The choice between an upright or grand piano usually comes down to size, price, aesthetic, or all three. However, for those piano buyers who have wiggle room (literally and figuratively) in choosing a piano, the conversation about the difference between an upright and grand piano is an important one.
What is the Difference Between a Grand Piano and Upright Piano?
The most well-known difference between a grand piano and upright piano is their shape and size. An upright piano is vertical, giving it a more compact shape, while a grand piano extends horizontally, taking up significantly more space. In addition to these differences, grand pianos and upright pianos also in their sound quality and action.
Size & Shape
The biggest difference in a grand piano vs. an upright piano is the size and shape of the piano. An upright piano is tall and narrow, with a vertical soundboard and strings running from top to bottom. Hammers extend upright to strike forward on the strings. A grand piano’s soundboard extends horizontally from the keys, with hammers above the strings striking in a downward motion.
The size and shape difference in these pianos contributes to a difference in sound and resonance. Grand pianos are well-known for higher sound quality, which can be attributed to longer strings and a larger soundboard. These features contribute to an overall richer, more resonant tone.
Upright pianos, conversely, tend to have smaller soundboard and shorter strings, which limits the depth and resonance of the sound.
Action and Touch
The touch and action of a piano refer to how the keys respond when played. Upright pianos typically have vertical action, which can feel different from the horizontal action of grand pianos. Depending on brand, both upright and grand pianos can have responsive and precise action, though the horizontal mechanism in grand pianos typically allows for a smoother, more nuanced touch.
In general, grand pianos tend to be more expensive than upright pianos since they are larger and require more materials and time in construction. However, both types of pianos can vary greatly in cost depending on size, brand, and model of piano.
Which is Better: An Upright Piano or Grand Piano?
The answer is: it depends. In general, a grand piano has a larger soundboard and longer strings, which makes for a more beautiful, powerful, and resonant sound. However, if quality and craftsmanship are compromised in the size upgrade, a higher-quality upright piano may actually be a better purchase.
When it comes to piano quality, look at the type of materials the piano is made with as well as the quality of craftsmanship. Manufacturing materials should be high quality—such as a spruce soundboard, a hard maple bridge, and spruce core hammers. The craftsmanship of the interior pieces should also be precise. For more information on spotting the quality of a piano, we encourage you to read our guide: How to Spot a Quality Piano.
A higher quality upright piano, such as a Yamaha U3, will have better action (that is, the touch and feel of the piano as it’s played), sound, and value than a lower quality brand of grand piano. For instance, Young Chang pianos were popular for a while because of their inexpensive price, but under the hood, the manufacturing was cheap and shortcuts, such as foam board, meant the sound quality was compromised as well as the long-term value of the product.
All other things being equal, a larger piano is a better choice for sound quality because of the larger soundboard and longer strings. However, if the choice comes down to a higher quality upright piano vs. a low-quality grand piano, it is often wiser to go with the higher quality upright.
The choice between an upright and grand piano ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences. Upright pianos are practical for small spaces and limited budgets, while grand pianos offer a superior sound quality and playing experience, making them the choice of professional musicians and those who appreciate the beauty of these instruments. Whether you opt for an upright or a grand piano, both can bring joy and musical inspiration into your life.