Buying a piano in the under $1000 price point presents tremendous challenges. Years ago the only choice was to buy an old upright. Today there are digital pianos that can offer an alternative. Which is a better choice?
While there are many digital pianos on the market for well under $1000, plan on spending $800 in order to get a good weighted action and sound. Yamaha in particular has many models at that price point that are quite good. In fact, spending more offers more features but not necessarily a superior instrument. The exception is the quality of the built in sound system which makes a huge difference in the more expensive models. If you invest in a good stand for stability and utilize a decent quality home stereo system or good computer sound system with sub woofer, you can get very good results without investing thousands of dollars for a high end Clavinova or other digital piano.
No digital piano has the nuance of expression and refinement of touch of a fine acoustic piano. However, most pianos under $1000 require extensive work in order to achieve a high level of playing. However, you may find a high quality console piano that has been sitting in a living room for a long time without being played much. These instruments have fallen out of fashion so sometimes you can find a fine used piano like a Baldwin for a few hundred dollars. Plan on investing at least $100-$300 for regulation, voicing and tuning.
Which offers a better practice instrument? There are advantages to both. A new digital piano will be precise. It also offers the option of practicing with headphones. You can also connect it to your computer for all kinds of applications from music notation to sequencing of compositions with orchestrations utilizing different instrument sounds. It is also portable so you can take your music with you.
The acoustic piano has the benefit of an almost infinite range of expression. While digitals keep getting better, the complex action, interaction of harmonics, pedal subtleties and expression can be invaluable to an aspiring pianist. If you are taking lessons or are considering taking lessons, it is important to invest enough to achieve a minimum level of performance. Otherwise, I suggest you are better off with a decent piano and no lessons rather than an inferior instrument and lessons. Practicing on a bad piano or inadequate digital piano can make lessons unproductive and become a frustrating experience. We are fortunate at this time in history to have a choice of acoustic or digital pianos.