Possible Piano Keyboard Solutions for Travelers: Lightweight, Compact, and Affordable Considerations

“person playing electronic keyboard” by Martin Hexeberg on Unsplash

I’m writing this article today because I’m trying to figure out, as a piano player, what the best option is for someone who would like to be able to practice while traveling. I know everyone’s personal criteria would differ a good bit, but here’s what I’m after:

  • I’d like something lightweight, as it’s a huge hassle (on many fronts) to have to lug a heavy keyboard around. It’s tough for airline baggage reasons (extra costs, potential damage), for general travel reasons (limitations on carrying in various contexts, such as foreign airlines or buses where spaces are smaller), and for obvious physical reasons (heavy / cumbersome), etc. Ideally, for me, that means less than 10 pounds.
  • I’d like something with at least 61 keys. I mean, I’d love a full 88, but the size of these usually means that it’s going to preclude me from carry-on luggage in many cases. Also, most 88s are fairly heavy, as they have better action, which requires more hardware.
  • It should have (1) keys as large as possible (not micro / mini piano keys), yet (2) the unit dimensions should be as small / thin / compact as possible. I realize that decent weighted action is probably not a realistic expectation, for these reasons. If I were traveling for longer than I do (a few months), I may not be okay with settling on the action. But, for my purposes, this is an acceptable concession. (Also, just for the record, I’m not considering those novelty roll-up piano keyboards. I’ve tried a few and, while fun for a few minutes, don’t like them much.)
  • I’d like something affordable — let’s say $300 or less.
  • When flying, I’d love to be able to carry-on whatever I have. For checked baggage, you really would need a hard-shell case, which is probably going to cost another $300 by the time you get one, and you’re still at the mercy of all airline baggage workers and mechanisms, not to mention the TSA, all along your travel.

This topic has appeared fairly regularly in Internet forums since the dawn of the Internet, and IMHO still has no perfect solution. I think that’s because, while a solid number of traveler / pianists exist in the world, it’s still not enough to constitute an actual market.

I’d like to share a few interesting items I’ve uncovered during my research, although a number of them are not actually viable condidates. But, the information may very well help some others. So, let’s take a look:

The Vax 77

I thought this one was especially cool when I first encountered it. It’s the Vax 77,made by a company called Infinite Response. It weighs 35–37 pounds, and I believe has an available custom flight case, which all comes in under 50 pounds. So, no extra checked baggage fees (but of course you will have a whole 50 pound dedicated bag to check).

I’m not sure what the status is of this, although a few sites mentioned it was kind of a one-off experiment that prodced only a few thousand units). It’s not easy to find much info, really. The maker’s site (not super helpful) is here: http://www.infiniteresponse.com.

I saw one or two for sale, and they were super $$$ (in the thousands). That, and the facts that (1) this is a 77-key unit and (2) one could pretty easily get an 88-key unit with a hardshell case for 5x less, kind of kills this one as a contender for me. But, I have to say that, the idea of foldability is so novel and genius, I simply can’t believe there aren’t many foldable modelsavailable. Yet, this one seems like the only kind. (I’ve been thinking of whether another keyboard brand out there might be a good candidate for a DIY project someday to make a smaller foldable unit. Perhaps someday.)

The Kombos Modular Keyboard

Speaking of genius ideas, the Kombos keyboard solved the portability issue by literally breaking apart the keyboard into modules. Just buy as many chunks as you like, clip them together, and voila. As far as I can tell, this started as a Kickstarter project in maybe 2017 (see here). Unlike the Vax 77 above, this one was just 9 pounds as a 61-key combination (the highest combo, for some reason — not sure why they would not allow another octave or more in there), and actually was affordable (was $299 for the 61-key model).

To me, this would have been what I bought, for sure, as I could easily pack the pieces in different bags w/out damage, and/or carry-on the whole kit. But, as I said, this isn’t a market that’s being served by any manufacturers, really. So, I think the Kombos came and went, possibly. Tkre Kickstarter campaign finished, and the maker’s web site — http://www.komboskeyboard.com — basically offers no help. If you go there and click on “The Shop,” it simply shows all of the models and says “sold out.”

What’s also weird is that I looked pretty hard for any personal information on the inventor — couldn’t find a single name other than the inventor’s friend “Kevin.” Couldn’t find any contact emails or anything. They did have a Facebook page, and I sent a message to them that way, ut didn’t hear back. I think it’s a dead end. Too bad, as this thing checks all of my own boxes above, and I’d order this thing immediately!

(I located a few knock-offs of this idea, such as the Tifen Key-Travel, but nothing beyond prototypes. So… yeah,it’s a no-go.)

The Numa Compact 2 and Numa Compact 2x

These models really pop out during research into decent lightweight piano keyboards. Just looking at the pic, you can see that there isn’t much there besides the piano keys. You can tell that the makers, StudioLogic, put a lot of thought into making this thing compact. It’s about 50 inches wide, about 9 deep, and just about 4 high, and the whole thing weighs just 15+ pounds.

So, those are pretty great stats, and if I absolutely had to have 88 keys, I’d have to seriously consider this, just for the basic weight alone. Pricewise, they’re pretty decent. The Numa 2 runs about $500, and the 2x, which has a few more (cool) bells & whistles, runs about $700.

On the con side of this whole thing, StudioLogic decided, for some hugely strange and unfortunate reason, to only make a soft case for this thing. So, while it’s great for a gigging pianist (traveling by car) who would love a break from some old 50+-pound synth, it basically means you can’t fly with this thing unless you get a hard case.

The problem there is that most pre-made keyboard hardshell cases are already pretty heavy, and most cater to the larger, more usual dimensions of standard electronic keyboards. But, this one is compact. So, there’s nothing pre-made out there that works as a good custom fit for this (at least, not as far as I saw when shopping around).

That means, if you want this keyboard, and want to fly with it, you’re going to need to procure a custom-made hardshell case. And that’s going to cost you at least half as much as the keyboard itself, if not a good bit more. So… that whole thing kind of killed this as a possibility for me.

The Doepfer LMK4+

This one caught my eye, at least initially because, as you can see, the Doepfer LMK4+ looks to be a keyboard that is built into its own hard case. Ostensibly, this looks like one could simply close it up and check it onto an airline. But, looking closer, I don’t think that’s true.

I think it would be good for gigging, as you could simply remove the top, plug in, and get going. But, it doesn’t look to be particularly well protected for flying (even though the case is referred to as a “flightcase”). For example, the ports are directly on the back of the case:

Also, there doesn’t seem to be any locking mechanism on the case. And, the final nail in the coffin, for me: The whole unit weighs just under 53 pounds. So, even if it could be checked, you’d run probably run into some flack from the airlines about being overweight. (Oh, and these cost around $2k!)

The Roland GO:KEYS 61

Dimensions: 34.5" wide x 10.68" deep x 3.25" high

Weight: 8 lbs, 10oz. — which is respectble!

Notes: Thanks to a reader for alerting me to this one! I’d seen the Roland:GO, but somehow missed the 61-key version here. Full-size keys, which is nice… Synth-action “touch response.” Also has Bluetooth, which is pretty neat! This is a strong contender for me, but I want to share some additional possibilities below, as well.

Price: $299.

MIDI Controllers

I probably should have mentioned that, because I travel with a laptop, I don’t necessarily need a self-contained keyboard; a midi-controller would also suffice, as I could run it into my laptop. So, here are a few other potential solutions I’m eyeing up at the moment:

Alesis V61

Dimensions: 44.1" wide x 9.6" deep x 4.5" high

Weight: 11.5 lbs.

Notes: Synth-action only, not weighted or semi-weighted. Can add a sustain pedal.

Price: Under $200. (Saw online for $169.)

Acorn Masterkey 61

Dimensions: 40" wide x 10.25" deep x 4.3" high

Weight: 5 lbs. — which is pretty light!

Notes: Synth-action

Price: Under $100. (Saw online for $99.)

Korg microKEY-61

Dimensions: 33" wide x 5.4" deep x 2.1" high

Weight: 3.77 lbs. — which is superlight!

Notes: Synth-action, of course. And, the key size would be a concession. (Although, in some demo vids I watched, the keys are actually not as small as they appear in the photo here.) But, at under 4 pounds, I could pop this into a bag and very easily carry it onto an airplane. I’ve carried on guitars larger than this, without any problems ever. So… it’s tempting!

Price: Under $200. (Saw online for $164.)

The Nektar Impact GX61

Dimensions: 32" wide x 7.5" deep x 2.5" high

Weight: 6 lbs. — which is respectble!

Notes: Synth-action. Really, I’d have the same comments about this as the above Korg keyboard. It’s tough to know for sure here, as the picture above sure makes the keys look larger than the Korg. But, the unit is 61 keys and actually not as long. So, perhaps they’re simply deeper keys (this unit being 7.5" deep, and the Korg being 5.4" deep). I’ll be thinking about these two a good bit, and researching them more.

Price: Under $150. (Saw online for $107.)

Summary:

I have no idea, at this point, what I’ll ultimately buy. But, I hope this article helps others in the same boat (or, plane, as it were) during any similar travel-piano considerations. Comments / reactions / recommendations hugely appreciated.


About the Author: Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog called “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He’s also contributes to various Medium.com publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com.