Digital pianos have made many significant strides towards coming as close as possible to replicating an acoustic piano.  Just in the past decade, these digital instruments have improved their feel, sounds, and functionality to do as much as, or in some instances-more, than a real piano.

Despite the long list of features and benefits that digital pianos have to offer, there’s something to be said about a well-made acoustic piano.  No matter how good the technology gets, the majority of pianists still prefer playing on the real thing.  There are just some nuances that digital pianos will never be able to replicate, even with the most advanced algorithms.

But does that mean that an acoustic piano, like the ones made by Knabe, are your best bet?  Or, are there times when a high quality digital piano can fit your needs better than a Knabe?

In this article, we’ll look at some features of high-end digital pianos and compare them to a Knabe acoustic pianos, which are one of America’s premier piano manufacturers for over 300 years. 

And, to better help you, we’ve compiled a list of high end digital pianos below that you can use to directly compare to the best of what Knabe has to offer.

PhotoModelKeysPriceFeatures
Knabe WMV-24788$$$Hand Notched, Pre-Crowned, Maple-Capped Bridges.
Yamaha 163Yamaha YDP-16388$$$GH3 Weighted Action
Yamaha YDP-10388$$$GHS Weighted Action
Yamaha YDP-14388$$$GHS Weighted Action
Yamaha YDP-18188$$$128 Note Polyphony
Casio-PX-860Casio PX-86088$$$256 Note Polyphony
Yamaha YDP-S51Yamaha YDP-S52

88$$$Graded Hammer (GH) Keyboard
Yamaha YDP-V24088$$$6-Track Recorder w/Hands-Separate Practicing
Kawai CE22088$$$AWA PROII w/Counterbalancing
Yamaha CLP 64588$$$Yamaha’s NWX (Natural Wood X) Keyboard

Knabe Pianos vs Digital Pianos

One of the main differences to consider when choosing between a Knabe piano and a generic digital piano is the craftsmanship. The Knabe piano company has been making pianos for around three centuries.  They’ve had three hundred years to refine and innovate their craft.

Many features from some of Knabe’s early pianos have been kept in the design of their modern instruments.  Things like the dimensions and shape of the soundboard as well as the placement of the piano’s bridge are used in Knabe pianos of today.  The things that made Knabe Pianos so successful in the mid to late 1800s have been preserved and have had modern improvements added.

Every single Knabe piano is also hand crafted. It’s almost unheard of to find that kind of care and craftsmanship these days. It’s hard to compare the time and attention to detail in a hand made piano to something that is a mass produced electronic product made overseas.

History of the Knabe Piano

The company got its start with Wilhelm Knabe, an immigrant from Kreuzberg, Germany.  When he settled in Baltimore, Maryland, he began working for Henry Hartye, a reputable piano maker in the area.  Knabe eventually branched off in 1835 to form his own piano repair company that fixed, bought, and sold used pianos.

While still in Baltimore, Wilhelm eventually met and collaborated with Henry Gaehle and formed Knabe & Gaehle Company. Although a relatively small piano company, they were able to contend with larger, well-known piano companies in Baltimore.  Knabe & Gaehle made uprights, grand pianos, as well as square pianos. 

When Henry Gaehle passed away, the company fell into the hands of Knabe. Although Wilhelm passed away in 1864, the company continued to flourish under the ownership of his two sons, William Jr. and Ernest Knabe. The company was successful during the mid and late 1800s mainly because of their effective expansion into the American West.

The company started to gain recognition when in 1838 Francis Scott Key (the famed composer of the Star Spangled Banner, written 24 years prior), hired the company to custom build him a grand piano for his home.  Another significant opportunity came when the Knabe Brothers sponsored Peter Tchaikovsky at the opening of Carnegie Hall and procured a piano for the occasion.

In 1926, the New York Metropolitan Opera chose Knabe Pianos as their official musical instrument. As the Knabe name continued to gain success, the pianos were used in many reputable concert halls and venues throughout America as well as Europe. Knabe also became the go-to piano for music conservatories and colleges.

Today, the Knabe name was purchased by Samick Music Corporation (SMC), which produces guitars and pianos, among other music products.  Knabe is considered to be their “premium” instruments.

It’s obvious that the Knabe Piano brand deserved all the recognition that it gained over the years.  Wilhelm Knabe started something that would escalate into one of the most prestigious piano brands in the world. With three hundred years of experience and learning, the Knabe Company has built upon what it knows and has made improvements and adjustments along the way to become the piano company that it is.

Digital Pianos

Despite the many benefits of owning a hand crafted Knabe Piano, a large portion of pianists opt for the digital piano instead.  Although price can be a big factor for many of the people who buy digital pianos, some models, like the Kawai CP1, have an MSRP of around $21,000.  You could buy more than one upright Knabe Piano for that money.  But on the whole, digital pianos tend to be far, far less expensive than their acoustic brothers.  They also tend to have a lot of things to offer that acoustic pianos can’t compete with.

Size

One of the most obvious benefits to having a digital piano rather than an acoustic is size.  Not everyone has the space to fit a full sized grand piano in their living room or foyer.  Grand pianos are practical for symphonies with giant stages and bigger studios, but not much else. 

An upright piano is a good deal smaller than a grand, but still takes up a very large footprint in someone’s house or apartment.   With a digital piano, you can get the sound and feel of a grand in half, or sometimes a quarter of the size. 

Portability fits in this argument as well.  Most portable digital pianos are able to be removed from their cabinet or stand and transported easily.  Anyone who has had to move a piano will tell you that’s not the case with an acoustic.

Digital Piano Effects

Tuning is something that digital piano owners don’t have deal with, either. Whether it’s the Yamaha Arius line of digital pianos, or even much more expensive models like the CP1, a digital piano will never go out of tune.  In fact, it may come with the option to adjust the tuning and temperament of the instrument under one of the internal settings.

In the studio or the stage, an 88 key digital piano can often be more convenient.  Although it may not sound like a grand piano, its much easier to plug in two cables directly in instead of going to the trouble of miking the entire piano.

Volume is also a consideration, especially for people who live in an apartment or in close proximity to neighbors.  Pianos can get really loud, and the ability to plug in a set of headphones with a digital piano is a life saver for many pianists. The technology that exists is incredible.

You can digitally lower and lift the lid of the piano, you can change the reverb of the room your digital piano is in,  and you can merge together several instruments to create your own version in a synthesizer.  The list goes on and on. The designers at Kawai and Yamaha have given users the option to adjust almost every aspect of a traditional acoustic piano, even features that would be physically impossible to adjust on a real piano.

All of these advancements in the music industry are incredible and extremely useful. They have helped to shape the music industry as we know it. 

But technology has its limitations. Even though the way that Kawai samples its pianos sounds extraordinarily well, they would never be able to fool me in a listening test if it were put up against an acoustic Knabe. That’s because speakers or a pair of headphones will never sound better than an actual string vibrating. Digital pianos can only get so close to replicating the feel, look, and sound of a real piano.

It’s very similar to the Kindle and other E-reading devices.  I realize that it would be more practical to have one device that holds hundreds and hundreds of books rather than owning and storing all those books.  But there’s something about reading from a digital tablet that doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s as much about the feeling and the overall experience that makes me prefer holding a paper book in my hands.

Knabe pianos are no different. There’s something—even if it’s very small— that can get lost when you only play a digital piano.  I think it has to do with the connection between the musician and the piano.  On a Knabe piano, you’re feeling the keys and the hammer actually strike the strings and you’re hearing the vibration that it makes. There’s a soulfulness that is apparent in the feel of the keys when you’re playing, but also in the sound. It’s a fullness and a richness that can’t necessarily be captured or sampled.

With that said, everything from size to portability to lack of maintenance to price are important factors.  There’s no problem with getting a digital piano—they are wonderful and much needed.  But if you play a Knabe, and then play a high end digital piano, you’ll likely notice a difference—even if the difference is a bit nondescript or somewhat indescribable. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with the technology that exists to make music better and more accessible to the general public. There are many, many, practical reasons why digital pianos might out perform acoustic pianos like a Knabe.

But, if you’re a pianist that can afford a handcrafted instrument and have the space to keep it, a Knabe piano may be something to consider before buying digital pianos. Owning and playing a hand made, limited production piano that comes from over three hundred years of design is pretty incredible.

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