How to buy a piano - advice on selecting and purchasing an electronic piano or organ
It's hard to go wrong now days in buying a keyboard. They all sound pretty good, but I always make sure that the piano and organ sounds are exceptionally good. Otherwise, it's more difficult to get inspired. Bring a pair of headphones to your music store, plug them into the phone jack of all the keyboards and listen with a critical ear. If you don't bring your own headphones, high quality speakers at the music store might make a low quality keyboard sound better than a high quality keyboard, and, often some of the keyboards don't have speakers. This will level the playing field. Make sure that the high and low ends of the piano sound good. Play a "dense" chord with lots of notes in the middle, to make sure many notes together mesh well and realistically. I think that they all have MIDI jacks, which is critical for transporting music to and from computers or other electronic keyboards.
To get a sense of what NOT to look for, regarding a quality sound, try one of the Casio digital keyboards. These are a great value and have many features, but the piano sound is just a little bit cheesy. This may change in the future.
UPDATED May 27, 2006
I just tested some of the new Casio keyboards at my local music store and they sound great! The old ones were cheesy. The new ones are awesome. Buy the newest keyboards from any company. Do not buy used ones and you can't go wrong.
Make sure that there's a separate volume control for each instrument, as sometimes the default piano sound level will be too high for the drums and bass sound levels on the keyboard.
In the old days, quality keyboards never had drum/rhythm machines on them, the thinking being that drum machines should be on a dedicated box, but now days I think that many the good ones have drum beats on them. Different drum rhythms are critical for forcing you to explore different creative feelings than you're used to. It is so much more handy having the drum machine right on the keyboard.
I'm not familiar with today's models, but I bought one many years ago, that has a better piano and organ sound than some very expensive current ones, it's a Yamaha PSR-340. I don't know if they still make them or not, but if you see a Yamaha PSR keyboard in a music store, make sure to compare the one that you're going to buy with the Yamaha. It cost about $500. The only thing that it doesn't have is that joy stick that let's you bend notes, which I use sometimes for writing violin/guitar/sax parts, etc. It only has 60 notes, which I've gotten used to ... The horn/brass instruments stink though on the PSR-340. If you want realistic brass, then you should get another model.
Keyboards are like computers and will always be worth less as new models arrive. It's just the result of manufactures' technology getting better at producing realistic sounds. The ones out now are good enough to last a very long time though.
Finally, I would not test a keyboard at your local shop then buy it over the Internet. You want to support your local music store. What you can do though, is tell your local music store that you would like a little break in the price so that the difference between their price and the Internet vendor's price is not so big.
Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions!
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