Types of Pianos

Question: Who invented the piano? When, and what types of pianos are there?

– Sam Willequette

Albert’s reply: The piano was invented by an Italian harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1700. I wrote more details in the article Who Invented the Piano?.

As for the types of pianos, we need to distinguish between historical and modern pianos. Currently, there are essentially just two types of (acoustic) piano: upright and grand. (Digital or electronic pianos are another category altogether.)

The primary difference between them, besides their size, is that in uprights the action and strings are vertical, while in grands these are horizontal. The mechanics of the respective actions are significantly different, which is why they usually feel so different to play.

In addition, upright pianos lack the double escapement mechanism that allows keys to be played rapidly in succession, without first letting the key return all the way to its starting position.

The term “upright piano” is somewhat confusing. It is often used synonymously with “vertical,” although technically speaking an upright is a type of vertical piano.

Upright sizes fall into these categories, from small to large:

  • Spinet: 36–40″ (91–102 cm)
  • Console: 40–44″ (102–112 cm)
  • Studio: 43–47″ (109–119 cm)
  • Upright: 47–60″ (119–152 cm)

Grand pianos fall roughly into these categories:

  • Baby grand: up to 5’6″ (about 170 cm)
  • Medium grand: 5’6″–6’6″ (about 170–200 cm)
  • Living room or parlor grand: 7′–7’6″ (about 214–225 cm)
  • Concert grand: 9′ (280 cm) and above

Only two pianos currently made are larger than 9 feet: the Bösendorfer Imperial at 9’6″ (290 cm) and the Fazioli F308 at 10’2″ (308 cm)!

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