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Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it #1338106
12/31/09 08:09 PM
12/31/09 08:09 PM
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musicperson Offline OP
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I have read a zillion posts on this forum. Thanks to those of you who have provided useful information.

I cannot reconcile something, and I thought I'd throw it out there for comment/opinion: Many people on these forums prefer a large upright to a baby 4'-11" to 5'-3") grand. To me, even baby grands sound better than even the largest uprights (except one, I'll mention later.) The uprights seem to have what I'd call 'over resonation' going on, for lack of a better term. Piano in a box. It's like the sound can't escape the cabinet, and the sound waves, or resonation from the strings, are crossing paths, trying to get out, but can't. And the problem is worse the bigger the piano gets...especially if played moderately loudly or greater. Playing a baby grand is so soothing in comparison. No, in some cases the bass isn't as strong, but at least it's clear and the sound waves aren't ricocheting around inside the cabinet several hundred times before escaping.

I base this on listening to the following:
Uprights (48" to 52")
Yamaha: U1, U3
Kawai: K3, K5
Schimmel: C130, C124
Petrof: Don't know 48" model name
Steinway: K-52, Sheraton

Baby grands (4'- 11" to 5'-3")
Yamaha: GB1K, GC1, C1
Kawai: RX-1, GM12, GE20

I know the LF says the bigger the soundboard and bass string length, the better the piano. I know that on shorter grands the bridge is so close to the cabinet that the soundboard supposedly can't vibrate optimally. But to get an upright over a baby grand just because it has a larger soundboard and longer bass strings seems like misinformation.

Though not an experienced pianist, I do play euphonium and bass trombone. I think I have a pretty well-developed ear.

Any comments?

Oh, the one upright that actually did sound as good as a baby grand to me was a Steinway K-52. It had none of the 'over resonation' sound I heard in other large uprights. It had an amazing clarity and richness of sound...and a thunderous bass. But in no way did it sound $5K to $10K better than the baby grands I've listened to!

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Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: musicperson] #1338110
12/31/09 08:12 PM
12/31/09 08:12 PM
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People say that because you won't get the same tone and sound out of a small grand as opposed to a large upright, especially in the bass. Although the action is better in a grand, why sacrifice space, money, and sound.


Louis Bousquet
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: musicperson] #1338112
12/31/09 08:12 PM
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For perspective:
Are you paying particular attention to the low notes?
Do you have the uprights closed, or open?

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Michael Darnton] #1338121
12/31/09 08:25 PM
12/31/09 08:25 PM
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Jeff Clef Offline
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Cost, available space. Sometimes there's an issue with moving a grand, because of narrow stairs, elevator, etc. Sometimes, to help keep sound leakage down because of the neighbors.

People do have pretty good reasons sometimes.

Then there was Chopin--- he preferred uprights.


Clef

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Jeff Clef] #1338141
12/31/09 08:41 PM
12/31/09 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Clef

Then there was Chopin--- he preferred uprights.

I've read a few Chopin bios and never heard this. What do you base this statement on?

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: musicperson] #1338214
01/01/10 12:05 AM
01/01/10 12:05 AM
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Originally Posted by musicperson
I have read a zillion posts on this forum. Thanks to those of you who have provided useful information.

I cannot reconcile something, and I thought I'd throw it out there for comment/opinion: Many people on these forums prefer a large upright to a baby 4'-11" to 5'-3") grand. To me, even baby grands sound better than even the largest uprights (except one, I'll mention later.) The uprights seem to have what I'd call 'over resonation' going on, for lack of a better term. Piano in a box. It's like the sound can't escape the cabinet, and the sound waves, or resonation from the strings, are crossing paths, trying to get out, but can't. And the problem is worse the bigger the piano gets...especially if played moderately loudly or greater. Playing a baby grand is so soothing in comparison. No, in some cases the bass isn't as strong, but at least it's clear and the sound waves aren't ricocheting around inside the cabinet several hundred times before escaping.


There is something to this. This is why so many older uprights had various openings in both their upper and lower panels. These would be backed by what was often some rather elegant cloth.

I do not understand why modern piano makers insist on closing their verticals up so tightly. Not only do they go to great lengths to keep all panel gaps tight but they make all those panels out of quite thick MDF (or other some such material) that loudspeaker manufacturers use because of its ability to block all sound transmission. It almost seems like they take a perverse pride on keeping all that sound locked up on the inside where it will do no one any good at all.

True, it is a fairly simple thing to raise the top on most uprights and even remove at least the bottom board. But it really shouldn’t be necessary.

Quote
I know the LF says the bigger the soundboard and bass string length, the better the piano.


Hmm…so why is it that I go around designing in all those cutoff bars to reduce the vibrating area of those soundboards by upwards of 25% to 30%? With piano soundboards how efficiently it can change the vibrating energy of the strings into sound energy is far more important than its size.

And the ideal bass string length in a piano of any size is always a compromise between the speaking length and the backscale length. With a given overall length to work with a longer speaking length must come at the expense of the backscale.

Both of these factors are important enough to a piano’s ability to produce pleasing sounds that it is really quite impossible to say “the bigger the soundboard and bass string length, the better the piano.” In fact, a better argument might well be made that for a given piano size the smaller the soundboard size and the shorter the speaking length of the lowest bass strings, the better the piano.

In your list of “big” uprights you should really add something like the wonderful old 55” Bush & Lane upright we’re just finishing up for a client. Once you’ve played one of these old things in nicely rebuilt condition you’ll understand why some folks still like their big old uprights. This thing holds its own quite nicely when compared to the several new 5’ 4” and 5’ 9” grands in the shop.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Del] #1338238
01/01/10 01:17 AM
01/01/10 01:17 AM
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"I've read a few Chopin bios and never heard this. What do you base this statement on?"

The Book is Chopin- Preludes for the Piano, Willard A Palmer, ed., 1992, Alfred Publishing

The Introductory notes by Palmer, beginning on p.4 are titled The Preludes of Frederic Chopin Opus 28. On p.9 under Pedaling, the text reads:

The Pleyel piano used by Chopin to complete the PRELUDES was a small upright. It was not cross-strung, and lacked the resonance of the modern piano. Chopin preferred uprights to grands. This accounts for many of the indications for long sustained pedaling, which are often inappropriate on a modern piano.

The notes go on, and are quite interesting.

Last edited by Jeff Clef; 01/01/10 01:22 AM.

Clef

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Michael Darnton] #1338325
01/01/10 08:48 AM
01/01/10 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Michael Darnton
For perspective:
Are you paying particular attention to the low notes?
Do you have the uprights closed, or open?


Yes, I do notice that the bass on most of the baby grands I've heard is slightly less powerful than that on large uprights. The bass in each has a different problem: In large uprights (except the K-52 I heard), while the bass is very powerful, it seems to cause the other strings to vibrate, resulting in this muffled 'over resonation' I've talked about.

The bass in the baby grands I've heard, while not as powerful (but can be made so by playing with more force), is more open and more free sounding. However, I have noticed that there is slightly less clarity...less distinction between the notes of the bottom 4 to 6 notes.

While opening the uprights helps, it doesn't seem to help enough.

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Del] #1338329
01/01/10 09:02 AM
01/01/10 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Del

Hmm…so why is it that I go around designing in all those cutoff bars to reduce the vibrating area of those soundboards by upwards of 25% to 30%? With piano soundboards how efficiently it can change the vibrating energy of the strings into sound energy is far more important than its size.

And the ideal bass string length in a piano of any size is always a compromise between the speaking length and the backscale length. With a given overall length to work with a longer speaking length must come at the expense of the backscale.

Both of these factors are important enough to a piano’s ability to produce pleasing sounds that it is really quite impossible to say “the bigger the soundboard and bass string length, the better the piano.” In fact, a better argument might well be made that for a given piano size the smaller the soundboard size and the shorter the speaking length of the lowest bass strings, the better the piano.

In your list of “big” uprights you should really add something like the wonderful old 55” Bush & Lane upright we’re just finishing up for a client. Once you’ve played one of these old things in nicely rebuilt condition you’ll understand why some folks still like their big old uprights. This thing holds its own quite nicely when compared to the several new 5’ 4” and 5’ 9” grands in the shop.

ddf


Really interesting stuff! This makes me wonder about something a salesperson told me, along the lines of: "In a baby grand, because the bridge is so close to the back of the cabinet, you can see for yourself that there is not very much of the soundboard left to vibrate past the bridge. So the sound is compromised."

Yes, that's easy enough to see for myself, and compare that situation with another longer piano that has more soundboard exposed past the bridge. Now I'm wondering if that was just sales talk.

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Jeff Clef] #1338332
01/01/10 09:15 AM
01/01/10 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Clef
"I've read a few Chopin bios and never heard this. What do you base this statement on?"

The Book is Chopin- Preludes for the Piano, Willard A Palmer, ed., 1992, Alfred Publishing

The Introductory notes by Palmer, beginning on p.4 are titled The Preludes of Frederic Chopin Opus 28. On p.9 under Pedaling, the text reads:

The Pleyel piano used by Chopin to complete the PRELUDES was a small upright. It was not cross-strung, and lacked the resonance of the modern piano. Chopin preferred uprights to grands. This accounts for many of the indications for long sustained pedaling, which are often inappropriate on a modern piano.

The notes go on, and are quite interesting.


Chopin certainly didn't prefer uprights to grands. The small upright Pleyel on which he completed the Preludes on Majorca had to be brought cross country and over water at great expense from Paris. He was only able to use it for about a month, that's how long it took to arrive. He sold it to a Majorcan family when he left rather than take it back with him.
In Paris, for space considerations he kept a small upright (a pianino he called it) in his bedroom on which he sometimes accompanied his students on the grand in his studio next door. Other than that he definitely preferred the Pleyel grands which he usually leased. He bought one and took it with him to England in 1848, selling it to the family of one of his students when he returned to France a few months later. This piano, in playable condition, is at he Hatchlands piano museum in England.


Slow down and do it right.
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Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: musicperson] #1338333
01/01/10 09:21 AM
01/01/10 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by musicperson

Baby grands (4'- 11" to 5'-3")
Yamaha: GB1K, GC1, C1
Kawai: RX-1, GM12, GE20


I forgot to mention that I've also heard:
Boston: GP-156, GP-156 PE, GP-163
Steinway: Model S

...which I liked - however, they'd have to be discounted heavily to the price point of the Kawai and Yamaha to be worth it to me.

Anyway, for the purposes of this discussion, the Boston GP-156 (and its PE brother), as well as the Steinway Model S, did sound better to me than the large uprights.

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Jeff Clef] #1338337
01/01/10 09:41 AM
01/01/10 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Clef
"I've read a few Chopin bios and never heard this. What do you base this statement on?"

The Book is Chopin- Preludes for the Piano, Willard A Palmer, ed., 1992, Alfred Publishing

The Introductory notes by Palmer, beginning on p.4 are titled The Preludes of Frederic Chopin Opus 28. On p.9 under Pedaling, the text reads:

The Pleyel piano used by Chopin to complete the PRELUDES was a small upright. It was not cross-strung, and lacked the resonance of the modern piano. Chopin preferred uprights to grands. This accounts for many of the indications for long sustained pedaling, which are often inappropriate on a modern piano.

The notes go on, and are quite interesting.


Although I think Palmer is considered a good editor, it would be interesting to hear where he got his ideas. Chopin wrote many of the Preludes at Majorca, so that is probably why he was using an upright. And I'm quite certain that the pianos in Chopin's day had less sustain than modern pianos which could account for longer sustained pedalling than might work on a modern piano. I've also heard some master class presenters say it's important to try and use Chopin's pedalling where he indicated it.

The pictures one sees of Chopin pianos are virtually always grands and Chopin having a preference for uprights has never been mentioned previously at PW to my recollection.

Anyone else ever hear that Chopin preferred uprights?

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/01/10 09:44 AM.
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: pianoloverus] #1338392
01/01/10 11:44 AM
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I appreciate the more fleshed-out information supplied by Frycek--- certainly a well-informed person as regards Chopin; the comments clearly based on careful research. I don't like to take an argument with Dr. Palmer. His edition seems very careful and circumspect, and I don't doubt he has a good reason for what he says in the notes. I might have continued the quotation somewhat, for he goes on to say that even though instruments were different from Chopin's time to ours, that the text Chopin prepared for publication was very meticulous, and that it's a great mistake for pianists to take liberties with his markings, especially for his groundbreaking work with pedal.

It may be enough to say, in the context of the OP's question, that there can be reasons that an upright may be preferred in some situations. I would have been pretty happy to hear Chopin play either.


Clef

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: pianoloverus] #1338393
01/01/10 11:49 AM
01/01/10 11:49 AM
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I'd prefer a good European upright (such as Sauter, Seiler or Bluethner etc) over any Boston baby grand any day (I played the 163 at our conservatory, and it is somewhat twangy due to its short size). The sound is much more balanced between the different registers on a good upright, something that the small grands seldom achieve. Uprights can be quite powerful, too, when you pull them off the wall and/or open up their top lids.

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: SeilerFan] #1338423
01/01/10 12:45 PM
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Small grands are hard to design well because of simple physics.

Walk around behind your grand and look at the top note. On any piano, even a nine-foot concert grand, it's roughly two inches long. That's all it needs to produce that pitch.

That note is C8 in our notation (C in octave 8). To get C7, an octave lower, double the string length to four inches, and keep going:

C6: 8"
C5: 16"
C4: 32" (middle C; round off to three feet)
C3: 6'
C2: 12'
C1: 24'

How are you going to fit twenty-four feet of string inside a piano cabinet? (No, it doesn't go up and back again).

These numbers would apply only if you kept the same string diameter and tension (and material, you nit-pickers). String length is only one way of lowering pitch. Look at the longest plain wire strings: see how they're like thick pencil lead compared to the highest strings? They get thicker by a few thousands of an inch every few notes, and of course the tension is lowered, too.

On a five-foot grand, you'll see how they quickly run out of room inside the cabinet. The bridge needs to move the soundboard, and within a few inches of the rim, where it's glued in, it's very stiff, so the bridge has to be away from the rim. Most likely you'll see the treble bridge curve in, away from the rim, and you'll see copper windings added to the strings, another way of allowing them to vibrate at a lower pitch.

The strings then jump over to the bass bridge, which also quickly runs out of room. A second layer of windings is added to the lowest notes (don't touch the copper; it tarnishes easily).

You'll see the same problem on most uprights under 45" tall if you remove the bottom board. The treble bridge has to pull up to keep from hitting the floor.

I grew up playing guitar, and all of them had three wound strings and three plain. Pianos are enormously different from one another in the string layout. A spinet may have wound strings all the way to middle C (C4), while a concert grand typically has them only to about E2 (the second E up from the bass).

The shorter and fatter a string is, the more it behaves like a solid rod (think xylophone) and less like a thin, flexible string. The sound is undesirable in several ways: more inharmonicity (overtones not lined up correctly), and on grands around 5', the lowest notes have to be at such a low tension that they're flabby, like plucking a loose rubber band (short sustain, muddy pitch). Play the bottom three notes on a big, 52" upright and a baby grand (say 5' or under; there's not a specific length for "babies"), and notice how much easier it is to tell the difference in the pitch on the upright.

It's possible to make a good small grand, but it takes careful design (and Del has been teaching classes on this topic for years). The most obvious flaw I find on smaller grands and uprights is that just by playing a chromatic scale down from middle C, you can easily pick out where the wound strings start. As SielerFan said, the tone can change dramatically at that point (spinets are usually the worst).

So, baby grand, or big upright? Most grand actions are much better than most upright actions, for repetition and tone color with the una corda pedal (plus sostenuto, if you use it). But the clarity of the low bass, and evenness of tone color across the bass/tenor break is better on most big uprights (I tuned a Perzina GP-129 recently with an astonishingly clear bass).

I'm also amazed how tightly upright cases are buttoned up. I've played a Yamaha U-3 with the top cover off after tuning, and you practically need a seat belt to stay on the bench!

Happy 2010!

--Cy--


Cy Shuster, RPT
www.shusterpiano.com
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Director, PTG Norfolk 2016 Technical Institute
http://convention.ptg.org
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Cy Shuster, RPT] #1338442
01/01/10 01:20 PM
01/01/10 01:20 PM
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Wow, Cy - what a fantastic, detailed, well-written, and informative post! Thank you.

I played some small Kawai/Yamaha grands recently and there is no way I would pick those over a tall Steinway, C. Bechstein, Sauter, or Seiler. The latter pianos sound a lot more balanced throughout. The action - believe it or not - are more responsive. Go figure.



Lily L. - Certified Music Teacher, CT....
Sauter Master Class 130
Roland MP-70
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: PreparedPipa] #1338510
01/01/10 03:03 PM
01/01/10 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by PreparedPipa
The action - believe it or not - are more responsive. Go figure.


I agree. Whoever spreads the word that a grand action is per se "better" than an upright action is wrong in my opinion. Short grands have stubby keys with little leverage, even though they benefit from the gravity principle. A good upright action can come pretty close, though, and can be much more tactile than a mediocre or inferior grand action. With a good upright, I miss the heft a bit that is possible on a grand and that gives you a great dynamic weight when playing. That is a matter of taste and adaption, though, as one can get accustomed to the touch of a good upright.

Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Cy Shuster, RPT] #1338518
01/01/10 03:22 PM
01/01/10 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Cy Shuster
[...]
I grew up playing guitar, and all of them had three wound strings and three plain. [...]


Classical guitars, yes. However, virtually all steel string acoustics use heavier gauges that call for a wound 3rd string. Electrics strung with a heavier set that say .010-.046 typically have a wound third as well.


Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons.
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: Del] #1338519
01/01/10 03:23 PM
01/01/10 03:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Del
In your list of “big” uprights you should really add something like the wonderful old 55” Bush & Lane upright we’re just finishing up for a client. Once you’ve played one of these old things in nicely rebuilt condition you’ll understand why some folks still like their big old uprights. This thing holds its own quite nicely when compared to the several new 5’ 4” and 5’ 9” grands in the shop.


Del, I tuned one of these in original condition in a church a while back. I remember thinking to myself, "If this sounds this nice in original condition, I'd love to hear it in completely rebuilt condition."


Eric Gloo
Piano Technician
Certified Dampp-Chaser Installer
Richfield Springs, New York
Re: Why a large upright over a small grand - I don't get it [Re: PreparedPipa] #1338525
01/01/10 03:37 PM
01/01/10 03:37 PM
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El Cajon, CA
Yes, that Perzina GP-129 has a very good bass for an upright. smile I've played a few of them. Another one I like is the 52" Baldwin 6000. The bass on that piano is very good, too, although with a slightly different tone than I prefer. I just don't care for the scaling on that piano, though - it has a 32-note bass with 3 plain bichords in the bass - first plain trichord is F3! I'd prefer it have a 26-note bass and trichords starting immediately above the break like the Steinway K-52. Combine that with the Baldwin 6000's cabinet (pretty much the ONLY cabinet I have any liking for at all on a modern large upright that I remember right now), bass string length, use Arledge strings in the bass, and give it a tone similar to the typical Hamilton sound (adjusted to be appropriate for a bigger piano), and I'll take one. smile

And, my 45" Baldwin Hamilton vertical has a (to me) noticeably better-sounding low bass than my mother's 4'11" Young Chang grand. The 57" upright I had prior to the Hamilton had an even BETTER bass, in spite of the hammers being worn almost all the way to the molding, with grooves deeper than the thickness of the lowest bass strings (ok, it did have new Arledge bass strings, but still!)

Some time ago I recorded a note-by-note comparison of the lowest two bass octaves of my mother's grand, my current Hamilton, and my older upright. (Of course I had to edit them to splice the pieces together, as I didn't have the Hamilton AND the older upright at the same time.) I already gave my opinion on their tone, now what do you think? (Please ignore the fact that a few unisons are slightly out of tune.)

Question.... what new uprights on the market would have an even better bass than that old 57" upright would have had if I had put new hammers and a new soundboard in it? Unless something's wrong with my ears, a few new 54" Steingraebers and 55" Heintzmans I've played couldn't even match the old upright in its current as-is condition!

Also, has anyone ever played a Kimball LaPetite 4'5" grand? I have. I'll take a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet over one of those PSOs any day (unless the Acro has a broken plate), thank-you. smile


Associate Member - Piano Technicians Guild
1950 (#144211) Baldwin Hamilton
1956 (#167714) Baldwin Hamilton
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