Your shopping options depend on the type of digital piano you've decided to buy and the region you live in. In North America, different categories of instruments are available through different types of outlets. Furniture-style models, particularly the higher-end models manufactured by the largest suppliers, are available only through traditional bricks-and-mortar piano or full-line music retailers. The lower-priced furniture-style, slab, or stage models, and some of the less widely distributed brands, are available from a cross section of traditional bricks-and-mortar music retailers, club and warehouse chains such as Costco, consumer-electronics chains such as Best Buy, and online retailers.
Perhaps the biggest difference between shopping for digital and acoustic pianos is that you usually want to make sure you get the specific acoustic piano you played on the showroom floor. But once you've decided on a model of digital piano, it doesn't matter if you get the one you actually tried or not. Every unit made of the same model will be identical to all other units.
Negotiating the price of a digital piano at a bricks-and-mortar retailer is no different from negotiating the price of an acoustic piano, which is discussed in "Piano Buying Basics," elsewhere in this issue. However, many of the simpler furniture-style digitals and nearly all portable or stage-piano models that are sold through a variety of local and online stores are virtually always sold at the same price, wherever you shop. This is due to a pricing model called minimum advertised price, or MAP, used for many categories of products. A manufacturer's or distributor's MAP is the lowest price at which a dealer is allowed to advertise an item. Since prices are easily compared and all retailers want an even chance to win your business, everyone advertises at the MAP. And since the MAP is typically lower than the price at which the dealer might have preferred to sell the item, the price almost never drops below the MAP. Therefore, MAP has become the standard pricing for all non-piano-dealer models of digital piano.
You should find out how warranty service is handled for the instrument you've selected — not only the terms related to coverage for parts and labor, but where the service is performed. Like acoustic pianos, most digital models available only through piano dealers have a warranty specifying in-home service; that is, the technician comes to you. Models sold outside of traditional piano stores must be brought to the technician's shop for warranty service. Ask your salesperson where the closest authorized service technician is located, or check the manufacturer's website.
You can see from the chart of digital piano specifications that it's not unusual for different models from the same manufacturer to have different warranty terms. It would be tempting to attribute this to differences in quality, but most often it's based on differences in anticipated use (home vs. commercial), and on marketing decisions for a given product segment. Unlike some warranties for acoustic pianos, I'm aware of no digital piano warranty that is transferable to a subsequent owner.
There are many decisions to be made when selecting a piano, digital or acoustic. But in the end, there is no substitute for playing and listening for yourself. The best anyone else can do is tell you what he or she would buy. But unless that person's requirements exactly match your own, all you'll end up with is a piano that's perfect for someone else.
Go out and try everything you can get your hands on— and enjoy the process!
For more information
If, after reading the articles in Piano Buyer, you still have questions about buying a digital piano, I recommend visiting the Digital Pianos—Synths & Keyboards Forum on Piano World (www.pianoworld.com), the premiere website for everything related to pianos and pianists. The helpful folks there have a wealth of knowledge and advice they are happy to share.