There’s more types of pianos than you think.
No – seriously!
Pianos are one of, if not the most popular instruments on the planet! Not bad considering that pianos themselves are actually quite modern; the first ever piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy around the year of 1700. Earlier than you’d imagine, especially with the piano being considered by many, to be a classic sound. Compare it to other instruments and you’ll soon see what we mean.
The guitar for instance, has been around twice as long as the piano – it came about in the 1400s. And as for drums? They stretch all the way back to the years B.C.! All proof that the piano truly is something special. So special in fact that during its existence, this one instrument has given birth to over 15 types of pianos. A number that if you ask us, is likely to keep on growing.
So, to help you stay up to speed with the latest and greatest in piano evolution, we’ve put pen to paper and outlined over 15 types of piano that you can expect to come across in 21st Century Britain. Read on, and by the end of this blog, you also should be able to spot the difference too!
Hunting for the lowdown on a specific type of piano? Or just curious as to which piano types perform best? Use the menu below to find the answers you need, fast…
What are the 3 main types of pianos?
The first thing to know about pianos is that they fall under three types. Types that are not so much to do with the style of the piano, but more the way it’s constructed and how it creates sound. So the easiest way to think of these would be overarching categories, under which virtually all pianos fall under.
Call them the the three main branches of the piano family tree. Three branches that in order understand piano types properly, you need to know…
1. Upright pianos
Much as the name suggests, Upright pianos are those in which the strings and soundboard sit vertically. They’re also the most popular type of piano that you can buy. Why typically comes down to price, as Upright pianos tend to be on the cheaper side, even though some prestigious piano brands will still charge 4 figures for this type of piano.
The reason behind Uprights and their compact design, actually stems back to a lack of space inside smaller homes. Back in the 1800s when Uprights came about, only the rich would have a living room capable of accommodating a full-size Grand piano. So as a solution (and to sell more pianos), the Upright was born. Call it the working man’s alternative.
However, Uprights are by no means perfect. The main critique came back to their sound – something you’d imagine should be at the top of your priority list when buying a musical instrument! Experts claimed that the vertical internals and small casing caused the sound to loose body, depth and even restricted its volume level. What’s more, because the hammers were mounted horizontally and relied on a spring to be reset, they were also liable to break. All true, but that didn’t stop the Upright from taking off.
Fact remains that to this day, Uprights are the most popular piano type out there. And that’s because for the everyday household, they just work! Being compact, Uprights can be shunted up against a wall without eating into too much floor space. What’s more, not everyone’s a sound connoisseur, so to the majority they actually sounded pretty dope. And on top of that the lack of volume wasn’t really an issue either – if anything, it was a selling point. Live in a flat or terrace and you’ll probably know why.
2. Grand pianos
Grand pianos are called ‘Grand’ for a reason – they’re huge!
Opposed to an Upright (above), Grand pianos have their soundboard and strings mounted horizontally. Something that many piano gurus will tell you is “how it should be“, as this how pianos were when they were originally invented back in the 1700s. Not only that, but the sound of a Grand is also said to be far superior too.
Because of the large piano casing and the fact that the strings are longer than those in an Upright, Grand pianos produce not only a louder and more prominent sound, but also one of more depth and tone. Plus, if the volume of a Grand still isn’t loud enough, you can even pop the top of the case to amplify the sound even further. You’ll often see a topless Grand at concert halls or live events.
What’s more, because the hammers sit vertically in a Grand, and are therefore reset by gravity (not springs), they’re arguably the most dependable piano you can buy. Saying that though, Grand pianos do cost a pretty penny – tens of thousands if you’re after a good one! Although that really all boils down to how much their supreme tonal quality and greater responsiveness means to you. If tens of thousands of £ represent that, then it’s likely that to own a Grand piano should be on your bucket list.
3. Digital/ Electric pianos
What with the advancement of technology, it was almost certain that the piano was going to be (like most instruments) ‘technified’ in some way or another. Hence the digital piano, which is in essence, the 21st Century take on this iconic acoustic instrument.
So as you’d expect, with an Electric Piano, there are no strings or soundboard like you get with a Grand or Upright. Instead, when you press a key, a signal is sent to a mini computer inside the piano, which then triggers some form of response. This is the sound that you hear played back through the speakers. Really then, Digital Pianos are more like a Hi-fi in a posh frock.
However, Digital pianos, just like Uprights and Grands, have a full set of 88 hammer-action keys. And it’s this which makes them still a piano and not a keyboard. Yet, unlike with an acoustic piano, Digital pianos do not require regular tuning (a big cost saving). Neither do they take up anywhere as near as much space as a Grand – the majority come in an Upright-style design. Therefore, it’s not that hard to see why Electric pianos are so popular these days, as they basically take the good parts of a piano and combine them into a user-friendly package.
How many types of pianos are there?
Okay so now you’re clued up on the 3 main types of pianos, you now need to delve a little deeper and get yourself clued up on the various styles of pianos. All of which fall under at least one of the three categories mentioned above.
As with all instruments, over the years pianos have changed quite substantially both in terms of design and fashion. In fact, what was once a mainstream piano that virtually every family had in the home, is now more than often a rare artefact and only available through specialist retailers. So to show you just how much the piano has changed over its 300-year lifespan, here’s a rundown of all the types of pianos that we think you should be aware of in 2023…
1. Spinet Pianos
Yep – we’re starting with the most controversial first. Reason we say ‘controversial’ is because this type of piano causes a the majority of music enthusiasts to cringe and crease up their face. Too right, because the Spinet is anything but like you’re traditional piano, even though it did see a spurt of popularity during the 1700s.
While out of the 3 main types the Spinet is closest to the Upright, it has to be said that it does not have the best of reputations. This is mainly due to the way it operates, which unlike your typical piano, is slightly different due to the type of action. On virtually all pianos the actions are at the level of the keybed, whereas the Spinet uses what’s known as a drop action. In short, this means that the key you press isn’t directly connected to the action. That’s the job of two rods under the key, which then cause the hammer to move.
What’s more, the Spinet’s only around 36 – 39 inches tall, which means the strings are incredibly short, as is the soundboard too. So the sound they produce is pretty weak when compared to that of a larger, more conventional Upright. Saying that though, Spinets did experience another spurt of popularity in the States, due to the Great Depression. However, these revived Spinets were made to be affordable pianos (i.e. they were made to a budget), which when compiled with their drop action, made them pretty unreliable. So much so that piano specialists even today, try to avoid having anything to do with a Spinet.
2. Console Pianos
Think of Console pianos as the Spinet 2.0. So where the Spinet was stubby and short, the Console added an extra few inches. Your average Console piano clocks in at about 42 – 44 inches. All of which allows for a bigger soundboard and crucially, bigger strings. Therefore, the sound of a Console is far stronger and tends to have a bit more depth than that of a Spinet. Those extra couple of inches added to the case really do make a difference!
But yet, the Console is still the second shortest piano ever made, and for that reason the sound is nowhere near on par with that of a Grand (as you’d expect). Although, Console pianos were a huge step forward. Their main USP was that they switched out the drop actions of the Spinet for a regular upright action, which (long story short) means that the key you press is directly connected to the action. All of which made the Console a heap more reliable, playable and crucially, turned it into the people’s piano.
3. Furniture Console Pianos
Console pianos were so popular in fact, that they even gave birth to another type of Console piano – the Furniture Console. A piano that, much like it sounds, was orientated around interior design and actually made to be a piece of furniture itself. So shop around on the second hand market and you could find one that’s Mid-Century Modern and another that’s Queen Anne.
Arguably the easiest way to spot these types of pianos that’s a Furniture Console is the two legs underneath the keybed, which aside from being functional, are almost always a major part of the design. Saying that though, these types of pianos are a lot rarer today, and the only you’ll get one new is if you have one built; Furniture Consoles were at their most popular during the 60s and 70s.
4. Acrosonic Pianos
Acrosonics are type of piano made by Baldwin – an American piano manufacturer renowned for their quality and attention to detail. Something that showed in their Acrosonics, which began their life as Spinets and were later replaced by Consoles. That’s right – Baldwin Acrosonics did not follow the trend.
Even the majority of the first Spinets were really well made and produced a surprisingly full sound, reminiscent of that of a Baby Grand. And that’s all despite them having the short dimensions and vertical string setup that you get with a regular Spinet. The sound itself was easy to distinguish – far more bassy and rich than you’d expect. All of which made the Acrosonics ideal for Blues and Jazz music.
5. Electronic Stage Pianos
These are by far some of the most modern types of pianos out there. Usually you’ll find on-top of a fold-up stand, wrapped in what looks like a keyboard housing. But don’t be fooled – stage pianos aren’t just a fancy keyboard. They’re the closest thing to a portable piano you can get.
That’s right, stage pianos are nothing more than a regular digital piano that’s made for the road. All of which makes them ideal for touring, or anyone that doesn’t much in the way of space. Unlike a keyboard, stage pianos have the full-blown hammer setup and properly weighted keys. So you could call them a slimline piano or a posh-boys keyboard – we’ll leave that up to you.
6. Children’s/ Junior pianos
Yes, that’s right – although you may think of pianos as a huge instrument tailored to us grown-ups, you can of course get scaled-down versions of certain pianos, made specifically for musically-minded children. And we’re not talking about bright multi-coloured plastic play pianos from Toys R Us.
These junior pianos are fully-functional electrics, that are child friendly and really a great place to start. That’s providing though that you can find a high quality one. As with most things junior these types of pianos can often be less well-made and even use velocity-sensitive keys (like a keyboard), opposed to those that are fully-weighted. If you can’t find a child’s piano that ticks these boxes though, we’d say give it a miss.
7. Studio pianos
These types of pianos are a significant step up from a Console piano, and range from between 45-47 inches tall. As a piano, they’re an Upright and built to be rugged, because they’re actually intended to be used mainly in schools and choirs. Their height being the biggest giveaway.
You can tell a Studio piano by the fact it’s just small enough to see over, yet just tall enough to create its rich and bassy sound, which is thought to be similar to that of a Baby Grand. Just one perk of its larger soundboard, longer strings and full-size action. Also in case you’re wondering, the reason behind the height is so that conductors who’re accompanying a choir from the piano, can be visible. As you’d imagine, a crucial part of any conductor’s role.
Types of Grand pianos
*Opposed to Uprights, which are measured in height, because Grand pianos sit horizontally, they’re measured in length.
Petit Grand piano
Ranging from between 4ft 5″ to 4ft 11″, Petit Grands are the smallest type of Grand piano that you can get your hands on. And while they don’t boast quite the same volume as their larger counterparts, that’s not to say they aren’t powerful. Compare a Petit Grand to a Console or Spinet and it’s not exactly quiet. Nor does it sound rough either.
Play a quick chord and you’ll soon realise just how advantageous it really is to have any piano that sits horizontally. As for the sound itself, it’s much as you’d expect from a Grand piano – warm and rich in tonality, without too much in the way of brightness. And what’s more, its petit size makes it ideal for any room where space comes at a premium. A child’s bedroom perhaps?
Baby Grand piano
Measuring in at between 5ft to 5ft 5″ , this Baby piano is ever so slightly larger than its Petit cousin. Therefore, the most noticeable difference with a Baby Grand is in volume. In that respect it’s a decent step up from the Petit and when played side by side you can really tell the difference.
As you’d expect, the Baby has a slightly bigger soundboard and as a result longer strings too. And don’t be fooled into thinking that Baby Grands aren’t up to a professional grade. Steinway, who produce some of the best pianos that money can buy, even offer a Baby Grand version of their signature Grand, which they call the Model S… surprised they haven’t had words with Elon with that name!
Medium/ Classic Grand piano
See a Grand piano in someone’s living room and you can bet your back pocket that it’s a Classic Grand. At around 5ft 6″ to 5ft 8″, this is one of those types of pianos that in a decent sized room, just works. While it’s big enough to comfortably seat two, as well as make a statement, it’s not overly huge to the point at which it swallows 90% of your square footage.
The sound of these pianos is excellent too! Unlike their smaller cousins, we feel they hit the nail on the head when it comes to volume. While Classics are loud enough to be expressive and hit crescendo, they’re not loud to the point at which every note sounds overly dramatic. Something to bear in mind if your house is prone to echo! Really then, it’s no wonder then that this mid-weight Grand is arguably the most popular Grand piano to date.
Professional/ Full Grand piano
So this is where the sound of a Grand piano really starts to deepen, get more bassy and develop a real depth in the mid register. And that because when you reach a Professional Grand, your piano will be touching on 6ft! What’s more, the piano’s tail will also vary more in shape.
So what that means is that two Professional Grands, both of the same length, could sound completely different. Reason being that the tail is a large part of what shapes the sound. So the larger it is, the more influence it has. Exactly why we’d suggest that if you’re buying something as pricy as a Professional Grand, that you test out the exact same model you intend to buy first.
Parlour/ Boudoir Grand piano
The trend of large tails continues when you get to a Parlour Grand. These being the types of pianos that measure from 6ft 3″ to 6ft 10″ and have an equally rich bassy tone. And in terms of volume, well, let’s just say that it makes this type of piano pretty much unsuited to any home that isn’t detached.
But with that being said, if you’re after a striking centrepiece that you only ever play once in a blue moon, the Parlour Grand is a pretty solid choice. We’re particular fans of Yamaha when it comes to Grands of this size.
Semi-Concert/ Ballroom Grand piano
Step up to a Ballroom Grand and there’s certainly a lot more decorum about hitting a note. And that’s because these are some of the largest types of pianos you’ll come across. So as you’d imagine, Ballrooms pack a punch when it comes to volume, especially with the top up! Therefore, these aren’t what you’d call pianos for the home.
Ballroom Grands will most likely come out at small or medium-sized venues – something like a concert hall or theatre. Being hefty, they’re also where you’ll find some of the longest soundboards and sets of strings. Their casing is also pretty unique when compared to smaller-scale Grands, due to the tail playing a larger part in sculpting the sound. Pretty special then!
Concert Grand piano
Need extra projection? Then this is where the Concert Grand (AKA the daddy) comes into play.
As the largest Grand piano ever, this monster of an instrument comes in at somewhere in-between 8ft 11″ and 9ft – maybe even longer! But as you’ve probably guessed, the size isn’t the only thing that’s big about a Concert Grand. Sound really does bellow out of one of these pianos, especially when the top is popped. Hence why you’ll only really see these types of pianos used by professional pianists or at large outdoor music venues.
But then again, that could well be the closest you ever come to a Concert Grand, as aside from the sound being one of the richest, that’s also something you need to be to afford one; brand new a Concert Grand will set you back close to six figures! And even if you opt to go second hand, you can expect to pay at least £50k for a clean example! Yep – that’s no typo.
What are some good piano brands?
While the amount of piano manufacturers has certainly grown over the past couple of decades, the majority of good piano brands have a reputation behind them. One that to accrue they’ve had to build through a combination of clever craftsmanship and commercial success. So just a heads up, virtually all of the piano brands that we classify as good, have been around for a long while.
Therefore, while to piano buffs this list may be common knowledge, to the rest of you there may be some fresh names. Ones that we’d encourage you to investigate. Without further ado then, here just five piano brands that to us, are the cream of the crop…
Which is the oldest type of piano?
Bit of a mind bender this one, but the oldest type of piano isn’t actually a piano.
Correction – it is a piano, just not perhaps in the way that you’d expect. The instrument in question goes by the name of the “clavicembalo col piano e forte” and from the outside resembles a Harpsichord. Reason? Like a lot of great inventions, including Cornflakes and the Slinky, this world-first was actually a mistake.
Turns out that Bartolomeo Cristofori, the acclaimed inventor, was actually trying to make a Harpsichord that had more touch and feel to the way it played. To do so he invented the hammer mechanism and before long, the piano was born. Cool story that!
Want to know more about what has to be one of the world’s best mistakes? Check out the video below…
What is the most popular type of piano?
Without a doubt the Upright is the most popular form of piano in existence.
Baldwin alone sold over 1 million of their Acrosonics! Then consider how many Uprights brands like Yamaha, Roland and Korg have shifted over the years, on top of those manufacturers who’ve been and gone, and you begin to see just how popular Uprights are. However, when it comes to the type of Upright that’s another story.
Now if we were writing this in the 1950s, of course the answer to this would of course be some sort of acoustic piano. That’s pretty much the only option there’d be. However, considering the success of Digital pianos and the sharp decline in manufacturers making acoustics, and we’d be tempted to say that the tables have turned.
So much so that if you were to ask us what the most popular type of piano is today, we wouldn’t say the Spinet, Console or even the Grand – we’d put out money on the Digital Upright.
How do I choose from all these types of pianos?
Choosing a piano is no easy task, especially today when (thanks to the internet) you virtually have your pick of any piano world-wide! Although saying that, how’s best for you to splash the cash really all comes back to one thing: how you intend to use the piano.
And to do so you really need to evaluate yourself. So for instance, if you’ve a busy family and space is already at a premium, then 9 times out of 10, an Upright would be the way to go. Plus, if you’re worried about kids or pets, Uprights are great because it should prevent anyone tinkering with the underside of your piano while you’re not looking. Just one of the perks of being able to shunt an Upright against the wall.
Then of course if you live in a flat or somewhere where noise levels are on tap, an Electric (along with a decent pair of headphones) would be a wise option. That way you can practice when you want, and at what volume you want, all without infuriating those next door.
Get the idea? As ironic as it sounds, knowing what piano to buy isn’t so much reading up all the specs and watching hours of nerdy reviews online – that’s only half of it.
The other half is simply knowing yourself.
Enjoy this education on the types of pianos and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest on Pianos and Keyboards, as well as our in-depth Musical Instrument Reviews. Recently, we also did a full write-up on the Grand Piano VS Baby Grand Debate + another on Why Steinway Pianos Are SO Expensive, which may also be a good read!
Or, if you’ve still got as burning question about what type of piano you should buy, or just pianos in general, keep reading to discover even more about the piano instrument family…