When many players begin their piano journey, one of the most common questions we hear from those looking at digital instruments is: “Do I want a wooden or a plastic action?”
For those not in the know, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two and how they will affect your playing experience. That’s why we’ve written down this handy guide to tell you all about some of the pros, the cons and the things to consider when looking at digital pianos.
For more information or tips for buying your first digital piano, read our buyers guide here first!
Why Does The Action Matter?
The action is one of the most important parts of any piano, acoustic or digital and should be one of the main factors that dictates your buying decision. If the action doesn’t ‘feel right’ to you, then it’s the wrong piano for you!
Much like the tyres on a car and the road you’re driving on, the action and the keyboard are the only place where you physically interact with the instrument. On a digital piano, this process is always trying to replicate that of an acoustic piano by utilising a series of sensors and even lasers in some cases to dictate the intensity of the key press.
The way the action works but also the feel of the keys can impact your impression of a piano, not only by saying ‘the action is too heavy or too light’ but also that the keys may feel too ‘plasticy’ or too smooth.
The most common uses of woods in digital piano actions is for exactly this reason, to offer a more realistic feel through the keys and also using wooden components in the action that feels more akin to a real acoustic piano.
As you progress through the ranges of digital piano available, the more realistic this feel will be, usually because real wooden keys or composites have been used instead of plastic, and because there will be a lot more sophistication and length to the way the action is weighted.
Wooden Vs Plastic Components
Before we delve into why wooden components are generally considered superior to plastic, it’s also worth noting some of the pros and cons of plastic actions to give a fair comparison.
The first and perhaps biggest reason why some may consider plastic better than wood is because of cost. Because they do not require raw material to be sourced, plastic actions are generally far cheaper than that of wooden actions, driving down the price point of the overall instrument.
Likewise, because of the malleability of plastics, they are still used even in the highest of actions, particularly on the white keytops of pianos. Higher quality plastics use what is widely known as ‘ivorite’ feel, meaning that the plastic is textured with small bumps and textures in order to give the feeling of playing on a real ivory keytop (which are no longer in production). This gives an overall better feel to the piano and more control without the fingers slipping off of the key. Some manufacturers, such as Kawai have even taken this one step further by introducing a texture on their keytops that absorbs any moisture on the keys, ensuring that even if you are playing with sweaty hands, the keys will actually absorb the moisture and keep the key from slipping.
Which Kind Of Action Do I Need?
When looking at wooden or plastic actions, it’s also worth considering how much you need to be able to express from the instrument based on your ability. For example, if you find that your keys do not respond fast enough, your action is likely to blame. At the entry-level, weighted actions are generally superior to a non-weighted (or sprung) action, and wooden actions are generally superior to plastic actions.
As a very rough ballpark figure on the different price points actions can cause, these are the kinds of brackets that most pianos find themselves in when it comes to the materials used in the action:
Unweighted (sprung) actions:
Generally only found on low quality or older keyboards, not pianos. Only allow for one or maybe two different sound qualities (For more, read our differences between keyboards and pianos here) - We do not stock these style instruments. From +£100.
Weighted 88-key Plastic Action
The entry level to digital pianos with properly weighted keys begins to feel more like an acoustic piano. Great for beginners, but will be quickly outgrown with regular practice. Commonly found on most entry level instruments and portable pianos. From £300-£350
Plastic Actions (weighted)
Generally found on most home digital pianos as the cabinet can be larger than a portable instrument so is able to house a slightly more sophisticated mechanism. A great option for those looking to start the piano and want an instrument that feels more akin to an acoustic piano. Likely to be grown out of as you advance through the higer grades. From around +£500
A fantastic option for those looking to take piano playing seriously and want a realistic feeling (and often sounding) piano. These instruments begin to utilise some of the techniques mentioned above in order to provide a more authentic playing experience.
Generally coming with a longer key length than that of the plastic action pianos to offer even better playability and touch control due to a longer pivot point. From around +£1500
Advanced Wooden / Counterweights
Ideal for advancing players who still need the requirements of a digital instrument but want a more realistic feel. Advanced counterweight mechanisms will allow for a faster response without compromising on touch or sound, allowing more complicated pieces to be played. It’s also around this point that you will find the ivorite feel keys mentioned earlier. From around £2500.
The pinnacle of digital pianos and an incredibly sophisticated mechanism that is the closest you can possibly get to an acoustic instrument without being acoustic. These actions use advanced wooden components to replicate acoustic feel and are fully counterweighted to give the most realistic feel possible. Learn more about hybrid pianos here. From +£3000
So there you have it! A very brief introduction to the world of plastic and wooden actions in order to help your buying decision! Looking for more information or want expert advice? Contact our experts today or visit our piano showroom!