It’s the keys’ turn for the ABCs today, and what better place to start than with the classic acoustic piano.
One of the many factors in evaluating a piano and a primary one at that is the quality of the wood in which it is built. Many different types of wood are used in a piano for various parts. These include birch, maple, fir, oak, mahogany, ebony, spruce and many other exotic woods.
One part in particular is the sound board. Normally spruce is used as it has highly elasticity and is the most reverberant. Different manufactures use different types of spruce (Sitka and Adirondack to name a couple).
The keys of the piano are sometimes made of fir. It is tough and resilient to heavy wear. Usually cut from a single piece of wood all 88 keys are seasoned further to allow moisture to escape and prevent warping. Once the key stick is ready the keytops (white and black) can be attached. Materials for the white key tops are usually a synthetic ivory or plastic resin and for the blacks it is wood (sometimes ebony) or a special resin type material.
The action mechanism is made of many components and precision is the key. For the best quality pianos these action parts should be made with minute margins of less than a thousandth of an inch in part production. Usually maple is the choice for action parts although depending on the manufacture other types of wood are also used. These parts are made to withstand constant friction and have to be very durable. The action is the heart of the piano and what determines the touch to be light or heavy.
The case, rim, back posts and exterior of the piano are made of many different woods. The rim is usually made from maple and/or maple and mahogany laminate. The exterior case and cabinet of some pianos are made of a solid plywood core, while the outer veneer layer can be walnut, mahogany, maple, cherry, oak, rosewood or other exotic woods.
Grand vs Upright
A piano is an object that we’re sure will take pride of place in your home, so what it looks like is important. You might have aesthetic reasons for wanting a small upright piano or you might think a large grand piano would look better in the space you have, but some of the biggest differences between uprights and grands are hidden beneath the piano lid.
Grand piano strings lie horizontal to the ground. Once a hammer has struck the string, gravity does the work of resetting the hammer. The quicker you can reset a hammer, the faster you can play that note again. So yes, on average, grands play faster than uprights.
Upright strings lie, well… upright! Once a hammer strikes a string, it relies on a series of complex mechanisms to reset the hammer. These mechanisms have become so advanced, many mid to high end upright pianos have a faster reset speed than entry level grands. It just takes some creative engineering to outsmart gravity.
Grand piano keys are longer than uprights. The size of the visible key is the same on all pianos. It’s the part of the key hidden behind the fall board we are comparing. A piano key acts as a seesaw. Push down on one end, and up it goes on the other side.
The longer the key is, the less effort it takes to move the hammer to strike the string. This translates to a greater amount of control over dynamics.
If you are playing music that focuses heavily on subtle nuances in tone and dynamics, a grand piano key length with be very beneficial.
Upright keys are shorter. Not always by a lot, but they are shorter keys. A shorter key will results in slightly less control over how much control you have over dynamics.
Some upright pianos have become very creative in finding ways to extend the length of keys. When you compare a well designed upright, and a small baby grand piano, the key length is not very different.
Uprights take up considerably less space than grands. Even when looking at a baby grand you jump from a 3” x 5” footprint, to a 5” x 6” footprint at a minimum with a grand.
The upright piano is not as loud as a grand. The smaller soundboard results in a quieter piano.
When you’re looking to fill a hall with music, an upright piano is a poor choice. However, an upright piano can sound as full and loud as a grand in a small to medium sized room.
If you have a room smaller than 12” x 12” an upright piano will often make the most sense. If you are thinking about moving house often, an upright piano is also less expensive to move.
The piano’s speaker is it’s soundboard. Grand pianos have a significantly larger soundboard and longer strings often resulting in a much louder and fuller sounding piano. This “fullness” is in reference to the lower bass tones of the piano.
The larger a soundboard, the greater the volume of air it is able to move. Bass and midrange tones require a large amount of air to be moved. A low note on a grand piano will sound much fuller and deeper than the same note on an upright piano.
An upright piano’s soundboard is on average much smaller than a grand piano’s soundboard. Most uprights will not sound as “full” or “big” as a grand. The size, and quality of an upright piano soundboard will have a big impact on tone.
The taller an upright piano, the larger the soundboard can be. The size of the soundboard has the biggest impact on the low and mid register of notes. The top 3rd of the piano’s range on uprights and grands are almost identical.
New vs Reconditioned
A new piano is often the dream, but a reconditioned piano is often the most affordable choice for a lot of people.
Reconditioning means the piano has been fully serviced. All parts have been checked and replaced where necessary.
The most important piece of advice we can offer is to try as many different pianos as you can. We sell a lot of pianos! However, if you’ve visited the shop, you’ll understand that we can’t stock every model from every manufacturer. Over the years though we’ve become skilled at selecting which pianos represent good quality and good value and we have a fine selection to choose from.
We are also experts at piano moving, so you can rest assured that your piano will arrive with you exactly the same as it was in the shop.