Posts tagged concert

Full Size Grand Pianos

So… over the years there have been many terms bantered about with regards to pianos – terms like “upright grand” or “baby grand”.  In this blog we’re going to discuss what a “full size” grand is.  First of all, i would just like to point out that there is no official guide to piano sizes.  These names have evolved and so their usage is also vague at best.  For what it’s worth, however i’ll give you the ‘insider scoop’ on how retail stores and piano dealers categorize grands.

First of all, let’s set a few ground rules shall we? Full size seems to imply that smaller grands are somehow missing something – as if there is such a thing as a half size or 3/4 size piano… not so.  All pianos have the same amount of keys. All pianos have roughly the same amount of strings.  So what exactly is changing then from one size to another? It’s the length.  The term ‘baby grand’ in my mind is anything 5’5″ and under.  Today we see modern manufacturers producing really small pianos at 4’9″, 4’11″… 5’0″, 5’1″ etc.  In the olden golden days Steinway (among others) consolidated sizes to 5’2″, 5’7″, 6’1″, 6’10”, 7’4″ and 9′.  Yamaha has had huge success with a 6’6″ piano as opposed to Steinway’s 6’10”.  Regardless, pianos under the 5’7″ mark have usually been considered baby.  Full size refers more than anything to string length.  Once you surpass the baby grand size in strings, the piano blossoms.  More so even on the 6’1″ grand. Now at the extreme other end, the term ‘concert grand’ has been reserved for 9′ pianos while semi-concert is the 7’4″ – 7’6″ range.  So if a baby grand goes up to 5’5″ and the semi-concert is at 7’4″, then the term ‘full size’ would fit in the middle there.  So the way i define full size is a piano between 5’7″ and 7′ in length.  Hope this gives you an idea about what we’re talking about.  Just FYI, you won’t magically step over the threshold from one piano size to another, you’ll just hear the difference that length makes when you gradually increase the size.  Take a look at the pics below and see how the rim (the curved end part on the piano) is quite different.  Pictured: Yamaha A1 (4’11”), Yamaha C5 (6’7″), and Yamaha CF (9′).

Why should I buy a big piano instead of a small one?

I regularly get asked this question in my shop.  What IS the difference between big pianos and small pianos?  Well i’m going to preface this by asking you a question, “Do you ever see small pianos in concert halls?”  The answer unequivocally is a resounding NO.  Logically then, ALL piano makers have come to the same conclusion that bigger pianos are somehow better.  And you could argue that big pianos fill big rooms with sound.  And there is a measure of truth to that, HOWEVER… my nephew who is in his 20’s has a stereo system in his car that is a 1000 watts of output.  Now when you consider an average home stereo might be 200-400 watts and a clock radio might be 1-2 watts, a whopping 1000 watts seems overkill right?  Well the bigger the stereo system, generally speaking, the greater the fidelity.  In pianos too, the longer the strings (thus making a bigger piano), the richer the fundamental… generally speaking.  The what? The fundamental? What is that? Glad you asked.  The fundamental is the base frequency of a note.  Within every note on any instrument, there is a rainbow spectrum of harmonic tones.  The fundamental then is the base… the one we hear the most – the pitch of the note.  So if you play an E on the piano, primarily you will hear frequency corresponding to E.  Within the body of that note though are other notes – namely the 5th, the 7th, the 10th etc.  So within an E note are also present “overtones” or “harmonics” of B, D and G#.  They all are embodied in that same note.  A trained ear will hear them.  In fact, piano tuners tune a piano way more based on the sonority of the overtones than the pitch of the note which brings me back to the original quest for the truth about large pianos: Large pianos generally have more fundamental and more pleasing harmonics than small pianos.  And THAT is precisely why you should always find as BIG a piano as your space and budget can afford.  You will be MUCH happier with a taller upright and a longer grand because the fundamentals will be more present and there will be less conflict with ringing overtones.

So you have an Upright Grand?

This is the most frequent misnomer in the piano biz.  True story.  On a daily basis people come into my shop and whisper to me “Do you know that i have an upright grand at home?”  I think they’re hoping my eyes will pop out of my head in amazement at such a rare and wonderful find – that we’ve truly discovered the queen’s jewels! Sadly… i’m a skeptic at heart…. possibly even cynical.  Y’see… the term “upright grand” was started in the 1920’s as a sales feature.  When you lifted the lid on some pianos there was this embossed slogan “Grand piano in upright form”.  This got bantered about so much so that it became a coined phrase – the “upright grand”.  And customers would then feel proud about their acquisition of a piano they thought was so much more grandiose than any other upright piano.  So what exactly were they referring to? Well… size is one thing.  Very tall old upright pianos (usually about 55 inches in height) have similar string length and soundboard area as about 5’8″ – 6’1″ grand pianos.   That said, a tall upright WILL  deliver similar depth of tone as some grand pianos, granted.  But the bigger difference that started all of this is a small little piece that was usually only found on grand pianos called an agraffe.  Agraffe is a french word that means ‘staple’.  In fact… check out the picture of my box of staples from my desk drawer.  See that? It says agrafes (missing an F for some reason…)  Agraffes on grand pianos ‘staple’ the exact position of the string to the cast iron in a piano.  It sets the left-right position spacing of the strings and also the ‘downbearing’ of the string (how much pressure the string is placing on the bridge).  Because agraffes are usually found on grands, some manufacturers who put them on upright pianos started calling their verticals upright grands.  Most don’t know of this crazy little factoid but that’s in my mind the true meaning of the term.  Ok wait… it gets better… recently someone came in and told me they had a “Concert Upright Baby Grand!”  Oh for heaven sakes… from the sublime to the ridiculous!

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