Stage pianos are in a bit of a category all of their own. You can get some great instruments for a lot less that $1,500, so we’re potentially looking at quite an expanse of the middle and top end, here.
There are some great affordable stage pianos from all of the main manufacturers – the Roland FP30, Kawai ES110, Yamaha P115 are just a few examples. These are all great instruments that play well and have a great collection of sounds.
I absolutely love the FP30 to play — the sounds are driven by Roland’s amazing SuperNATURAL sound engine which is mega-responsive. In terms of touch sensitivity, there are distinct changes in tonal colour rather than just volume making it a perfect instrument for taking out live. But we’re looking at a higher budget here, so we can get a bit more!
The Kawai ES110 is as light as a feather to transport and has a great, pianistic keyboard, but both the FP30 and the ES110 have one main problem in common – a terrible user interface. So for this higher price bracket of $1,500 that we will be focusing not today, you should expect more in terms of quick access to the keyboard’s features.
That’s why, in this article, I will help you better understand which five digital stage pianos are most ideal for your needs. And, to better help you with this decision, please take a moment to view some of the top stage pianos on the market (some of which we’ll be discussing in-depth throughout today’s article).
|Roland RD2000||88||SuperNATURAL Sound Engine: 128 voices|
|Casio PX5S||88||Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II Keyboard|
|Kawai ES110||88||19 voices (8 piano sounds)|
|Kurzweil SP6-7||88||10 selectable key velocity map|
|Yamaha YC88||88||128 Notes (AWM2/Organ), 128 Notes (FM)|
Let’s begin with the Roland FP-50.
Now this piano feels like an absolute dream to play – a beautiful, responsive keyboard that is a complete slave to your dynamic control of the instrument. The sounds are superlative, with fantastic piano sounds and amazing electric piano sounds that you’ll find yourself immersed in for hours.
The keyboard build is impressive, with an ivory “feel” keyboard, designed to maximize contact between fingers and keys whilst minimizing finger slippage. It’s got to be said, I don’t really ever recall a time where slippery keys have ever posed a problem, but that isn’t to depart from the fact that they feel great under the fingers.
The built-in speaker system drives a beautifully clear sound out into the room – if you’re playing in the corner of a restaurant, you probably won’t need additional amplification which contributes to traveling lighter, which is always a boon for the musician on the road.
There’s a very impressive intelligent rhythm section that comes as standard – it follows the chords that you play with split second accuracy and puts you in total control of a full band. It’s debatable as to whether this feature is going to suit your gigging pattern, but whenever people want to dance, you’ll be able to cater to their needs.
With a really impressive collection of on-board sounds and a pretty handy user-interface, this make the FP50 one of the best stage pianos in this price range.
At 36 lbs (16.5 kg) without a stand (and 63 lbs with a dedicated stand and music rest), this certainly isn’t the lightest stage piano on the market. Strangely though, it’s amongst the lightest on this list.
Weight is always a real concern. I’ve had to lug my keyboard across soggy lawns, up countless flights of stairs and from one end of huge buildings to another. And after you’ve been carrying a really heavy instrument for half an hour, you have to let your arms rest before you play – otherwise you lose the lightness of touch that you need.
So keep this in mind as we progress through this article.
- You might also want to read our review on the Roland FP-50.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best selling digital stage pianos currently available on Amazon, and then see how well they compare to the pianos we discuss in this article.
|1) Roland RP-102|
|2) Casio PX-780|
|3) Casio PX-870|
Well, this one comes with a caveat. This keyboard will usually blow your budget, averaging more towards the $1999 range. However, with some savvy shopping, you might be able to find this piano as low as $1300. If so, the search will be worth it, because this is a great piece of kit.
The first thing that strikes you about any Kawai digital piano is the amazing lightness of touch – they have a super light keyboard-feel that makes play a really enjoyable, immersive experience. Kawai are master grand piano makers, so there’s no surprise that such care and attention is afforded to the main interface into your instrument – the keyboard.
The weighting is just amongst the best you’ll find on a stage piano, complemented by a pianistic key-off action that just transports you to the keyboard of a genuine piano. The key weighting is graded as with a genuine grand piano which is heavier at the bottom end and lighter at the top, adding an added dimension of reality to the feel, but this is no unique feature, as all of the keyboards featured also include this.
The touch sensitivity is beautifully controlled by a triple sensor detection system. Perhaps “triple sensor detection” sounds like something you’d expect to find with a high-tech laser security system, but the triple sensor allows you to play dynamically and expressively, providing a great interface between fingers and instrument. Which is exactly what you want.
The piano feel is great – your fingers just glide across the keys, enhanced by the amazing sample quality. The samples are taken from Kawai’s world-class Shigeru Kawai SKEX concert grand and the smaller SK5 chamber piano. Famed for their dynamic range and beautiful tone, these pianos are captured beautifully and, when played through headphones, provides a really transportive experience.
The user-interface is pretty expansive, with a good selection of easy access keys and a small digital screen, but the ES8 falls at one particular hurdle – and that is the weight. The ES110 is the little brother of the ES8 and weighs in at just over 26 pounds, which is super portable. However, the ES8 comes in at a rather colossal 49.6 pounds. This is one of the heaviest stage pianos I’ve come across that even eclipses Roland’s hefty beasts, so if you’re looking for a keyboard to take out on the road, this might not be the instrument for you.
- You might also want to read our review on the Kawai ES8.
This instrument is one of the more versatile stage-pianos on the list with an extensive, but simple, user-interface.
This instrument features some really strong, clear piano sounds, packaged with some great electric piano sounds. There’s a a sharp clarity to the grand piano samples which is almost guaranteed to cut through in a gig situation and electric piano sounds with a really beautiful stereo phase. The B4 organs are amongst the most realistic I’ve heard in a stage piano in the price range, all making the SP4-8 a great choice for the band musician.
But it’s the strings sounds that really spring this instrument to life. Most stage pianos have some fairly ropey, unimaginative string sounds, but these are the most convincing string I’ve ever heard from a stage piano.
The pipe organ sound is GRAND. With a beautiful touch sensitivity, you need to have a proper look around you to make sure you haven’t arrived in a large, cavernous cathedral. This, perhaps, makes this instrument a good addition to a church group – you get the ethereal grandiose of the huge piped instrument, in a fraction of the space – and you won’t need to rip the walls apart to install it.
This instrument has all the fun features you’d expect, as well as some effects you’d find on dedicated synthesizers. One of the most instantly impressive aspects of this keyboard is the active envelope control – there’s a brilliant filter cut-off that would make this a great keyboard for playing live dance music.
You can layer sounds which is featured in most stage pianos, but you can also split this keyboard into 4 zones with different instrumental sounds assigned to each section. Additionally you can assign foot pedals, pitch bend or modulation wheels to affect those separate zones. These are really impressive customizable parameters that I’ve not seen on other stage pianos in this price range.
This is one of the few stage pianos in this list that has a pitch bend and modulation wheel, so lends itself away from the solo keys player, to the more gadgety end of the spectrum. Not to say that by “gadgety” I mean to denigrate the instrument, but when you’re looking to make an investment, it’s worth considering whether you’re going to need a feature, just because it seems fun in the shop.
This is a great instrument to take out on the road with you. Weighing 39 pounds, it’s not the lightest of the bunch, but not so heavy as to be problematic. This would make an excellent keyboard for a player in a show band, accompanying a musical due to the wide variety of realistic instrumental sounds.
Kurzweil isn’t as widely stocked as the big names – Yamaha, Roland and Kawai – but you should do your best to try and seek this most excellent keyboard out.
- You might also want to read our review on the Kurzweil SP4-8.
The Yamaha P515 is a great piece of kit, with a simple but effective user interface that allows you to navigate around the instrumental voices quickly.
This instrument comes with 24 voices divided between 4 really great piano sounds. Driven by Yamaha’s popular Pure CF sound engine, the samples are from their world-class acoustic grand piano series. With 4 lovely electric piano, 4 organ and 4 clav/vibes selections, this instrument should be plenty for the jobbing band member. Tagged on is a selection of other fairly unimpressive string sounds.
The 515 has 256 key polyphony which means that you’re unlikely to ever notice any note drop out when using the sustain pedal. This is important because it adds an extra level of realism to the play and feel of the keyboard, which is also grade weighted, offering heavier play at the bottom of the keyboard, to contribute to a really impressively immersive playing experience.
The P515 is heavy, but not a back-breaker. This is a good, sturdy instrument to take out on the road with you. It has that feel of Yamaha sturdiness which gives me the impression that this is a keyboard that you’re going to be able to rely on for the long haul.
The built-in speakers mean that you could get away with traveling to your gig without having to lug a separate PA around with you which is always a bonus. Traveling light is perfect for the musician who gigs regularly in packed bars and restaurants. It should deliver enough sound for a small, solo gig but, of course, will need amplification for a band situation.
I’m often not a fan of the keyboard feel of Yamaha keyboards – they’re certainly on the heavier end of the spectrum as far as feel underneath the fingers is concerned — but I really fell for this instrument.
It’s the top-of-the-range P-series Yamaha stage piano and it really surprised me. I wasn’t a particular fan of the P115 – it felt a little clunky to my hands, so I wasn’t expecting a lot with the P515. But I was swayed. There’s a reassuring sturdiness to the keyboard that was actually a real pleasure to play.
Casio never really featured on the market in the stage piano world until fairly recently. It was just a name that you would never really think of going to. But the PX560 is a really surprising little number that will possibly sway the most avid followers of Roland, Yamaha and Kawai.
The grand piano sound is light as a feather – it literally dances into your ears. There’s a distinct fullness of tone that makes for a beautifully responsive dynamic play. The piano sounds have some bite that will really cut through on stage. Having said that, there’s a real warmth and fullness of tone as well.
The strings don’t sound hugely realistic, but they have a beautiful warmth. There are some really great orchestral sounds, that almost, but not quite, transport you to the concert hall. The on-board drum machine has a great selection of acoustic and electronic drum samples that are actually really impressive – drums on stage pianos can often be a bit of a tagged on feature, but here, they have a good punch. All of the sounds are customizable, so that you can create your own sound combinations that you can save into the keyboard’s on-board memory.
But what’s most impressive with the PX560 is the synth envelope ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) editor. Like the Kurzweil featured in this article, you can customize the parameters of electronic sounds that makes this a really versatile instrument.
It really depends on what you want your stage piano to do. For many of us, the most important aspect of any keyboard is the piano sound. If you’re a singer pianist, that’s what you’re going to use your keyboard for the most. I have a Roland FP3 and, for my gigging purposes, the piano sounds are all I’ve ever needed. But, if you’re after a keyboard that has the features of both a beautiful sounding piano and a synth, then this could be the keyboard for you.
With a great play feel, this is a really impressive instrument. Casio have really upped their game and there’s not a great deal to dislike with the PX560. It’s the keyboard with all the gifts, it seems.
However, the user-interface is a little overly complicated so it will take a little getting used to. There’s a big LCD display screen, along with button access to the main instrumental sounds, but if you want to access the synth features so that you can edit the sound in the live environment, there’s a lot of scrolling and navigating to be done, which, is a little on the clunky side.
- You might also want to read our review on the Casio PX-560.
And the Winner Is…?
After exploring all of these keyboards with their additional synth features, it seems a little boring to go for a straight forward stage piano. But I’m going for the safe and sturdy Yamaha P255. I was so tempted by the Kawai ES8. It’s a really lovely instrument, but breaks the mortal sin of stage pianos in being elephantine in weight.
Yes, I never thought I’d fall for a Yamaha again. I’ve not been the biggest cheerleader for their Clavinova series, but they’ve really pulled out the stops with the P255.
So, as far as I’m concerned, the best stage piano for under $1,500 is the Yamaha P255.
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