A keyboard is NOT a piano. They are a financially-affordable way to see if you love piano lessons, and are committed long-term to putting the time into learning how to play the piano. At some point, you will need to upgrade to a real, live piano. Why? It’s all about the touch of the piano, and learning to play expressively. For an excellent article called Invasion of the Piano Snatchers about why you should buy a piano, go to palomapiano.ca.
That said, how do you buy a used keyboard?
On a piano or keyboard, there is a pattern of two and then three black keys, then the pattern repeats again. You want to buy a keyboard that has at least five sets of two and three black keys (five octaves).
You want to buy a keyboard that has full-size keys (some kiddie keyboards have piano keys that are smaller size keys).
There are keyboards that if you play hard or soft on the piano keys, there is no difference in sound. Avoid those if possible. Sometimes you will see a Casio on used websites that is less than one year old and does not have touch response. Just know that within two years or so, you will want to either upgrade to a keyboard with weighted keys or a used piano.
Next there is a class of keyboards that are touch-responsive. If you play hard, it is a loud sound, if you play gently, it is a quiet sound. At a minimum you want to try to buy a used keyboard with touch response. New, these keyboards start at $199 + stand + taxes. The only difference between a keyboard with touch response that costs $199 (new) and one that costs $550 (new) is the $550 keyboard has more buttons! It does not have better touch response.
The next step up from touch response keyboards are keyboards with weighted keys. The most common keyboards with weighted keys are Yamaha (P45, P125), Korg (B1, SP280) and the Lamborghini of keyboards, Roland keyboards (FP20, FP30). The new FP10 is $300 cheaper than the FP30! While Casio does make keyboards with weighted keys, they are not as good in resale value as the Yamaha, Korg and Roland pianos.
When purchasing used keyboards, you need the manufacturer and model number. What I do is do a separate search for the manufacturer and model number and see if there are reviews on that model. If the reviews are dated fifteen years ago, voila! I avoid recommending that keyboard to a future piano student.
It is also good to get an estimate of how much someone paid for their keyboard. Sometimes someone buys a keyboard on amazon, and then tries to sell it for what they bought it for. Duh. You are looking for a deal!
For a new student whose family doesn’t want to spend much, I try to look at Yamaha keyboards. My pet peeve is most of the Yamaha keyboards have tons of buttons. Maybe it’s my age, maybe students like all those buttons and options. For a Yamaha without hundreds of buttons, look at the Yamaha NP12 or NP32. My second choice is Casio. (Casio keyboards are really just entry-level keyboards). I avoid other manufacturers because I have made the assumption they will be harder to find parts for if they ever need repair. If you want a keyboard that you won’t outgrow, go for a Roland FP10. The FP30 has recording features, but most people have cell phones and ipads that can record. The FP20 is discontinued, but maybe two or three years old. Another keyboard you won’t outgrow is the Yamaha P45 (one pedal) and the Yamaha P125 (three pedals).
Sometimes I will look at Costco or Future Shop, and see what models of keyboards are currently being sold. Then I do a search on a used website, such as Kijiji or Letgo, for those specific models.
Long & McQuade rents keyboards, and offers a rent-to-own program for Yamaha P45, P125 and Roland FP30. They also sell used keyboards, but it’s just whatever is available at the time. I find trade-ins are usually cheaper than former rentals.
A nice goal to have is to purchase a used keyboard that is under two years old. Sometimes you should consider a three-year old keyboard, especially if it is a Roland or Yamaha with weighted keys. Right now, spring 2018, is a good time to look on used websites for the Yamaha P115 (being replaced by the P125), or the P105 (version from three years ago).
Price-wise, it is possible to find a used keyboard with full-size, touch-responsive keys and stand for $150 to $200 on websites such as Kijiji, Letgo or other used websites of which I don’t know the names. If you’re patient, a Yamaha with weighted keys, such as the P115 model, can be found for $600.
If you can afford it, buy or rent to own a Roland FP10. Your child will be motivated to practise because it sounds and feels so good. You’re set for years; the upgrade from a Roland would be a piano! If you can’t afford it, look for a used Roland FP 20, FP30 or Yamaha P45 or P125. Usually people are asking too much for FP30’s, though; compare the used price to the cost of a new FP10.
My piano tuner, Dave Potter (listed in my resources page), often has a real live piano for $1,200. The price includes moving and the first tuning. He also knows which of his clients are selling pianos.
You can read more about Buying a Used Piano here.