The short answer to that question is that a grand is not necessarily better than an upright, but with any type of piano, it all comes down to three basic things. 

  1. Quality of design
  2. Quality of componentry
  3. Size

So then if a grand piano has a tick next those three privisos, being high quality in design, componentry & size will a grand be better than an upright? In my not so humble opinion, definitely YES. Why? Well a number of reasons, let’s explore them.

The way it feels under the fingers. 

When you look at the design of a grand piano action versus an upright piano you will very quickly see some obvious benefits of a grand action over an upright.

Describing this in its most basic form what we are trying to achieve here is to get the hammer into motion, hit the string at a given velocity and then return to its original position ready to do it all again. Let’s not get overly technical here, but obviously a grand piano hammer will return to its original position after being played because it is on a horizontal plane, and has the advantage of gravity to get it back into a position to play again with more efficiency and therefore more quickly than an upright which travels on a vertical plane. This return of the hammer ready to play a note again is called repetition. The upright action needs assistance in the form of springs called hammer return springs and tapes or bridle straps in order to get the hammer back to its rest position ready for repetition. In addition, to this the grand piano action has the advantage of having a “jack / whippen” assembly that allows the note to be repeated without the need to fully release the note back all the way back to its original starting point, therefore allowing significantly faster repetition of any given note. An upright piano action “jack / whippen” needs to be fully reset by having the note fully depressed or returned to its original starting point in order to achieve repetition. This means the rate of repetition possible on an upright piano is much slower. So bottom line a well regulated grand piano action of good design & quality will always be faster (higher note repetition) and be able to be played with more control than an upright action will. 

The way it sounds.

The way a grand and an upright produce sound is exactly the same. A hammer hits a string causing the string to vibrate which in turn is transferred through a bridge to the soundboard which vibrates thus causing sound. However, the way we hear that sound differs with an upright and a grand. With an upright your sitting position will usually dictate that your ears are towards the top of the singing part of the strings and above the top of the soundboard. The sound is pushed out from the soundboard on the vertical plane towards you but it is trapped in by the case work thus altering the sound. The sound is also pushed out the back of the piano hitting the wall (if your piano is against a wall) and mushrooms out the sides and top missing your ears. It’s not a disaster, it is what it is and it sounds the way it sounds given the restraints of its design. A grand piano however has things well and truly in its favour. The soundboard produces the sound as previously described but the sound is pushed out from the soundboard on a horizontal plane. The sound is pushed down hits the floor and then bounces back up hitting your body. The sound coming out the top hits the lid (differing angles) and hits you right in the ears without any impedance. The sound is more immediate, it’s clearer, truer, it has greater purity. Of course there are other things that will impact upon the sound, for example floor coverings, ceiling height, size of the room, shape of the room etc…. But that’s another story. Bottom line is all things being equal (quality, design, size) a grand piano will always sound better than an upright will.

The Way it Responds

The response factor is really a combination of the feel & the sound. An action that is quicker and that can be played with more control combined with a better, clearer and truer sound will translate into a piano that responds better for the player. The dynamic range from ppp – fff will be greater and the tonal quality within that range will therefore be enhanced resulting in a piano with a much wider palette of tonal colors.  One of the simplest ways to prove this is to play a given piece of music on one instrument, say a mid range upright and then immediately play that same piece on a mid range grand. You will feel like a better pianist, you will sound like a better pianist and ultimately you will have a greater opportunity to become a better pianist.

So is a grand better than an upright? YES