Upright Pianos – buying an upright piano

Here are some valuable facts about upright pianos that will help you understand their merits and compromises as well as essential upright piano buying advice.

How much do upright pianos cost?

We specialise in affordable high quality upright pianos – assuring you of a pleasing tone, responsive touch and high standard of finish, at a relatively low price. Prices start at around £2,200 for a new upright piano with our quality approval and 5 year guarantee. ‘Young’ pre-owned / second-hand upright pianos are usually available from around £1,750 depending on specification, and availability.

What size is an upright piano

As a guide, upright pianos are usually between 110cm – 135cm in height, around 155cm wide and 60cm deep, the height being the major difference between models.

Why should I buy an upright piano?

Upright pianos are popular because of their efficient use of space. While baby grand and grand pianos may appear more attractive, for the space-concious, tall upright pianos are capable of producing a strong tone, wide dynamic range and a good amount of leverage in the keys and action, taking up minimal floor space. Tall uprights are usually only a few cms deeper and wider than shorter models.

Older upright pianos are cheaper, but is age a higher price in itself?

Modern design and engineering is very effective – and worth so much. Older pianos (pre-1930’s) built by top piano makers in their day eg. Bluthner, Bechstein or Grotrian-Steinweg are very attractive on price vs. the same models brand new. However, they simply do not match up. The designs are very different: the actions weren’t as good, the scale designs weren’t so well engineered and the timbers were not built with central heating in mind. Add to this the fact that they has been subject to around 20tonnes of combined string tension for over 80years, probably been moved over 10 times and been heavily played, the result really is a substandard instrument that cannot compete with a good quality modern piano.

‘Restored’ is a very loosely used term in the piano trade, so get an independent technician to see how well, how much and how recently the ‘restoration’ has been done. Full restoration costs are typically in excess of £4,000 – so don’t expect a £2,500 upright piano to have been ‘restored’ properly.

If you want to consider an old upright piano, try some good quality but affordable new / nearly new upright pianos as well, so you can gauge the performance, condition and value of upright pianos for yourself.

Here’s a fact: We supply many new Petrof, Yamaha and Venables & Son upright pianos to homes, professionals and institutions who have a pre 1930’s ‘premium’ upright for part exchange. What does that say?

Where is the biggest improvement in most upright pianos, in performance for size?

At 120cms in height, most good quality upright pianos will outperform even higher quality 116cm uprights – and still be more affordable. This is the most effective upgrade in upright piano specification, between 2 consecutive sizes, for the least difference in price. Better tone, better feel. Why? Tone: Longer strings and greater soundboard area extends the depth of tone in the lower-mid and bass registers. There is usually a more obvious tone gain between 118-120cm high pianos than 120-122cm, so 120cm is a proven upright piano height threshold. Feel: tall upright pianos have usually have longer keys, taller actions and longer hammer shanks – therefore, you benefit from greater leverage.

Should I buy a decent big upright piano or a baby grand piano?

Tone: A full height (c.130cm) upright piano will usually have a much fuller bass and deeper, more powerful lower-mid register, but the baby grand will become more lyrical and pure from the mid register upwards. The 2 factors in the relative tone differences are string length and soundboard area. A 6′ grand has equivalent soundboard surface area and bass string length to a 130cm upright, and a 5′ grand equivalent to a 116cm upright.

Soundboard Area: On upright pianos, the hammers strike the strings from the front – allowing the soundboard to start right from the top of the strings. The unique profile of a grand piano is to taper the soundboard to suit the pitch and frequency of the strings like premium speaker cabinets having bass, mid and treble cones for a truer sound reproduction than a ‘full range’ cone. A grand works like a premium cabinet and an upright soundboard is like a full range. More surface area gives a better bass, but is inefficient at higher frequencies and higher pitch. The hammers strike the strings upwards on a grand, so the soundboard doesn’t start until after the action, hammers and dampers. All grands of all sizes should have a more melodic, less percussive tone in the treble and upper mid registers, in comparison with big uprights.

String Length: Tall upright pianos have the capacity to accommodate longer bass strings than short baby grands, so the bass register is typically better on a full height upright than a baby grand. The benefit of longer strings tapers out into the lower mid section where a 5′ grand has similar string length. So, its just a better bass and lower mid on a tall upright – not a better upper mid and treble!

Touch: Upright piano hammers travel forwards, grand piano hammers travel upwards. Therefore, the hammers on an upright piano are more likely to still reach strings when playing too quietly, and a grand will be less forgiving, requiring more accuracy. The action of a baby grand is better for developing your technique. Repetition is improved as the roller action design allows for fast repetition with just half return of the key, where an upright piano action requires full return or it will block.

Pedals: left (half-blow) offers the hammers half way towards the strings, lightening the touch and reducing the hammer momentum to the string – more of an aid to the player in pressing the key with less force than actually producing a much quieter or softer tone. A baby grand or grand piano left pedal (una-corda) shifts the keyboard to the right just enough for the hammer to omit the 1st of 3 strings of a note at full pedal depression, which makes a quieter and less full sound, and at half pedal depression, the uncompressed face/tip of the hammer felt strikes the strings resulting in a full, yet mellow tone.

Pedals: centre (celeste) is a practice facility to mute the sound. The celeste rail is a curtain of felt lowered between the hammers and strings to muffle the sound. On a baby grand / grand piano, the centre pedal (sostenuto) allows the player to sustain (not damp / ring on) selected notes, so non-selected notes remain damped for either staccato playing or to achieve controlled sympathetic note/chord harmonics from the selected notes.

Pedals: right (sustain) has the same function on both upright pianos and baby grand / grand pianos.

What’s best for you?

You may prioritise the deep bass, fuller lower-mid tone range and practice pedal (celeste rail) of a tall upright piano whilst maintaining good living space – where others may prefer the appearance, touch, pedals and upper register tonality of the baby grand. Remember, it is personal, subjective and only you know what’s best for you.

We recommend visiting our upright piano showrooms by informal appointment so you can fully appreciate the true differences between various upright pianos of different sizes and compare tall uprights with baby grands, select from a hand-picked selection of affordable high standard upright pianos, and play in privacy.