Many people assume that a grand piano will be better than an upright. This is completely understandable as the former generally has longer strings and a larger soundboard and should therefore have much greater tonal volume and resonance. It is obviously for this very reason that they are used for public performances in concert halls. Whereas an upright piano uses a complex spring mechanism for its action repetition, a grand action utilizes natural gravity – you press the piano key and the hammer lifts up and drops down. By this, you can also, therefore, argue that a grand action is generally more responsive and ‘natural’. Let’s also be really honest; a grand piano is a beautiful, elegant piece of furniture and far more aesthetically pleasing than the rectangular proportions of an upright. For these reasons, and because they are generally a lot bigger, grand pianos are considerably more expensive than uprights if comparable in quality and condition.
However, as I have mentioned in previous chapters, the condition, quality and age of the instrument is paramount in determining whether a piano is a suitable and worthy purchase and, with grand pianos, these factors are only magnified. Grand pianos that are in poor playing and structural condition can not only be extremely costly to repair but downright dangerous. This is due, not only to the sheer physical weight and load-bearing of these instruments, but also the extreme tension placed on the frame by the strings. As people and institutions downsize, it is common to see what may look like absolute bargains available to buy privately but please be aware that in most cases these instruments will need extensive work that could well cost as much as ten times their value. Even if you are buying a grand piano purely for aesthetic reasons, it is important to be sure that it is at least structurally sound.
I would always advocate buying a great upright over a mediocre grand, particularly if the latter is a baby (4’6”/140cm to 5’3”/160cm size) as high quality taller uprights can very easily match (and in some cases even sound better) their larger siblings in tone and expression. Again, to use the lazy car analogy, would you prefer a well made and reliable family car over a second-hand Jaguar with bits falling off it which will cost you a fortune to service? This is an extreme example but I have seen too many lured into buying the un-restored, pre-war prestige German grand piano over a reliable modest upright.
However, if you have space and funds to choose a good grand piano (please feel free to refer back to my ‘what makes one piano better than another chapter’) then it will only enhance your playing enjoyment, not to mention your living room!