Buyer's Guide: How do I Choose the Right Stage Piano?
Are you wondering what the difference is between a stage piano and a digital piano? A stage piano is a digital reproduction of an acoustic piano, but practically speaking, the word 'digital' (or 'electric') is often reserved for the type of piano that's only used at home. Keyboard-players who perform live on stage or in the studio prefer a stage piano, a keyboard or a synthesizer. In this Buyers Guide, we'll have a look at the main differences between these keyboard instruments and the most important elements of a stage piano.
Stage piano or digital piano?
The digital piano and the stage piano are designed to replicate the feel and ergonomics of their acoustic counterpart as closely as possible. Both types have relatively heavy keys (that imitate an acoustic piano's hammer mechanism) and realistic sounds. If you're in the market for an electric piano, you'll probably want one with a classic appearance and matching stand that looks as much like an acoustic piano as possible.
Stage piano manufacturers assume that you won't be using this instrument at home for piano lessons or practising. This type of piano doesn't have built-in speakers and usually does not include a stand. A stage piano is used for live performances and is often connected via a line-out to the jack input of a mixer. You hear your playing via a floor monitor, a set of in-ear monitors, or a keyboard amplifier. Internal speakers would not be powerful enough for this purpose. A stage piano requires a very rugged keyboard stand that's designed for use on stage.
An important advantage of the stage piano is that it's portable. It usually boasts a robust housing, and you can transport it relatively easily, preferably protected in a gig bag or case. If you need a piano that's easy to carry, pay attention to its weight, as this varies per brand. Also, as keyboard players need to be able to switch to different sounds during a performance, the stage piano should have accessible preset buttons and the option to adjust sounds if desired.
Stage piano, keyboard or synthesizer?
If you play predominently piano parts live or in the studio, we recommend a stage piano. The piano sounds are excellent and the keys are either fully-weighted (and feel exactly like those on an acoustic piano keyboard) or semi-weighted (which feel slightly lighter). Stage pianos usually possess other sounds like tonewheel organs and vintage electric pianos, but no other virtual instruments.
Here at Bax Music, we carry some instruments that are slightly more difficult to categorise. There are stage pianos that feature convincing organ sounds and include the corresponding feel of organ keys, and digital or analogue drawbars, which are geared toward rock and jazz organists in particular. (See also our range of drawbar keyboards.) We also carry pianos that are capable of reproducing classic electric piano sounds like Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and the CP-70/80.
Synth or keyboard?
If you'd like a lighter keyboard that includes a comprehensive set of high-quality virtual instruments and functions like a sequencer, sampler, arpeggiator and MIDI controllers (pitch bend and modulation wheels, joystick), then you may want to move your search to the keyboard or synthesizer categories. The biggest difference between the two is that automatic accompaniment is characteristic of a keyboard (which is what makes it perfect for solo performers), while designing your own sounds with precision and detail is done with a synthesizer. Naturally, there are combinations of the two available as well: a synthesizer/stage piano, stage piano/keyboard, synthesizer/keyboard or a stage piano/home piano.
The best stage piano
There are a number of popular brands that make stage pianos. Professionals often choose (Clavia) Nord (whose products are instantly recognisable by their bright red housing), Yamaha (the CP series) or Roland (RD series). For those with a more limited budget, there is plenty to choose from as well. It's impossible to say which brand is the best, as each musician has their own specific requirements when it comes to the following aspects: 1) the comfort and ergonomic aspects, 2) the quality of the sounds, 3) how intuitive or fast the interface is, 4) whether the sounds are adjustable or not, and finally, 5) the weight.