We (satisficed and) bought a digital piano

We finally got around to signing DC1 up for piano lessons this past fall, about a year after we meant to.

Ze really really likes it.  The first things ze does when ze gets home is hir piano practicing, and sometimes if ze gets up early enough, ze’ll practice piano before going to school.

Unfortunately, the $100 keyboard hir grandparents got hir doesn’t have weighted keys, so you can’t do piano or forte, just one volume.  And there’s no pedals for sustained sound.  Since it seems like DC1 is going to stick with it, we really need to get hir a real piano to practice on.

Well, almost a real piano.

Looking up how to buy a used piano online is terrifying.  Page after page talking about how you need to have a trusted professional with you at point of purchase or you may end up with something that’s only good for hauling to the dump (something you will, of course, have to pay for yourself).  New pianos are confusing as well, though the only terrifying thing about them is the price point.

So… on the advice of one our readers (I think chacha, but maybe it was Ms. PoP), we looked into digital pianos.  They’re new and under warranty.  They don’t have to be tuned every year.  They cost a fraction of what a low grade real piano costs.  And… they don’t sound too bad.

After reading tons of reviews and scouring the piano forum, we decided to get a low-mid-level Casio for $1099. Specifically the Casio PX850 BK 88-Key Touch Sensitive Privia Digital Piano. This piano is on all of the top 10 digital piano lists that I found.  Although it was only #1 on one of those lists, the #1s on the other lists weren’t even listed on many of the lists (if that makes sense).  The only detracting thing on the Amazon reviews is that some people find that after several weeks of intense playing, the keys start to clack a little because the pads wear thin (they should be wool, complains one reviewer), but that seems to be a potential problem across our price range, and probably isn’t one our 7 year old will encounter for a few years.    The piano forums recommend this one as a good learning piano, and while some people have preferred digital pianos, nobody really says anything bad about this piano (while those “preferred” pianos all have detractors).  Everyone seems to agree that this piano is pretty good and is a good value.

We tried to find a place in town that carried it that we could listen and then buy from, but the place in town that said they had it turned out to be out of stock.  They did have the $1699 Yamaha that some people prefer to the Casio (and many people do not), and we weren’t that impressed with it.  We talked about trying to find a place in the city that has a bunch of pianos we could listen to, but it seems like all the shops in the city have a monopoly of one brand– they just carry Yamaha or just Roland etc.  And we didn’t really want to go into the city this weekend anyway.

So we ended up getting it without listening to it from Amazon.  I splurged and got the recommended bench for $44 instead of a slightly less expensive one because someone in the reviews said that one of the settings fit hir 4 year old.

The Casio came in less than a week.  DH spent the evening putting it together, mostly after DC1 slept.  At 10-something, he got DC2 and me to look at and listen to the finished product.  It’s beautiful.  It looks like a real piano, but it’s slimmer.  It feels like a real piano.  It sounds like a real piano.  Plus, unlike that $1700 Yamaha, it didn’t have tons of confusing controls.  Its controls are even more intuitive than the controls on DC1’s old $100 keyboard.  It probably has fewer features, but we don’t need a keyboard that can bark like a dog, we need a keyboard that mimics a regular piano.

We congratulated ourselves on doing a good job picking a piano out (and thanked our lucky stars), even if we weren’t able to check out the piano in person first.  It’s exactly what we need and it’s much nicer than the ones we saw at the local store, even the equally and more expensive ones.  So we’re very happy with our purchase.  DC1 loves it too.  It’s scary spending $1000+ on something you’re not sure about.  Getting it wrong is an expensive and/or annoying proposition (depending on if you return the purchase or not).

So yay for top 10 lists and yay for piano forums and amazon and satisficing.

Have you ever made a big purchase partly-blind like this?  How did it work out?  How do you decide on big purchases?

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22 Responses to “We (satisficed and) bought a digital piano”

  1. Leah Says:

    Does your new piano have the awesome digital feature of a headphone slot? Growing up, we had both an antique family piano (good quality) AND a digital piano. It was nice to use the headphones with the digital so that one could practice without comment from the nosy family.

    I’ve never made a purchase that big without seeing something first. Honestly, the idea scares me. It’s why I prefer brick-and-mortar to online stuff. I did a lot of rug shopping last year, and some prices approached $1k. I finally went with a rug from a local shop that was cheaper and probably not the best quality, but I knew exactly what I was getting for my money.

  2. becca Says:

    I once bought a mattress over the internet (from Sears). A weird thing to get without trying it out. Best. Mattress. Ever. It got lost (literally flew off the truck) when we moved. I still mourn it.
    The good thing about being too cheap/environmentally conscious/shopping averse to replace mattresses regularly is that you can reach the point where ANY new mattress is a step up. But the one I found was magical.

    Also, I am amused by “a keyboard that can bark like a dog”… what, you don’t want DC1 to play Jingle Barks?

  3. OMDG Says:

    I love that if you want your kid to learn piano, you don’t have to buy a real one anymore. I love that you can use headphones. Ah the wonders of technology!

    I’m trying to remember the last time I plunked down $1000 on something unrelated to childcare, the house, or medical school. We plunked down a bunch of money (<$1000) on our good stroller without test driving it first, and it has been…. ok. In retrospect I think we should have gotten something different, but at the time what we bought worked out pretty well. Hopefully one day I will be able to sell it. Recently we plunked down ~$200 on a fancy umbrella stroller (when our $60 one broke after 1 year of light use), and it has so far been a fabulous purchase. My research consisted of looking at what seemed to be the most popular brand in use at the Please Touch Museum that also had good reviews on Amazon. I don't know what I would do without internet reviews. Probably waste even more $$.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We just got the stroller that went with our carseat at Target. DC1 hated it, preferring the sling, but DC2 has been happy with it. I have no idea what it cost. For an umbrella stroller we got the top rated one at Toys R Us because we realized we needed one right before a trip so we had to get it at a local store. I think it was $15 or $20 and it’s been working pretty well.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My brother had a fancy digital piano and loved it. It played different background beats, and could sound like several instruments. I’ve got the old-fashioned type of piano but it’s still fun to play. Are your kids in lessons? I haven’t put my kids in lessons yet, but I am considering it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, DC1 has been in lessons since fall.

      The $100 keyboard does all that (background, diff instruments/sounds). I’m not sure if this piano does or not. But it works like an old-fashioned piano, which is what we need it to do. And the built-in metronome is a lot easier to figure out.

  5. Rented life Says:

    Bought our fancy camera without seeing it. And I might do the same with a work laptop. We bought our TV stand from target online and luckily loved the color and look. I prefer being able to see and touch things, even less expensive things, so it’s hard when online is my only option.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I guess we bought cameras and computers without seeing them first too. I’m not sure I’d know even what to look for in a show room. Thank goodness for online reviews. But for most stuff, it really is better to see and touch– I have such a hard time buying clothing online for that reason, especially since I hate returning things.

      • Rented life Says:

        The camera wasn’t a point and click, I wanted something more but spending money makes me nervous. I think I read reviews for 2 months and by then what I wanted went on sale. There’s only one store I buy from online for clothes and then it’s only tops because my size is pretty consistent there.i hate returning things too.

  6. chacha1 Says:

    Sounds like an excellent choice. I’m sure DC1 will enjoy that instrument for a long time. :-)

    I had a Yamaha Clavinova, and it was one of the upper-echelon instruments with tons of voices and sequences and etc already built in, none of which I really used. If you want to further challenge your mathematically-minded child later on, you might consider getting hir a computer program that will convert what ze plays to sheet music. I started writing music in my teens and never was able to set it down except on staff paper by hand (laborious to say the least).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I sure hope ze enjoys it for a long time!

      That sounds like a really cool program. Brilliant whoever thought that up. One kind of neat thing about DC1’s current teacher is that she teaches some composition and more theory than I learned (I got only the basic stuff that’s needed to read music) along with music reading etc. I’d always wondered how these garage band composers got the tools to write music while they were still kids if they didn’t have parents who were musicians. It’s a very neat skill.

  7. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I am a total satisficer and am willing to buy all sorts of stuff without seeing it. But this post in particular — I think you may have just saved me hours of reading reviews and shopping. This is why I read the internet! It is not wasted time :)

    I own a 77 weighted key digital keyboard (Yamaha) that I bought for $300 years ago. My son is learning to play on it (by learning I mean not that diligently, so I’m not really pushing it). I set it up in my office so I can play during breaks, which is actually pretty fun to whip out a nocturne in between phone calls. But yes, it is not perfect, and if I keep this up, and my son starts playing more regularly, I’ll need to upgrade. One of my favorite nocturnes uses some of the 11 keys I don’t have.

    My MIL is thinking of disposing of her piano, so I have an option for getting one from someone I *know* is an upstanding citizen, but I’d have to move it halfway across the country.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Glad to be of potential service!

      I’ve definitely been enjoying playing on it from time to time (something I didn’t do much with the $100 keyboard). I’ve even been doing some Hanon exercises– it feels much nicer to play the piano than to type on a computer keyboard.

    • chacha1 Says:

      A “real” piano is a very fine thing, but for most amateurs I think digital is the way to go. If for no other reason … the headphone thing. :-) But also, no tuning is kind of a big bonus. And of course, no professional movers required. And also, a real piano is BIG.

      I think this is exactly the kind of purchase that can be safely made online. Kind of like a camera. If you are not actually a music professional, a consumer-level instrument is going to be set up in a way that is simpler and more intuitive to use, which means, in most cases, that you will use it more than you might use the more intimidating orchestra-level instrument. And since a retail clerk is not likely to be an expert user, you are not losing out on sales advice by shopping online. (On the other hand, if the clerk *is* an expert user and you are not, shopping online may save you some annoyance at being condescended to.)

      Furthermore, paying 20% or 30% of what you would for a “professional grade” instrument means you will feel less guilt about those days or weeks when you don’t play it at all.

      There are a lot of people out there with professional-grade equipment that they bought when they were fired up about a particular hobby, that they now look at with regret because of the opportunity cost it represents. A $5K- $10K piano that was played casually for a year, versus a couple of family vacations or a much-needed new car … well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We really didn’t like that Yamaha though. It was confusing and didn’t sound great on the “real piano” settings (of which there were too many choices). Fortunately online user reviews and expert online reviews seem to pick up on a lot of that!

  8. Rosa Says:

    I really like the digital piano, and if you’ve ever moved a piano (I grew up with a baby grand) or had to play it untuned until someone got around to calling the tuner…digital is GREAT. Plus it’s so easy to record & play back, so kiddo can listen and look at the music to hear/see errors when not actually trying to play.

    I have bought several bikes by ordering them, some quite expensive, with mixed results. But the cost of a new bike every 2-3 years (between just not liking the old one much, or discovering a serious design flaw in it, or having it stolen or run over by a snowplow) is still less than the cost of just insuring another car, so I’ve learned not to be a perfectionist about bikes. The last, most expensive, sight-unseen bike purchase (an Xtracycle Radish, ordered with all the bells and whistles without ever riding one) was 4 years ago and is AWESOME. Though I might trade up for a cargo bike with a heavier capacity, since I’ve hauled loads (topsoil, extra children) that strained it.


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