12 October 2022
By Ellie Palmer
The global pandemic may have boosted sales of pianos worldwide, but the demand has also had negative effects for those manufacturing digital pianos. Let's take a closer look
Yes, that's what they are calling it! At the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic back in late 2019-early 2020, demand for products that require chips (think computers, printers, cars, video games consoles) grew exponentially. The digital piano industry boomed massively during this time, more than many other industries. It was a time when many either returned to play the piano after years away, or decided to take up piano playing as a new hobby in order to pass the time. Let's take Gear4Music, a major online music store, as an example. Between April and June 2020, the company's sales were up 80% compared with the same period the previous year. As a result, its revenue soared spectacularly by 68% to £37.3 million, while its share price rose 25%.
Not only did piano sales boom, sales of sheet music also increased. Chris O'Reilly, CEO of Presto Music, comments, "Lockdown saw customer demand for sheet music explode. This was down to the fact that people had the time to take up what may have been a longed-for hobby."
According to 360 Research Reports, "the digital piano market revenue was 776 Million USD in 2019, and will reach 954 Million USD in 2025, with a CAGR of 3.5% during 2020-2025." The report labels this growth as "unexpected", which highlights just how quickly the increase in sales happened.
Why has the chip shortage affected digital pianos?
Whilst the increase in money into the piano industry is of course fantastic, the sheer demand for digital pianos has lead to a major supply shortage. On top of the global pandemic, other factors such as the China-United States trade war, disruptions in a handful of major factors in Texas and Japan due to extreme weather and accidental fires, and the recent war in Ukraine.
The latter has had a considerable effect. Chips need neon, a noble gas. Neon is needed for lasers in chip manufacture. The price of this gas increased 'sixfold' between December 2021 and March 2022 (CNBC) because of both political tensions in Europe and the effects of the pandemic.
Because of increases in price and demand, suppliers of chips have had to cut production down as they turned their focus to the most profitable types of chips. Unfortunately, the digital piano industry uses relatively less-advanced chips and were therefore pushed down the list of priorities. With many of the above crises still ongoing, there looks to be no resolution in the near future.
The production of digital pianos has suffered as a result of a global chip shortage
Which types of digital pianos are affected?
Unfortunately for us piano lovers, almost all digital pianos need chips inside them. These microchips are essential when it comes to creating a digital piano's ideal sound without reducing quality. The likes of Kawai, Yamaha, Casio and Roland have all been greatly affected. Thankfully, there are a small handful of models that don't require chips. Electric (or electro-mechanical) pianos such as the old Wurlitzer piano, Fender Rhodes and the Hohner Clavinet don’t use chips; they have a physical vibrating medium producing the sound.
If you are seriously interested in purchasing a digital piano, perhaps in time for Christmas, get cracking as soon as you can and make sure you snap up the few that are available! Some companies have six-month queues for products, others sadly much longer. Alternatively, why not invest in an electric piano instead?
Not sure which piano you might fancy? Take a look at the digital pianos section of our Buyer's Guide here.