8 Types of Keyboard Pianos You Must Know About!

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

So, I went with the piano as my main instrument because it had a lot of cool variations and forms. My parents bought an old upright piano as a living room decoration, and I was the only one who took it up.

After that, I played the piano all the time, even though I wasn’t that good at it. So my dad messed up big time and got me an Ensoniq VFX synthesizer so I could play without bothering them. I basically never left my room after that.

Back in the day, pianists wanted to be able to carry their instruments around like guitarists. But that was a real challenge – the sound of a real piano just couldn’t fit in a portable package. It was pretty rough before sampling technology got better and they figured out how to make it sound decent.

In turn, this led the talented individuals at Moog, Rhodes, Hammond, Yamaha, Roland, and Sequential to move beyond copying the piano and start creating new things. The outcomes have been fascinating, with some exceptional works and some not-so-remarkable ones.

Today, all these companies have developed new versions that are quite popular. Here are some examples of these updated types and models.

Stage Pianos

Even though the Rhodes piano has seen a revival with the Mark 7 and the recent new Mark 8 still being sold and manufactured, most electro-mechanical players have turned to stage pianos for their Rhodes, Wurli, and Clav needs. In many ways, the Rhodes and Wurli were the stage piano of their time as they were the most portable version of an acoustic instrument that had piano keys.

The Swedish company Nord started with Nord Lead back in the 90s but has evolved as one of the stage piano kings. Their Nord Grand is their flagship stage piano, and it’s a beauty. With a look resembling a mix of an upright piano and an organ, it looks quite stunning. It also delivers amazing vintage electric pianos to boot.

The difference between stage pianos and workstations is that stage pianos focus less on the sequencing and recording connectivity aspect and more on being a portable version of the instrument itself. That’s why the look and feel have to be reminiscent of the Rhodes, Wurli, and Hammond organs. The Nord definitely checks all the boxes.

Roland, of course, always has a hand in anything that’s popular. The Roland RD-2000 is a perfect example. Though Roland is much better known for their workstations, this one blurs the lines between the types. It has a lot of versatile options, but the look, sounds, and feel are more stage piano.

They also added their cool vintage effects like the Roland Dimension D and Boss CE-1 Chorus that artists like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock used on their Rhodes performances in the ’70s.

Hybrid Pianos

Hybrid pianos are similar to digital upright pianos and offer nearly the same feel as acoustic pianos. They have the appearance of an upright piano, with the addition of a small row of digital controls above the keys. When you close the main lid, you won’t even be able to tell that it’s a digital instrument.

They are not really meant to be moved around since they weigh over 240 lbs on average. They are more of a replacement for a home piano.

The Yamaha Clavinova CLP-775 is a hybrid piano that looks like a traditional upright piano with a black matte finish and three pedals. It has an 88-key graded hammer keyboard that feels and responds like a real piano.

Personally, I am blown away by Yamaha’s VRM technology. It captures the acoustics inside the body of a grand piano to make it sound realistic.

Many of these Japanese instrument companies have created their own modeling technology to capture the most important details from real pianos. And with the super cool multi-speaker system, hybrid pianos feel like you’re surrounded by sound.

Another great hybrid piano is the Roland LX705-CH. It has four speakers and many controls over the sound. I’ve always thought Roland’s PHA-50 keys feel amazing; I own a few keyboards with that keybed and it is super legit.

Hybrid pianos can also get software updates to add sounds, new features, and even improved effects all through a simple USB connection. This is a great way to future-proof existing ones.

I think that piano enthusiasts who love the look of a real piano but also want to play around with more technology will find hybrid pianos super appealing.

Digital Pianos

Unlike hybrids, which may fool you into thinking they are actual mechanical pianos, classic digital pianos are often associated with beginner or bedroom pianos. They have internal speakers and require a keyboard stand and a wired sustain pedal.

However, the feel of these pianos has improved over time. The Yamaha P-125a, for example, has 88 weighted keys with GHS and Damper Resonance DSP to recreate the feel of a real piano.

The Roland FP-30X also has similar features, including Ivory Feel keys and their acclaimed SuperNATURAL sound engine, which brings the polyphony to 256 and claims to bring out pertinent details for each sound model. For example, the onboard electric pianos sound naturally grittier, while the acoustic pianos sound cleaner.

These pianos weigh less than 30 lbs and have very simple interfaces, making them almost as portable as a simple MIDI controller, with the advantage of not needing an external sound source or headphones. They are easy to power up and play.

Workstations and Arrangers

If you took a stage piano and a digital piano and added an advanced sequencer, you’d get the start of a workstation keyboard. These keyboards are made for super-skilled keyboardists and pianists who want to record on the go.

What makes them even cooler is that most of them have the highest-quality 88 weighted keyboards you can find. So, in a lot of ways, they’re an even better pick than just a stage piano.

The only thing that might make them less cool is their complexity. By offering so much, there’s a ton of menu diving and a steep learning curve to getting around a workstation. Sometimes, we just want to sit down and play.

In terms of simplicity and ease, the Yamaha MODX8+ is fantastic. It offers great keys and great sounds without needing a lot of the pro recording options to get started.

Arranger keyboards are less geared toward pianists and usually more toward songwriters.  So, they usually have smaller semi-weighted keys. The Yamaha PSRSX900 is a straightforward  61-key arranger that’s loads of fun. It’s got the band-in-a-box accompaniment but in a really pro, sleek way.


In the beginning of this article, I talked about how the hassle of trying to copy the sound of a real piano led to the creation of something bigger. This was a huge moment in the history of keyboard instruments.

When Bob Moog put out the Minimoog in 1970, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Now, the Moog company has brought back the classic Model D with all the modern upgrades we’ve all been wanting, like MIDI and a solid keybed.

Although the Minimoog was monophonic and only capable of playing one note at a time, it ushered in a new era of polyphonic opportunities, such as the Sequential Prophet-5, which was also recently re-released.

The Prophet doesn’t sound like a real piano at all, but the added 4 voices let you play chords with a bass note. This made the synthesizer feel a lot more like a piano for players who wanted something different from just playing electric pianos.

After that, every decade brought more digital versions like the Yamaha DX7 and Access Virus. Who knows, would dance and EDM music even exist if Bob Moog had not been such a genius?

MIDI Controllers

So, these aren’t technically keyboard piano instruments, but they’re like a new breed of electronic keyboards. Just like Ableton is like a whole new form of instrument, it’s so unique.

In some ways, you perform Ableton Live. It’s almost like a turntable becomes an instrument in the hands of a skilled DJ.

I mean, today’s MIDI keyboard controllers paired with an environment like Ableton, it’s crazy inspiring. You can turn that thing into a full-fledged synthesizer or play back an incredibly detailed hyper-sampled piano. And if you got a MIDI controller with pads like the AKAI MPC Key, you can even use it as a drum machine. How cool is that?


We probably all grew up with a relative who had one of those spaceship-looking organs in their house, where it played a weird Bossa Nova beat and you couldn’t really figure out what octave you were hearing.

The Hammond B3, though, wasn’t grandma’s organ; it was an icon of Classic Rock. From Pink Floyd to The Beatles, it’s everywhere. Amazingly, unlike defunct companies like Wurlitzer, Hammond is still rocking new keyboards and organs.

Their SK Pro is an incredible digital recreation of the classic Hammond B3 experience. It even has the drawbars with legit handle tips and all! Seeing as they’re a forward-thinking company, they turned this into an organ with Stage Piano capabilities, smart.

Nord had been an early adopter of the B3 digital recreation along with Roland. Now their new Nord Electro 6D 73 is the best of both worlds. It instantly reminds you of a B3 organ when you see the large drawbars, but it offers less of a recreation of just an organ.

The organ has mostly been perceived as a church or theater instrument, but it was also a classic in Jazz. Cats like Joey DeFrancesco and Jack McDuff were like the Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock of the organ.

Vocoders and String Machines

Hey there, Daft Punk fans! If you’re into their music, you must know that sound that hits you right in the feels. Yup, that’s a vocoder – the non-Pharrell robot voice parts of their massive hit “Get Lucky”.

Many electronic music artists have used this effect in their music. What’s interesting is that vocoder is technically a type of keyboard, known as a String Machine. Back in the ’70s, the market was dominated by brands such as Solina, Korg, Arp, and especially Roland.

The Daft Punk sound, the Roland VP330, has made a recent comeback in two versions: the official Roland Boutique VP-03 and the Behringer VP330. While there are plenty of naysayers out there, the Behringer VP330 is actually one of their best remakes to date. It’s super solid, and it boasts a nice 37-key setup that more than earns it a place on this list.

Another classic remake that’s been around for a while is the Korg Microkorg. This one looks super dope because it includes a gooseneck microphone and also sports a 37-key mini keyboard.

The voodoo behind the vocoder was that your voice input via a microphone was modulated by a synth signal, and depending on the number of bands used, it could sound clear or very artificial.

Companies like Waldorf have taken the design beyond vintage, as is the case with their STVC String Synth and Vocoder.The Waldorf is actually capable of some very cool Electric Piano-like sounds, which are unique enough to make this a somewhat Stage Piano contestant, especially since it has a great look and a nice feeling 49-key bed.

Final Thoughts

So, there are tons of keyboard piano options out there, and I’m only scratching the surface. I’m mostly talking from the perspective of someone who plays piano and keyboard. Personally, I prefer physical keyboards, so I can really get into the performance.

However, there are also some really cool virtual libraries available nowadays. The Spectrasonics Keyscape collection is a great way to check out tons of different electric and acoustic keyboard styles throughout history.

UVI’s Keysuite acoustic and electric collections offer even more expertly sampled anthologies of many rare electric and acoustic keyboards. What’s especially cool is that they restored and perfectly tuned all these keyboards before capturing them.

Right now, I have a Wurli and two Rhodes pianos in my studio that need serious tuning and restoration work. That’s another reason why digital keyboard versions of older keyboards are so great – they save you from expensive repairs and all the frustration while still giving you most of the authentic sound.

I’m really stoked to see what’s on the horizon for some of these companies that are recreating classic keyboards. Korg just unveiled a full-size synthesizer of the Arp2600, and Behringer is crushing it with the Monopoly and PolyD remakes.

It’s seriously a great time to be a keyboard player!

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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