Grand vs Upright

Let's try to scratch the surface with regard to a common question that potential piano buyers have asked since the dawn of the piano: Other than the obvious, what is the real difference between a grand and an upright piano?  

Let's begin at the beginning. The grand piano is the "purest" form of the piano we have today. The original, if you will. Upright pianos were designed after the fact as a compromise for cost and space. They take up less room, which is often a factor, and they cost less, which is also often important. But do they perform differently or just look different? The short answer is that they are so different that it's almost surprising that they are both called pianos. 

One commonly held misconception is that grands sound better than uprights. This is not necessarily true at all. The quality and volume of sound produced by a piano is a function of several factors. The quality of the materials, the craftsmanship, the length of the strings, the size of the soundboard, and the scale design of the instrument are a few of the main elements to consider. There is certainly no reason that an upright piano cannot have as high a score in all of these areas as a grand. In fact, a small grand piano, around the 5' mark, will have shorter strings and a smaller soundboard than a tallish upright. I have played and tuned many outstanding upright pianos over the years. One very well-known piano maker states that they don't make upright pianos for their customers who can't afford their grands; they make uprights for their customers who don't have the space for a grand. Of course, as you move into the larger grand sizes, they will surpass even the largest uprights in soundboard size and string length, thereby producing greater tonal quality and volume, assuming similar quality of materials. A 9' concert grand will sound better than a 45" upright.

So, if an upright can sound just as good as a grand, why should you spend the extra money on a grand piano? The answer lies in the action. The mechanical components that start with the keys that your fingers depress and end with the hammer that strikes the strings creating the sound are called the action. In a grand piano, most of the components move up and down, using gravity to reset them to the resting position, ready to be played again. Gravity is very even, one end of the keyboard to the other. In an upright piano, many of the parts move in a horizontal direction, and since gravity does not work in that direction, springs are used to move these components back into the rest position.

While these springs can be regulated to be quite even, it's never going to be as perfect as gravity. Springs wear and fatigue over time, creating unevenness from one note to the next as well.  In addition to this, in order to repeat a note on an upright piano, the key must be allowed to come all the way back to the top of the stroke before it can be played again. In a grand, a note can be repeated after the key has only come up about 1/3 of the way to the top. This means that a grand action gives the player more control and can be played faster. 

Without going into too great technical detail, this is where the difference lies. The action in a grand piano allows the player much more control. So, then the question becomes, do you need to buy a grand piano? Not necessarily. Most pianists are not at a level where a grand is truly necessary. Certainly almost any reasonably skilled player would enjoy the touch of a grand, but it will not hold you back if you purchase an upright. If you are a rapidly progressing student with an eye on the concert stage, there will come a day when you can actually outplay an upright piano. But for the rest of us, myself included, an upright will do the job just fine. 

I know this was brief so if you have any further questions about this or any topic like piano care, voicing or climate control, send me a note, and I will get back to you.  Happy playing!

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The opinions and information contained in this blog are for informational purposes only. For information on your specific situation, please contact your personal piano technician.