Hybrid Pianos: The Best of Both Worlds?

Hybrid Pianos: The Best of Both Worlds?

Hybrid Pianos

It’s hard to miss the stampede of technical innovation at the moment.

At the time of writing, Elon Musk has just unveiled his most detailed plans yet for colonising Mars and flying people from Melbourne to London on rockets in 2 hours (and I actually think if anyone can do it, he can).

Apple has released yet another iPhone (not so sure about the merits of this one) and James Dyson (the vacuum guy) has just unveiled his own plans to invest $US2 billion to create his own electric car business.

Put simply, we all know the world is rapidly changing.

But what about pianos?

Hybrids: The Future of the Piano?

Just as hybrid cars offer drivers the best of both worlds…

  • Fuel for internal combustion
  • Electric power from battery generation, energy reabsorption and regeneration from braking, etc.
  • Cheaper running costs from not burning gas all the time

…so too digital pianos bridge the divide between acoustic and digital, offering the best aspects of an acoustic piano (namely the touch and feel of the action), with all the benefits of a digital instrument (see below).

And, as I’ll be explaining in a later post, the price range of some of the newer hybrids such as Casio’s Celviano Grand Hybrid, offers stiff competition to even acoustic upright manufacturers by offering a similar price point and a superior action.

If you’re a teacher who requests that all students purchase an acoustic piano before starting lessons or if you’re a teacher for whom the thought of teaching or playing a digital instrument is anathema, then I’d like you to reconsider the landscape.

Technology, as you know, is impacting on every aspect of our lives and while you might want to keep pianos out of it, the time has come to open your eyes to the potential digital instruments offer you, your teaching and your studio.

digital pianos

Casio’s GP500 Grand Hybrid. Source: www.grand-hybrid.com/uk

What Is a Hybrid Piano?

A hybrid piano is simply a digital instrument with some kind of acoustic piano action inside.

Or, viewed from another perspective, it’s an acoustic piano with an amplifier and speakers instead of strings and a soundboard!

Depending on the make and model, hybrid pianos feature either an upright or grand piano action that has been only slightly modified from the original acoustic construction.

Unlike digital pianos and synthesizers, hybrid pianos don’t generally feature extensive rhythm and sound libraries or on-board multi-track recording. This is left to digital pianos which are designed more for stage performance and recording studios.

So hybrid pianos are mostly about the piano playing experience rather than having lots of bells and whistles.

Why My Interest in Hybrid Pianos?

While we can all agree that a well-tuned and regulated concert grand piano is the ideal teaching and performing instrument, who has the money (or space) to buy one?

Certainly not me!

In any case, I didn’t have enough room for a grand piano at home, I was permanently frustrated by how regularly my upright tended to go out of tune, and I also wanted an instrument that I could use headphones with and move easily around my house.

So if you want to practice on a quality instrument with headphones but without compromising on the action, what do you do?

Perhaps you will have heard of Silent Pianos.

While these are great, they’re predominantly an acoustic piano with digital add-ons, so they are still big, heavy and need tuning and proper care just like any other acoustic piano.

Advantages of Digital Pianos

50 years ago there really weren’t many options other than teaching on an acoustic piano, nowadays the range of options is huge.

When I studied for my Diploma, I did the majority of my practice on an upright Kawai K3 and a Roland FP7F (now called a Roland FP80) digital piano.

Neither had a grand piano action and the Roland was definitely not a hybrid piano. However I found both to be completely suitable for this high-level practice (I received a Distinction if you’re wondering about the impact!).

Over the years, I started playing a variety of hybrid pianos as soon as they became available (I even remember having to wait for a trip to London to try the Yamaha AvantGrand because they weren’t available in Australia at the time).

Yamaha N3X AvantGrand. Source: www.yamaha.com.

There are many advantages to hybrid pianos:

  • Smaller size and weight means you don’t need piano movers to relocate them
  • You can practice with headphones
  • Never require tuning
  • Easily connect to recording/MIDI/laptops/iPads
  • Variety of sounds available to explore for composition
  • Many include play-along options so that students can enjoy playing with orchestras
  • Many hybrid grand piano actions can be regulated, just like an acoustic

Possible disadvantages?

  • They use electricity
  • They won’t work in a powercut
  • Some of them are really quite expensive
  • Some will say their actions and the sound produced are inferior, but I strongly disagree on both accounts

I’m more than convinced of the merits of hybrid pianos and hope that you’ll consider how digital instruments could positively impact your studio as well.

Roland FP-80 Digital Piano. Source: www.roland.com

What Do I Look For in a Digital/Hybrid Piano?


Firstly, the feel and response of the action is critical. Does the hybrid’s action faithfully recreate the acoustic action?

One way I test this is with fast repetitions. Clunky or basic digital actions cannot faithfully recreate fast repetitions so this is always a test I perform. Test that the key can repeat without being fully released (this is a feature only available on grand piano actions and should function the same on grand hybrids).

The quality of the action is crucial if you’re going to only be using hybrid pianos in your studio and teaching (or for your own performance practice).


Sound is the second most important element in my opinion. If it doesn’t sound great, then who’s going to want to play it?

Make sure you test the sound with headphones and without – many hybrid pianos actually tend to sound better with headphones on than off as you really feel immersed in the soundscape with headphones.

Polyphony (the number of notes that the instrument can play at the same time) needs to be a minimum of 256 notes in order to work well reproducing the nuances of complex pedalling. 256 is the standard at the time of writing, but no doubt this will increase over time.


Most hybrid piano manufacturers have gone to great lengths to faithfully reproduce the look, shape and feel of an acoustic piano cabinet (without the bulk of the 6 or 9-foot strings!).

Sometimes this has a bearing on the amplified sound as bigger cabinets tend to produce a bigger sound and allow for more speakers. However, the Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid actually uses very few speakers but produces an incredibly full, rich, warm and authentic sound.

I also take in consideration the music rest and control panel – how easy is it to read music on the stand and how easy is it to use the controls? Some are much better than others!

How many headphone ports does it have (important for group teaching) and where is the socket located?

Oh, and is there a place to put my coffee on top? (kidding!)


In the next few months, I’m going to post some more detailed reviews about some of the hybrid pianos that I’ve been testing and would love to hear your feedback:

  • Do you use a hybrid and what do you think?
  • If you’re more traditional in your thinking re instruments: what’s holding you back?
  • What’s your favourite hybrid?
  • What are the things that most annoy you about either acoustic or hybrid pianos?

Please leave your thoughts below.

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at staging.topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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Hybrid Pianos
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  1. Great article! I have an off-topic question, but I really like the avatars people are assigned in this comment section: how are they generated? Do you happen to use any frameworks or open source libraries?

    • It’s just a WP feature I believe!

  2. Hi Tim,

    Could you make a recommendation of a Hybrid Piano that could be used in sensitive Environmental (Temperature and humidity changes). I am looking for a Hybrid Piano or similar for a Piano Bar at a new development resort in the Maldives where the average temperature is 30 degrees Celsius and Humidity is about 70-80% through out the year. The bar is open and close to sea (therefore, there may be some effects of salt in the air).

    • Hey Ali – hybrids will already be much more stable than an acoustic so it’s a good choice. I don’t have any specific guidance on your particular situation, so it will be a good idea to speak to the retailers and manufacturers. You can get dehumidifiers that can go inside pianos so that even acoustics can work, but you’ll necessarily need more regular tunings etc. I’d check out Yamaha, Kawai and Casio and do some research online. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I’m not a product specialist for tropical environment pianos.

      • Thanks for the advice. I am currently talking to Kawai and Yamaha.

  3. We’ve always wanted a piano in the house but have no room for it. A hybrid piano sounds like something we need to look into, that you for this!

  4. Personally I have an older model Yamaha 88 keyboard at home. Does have 88 keys and weighed keys although not Graded Hammer Action. Really like the portability that when the keyboard is not in use, it can go into the closet easily.
    About a year ago talked to a few people who are taking Suzuki piano up in Canada and found that Suzuki teachers here recommend students play on an acoustic instrument because of the natural sounds. Their teachers do have at least 1 acoustic piano in their studios. Contacted the Suzuki Association of America (for the US & Canada) and found that they do prefer their teachers & students train with acoustic instruments.

    • Hey Tom. Yes, everyone has their preferences. Of course I’d prefer if my students could all be taught on, and practice on, a nice grand piano action, but it’s not reality. Hence my focus on Hybrids as a best of both worlds 🙂

      Roland makes some great instruments as well and I have an FP7F that I’ve used in my studio for many years.

      It all comes down to personal preference, budget, room size, etc. etc.!

  5. Tim, I am having difficulty finding where to buy in the United States and prices. Does Casio have a different name for this particular piano when it is sold in US?

  6. Thanks for this extremely helpful article, Tim. I had a chance to try out Casio’s latest Grand Hybrid series and I was quite impressed with how realistic they felt and sounded.

    • That’s great Lucas – they have a phenomenal action.

  7. Thanks so much for this info, Tim. Very good food for thought. I may not have considered hybrids but after reading this I think I will look into them.

    • Thanks Odette. If they fit in your budget, they are a great option 🙂

  8. Before I opened my studio two years ago, I was adamant about teaching on acoustic pianos–until I went to the piano store to purchase them. The floor models were slightly out of tune (definitely not in tune to each other) and some had slightly sticky keys due to the humidity that day. The salesman pointed me toward the Yamaha NU1 hybrid and insisted I try it out. I was very skeptical but he was persistent so I sat down and started playing. It didn’t take long to make the decision to purchase 2 for my new studio and I have absolutely not regretted it!!! I love them and my students love them! Having them always in tune is so efficient; the built-in metronome makes my students WANT to play in rhythm; the recording capability allows me to record songs beforehand and then get up and move with my preschoolers; the “harpsichord” sound for Classical songs brings out the giggles; the key touch is great for dynamics; and I can move these pianos around the room if I want! These are just a few of the wonderful qualities of the NU1. They were pricey, but worth the investment for sure!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Janna – great to hear. Yamaha have a great product and were first to market so it’s great that you got in early and are happy with the decision. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. I’ll be interested to hear whether hybrids can reproduce the effect of harmonics – children who play on a digital piano are always fascinated by the effects we can create!

    • Yes they can. In fact, even my Roland FP80 can do that. You can silently depress keys, hold them down and play other notes and hear the effect. It’s pretty amazing really!

      They are also faithful with the nuances of pedal, half pedal, flutter pedal – you name it. You can even hear the dampers lift off the strings when you push the pedal (and you can adjust the volume and amount of effects like this!).

  10. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for this post. The piano showroom here does not keep hybrid pianos because their first batch sold very slowly. I am really interested this, because my piano doesn’t hold tune for long ever since I put an ac in my hall cum teaching room. That’s a temperature change from 26 to 41 degrees in about 15 mintues every time I put the a/c off and open my windows in summer. I want a piano with a 100% feel of an acoustic, but without tuning hassles.

    • Yes, I would have thought that a hybrid would be perfect in tropical climates like yours in India, Anita. What a shame you can’t try them out locally. Perhaps you can order online? 😉

  11. How do you teach tone production on a non acoustic, though? That’s my biggest sticking point when it comes to digitals. I find that parents generally refuse to buy an acoustic, even if their current digital is pathetic, and upper level students have years of inattention to their sound, since all they can vary is the volume.

    • Most of the newer digital pianos are perfectly fine for teaching tone production IMO. Certainly, you’d have trouble noticing a difference between the tone production, feel, touch and weight in these hybrids versus an acoustic – especially when comparing a grand hybrid with an acoustic upright. I’d take the grand piano action any day!

  12. Great topic, Tim!
    I currently own a Yamaha U5 and am looking at supplementing this with a digital piano of some kind. I like the Clavinovas for their recording/score writing capabilities, but not so much the price. Not so interested in the bells and whistles, so look forward to your forthcoming article/s on decent options currently available.

    I particularly like the action, ‘bashability’ and tonal colour that can be gained on an acoustic piano, but love the silent/headphone/recording ability on digital pianos.

    I am still prone to prefering accoustic over digital pianos, but for an incoming beginning student, would probably recommend a reasonable digital slightly ahead of an acoustic (eek! Did I say that?!). Main reasons being lower initial cost, along with no ongoing (tuning) costs, and they can often explore with different sounds offered.

    Some things I tend to dislike using digitals (perchance this is due to lack of opportunity with good ones), is they are not so sturdily built, so can ‘wobble’ with energetic playing; and sustain does not seem to be as long or as all-encompassing (ie harmonic colour) on digitals.

    Really looking forward to your upcoming articles on this topic!


    • Hi Juls – thanks for your comment.

      So glad to hear that you’re recommending digitals over acoustics – honestly, for the price, you’re generally getting great value from the newer digital pianos. Especially if parents are considering buying a used old acoustic – forget it!!

      Re the sturdiness – that’s why I always ask parents to buy a digital piano with a proper wooden stand (avoid the cross-brace stands at all costs). These normally also come with three pedals attached to the stand which is great.

      They are my prerequisites… generally if a digital has those features, the touch will be pretty authentic and plenty for a student to get started with 🙂

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