The Best Budget Keyboard Piano for Beginners: Words of Wisdom from a Keyboard Pro
Keyboard shopping is an obsession for me.
I have been a professional keyboard player for 18 years. I have been on tour in Europe 13 times. I have performed over 500 dueling piano shows, including 100 for my own company (Dueling Hobbit Productions). I teach music at a music college in Missouri, as well as at Shock City School of Music.
You could say this isn’t my first time around the block buying a keyboard (or helping a student do the same).
I can still vividly remember the excitement (and stress) of buying my first keyboard. My parents took me to nearly a half dozen stores to shop. I finally settled on something, but for several weeks I was paralyzed by choice.
There were so many brands and models to choose from, and it was very difficult to compare them. Stats online for keyboards are often just silly terms that amount to meaningless sales language.
So, I hope I can share some wisdom and knowledge about keyboards that are available today.
To be clear, this is for students of any age that are considering piano study or need to upgrade their instrument without the cost and maintenance of an acoustic piano. It can also apply to hobby or pro use of a keyboard. Each of my suggestions are full sized keyboards with 88 keys AND come in under $500, making them super affordable! Let’s check out our options…
Williams Allegro II — Before a few weeks ago, I had not played or studied much about these pianos. I had never heard of them from other teachers or fellow musicians. After playing a few different models, I can understand why! These keyboards, although they claim to have a weighted action, have the worst feel of all the boards I played. The piano sample was very bad. The other sounds were not very convincing either. I would recommend a student by a controller, or a keyboard under 88 notes, or save their money to buy a real instrument. I love the price at $299, but I was not impressed. RANKED 4th
Yamaha P-50 — For many years, Yamaha has been the flagship brand for keyboards and synthesizers. In recent years, it has not kept up that status. This keyboard is one example. To me, the piano action was is not very good, and there are noticeable attempts at a scaled action (scaled/graded is a term meaning making the keys feel heavier or lighter in different ranges of the keyboard. This makes it feel more like a piano). The piano sample sounds as if it has not been updated in 10 years. It does not have the bells and whistles of other keyboards in its’ category, like other sounds, recording capability, high polyphony etc. It comes in at $450. RANKED 3rd
Numa Compact 2 — This piano is the only one that I tested that has semi-weighted action. This means that the keys don’t have the same resistance as a piano. This would be great for a player who wants to play music with others, or who needs to store the piano between uses. The piano sound and other sounds on this instrument are the best in its’ class. It is also set up to be used as a controller, or to very easily connect to a computer to compose music (Side note, all of these keyboards can be connected to a computer, but this one would give the most options to a composer or beat maker). This board sells at $499. RANKED 2nd
CASIO PX-160 — I have to confess, I do own a couple of these keyboards. For a practice instrument and certain pro uses, this is a great board. The 88 weighted action is scaled and has a very convincing action. The pseudo-ivory keys make the instrument feel even more like a piano. I also think the triple sensor system they boast makes a huge difference in the keyboard feeling great. The piano sample is really wonderful, and a killer find at this price point. The other sounds on board are fair to good, which is really a plus. Priced in at $499, this is the one I would go with in most situations. RANKED 1st
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Nick Schlueter is a professional musician and educator in the Saint Louis area. He teaches at Shock City School of Music and Webster University. He owns a Dueling Piano business called Dueling Hobbits Productions. He loves laughing and eating too much food with his wife, Andrea and dog, Illy.