Both varieties of piano come in upright and grand versions, though for most digital pianos the grand piano version are more aesthetic than practical.
An acoustic grand piano is considered to have an advantage in two areas over an upright model.
First is the tone: a grand piano, certainly one over about 170cm in length, will have a larger soundboard and longer string length than an upright piano. This normally means longer sustain, a more rounded tone, and better bass.
The grand piano also has a different type of action as it strikes the string from underneath, which means that the key will return and be ready to strike again faster than on an upright piano.
When looking to buy a traditional piano, bear in mind the size of the instrument and where it will go in your home. An upright piano is generally best against a wall.
The two major factors that affect the tone are the soundboard area and the length of the strings. As a general rule, the bigger the piano, the better its sound will be. As a general rule this is true, but a large, high quality upright piano (say a 121cm to 131cm model) will most likely outperform a poor quality 159cm to 170cm grand piano, since it is likely to have the larger soundboard and longer string length.
Some buying tips
1. It is always best to see, hear and try before you buy, especially if you’re looking for an acoustic piano, as every one sounds different. Take your time to visit a few piano shops where the staff will be able to offer you expert advice.
2. Make sure you sit down and play the piano in a piano store. The keys should be light and responsive to play and it should produce a tone that you like. Be sure to play notes at the extremes of the keyboard (the very top and the very bottom) to give you a good indication of the overall tonal quality. This applies equally to an acoustic and digital instrument. You need to make sure you like the sound it makes.
If you’re looking at an acoustic piano, buy the instrument that you have played in the store. Unlike digital instruments, no two acoustic pianos are identical, so a new piano still in the box will have a different character of touch and tone from the one you fell in love with in the store.
3. When looking to buy a traditional piano, bear in mind the size of the instrument and where it will go in your home. An upright piano is generally best against a wall. (Digital pianos, being smaller, are in many instances easier to accommodate in modern homes and apartments).
5. New or second hand? Many of the leading brands now offer affordable options for new acoustic pianos, and buying new will ensure that you are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
Much common wisdom about second hand pianos is myth. Pianos don’t last forever, especially when they haven’t been maintained well, and many second hand pianos on the market are upwards of forty years old. Many have been imported privately without the benefits of official support from the manufacturer. Here are some tips for assessing a second hand acoustic piano:
– Ask how the piano has been used, where it’s been kept and how often it’s been tuned. You are looking for a piano that has been regularly tuned (every six months or so), has been played in a home and which hasn’t been next to a fire, heater or hot air vent. Pianos need to be up against a wall, and in a room with a modest and even temperature. A piano from a commercial property such as a pub or club is likely to have had a hard life; a piano from a school may have been played hard but is more likely to have been professionally maintained.
– Have it checked out by a piano tuner or technician. They will be able to give a condition report, tell you how old it is, and how much life it likely has in front of it. You can find a piano tuner either through your local piano store or by looking up your local guild of piano tuners in the phone book.
6. Acoustic pianos are made from natural materials that are susceptible to changes in temperature and need to be tuned professionally on a regular basis. Keep in touch with your piano store, even if you bought second hand, because they will be able to advise about maintaining your piano.