrifices.

Here are the things that are important to me.

number of keys - it's got to be 88 for me. I'm spoiled.
I won't play on anything less. If you feel you want to
compromise and save a little money, fine. Get a 73.
That's six octaves. Avoid the 63 jobs unless you share
a bedroom with Harry Potter or you really need the 10
bucks you're going to save by buying it over the 73.

weighted keys - it's got to feel like a piano to me,
not like an organ. The piano is a percussion
instrument, and the keys are weighted and things like
the velocity and force of striking a key are important.
There is no portable piano (save the Yamaha Grand if
they still make that, and it takes two people to carry
it so it isn't really portable anyway) that has truly
weighted keys. But some do a good job of mimicking the
weighted keys. If that's important to you too, insist
on weighted keys. Units with weighted keys start around
$600 and go up. Way up. And only 88 key pianos have a
chance of being weighted.

durability - I need a portable piano for gigs. Not that
I play a lot of them anymore, but when I do, I need
something that's going to withstand the rigors of
hauling around. Otherwise I just stay home and play my
Kawaii grand piano which is my preference anyway.
Really durable road worthy portables start costing
$1500 and up.

portability - I want to be able to put
everything--piano, amp, stands, electronics--in the
back of my sports sedan. Most full size, weighted
pianos are about the same size, so size is rarely an
issue. Some weigh more than others. Put my portable
keyboard into a road case, and it takes two people to
carry it.

price - I am basically cheap. Really cheap. But I
learned long ago not to cheap out on musical
instruments. The good news is that the piano industry
is very competitive and it's electronic technology,
which means prices tend to reflect value, and they tend
to keep coming down. Think of what a plasma TV cost 10
years ago, vs. now. If you're a pro and are always
lugging your gear around, pay more for the quality.
Otherwise, if you're looking for a keyboard to put in
your apartment for occasional use, you can economize.

features - This is the least important thing to me. I
am a piano player. So I want my portable to sound like
a piano. I don't need the sound of a trumpet, flute,
violin, the Vienna Boys Choir, outer space aliens,
submerged lemmings, arpeggios (I'll make my own,
thanks), transposers (I confess I use them sometimes,
but rarely), keyboard splitters (ditto, especially if
there is a need for a bass player), recorders, demo
players, celery choppers, capuccino makers, game
controllers, etc. on my piano. I do use electronic
piano and organ sounds occasionally, however. But I
could live without them.

OK. So what portables have what? Again, I'm limited to
what I know. And that isn't very much.

Weighted keys. Got to go with 88. You can get a Casio
Privia starting at $600. Lots of features, relatively
light weight, but not too durable. I've had problems
when pushing it to its limits. Otherwise, it's a good
little unit.

Durability is a good thing. Unfortunately it also comes
with weight and price. My Fatar keyboard has lasted 15
years already. But it's heavy, and on top of that, it
doesn't have an amp (another 50 lbs), or even
electronics. I have to have another plug in unit just
to have any sounds. That's the price you pay.

portability - there again if you want it to be light
you have to put up with flimsy.

price - you get what you pay for

features - most units have most of the gadgets. The
reason these pianos have them is that it allows sales
people in music stores who have limited piano playing
skills to impress unwary customers with a snazzy demo.
But what you are buying is a musical instrument that is
there for you to play and learn to play. After
mastering your third Hanon exercise, the snazzy demos
are long forgotten.

One other item that you might find useful if you're
really into the computer thing. I have a 60 key MIDI
keyboard that attaches to my computer via a USB cable.
If you use music software, such as Garage Band, you may
want such a unit even though it's not really a
performance oriented instrument. But its applications
are virtually limitless. The only limits are on your

Holiday Cheers,


P.S. Is Instant Piano Courseware on your Christmas shopping
list? If so, there's still time to order. All orders received
go out the same or the following business day.

Here's a convenient Product Finder to help guide you.




  1. Great post, as usual Robert. Interestingly when I heard this story on the news, I immediately thought of you.

    Best to you and yours over the holidays and into the new year.


  2. I have been looking for a solution to the portability issue vs performance for some time now.

    I currently have the Privia as the main solution as in addition to all of the features that you mentioned it also allows for an attachment that allows one to perform as if you have all three pedals that are on a grand piano.

    I would give honorable mention to the Orla. This is an Italian firm that make wonderful organ interfaces. The only draw backs with this unit compared to the Privia is that is was not scaled across the 88 keys to function as an acoustic piano does, IE I had to attempt to retrain my left hand to play with less pressure and it was twice as heavy.

    I sill have a Fender Rhodes that has midi interface. But only move it out of the house when I am getting Paid to do so.

  3. Great post. I use to have an x50 korg keyboard. It was a great keyboard. It only weighed 9 pounds. It had two handle. One on each side of the keyboard. It must use an amp. I had to sell it for personal reasons. It cost me $700 3 years ago at Sam ash. Not all light weighted keyboards are bad. Miriam

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