Upright Piano Buying Guide

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Upright Piano Buying Guide
Upright pianos are popular instruments, valued for their elegance and beautiful quality of sound. There are many models of upright piano available, and choosing the most appropriate comes down to various points regarding its construction and individual requirements.

About Upright Pianos

Upright pianos, also known as vertical pianos, are one of the most popular types of acoustic piano, largely due to the excellent balance they offer between compact size and sound quality. Many people do not have the space or budget for a grand piano, and for novices as well as more experienced players an upright piano will typically give a sound quality that is perfectly sufficient.

Upright pianos, like other acoustic pianos, use metal strings to generate sound. For this reason pianos are placed within the string family, even though they are played with keys and the strings are hidden inside the case. It is the action of striking keys that sets in place a chain of events that results in sound generation. This chain of events happens almost instantaneously, so there is no noticeable delay from the time a key is struck to the sound being heard.

When a key is hit, it strikes a felt-covered hammer. The hammer strikes the strings, one or more depending upon the particular key, causing them to vibrate. Vibrations are carried to a wooden soundboard which increases the vibrations, so converting them to audible sound. The tension of the strings is held by the plate, typically made of cast iron to give the required strength.

The strings, soundboard and plate of an upright piano are placed vertically within the case. In grand pianos, these components are placed horizontally. Placing them vertically saves space, but it does mean that a slightly different mechanism is required. In uprights, the key action is above the keyboard, as opposed to behind for grands. The hammers move horizontally, but unlike in grand pianos where gravity allows them to fall back down, upright pianos have springs which return the hammers to their place. The different mechanisms give upright and grand pianos a different feel.

There are various different types of piano besides standard uprights and grands, and some of these are sometimes placed within the upright piano category. Uprights with exceptionally long strings are sometimes referred to as upright grand pianos. Other pianos include studio pianos, which are up to 45 inches tall and have a full-size key action, and console pianos, which are shorter with shorter hammers and a smaller key action.

Choosing an Upright Piano

Choosing an upright piano involves weighing up various considerations. These include budget, quality, brand and construction as well as height, width and available space. Reading product descriptions and reviews is an excellent way to become familiar with the different types and models of upright piano available, but there are some basic points that will need addressing.

Available Space

A piano, even a compact upright piano, is a fairly large instrument and there needs to be space available in the home to place it. Ideally this will be in an area not subject to temperature fluctuations or extremes, or excessive humidity, as these can all affect the tuning and condition of the piano. Another consideration is whether the piano can be placed in a position where it does not unduly disturb any neighbours.

Construction

Upright pianos are constructed with various components, including the case, plate, soundboard, bridges, strings, wrestplank, keys, and pedals. Components need to be strong enough to carry out their particular role effectively, and higher-quality pianos will typically utilise superior materials than cheaper pianos.

Cases are typically made from strong woods such as spruce, maple, and beech. Cast iron is usually preferred for plates for its excellent resistant properties, though cast steel may sometimes be used. Soundboards are usually high tensile solid spruce, which is able to convey sound more effectively than other woods. Cheaper pianos may have plywood soundboards which do not have the same acoustic properties. Bridges are also wooden, generally laminated. Strings are manufactured from steel with a high carbon content to give them exceptional strength. Bass strings have copper wrapped around them to add weight. The wrestplank, or pin-block, is required to be robust as it holds the tuning pins, and hardwood laminates such as maple and beech are generally used. Keys are typically made of spruce with a plastic coating. Most European upright pianos have two pedals, in contrast to others which have three. The two pedals are a soft pedal, used to make notes softer, and a sustain pedal, used to lift the dampers and allow the strings to reverberate, making the notes sustained.

New and Used Pianos

Another consideration, which may largely depend upon budget, is whether to purchase a new or a used piano. Buying a new piano is generally best if the budget allows, as it will be in optimum condition and tuning, with brand new components. A warranty will also be available in case of any problems.

General Issues with Used Pianos

Buying a new piano is not always possible and there are many perfectly acceptable second-hand instruments available for purchase. Bear in mind that a very old piano may have problems with tuning. Read the product description carefully and ask the seller if in any doubt. They should give an accurate portrayal of the instrument and note any issues or damage. Particular areas that are susceptible to wear include the key action, hammers and dampers. Pianos may have been restored, and if so ask who has restored it and how. Manufacturer restorations typically carry a higher guarantee of quality than seller restorations. Another consideration is where the piano was manufactured, as imported pianos are not necessarily designed for the particular climate. Always try out a second-hand piano before purchasing and take along a knowledgeable person if possible.

Overstrung and Underdamped Pianos

Overstrung pianos have two sets of strings travelling diagonally, with bass strings crossing over treble strings. This is in contrast to straight strung pianos which have one section of straight running strings and means that the strings are longer, resulting in better sound quality and volume. New upright pianos have overstrung strings, but older models may have straight strung strings, so this is something to consider if purchasing a second-hand piano.

In underdamped pianos the dampers are underneath hammers, in contrast to overdamped pianos where they are above. The underdamped system means that dampers are placed in a more effective position, resulting in better response. New upright pianos have underdamped strings, but older models may have overdamped strings so this is another consideration if buying second hand.

Find an Upright Piano on eBay

To find an upright piano on eBay, go to the eBay home page and follow the tabs to the left through to the Musical Instruments page. From here select Keyboard/Piano, Piano and Piano. This will bring up the Piano page from which a variety of different piano types can be selected. For an upright piano, select Upright and Upright Piano. The condition and a price range can be specified to narrow listings. At the top of the listings are also options to select only auction formats or Buy it now listings. To the right of the screen, the Sort by function has options to sort listings by various criteria, including price.

Alternatively, from the eBay home page a general search can be carried out by typing in terms such as “upright piano” or “vertical piano”. Specific brands and models can also be searched for using this function.
Conclusion
Upright, or vertical, pianos are an acoustic piano offering a good compromise between size and sound quality. They generate sound through the action of metal strings being struck by hammers, which in turn are operated by the keys of a piano. The vibrations of metal strings only produce sound when they are transmitted to a soundboard. In upright pianos the strings and soundboards are vertically placed, giving them a slightly different mechanism and feel to grand pianos. Smaller pianos such as studio pianos are also sometimes referred to as uprights. Considerations when buying an upright piano include budget and available space. Appropriate space needs to be available even for a relatively compact upright piano. When it comes to budget, buying new is preferable but it is possible to find good-quality used pianos. Check for tuning issues when buying used pianos, together with the condition of the various components, such as the key action, hammers and dampers. Good-quality pianos are made with higher-quality materials than cheaper models, which may, for example, utilise plywood instead of solid wood.

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