Grand Pianos Vs Upright Pianos – Differences Explained

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Written By Sarah Barlow

Chief Music Officer

Grand pianos and upright pianos are the two choices for pianists out there who want to buy their first piano or are looking to upgrade from their old one. Choosing between grand pianos and upright pianos can be confusing without knowing what sets the two styles apart. Here are the main differences between grand pianos and upright pianos:

Are Grand Pianos of Better Quality Than Upright Pianos?

Grand pianos are generally of better quality than upright pianos especially in terms of the following:

  1. Materials: the workmanship and labor required to make grand pianos means that most grand pianos are of better quality than upright pianos. The exception is when upright pianos are manufactured for professional use. 
  2. Tone: the horizontal design of the grand piano allows for longer strings and larger soundboards than upright pianos which results in a deeper, richer tone quality compared to uprights.
  3. Sound projection: grand pianos can project further than upright pianos
  4. Touch control: The design of the grand piano’s action mechanism offers greater playing control than uprights because there is a more direct transfer of energy to the piano strings.

Bear in mind that the areas listed above are a general consensus and not a hard or fast rule. There are other things to consider such as brand, model, and cost. 

Do Grand Pianos Sound Better Than Upright Pianos?

Due to the workmanship put into grand pianos, the sound quality they produce is better than upright pianos. The size of grand pianos also allows for a bigger soundboard and longer strings which results in a richer tone than uprights. Sound is a very subjective matter but most pianists recommend grands because of the difference in sound:

“The sound is more of a subjective thing. But in almost all cases, a long enough grand will sound better due to the wonderful bass sound. Also they open more directly to the room so the string/soundboard sound gets to you more directly (plus the room reflections).

Uprights have to bounce the string/soundboard sound out the back against the dang painted drywall (your wall).”

[Source: Music Stack Exchange]

However, many pianists who have tried both say that:

“This is such a subjective subject, so many pros and cons on both sides of the arguement [sic] concerning an upright vs. a grand, or a grand vs. an upright. It really comes down to YOUR particular situation.”

[Source: Piano Street]

High-quality upright pianos also produce good sound that trumps the lower quality grand pianos:

“A good upright is better than a small grand (unless the scale design in the baby grand is exquisite) Judge the grand by it’s [sic] sound (Since touch is generally superior) and judge the upright by it’s touch, (since scale design can be more thought out in an expensive upright)”

[Source: Piano Street]

Are Grand Pianos Better For Certain Types of Music?

Grand pianos are the choice of many professionals who play classical and jazz music because certain complicated passages in these types of music cannot be played on upright pianos. Grand pianos also offer more control to the pianist through:

  1. Greater dynamic range – Grand pianos can produce really soft sounds and really loud sounds. This allows for more freedom to express the indicated dynamics in piano pieces (forte, mezzo forte, pianissimo, etc)
  2. Double escapement action mechanism – a repetition lever allows piano keys to be played in repeated succession without letting the key return to its starting position. Trills and staccato notes are smoother and faster when played in grand pianos.
  3. Different pedal functions – Grand piano pedals can:
    1. Change sound volume
    2. Make slight changes to the tone
    3. Sustain selected notes
    4. Sustain all played notes

[Source: Yamaha]

Are Grand Pianos Easier To Play Than Upright Pianos?

Grand pianos are known for their outstanding playability. This is due to their entire action mechanism which does not rely on springs to release the hammer like upright pianos, resulting in a playing speed much faster than uprights. It is also easy for pianists to apply different dynamic expressions and articulations because the keys do not need to be released completely.

Do Grand Pianos Weigh More Than Upright Pianos?

Most grand pianos weigh more than upright pianos. A concert grand piano weighs about 900 to 1200 lbs (408 – 544 kgs) while upright pianos can weigh from 500 to 1000 lbs (227 – 454 kgs). However, the weight of the small type of grand pianos is comparable to vertical pianos. Smaller vertical pianos like the spinet, weigh from 200 to 400 lbs (91 – 181 kgs) compare that to a petite baby grand piano which weighs anywhere from 400 to 500 lbs (181 – 227 kgs). 

Do Grand Pianos Have The Same Amount Of Keys As Upright Pianos?

The standard number of keys found in pianos whether upright or grand pianos is 88 keys. In rare instances, some grand pianos can go up to 92 keys and 97 keys. Only several grand pianos in the world have 108 piano keys, this is an extremely rare occurrence. The first was produced by Stuart and Sons in September 2018.

Making a choice between a grand piano or an upright piano depends on the buyer. The following aspects have to be considered before deciding:

  1. Budget – All pianos are handmade and can take up to a year to make. This means that the price isn’t something to laugh at. But because of their size and workmanship, grand pianos are more expensive than upright or vertical pianos.
  2. Space – Grand pianos are larger and can take a lot of space, not advisable for buyers who live in small houses or apartments.
  3. Lifestyle – This refers to the reason why the pianist wants a specific style. Mastery level, genre preference, and even music composition style can affect the choice of pianos.
  4. Preference – Choosing between the two boils down to preference. Grand pianos offer great sound but cost more and take up more space. Buying an upright piano may mean compromise in tone quality and touch control but it may be the perfect choice if on a budget.