Upright VS Grand – Can You Hear the Difference?

Piano Lessons / general / Upright VS Grand – Can You Hear the Difference?

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Can you hear the difference between an upright and a grand piano? Today I have another listening test for you! Last time we tested a Steinway versus a Chinese piano. People really enjoyed that little listening test. So today we will listen to an upright piano versus a grand piano! Can you really tell the difference? What are the preconceived notions about these pianos?

I dug through the archives of Living Pianos recordings and found an upright piano and a grand piano playing the same Chiarina movement of Schumann’s Carnaval. I took the second repeat in one of the recordings but not the other, but other than that they are the same. Both pianos were recorded in the same place with the same microphones, which is really great for this test. I’m going to reveal what those instruments are after you get a chance to listen.

Write down your answer!

As I said before on the Steinway versus Chinese piano video, I want you to write down your answer so that you don’t fool yourself. Because of course, we all want to be right and think we can tell the difference. So, write it down and commit to which one you think is the upright and which one you think is the grand. Here we go. Happy listening!

See video to hear for yourself!

Eleven years ago I made a video about uprights versus grands and you can check that out at LivingPianos.com and YouTube. I discussed the differences. There are some substantial differences, primarily in the actions. But what about these two pianos? What are they? I chose a large grand. As a matter of fact, the grand piano is a seven-foot 1998 Baldwin SF-10. It’s a semi-concert grand. The upright is also a Baldwin, to make it fair. It’s a 1987 Baldwin Hamilton, which is just a 45-inch piano. 45 inches compared to seven feet, you would think there’d be an astounding difference in sound! Yet they both sound quite beautiful, don’t they? So which one was which?

The first one was the seven-foot Baldwin SF-10! The second one was the studio Baldwin Hamilton upright.

How many of you got that right? I’m really interested! My perspective is playing these instruments and making the allowances to get the best sound out of each piano, which is the job of a pianist. Because after all, almost all instrumentalists take their instruments with them. As pianists we have to play whatever instrument is available, and instantly adjust. I’ve had the good fortune of being around many pianos. I’ve learned how to make those adjustments. So the question is, how did you feel about the sound of these two pianos? Did you choose correctly? I would love to hear from all of you! Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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1987 Baldwin Hamilton 45-inch Studio Upright

1998 Baldwin SF-10 7-foot Semi-ConcertGrand

Upright pianos versus Grand pianos – Uprights Vs. Grands

16 thoughts on “Upright VS Grand – Can You Hear the Difference?”

  1. I was totally wrong. I focused, I thought, on the resonance of the bass sounds as being the easiest way to judge. I thought number two was the grand. On the Hailun vs Steinway I could not tell at all. Perhaps my ears are not good or I am not a very good pianist(true). I had once played three Hailun 178’s in a showroom (bright sound I would say). I purchased and have in my home a Hailun 198 which is a totally different instrument from the 178. I hear a Steinway at church. I thought from this I would be able to tell. I could not even tell a difference from one to the other. Thanks.

  2. I concluded the first was the grand and the second was the upright. What I listened for was the richness of the bass notes. They indeed sounded very, very similar, but I just felt the richness of the bass notes was greater in the first piano. It was very subtle. Of course, choosing a really high quality upright is going to make a difference. I would even call that “cheating”. I bought an upright from someone I knew who repaired pianos, and it just never had the tone in the bass notes, which is why I went back to Knabe grands as soon as I could. Just to set the record straight, I was not at all sure of my choice. And my hearing is not what it used to be. I probably didn’t hear all of the richness of the grand piano because I wouldn’t hear the treble overtones as well.

  3. I’ve gotten it correct this time! I didn’t get Steinway vs. Chinese one right as they both had polished tones of a grand piano. However, I could tell the difference between Upright and grand piano. Thank you for your up-loadings. I have been enjoying the topics and insights you bring.

  4. I got the 1st recording to be on a grand however it seemed to me that the 2and recording might have been with the box from the upright open. I had an upright for a couple of yrs and didn’t sound so good

  5. I am a player piano rebuilder but do not play the piano. However, I have played the Oboe and Alto Saxophone through college. I thought that Chinese grand sounded better than the Steinway but could tell which piano was the upright vs the grand, as the grand had a much deeper sound. I have an 1865 Decker Brothers Square Grand. The base notes sound great. Note, this piano only has 1 string for the normal base notes, but only 2 strings for the rest of the notes, but still sounds great. I think this piano was the third one they ever made and believe that is why the workmen ship was exceptionally good.

  6. This one fooled me. I thought the first one was the upright. But I liked the sound of the second piano better, a bit more mellow and melodic. Maybe because I am used to uprights.

  7. Hi Robert

    This is fun. I am enjoying these videos. As you know I have been around pianos all my life. I am always trying to improve the tone of pianos whether it’s by regulation, pulling strings, fitting hammers voicing hammers and even voicing shanks . Even changing frt rail punchings create a huge voicing difference
    The Baldwin sf10 sustains like magic and has a much more open tone /tone bloom much more lyrical and singing to my ears.

    Thanks for making these interesting videos. Keep them coming.



  8. got it – I can usually hear the “length” of grand piano strings – something about the overtone/partials of the longer strings have have a longer and clearer “ring” to them than the shorter strings, which have less of this ring initially, and it fades faster.

  9. Hi Robert:
    Hahahha, I guessed right and kept my eyes closed all the time. At first, when I heard the first piano I thought I was listening to an upright, but then when I heard the second instrument I definitely realized this last one was the upright piano.
    Thanks for the video. It was a fun idea

  10. I really, really like this comparison!
    While I thought that Chinese grand sounded better than the Steinway, I did get this one “correct” for the upright vs the grand. A very important issue I struggle with is “What sounds better to the pianist?” Because the strings are oriented 180 deg differently to the pianist, nice grands sound better to me, probably because the sound mostly emanates upward then to the right, so the sound is more “blended” when it reaches the pianists ear. With uprights, the sound emanates directly at the pianist, so I detect more harsh notes with the upright when I’m playing, but my Boston 46″ upright sounds absolutely beautiful when I stand maybe 10 ft back when someone else is playing. I also have tinnitus, so I hear sounds differently than most other people.

    1. You are right! The sound of an upright actually goes out the back unless there are vents in the front. Just putting the music rack down on a grand piano drastically changes the sound to the player.

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