There are two main types of acoustic piano, the upright and the grand, and each have a whole range of lengths and heights. You’ll normally find grand pianos from 5’ to 9’, split into 3 categories. Although there isn’t a consensus, generally anything from 5’ to 5’ 4” is considered a baby grand, from 5’ 5” to 8’ a medium, conservatory, orchestral, or classical grand, and anything over that is considered a concert grand. With uprights, although you’ll be able to find pianos with full vertical actions under 45”, those typically won’t be classified as uprights, rather as cabinet or studio pianos. Upright pianos normally range from 45” to 55”, but don’t let the shorter apparent length fool you, sometimes upright pianos can have longer strings than grands.
Lets start by breaking down what changes when a piano becomes taller or longer, and how that will affect your sound. The two most important components are going to be the strings, and the sound board. When you increase the length of strings, in order for them to stay the same pitch, they must become thinner. Longer, thinner, strings are going to have a more resonant sound, and a warmer tonality as opposed to a shorter thicker string, which because it has less length, will struggle to produce a clear pitch for two reasons: first, because there is more mass per given point, inertia dictates it will struggle to vibrate as well, and second, the shorter length means there are physically less peaks, troughs, and nodes of a wave, which also hurt the sound, making it muddier. You can think of a soundboard like the diaphragm of a speaker; the larger the diaphragm the more accurately it will be able to produce pitches, to a point. Because even the smallest soundboards still have the ability to cleanly amplify the lowest note on the piano, a larger soundboard mostly only affects the volume of a piano, and unless you’re trying to fill a concert hall, any piano should be just fine.
So know you know how the length of a piano affects its sound. Of course, everyone’s ears are different, and we encourage you to go to your local showroom and play on a few different pianos, and see if the differences are worth the difference in price.
If you haven’t decided on a grand or upright yet, consider reading our article about that here, and keep in mind some upright pianos will have a better sound and tone than some grands, at much cheaper prices. Thanks for reading this article from Summerhays Music of Orem, consider subscribing if you’d like more like this.