When considering purchasing a grand or upright acoustic piano, many pianists ask themselves whether they should either a) get a larger instrument or b) invest in a smaller, but higher quality piano.
Ultimately the answer is one that is entirely down to personal preference, intention for use and your piano goals. Today we will explore the two options, why they are different, how they will affect your sound and how you can approach purchasing your next piano based on your goals.
Where is the piano going?
The first thing to consider when looking at purchasing a larger piano is to consider the size of the room it is going in, we have written about this not only from a positioning perspective, but in terms of sound, particularly when looking at grand pianos, placing a piano in a room that is too small to allow the instrument’s sound to grow and develop will fundamentally lead to a lesser playing experience and can often make the piano feel ‘messy’.
For most baby grand pianos, or pianos that are under 6ft (180cm) long we recommend that the room is at least 4m x 4m in order to house a grand. Anything smaller than this will often prevent the sound of the grand from reaching its full potential or be too powerful and will not spread evenly, causing the other strings to resonate when they are not intending to. For those considering a grand piano for home use and are space restricted, there is almost nothing that you can’t get from the grand that you can’t also achieve on a quality upright piano. It is only at an incredibly advanced level of playing where factors such as the action will affect your playing, learn more about this here.
Why should I buy a larger piano?
When we say a piano is ‘larger’ or ‘taller’, we are effectively referring to the size of the cabinet, the soundboard and the length of the strings. All of these components are tied into how much sound a piano can create and how the sound resonates through a room. Each of these components affects the sound respectively:
The Cabinet - This refers to the ‘housing’ of the piano and how physically long or tall the piano is. The larger a piano is, often the more room inside a piano there is, meaning the piano is physically able to house longer strings and a larger soundboard. This added room and air inside the piano is what allows the instrument's tone to develop from the moment the string is struck and how it reverberates inside of the instrument, building the pianos 'colour’ and how ‘full’ or ‘rich’ the sound is.
The Strings - Longer strings mean that there is more room for the string to ring when struck by the hammers, having longer strings allows for not only more sound, but also an added level of depth to the sound, the bass strings feel ‘bassier’ and the trebles ring more true and bright.
The Soundboard - This is the solid spruce backing to the piano that vibrates and causes the sound to be projected. This can be almost thought of as the ‘speaker’ of the piano and determines how loud the piano is and how sound travels. In upright pianos this soundboard is vertical, creating a more directional sound, whilst in grand pianos, they are horizontal, making the sound spread in a more spherical, omnidirectional manner. The larger the soundboard, the larger the vibration and ultimately the louder the sound. To learn more about soundboards and how things such as wood types can affect the tone and price of a piano, read our guide here.
Why Should I Buy A Smaller, But Better Quality Piano?
Now we have presented the arguments for buying a larger piano, which are mostly to do with sound projection and tonal development, let us caveat that with why you should instead also consider a smaller, but better quality piano.
Material selection is arguably the most important component of an acoustic piano and it is the quality of the natural materials that are used in production that help create the piano’s identity, its touch and most importantly, its tone.
Whilst the above points concerning sound development through the soundboard and string length are true, if your materials are not adequate, then it does not matter how loud or full the sound may be, the tone itself won’t be suited to you and your playing style. This is where the topic of objectivity and subjectivity within sound comes into play, read more about this in our guide to tone here.
Materials such as the soundboard woods and how they are cut, the hammerheads, the hammer felts, the types of string and the quality of the action in the piano are all paramount in how the piano sounds and feels. In our opinion, it is best investing in these over projection of sound, particularly for home use.
A great analogy of this would be to consider something like purchasing a car. You can of course go for the car with the bigger, louder engine that has optimum performance, however for most people, comfort, reliability and longevity are more important for most situations, whilst the bigger engine may be more ‘fun’ and have more of a punch, for most scenarios and for day to day living, it won’t be used.
Where The Two Meet
The topic of height vs quality often meet when discussing pianos within the same ranges. As an example, if budget was no concern and you are looking for an incredibly high quality upright piano suited for home use. If you are debating between the likes of a C.Bechstein A2 and C.Bechstein A6, we would likely recommend the A6 over the A2, as it is that extra height and tone that helps the piano feel far ‘fuller’ and the sound projection to be far more colourful.
On the flip side, if you are considering between the likes of a W.Hoffmann V158 grand piano (158cm long) and C.Bechstein A2 upright piano (115cm tall), both are fantastic instruments, but the C.Bechstein is undoubtedly the better piano as the material selection, craftsmanship and hours invested in that piano will help create a far fuller tone that the W.Hoffmann, despite being bigger simply cannot achieve what the C.Bechstein can, this is of course then reflected in the price of the instrument. That being said, if a grand piano is your dream and you simply love the aesthetic of a grand piano, or require the grand piano action but a C.Bechstein grand is out of budget, then the W.Hoffmann is the right piano for you.
We hope this short guide has helped offer a little more insight into selecting the perfect piano for you. If you would like more information on finding the perfect piano for your home or goals, contact our experts today or visit our stunning Cambridge showroom to learn more.