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Different Types of Pianos

The first piano was invented in 1700 by an Italian harpsichord manufacturer named Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1700. Since then, the varieties and quality of pianos has increased by leaps and bounds, and although the basic design has remained the same, one can find pianos in many categories, which suit the purpose of the performer, depending on whether the player is using the instrument for personal entertainment at home or for a large audience at a concert.

Today, only two primary types of acoustic pianos are available, i.e., vertical and grand. Electric/digital pianos belong to a completely different category. The major difference between vertical and grand pianos is that, the actions and strings in the former are vertical, while in the latter they are horizontal, due to which the mechanics differ by a large margin, and feel different during play. Another significant difference is that vertical pianos do not possess a double escapement mechanism which permits the player to use various keys in rapid succession. Any key of a vertical piano has to return to the starting position before another key is played. Let us look at the various types of pianos in the vertical and grand categories, and see how each of them differs from the others.

Types and Sizes of Pianos

Vertical Pianos
Vertical pianos come in 4 types, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Although these look very similar, they can largely be differentiated by their size and sound quality. These pianos are largely designed for use in apartments, schools, and churches, where great sound quality is not a very high priority. They can cost around USD 2,000 for smaller vertical pianos, and up to USD 50,000 for those in the top-end range.

Spinet: This is the smallest type of vertical piano. Spinet piano sets are great when space is a major constraint. However, due to the small size of its strings, it has less power and accuracy, and consequently the quality of its sound is relatively poor. The height of these pianos is usually around 36 – 40 inches (91 -102 cm), with a width of around 58 inches.

Console: Console pianos are a little larger than spinets, with heights of 40 – 44 inches (102 – 112 cm), and a width of around 58 inches. These are made with varied styles and finishes. Therefore, console piano sets can be bought to suit the look of a room. The slight increase in size gives better sound quality. However, the major difference between the spinet and console is the direction of the action. While a spinet’s action mechanism is kept below the keys, a console’s action mechanism is above the keys. This change enables a clearer range of tones.

Studio: This is a popular type of vertical piano found in music studios or schools, and while its height of 43 – 47 inches (109 – 119 cm) is larger than spinets and consoles, it is compensated by a good quality sound that is almost as good as a baby grand piano. The longer stings and bigger soundboard benefits from having a direct blow action mechanism, which rests behind the keys, which make it more durable.

Upright: The largest variety of vertical pianos is the upright one, with a height of 47 – 60 inches (119 – 152 cm). In earlier times, this was a very popular variety, which gave very good sound quality. However, with toughening economic times in the 1930s, people started living in smaller homes, which took the player away from uprights and towards consoles or spinets.

Grand Pianos
These kinds of pianos are largely used for public performances, and are much larger in size as compared to vertical pianos, with the biggest varieties going over 9 feet in length. They give a good tone in all ranges, which makes it important for full orchestra performances. Similar to vertical pianos, grand pianos can also be differentiated by size and sound quality. Smaller versions, such as the petite grand, can cost around USD 6,000, and the price increases with size, with the best concert grand pianos costing around USD 200,000.

Petite Grand: This is the smallest variety of horizontal pianos, with a length up to 4 feet 10 inches (150 cm). Despite its size, it is capable of playing strong notes.

Baby Grand: This is a very popular type of piano for apartments. It is slightly larger than petite grands, with lengths of up to 5 feet 6 inches (170 cm). These come with very good finishes, have excellent sound quality, and are affordable too as compared to the bigger grand pianos.

Medium Grand: Larger than baby grands, these pianos are specifically suited for larger rooms, where the acoustics suit the range of the piano. The length is usually 5 feet 6 inches – 6 feet 6 inches (170 – 200 cm). They can also be moved from one room to another with little effort.

Living Room/Parlor Grand: The next size come in lengths of 7 feet – 7 feet 6 inches (214 – 225 cm). These pianos are fairly expensive, although they are still not in the range of concert pianos. They are best used in large and spacious rooms, which require a piano for higher range of notes and acoustics. These are not movable very easily, and need some planning to avoid damage during transportation.

Ballroom/Semiconcert Grand: These pianos are approximately 7 feet long, and are good for large events, such as dances or a private performance. The sound quality is exceptionally good, and the price is also quite high due to the high quality of materials and construction.

Concert Grand: The biggest and the best, with lengths of 9 feet (280 cm) and above, concert pianos are preferred by professional pianists who regularly perform in large concert halls. They are made with the best materials and skilled manufacturers, and consequently are extremely expensive to buy and maintain. Also, the large size makes it very heavy and difficult to move from one place to another, and large amount of manpower and extensive planning is required to shift this piano safely around.

Electric Pianos
While vertical and grand pianos use mechanical means to produce sounds by vibrating strings and exciting soundboards, electric pianos use electric pickup transducers to sense the vibrations of the strings. These vibrations are then magnified by an amplifier. Alternatively, digital pianos do not have metal strings. Instead, they use sample notes which correspond to their keys and are played out through speakers. These pianos have keys which are weighed down to give the feel of playing an authentic piano. These pianos are often used for jazz, rock, or modern pop music, and have the advantage of not needing to be re-tuned after each move, which makes it a good choice for musicians who move around a lot.

Now that we have learned about the different kinds of pianos available in the market, it should be easier for you to make a good choice for yourself, depending on your requirements and budget. Best of luck!