Grand Piano Or Upright Piano?

For some this is a no brainer if you have the room space, then allot of people select the option of grand piano just because it looks amazing in a room and creates a fantastic conversation piece as well as those party moments depicted so often in Hollywood films, mainly because the piano player can look over the piano to everyone in attendance, this is also a great aspect for teachers who are accompanying other instruments. Other Hollywood moments include sprawling across the top but we wouldn’t recommend this especially if the person in question has had one too many or might be wearing some jeans with metal studs that will leave a lovely big scratch on the surface.

To summerise early.

It’s a grand piano of course!

Grand pianos have two fundamental aspects that are just so important, the first is the touch, the entire action is being helped by gravity as the hammers (6) fall with it, unlike in an upright piano the hammers are reliant on the Butt spring and tape and damper spring to return the hammer. Why is this important? Because of the repetition in playing, the grand will render a far better repetition. Also the keys in a grand action are longer and this gives the sensitivity in touch that is lacking in uprights.

Grand action
Upright action

The sound difference.

The sound waves that emanate from the soundboard on a grand piano will flow from under the piano as well as above. The obvious thing to think is that the sound waves resonate on the strings, but it is the soundboard that gives the piano its true resonance and the soundboard is open at the bottom of the piano.

The piano player on a grand piano is more enveloped by the soundwaves.

On an upright piano that is positioned against a wall, which is normal, the soundwaves will reflect and be supressed against the wall, so in effect halving the sound that will be received by the player!

*interesting- Sound travels through the air just like waves through water and we used to experience wave interference on our school piano tunings when people would pass by the piano the sound waves would bounce off moving people and moving through disturbed air, practically making piano tuning impossible. The soundwaves would become a mess and confused.

The soundboard.

The soundboard is the soul of the piano, and on grand pianos the surface square area will most often be far larger, a larger soundboard means more resonance and more layers to the sound. The average grand piano size/length these days is 5.1ft to 6.5ft (for the home) whereas the largest/tallest uprights on the market are 131cm (4.2ft), so this means a big differential surface area size difference between upright and grand pianos.

The larger the soundboard the larger the crown of the soundboard. What is the soundboard crown? Simple, the crown is exactly the same as you will see on the back of a violin or acoustic guitar, they bulge at the back and are not flat, it is the same for a piano soundboard crown, they bulge!

On a piano though the bulge is created differently than on say a violin. The soundboard crown is created by the immense weight and down force of the cast iron plate (frame) and the strings that bear down on that plate with 180lbs of pressure per string! The plate is bolted/screwed down onto the soundboard and is rigid.

*interesting- The first ever pianos would be built with Oak plates bearing down on the soundboard, but they would not be rigid enough and could move with the soundboard with the variation of humidity, obvious really as they had joins and were not solid as well as being wood. This would mean less crown and tuning being very unstable.

Different manufacturers opt for different plate designs that will affect in turn the shape of the soundboard crown which is one of the important factors of the tonal layers. Different plate designs bear weight in different ways creating unique crown shapes to the soundboard.

Uprights are also designed with different plates and all the above rules apply the same, but its all just on a smaller scale, so a smaller sound is the result.

Definately grand piano then…No

Don’t get us wrong, upright pianos are fantastic especially for the most common room sizes as the bigger the piano the more over powering and loud the sound will be, and who wants that in a shared space? Also upright pianos have a very important design feature that is very common in all models! The celeste rail third pedal! This design feature is a must for many people in a shared household as even the smallest 109cm height upright piano can belt out the volume if required, so the third middle pedal bringing down a felt strip between the hammer heads and the strings almost mutes the volume, perfect for practice! Grand pianos do not have this option as their middle pedal is a Sustanuto which sustains only the Bass notes. To play a grand piano with the huge decrease in volume that the celeste rail gives you would require a silent mechanism on the piano.

Silent mechanisms have a lever that pulls a rail to stop the hammers hitting the strings, and engages a module with headphones that you can listen through, which gives the option for other aspects such as recording yourself or changing the sound from sampled piano sounds to Harpsichords to Organs etc.

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