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Choosing a traveling (Portable) digital piano for myself

digital piano panorama

Apologetically, I must admit that as an acoustic piano purist, I often need an electronic when I’m doing a dinner party gig and there’s no viable alternative. The house piano might be virtually impossible to play or there’s no real piano on the premises.

And while I love my Yamaha Arius YDP-141 for its touch/tonal dimension, its console size impedes easy transport to venues outside the home.

So that’s why I found myself at Guitar Center in neighboring Emeryville scoping out various hammer-weighted digitals. (By the way, I’m planning a jaunt to the Pre-school across the fence from my pea-pod size apartment, so the portable will be perfect for the occasion. I will give the little ones a small dose of Kabalevsky Children’s pieces, while adding in a few Schumann Album for the Young miniatures)

To cut a long story short, I wanted to share my Guitar Center excursion and why I picked and purchased the digital that I did:

Fur Elise

Finally, Yamaha P-115 is definitely the best bang for the buck!

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Steinway and Sons is sold, and the digitals are probably having a party

It was no surprise to read about Steinway selling out to Kohlberg and Company .. Why? because, 1) who has the money to buy a pricey grand 2) Digitals are turning acoustics into dinosaurs.

If I were purist and dismissed all my students who had electronics, I’d be catapulted into bankruptcy.

In all candor, I use my Yamaha Arius 141 as my back-up to two closely-spaced Steinway pianos that eat up most of my living area.

2 Steinway pianos

Add in the kitchen-placed digital, and I have nowhere to sleep and eat.

Yamaha Arius 141 in kitchen

In the past few years I’ve down-sized from 3,000 square feet, to 1300 to about 700. Do the math.

Still, I would rather sleep under the piano, than have it replaced with a fancy, free-standing digital console, even a pricey, glitzy one that’s advertised as a real piano equivalent plus! (Don’t believe it)

But I’m practical. Living cozily beside neighbors who aren’t thrilled with middle of the night, or predawn practicing, I use my Arius to maximum advantage.. like this morning.

I was up at 4 a.m. and itching to practice my Schumann Kinderszenen–especially the newest one–“Knight of the Rocking Horse.”

Decked in earphones, I was ready to tackle the latest finger-tripper.

Incidentally, by the time, I took out my camcorder to capture the event, the sun had risen, so I unleashed Ari.(at half-volume)

Here’s the day’s awakening in prep for my transition to Steinway M–

And the acoustic transfer:

Knight of the Rocking Horse by Schumann

To wit, the popularity of digitals is revealed in the following You Tube I posted about two years ago comparing Roland to Yamaha.

Would the same audience amass to watch me sampling a Steinway beside a Baldwin?

If so, there’s a shred of hope about the future of acoustic pianos, notwithstanding news of the Steinway and Sons sale.

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A pre-dawn digital piano work-out (Yamaha Arius 141)

Digitals have a snug and secure place in my new, pint-size Bezerkeley apartment. It’s because noise ordinances drastically alter my playing opportunities. I can’t practice after 10 p.m. or before 9 a.m.

So how do I handle unbridled musical passion in the off hours?

Simple! I grab the nearest set of earphones, and saddle up with my Yamaha Arius 141 digital console.

No infomercial, please!


Yesterday, an old Haydn Sonata in D Major, (Hob XVI 37 ) dating to my high school days, popped back into my life, and to say that it was technically challenging would be an understatement.

Yet, the closest I’d get my hands on it, was at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m.

Not a problem…

With Sennheisers within easy reach, I was in full gear in my cozy space.

So here’s a snatch of video with technique-based applications to the Haydn.

And now Papa’s sonata, in the light of day, as played on my Steinway:


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The view in my living room with an iMac, Tripod, Three Pianos, and Aiden cat

This about sums it up. Now that the iMac arrived right after Haddy Haddorff replaced a digital keyboard, Aiden cat found space for himself dwindling, yet he still managed to plop himself right in the middle of the muddle.


Aiden cat sits in on a concert…

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Digitals, Acoustics, the economy, and piano lessons

After I showered myself in digitals these past two days, I pleasantly dried out and came home to my dearly beloved acoustic pianos. (Two Steinways and a Haddorff)

Now nothing is perfect in the world of electronics or acoustics. There are a repository of pitfalls associated with each, and it can be maddening to deal with fine pianos that have regulation and voicing problems which are not easily addressed due to a dearth of qualified piano technicians. The latter is worth a few blogs that may ruffle a few feathers. I’ve kept my folder with related material as Top Secret but soon to be released. Would these be Wiki leak sensitive?

Back to digital/acoustic comparisons, and their respective merits.

I used to be a purist, lecturing parents that they must have an acoustic before starting lessons for children, and then as the years ticked by and I watched the economy crash, people losing homes, moving into tight-fitting spaces, I let my guard down. As long as the digital was not a 61-key bell and whistle job and had the hammer weighted option, I went along for the ride for a reasonable period of time. Sooner or later the family should graduate to the real deal.

On the other side of the coin, it could be argued that so many acoustic pianos on Craig’s List, Oodle and elsewhere were ready for the scrap heap, with notes twanging, sticking, and otherwise going blank. What an awful maiden musical voyage for a beginner guaranteed to send him overboard without a second wind. It would be doomsday before lessons started.

Why not celebrate the spiffy digital with those tantalizing extras, brightening up homes in dire economic times. Didn’t the little spinet piano, a space saver, come into prominence after the Great Depression? The big uprights couldn’t easily fit into the parlor, and who could afford a grand. Times were changin’ and piano manufacturers adjusted to the needs of buyers.

Are there parallels today? Piano stores are closing. Not too many families are gathering in the parlor to sing Home Sweet Home around the tall, stately upright. Their abodes are foreclosing and they can barely squeeze any size musical instrument into the corner.

Piano lessons aren’t a top priority these days, being the first to go with budget trims.

As solace, why not come home to your portable digital, tap a few buttons, and ease into the easy playing mode with a strings split “Harvest Moon.” No hassle or brain drain.

For those parents still determined to take Baby Einstein a step further in his journey, or who believe in the Mozart Effect, I hope they would preserve the acoustic piano culture and save it from imminent extinction.

After all, there are still piano finding expeditions that result in quality acquisitions at reasonable prices: Acrosonics, Knights, a Haddorff, Aeolian Table Style piano, a resonant Yamaha P-22, and more.

These living, BREATHING instruments, not transformer connected, provide years of joyful playing, as long as they’re minimally maintained. No bordering fireplaces, vents, heaters, or humidity showers, please, and tunings are recommended once per year to keep strings toned and conditioned. (Engage an ear tuner, if possible, or one who will not spend 15 minutes programming a machine to perfect octaves and walk out the door leaving the piano in worse shape than it was before. Ask for an intervals check at some point in the visit)

Maybe when the economy is on an even keel, an acoustic piano and a digital might grace every home to round out the musical experience. It won’t be an either or situation, just an expansion of consciousness in more than one tonal universe.

In any case, (pun intended) let piano lessons resume!

RELATED: Is the Acoustic Piano Culture at Risk?

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Digital Piano Review continued: On Location at Best Buy in Fresno CA (6 videos)

This was such a smooth experience. Matthew Wheeler was found playing drums and keyboard in Best Buy’s atrium, for want of a better name, and he stopped what he was doing to film me sampling digitals. These were console models: Roland F110, Casio 830, and Yamaha Arius YDP 141.

There are six videos, including a side-by-side comparison of my playing the Roland and Arius. (“Fur Elise”)

You’ll know in an instant which one I favored.

Thank you’s are extended to Matthew and Best Buy for being so welcoming.

Matt is musical director at CMT and Fresno Unified School District. If you’re needing assistance at Best Buy, head over to Matt and he’ll be happy to serve you.

My Reviews:

Roland F110 console model digital piano:

Casio 830 console model digital piano:

Yamaha Arius YDP 141 console model digital piano:

Yamaha Arius YDP 141 fast passage clip (Mozart K. 545)

Side-by-side Comparison playing Roland F110 and Yamaha Arius YDP 141:

Revisit Roland F-110 without reverb

Over-all consensus after having reviewed 12 hammer-weighted digital pianos, I would put Yamaha p155 and Yamaha Arius YDP141 at the top of my list.

RELATED: Scoping out Digital Pianos at Guitar Center in Fresno (9 digital pianos are reviewed)

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Scoping out Hammer-Weighted Digital Pianos: On Location at Guitar Center, Fresno, CA (Videos)

I managed to get to Guitar Center right as it opened this morning, and had the good fortune to avoid the crowds along with obtrusive pop style background music.

Unfortunately, I bumped my head a few times on the same shelved keyboard that hadn’t qualified as a hammer weighted digital. Maybe it was retribution for my having bypassed it.

Just the same I marched down two narrow aisles of keyboards and did my best to be fair and objective about my assessments.

Since there is a good deal of footage, I will post in parts.

I should have mentioned that one of my criteria for evaluating these keyboards related to the registrations and the consistency through all ranges. I also considered the “feel” from note to note; resonance/decay rate; mechanics of the key depression; ease of playing; possible clicks etc.

From my perspective, playing Classical repertoire, I might fuss more over aspects of keyboards that others might not. Touch sensitivity and tone are my big issues, where for many players those concerns might not be as intense.

This first digital made quite an impression.

Here is Part 1: Yamaha P 155

Part 2: Yamaha CP 33

Part 3: Yamaha P95B (This one had a conspicuous registration change in the high treble–more metallic tone)

Part 4: Williams Allegro Digital (Abrupt timbre changes from register register, extremely light touch, hard to control dynamics, brittle metallic tone)

Part 5:
Casio Privia 330

Part 6: Casio Privia 130

Part 7: Williams Overture 88-Key Digital Piano Console

Part 8: Casio Celviano console-style Digital

This one surprised me. While it’s generic note to note progression had some irregularities at Forte level, it smoothed at soft volume, and provided expressive possibilities when I played through a few phrases from “Fur Elise.”

Part 9: Korg SP250 plus footage on the piano style pedal

Casio CDP 100 (I have sampled many times over)

While I did not get to film this digital, I would say from my playing perspective, that it’s a muted PX130.(Casio Privia)