Best Upright Pianos
Upright pianos are called all sorts of names: spinet, console, vertical…. what it really is, however – is a piano whose strung frame is perpendicular to the keyboard, as opposed to parallel to the keyboard as it is on the grand piano. That’s it.
Does it usually stand by the wall? Yes. Does it have to? No. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, true, and we shall get to it shortly. The main thing to know about the upright piano is that it is fundamentally different from the grand piano due to its physical parameters, i.e. the hammer being at a 90-degree angle relative to the keys. All the other attributes such as space saver, design, convenience, etc. are secondary considerations to the fact that the soundboard and frame are upright vs. horizontal (like the grand piano) and the hammer has to strike the key essentially vertically.
Here we have to say with absolute transparency: uprights need not be compared to grands as the comparison is inherently unfair: grand will always sound richer, with more color and powerful resonance due to the physics of the construction: parallel position of the hammer on the grand allows for more responsive, fast action and sound control while soundboard and frame (due to the physics of the grand piano architecture) have more immediate air to spread vibrations around (which is a function of all acoustic pianos), resulting in overall more resonant sound. That being said the best upright pianos out there are marvelous musical instruments and serve their purpose quite well.
The upright pianos have been a beloved home piano for almost two centuries. Due to their compactness and cost-friendliness comparative to grand pianos, upright pianos made their way into almost every home around the globe. Equally useful for amateur practicing and professional use, ballet class and choir rehearsal, uprights have become ubiquitous facilitators of music making of all varieties. More often than not uprights are the second musical instrument in a home or any other piano-owning establishment, which makes perfect sense. If you possess a grand piano it is most likely situated where it fits the best – and moving a grand piano is an arduous and potentially dangerous task (one can hurt oneself and damage the piano).
Enter upright piano. Tucked away in a parlor, or even a bedroom or a hallway it creates an alternative venue for practice and private music study, composition, and score reading. It gives multiple members of the household an opportunity to play and study the instrument at the same time without having to do it in shifts. Uprights have become a ‘second car’ of the music-loving home, convenient addition to its crown jewel – the grand piano.
A variety of institutions have been using uprights in a similar fashion. Many a school has a few uprights stowed away in the gymnasium, choir room, or recreational room where spontaneous sing-along or music-related activity can take place easily and without a large investment in purchasing and maintaining a quality grand piano. Dance studios, musical therapy offices, churches, funeral homes, department stores, and even airports – all have a resident upright. One of the premiere music advocating non-profit organizations in the United States, Sing For Hope is placing uprights that have been custom painted by artists, all around major metropolitan areas to encourage spontaneous music making in the community.
So as you can see the role of the uprights in our society is as prominent as ever whether in your home or in society at large. In the article below we offer you a rundown of the best upright pianos we think are worth your attention. Though we cannot stress enough that the best pianos within certain categories are simply a matter of personal taste.
And finally, here is the list of the best upright pianos money can buy within each category and price range.
1. C. Bechstein Concert 8
Why don’t we start with the best? Let’s see… let me just mention that it takes 8 months (180 man hours) of handmade labor to build this professional upright piano. Its soundboard comes from the preferred region of none other than the legendary Stradivarius (it is made of mountain spruce grown at 1,000 meters above sea level in Val di Fiemme, Dolomites). This precious soundboard features patented membrane architecture that allows for extraordinary sound quality and dynamic range. This instrument has 3 fully functioning pedals. It is is a hefty upright piano with dimensions of 51.6 / 131 cm × W 60.6 / 154 cm × D 26.3 / 67 cm. It comes in 9 distinct veneer finishes (two of which are premium) and has a clean, sophisticated design with minimal embellishment and restrained elegance. The slight homage to the grand uprights of the previous century is evident in ‘ghost’ elements like the slightly tapered legs, curved capitals, and optional oval reverse bias relieve on the front pane. This piano sounds really powerful and can be easily mistaken for a baby grand. C. Bechstein, being a legendary manufacturer of some of the best pianos, has really outperformed themselves with the Concert 8 Professional upright. It will set you back almost as much as any baby grand piano – $67,450 is not cheap for an upright – but you are getting simply the best.
2. Bluthner Model S
Another stunning professional upright piano is delivered by the equally venerable legacy piano brand – Blüthner. Enter model S. Standing tall at 57.5 x 60 x 24 (145cm x 150cm x 60cm) it brings the signature singing sound of Bluthner grand pianos to life with its patented stringing technology. Fourteen finish options make this piano suitable for any home interior or performance space. A solid spruce soundboard provides remarkable sound quality and resonance. Being the size that it is Blüthner Model S is the world’s largest and most resonant upright piano. It features three pedals: soft, practice (an almost silent function that comes in very handy), and sustain. It can also be outfitted with an optional sostenuto pedal (usually the middle pedal on the grand piano). One can also order it with the Blüthner E-Volultion system which adds a MIDI digital piano functionality as well as complete silent playing options using the headphones. The design is the epitome of the traditional style – with square panes symmetrically adorning the front panel and the classic, slender columns supporting the keyboard. It is an absolute tie with the Bechstein counterpart and costs the same $67,450. These two represent the best pianos in the upright category when it comes to a rich, resonant sound and overall professional quality of the instrument.
3. Charles R. Walter 1520
As far as a beautiful furniture/piano hybrid Charles R. Walter 1520 Furniture Console is an absolutely delightful option. While called ‘console’ it is actually in the ‘studio’ uprights category as far as its action and sting length are concerned. Slightly larger than your typical console at 43 3/8″ it has full-size action and a larger soundboard. What makes these ‘best-in-class’ console pianos so attractive are their style variations, indeed proving that the ‘furniture’ aspect of the piano is at times as important as any other part of its construction. Charles R. Walter Console pianos have six distinct variants: Traditional, French Provincial, Italian Provincial, Queen Anne, Country Classic, and Riviera. These style modifications are possible via keybed support legs, a music stand, and a matching bench. Each style also comes in a variety of wood veneers and finishes making for a terrific array of options for you to select the one that fits your interior best. Quality wood is important when it comes to acoustic pianos and these consoles are made of high-quality materials, executed with expert craftsmanship. Their price range of $19,500 – 21,000 makes them affordable, quality pianos, if that is the sort of piano you are looking for.
4. Hailun HU5-P
For the budget conscious the Chinese piano maker Hailun has an excellent option in the Professional size upright piano. Model HU5-P is available in three finishes: polished ebony, walnut, and mahogany. With its hefty dimensions, 50 x 59 x 23 (127cm x 150cm x 59cm), three functioning brass pedals, large soundboard and full action its street price of $14,860 is indeed a bargain. Laminated spruce is used for the soundboard and keys. This upright piano also features a slow close fallboard (some of the best grand pianos have this feature) – it prevents hand injury if the keyboard lid were to drop suddenly. Being a mass-produced instrument made in China there are some trade-offs, of course: sound tone quality, less responsive action, overall less of a refined sound and resonance – but for the price, it is a great deal and it certainly represents serious acoustic piano at a very competitive price. Its classic look is elegant and resembles that of Bechstein and Bluthner pianos but its performance, without a doubt remains in a different category, more appropriate for its price range.
5. Bluthner Lucid iDyllic Upright
If you want to turn your quest for the best upright piano into a really stunning discovery – look no further than Bluthner iDyllic transparent upright piano. Made by the iconic German piano manufacturer by hand and with artisan precision, it utilizes the most exciting of the new generation hi-tech materials – industrial grade acrylic. Bluthner Lucid crystal grand pianos are in a league of their own and now they have a smaller sibling. Years of research and performance testing have resulted in the delivery of the strongest, colorless and hi-index light transmitting acrylic (made by Evonik) that can be molded into intricate, weight-bearing shapes that are required for the unique, elegant, and minimalist design of Lucid Bluthner pianos. It comes in two professional upright piano sizes: 49 and 52 inches – which means that they have full action, full-size soundboard, and long cross-strung frame. Best of all – with the crystal clear transparent body you can see it all – with all the glorious and complicated details of its premiere piano building. Much like the open-heart, skeleton luxury watches, Bluthner Lucid iDyllic Upright is a feast for the eyes while delivering a professional playing experience. The excellent Detoa action makes keys feel really responsive and easy to control. But what is most unforgettable about this piano is its look – so if design and look matter to you – this is the ONE. At $51,350 and $53,550 (‘49 and ‘52 respectively), it is actually a bargain for the quality of the sound and action, style, and execution this acoustic piano represents. The unique made-to-order process of acquisition of Bluthner iDyllic Upright allows for exciting customizations such as metal hardware finish, wooden elements veneer colors, and frame color. As is expected with a top piano maker – all the materials used are top quality and the instrument is made in the hands of very skilled piano artisans. Let the use of acrylic not make you question the sound quality of the piano – since the sound and its resonant index are a result of the material and design of the soundboard, the casing of the acoustic piano is essentially a non-issue when it comes to the sound. If you want your piano to have the sound of the first two uprights mentioned in this article but a different look of a modernist designer piece – iDyllic Upright is a bargain and a boon. Enjoy it. Today Bluthner Lucid introduced another upright piano – Translucid vertical piano (for more information and images see “Translucid Upright“).
6. Sauter Master Class 122
Another amazing German piano maker is Sauter – whose unique innovations in design, architecture, and action of the piano are always trailblazers of the industry. Model Master Class 122/130 features Sauter’s patented double-escapement R2 keys action mechanism, which allows for a particularly responsive playing experience, which is usually the main issue with the upright pianos in a sub-$40K category. Its dimensions: 48 x 60 x 24 (122cm x 149cm x 60cm) still lend it to the professional upright piano segment and its performance proves it to be true. The price, however ($48,500) is really good for the quality and sophistication of the build of this upright piano. The basic model is available in 6 finishes – while designer variants, some of which are absolutely stunning, featuring butterfly opening lid (and are more expensive, too) come in customizable finishes and are quite the scene stealers. Sauter uprights feature solid Bavarian spruce soundboards, Beech pin blocks, Renner action, Sauter keys and bass strings, steel reinforced keybed, and cast iron plate. The piano also has three functioning pedals (just like the grands) as well as a hygrometer and brass castors. This superb acoustic piano is comparable in quality to its more recognizable brand-name counterparts, which makes it a terrific deal in the marketplace.
7. Schimmel K132
When it comes to traditional, high-end professional pianos Schimmel always delivers wonderfully crafted, high-quality concert-level instruments. It is also in the professional category – with dimensions of 52 x 60 x 24 (132cm x 160cm x 60cm). Offered in 3 finishes: black, white, and mahogany. Schimmel holds patents on certain piano building technologies that make it different from others, for instance, triplex scale design (additional richness of tone is produced by triple scale, allowing precise voicing of the overtones for each individual sting). Dynamic grooved bridges (that make soundboard more flexible and lengthen sound decay) and brass capo d’astro, prevent the iron frame from warping over time. This concert-series upright is very minimalist in terms of style. In fact, it is the absence of any design whatsoever that makes it different. Clean, minimal lines and sharper edges allow the simplicity of the form speaks for itself. Being one of the top piano makers in the world Schimmel puts the emphasis on what’s inside of the piano rather than on the outside. And it has earned a loyal following around the world for the professional quality of its pianos across its entire range. This upright does not come cheap, landing at $44,500, and is an excellent choice for a serious piano student with a traditional aesthetic. K132 comes with three functional pedals.
8. Steingraeber & Sohne 138K
The giant from Bayreuth (Wagner’s hometown) is putting its formidable foot forward with this grand piano-sounding upright model 138K. The soundboard of this substantial upright is an equivalent of a 6-foot grand – and Steingraeber takes full advantage of this fact delivering rich and surprisingly powerful sound for an upright piano. Billed as a concert upright it stands 54 x 60 x 24 (138cm x 160cm x 60cm). With it comes one of Steingraeber’s unique features – a sympathetic, ‘tuned’ second soundboard, which amplifies the sound and infuses it with rich overtones that deliver this piano maker’s signature voluminous sound. Two centuries of innovation afford Steingraeber to hold its own at the top of the iconic piano makers category with its unique approach to piano building, using only the best materials and utilizing the best craftsmen. For example, their soundboards are made of Bavarian spruce, white keys are covered by the cattle bone (to replicate an old-time-favorite but currently banned ivory). On Steingraeber, each key is individually weighted and the you can opt for a magnetic action upgrade that supercharges the double-escapement of the keys, resulting in faster and more responsive playing experience. This upright definitely packs plenty of top-of-the-line features to be rightfully placed into a concert instrument category. It’s hefty price tag of $69,250 reflects the many amazing qualities of this piano . Model 138 is equipped with two pedals but optional chamber music sustenuto pedal can be ordered, if your piano is being built-to-order. Design of this piano is definitely consonant with its grand vibe and its elegant edges and pillars are realized in understated bas relief. The polished or satin Ebony, Sapele or Walnut are basic options but many fancy veneers are possible as well as a very cool and luxurious reversible front panel (which can be realized in contrasting veneers, making your Steingraeber two-tone).
9. Steinway K-52
Behold – here comes Steinway. Perhaps the world’s most recognized piano manufacturer, Steinway has enjoyed a cult-like following for almost two centuries. By many considered an uncompromising best among the best, Steinway is indeed a superb piano, as well as a marketing genius. While most of the raves are directed at Steinway grands, the brand’s upright should not be overlooked. Steinway holds over 150 patents on its proprietary technologies and inventions, much like its other German counterparts, and many of them are at the center of this concert quality upright. Among the signature Steinway patents are the diaphragmatic soundboard, accelerated action, and hexagrip pin block, which ensures superior hold of the tuning. Needless to say that playing this upright is akin to playing Steinway grands – one revel in its sonorous, deep tone, very responsive action, and beautifully long decay of the sound which enables one to execute legato on a professional level. American-made Steinway action tends to have more resistance, requiring a pianist to have more of a grip on the keyboard, and, on an upright, that means that the playing experience is closer to that of the grand. Its dimensions are: 52 x 61 x 26.5 (132cm x 154cm x 67cm) and cost is $48,000. Considering the quality and the brand name recognition of Steinway it is a very competitive price. The piano has three fully functioning pedals and is available in Ebony, Birch, Walnut, and Mahogany both polished and satin.
10. Yamaha U1
In every category, there has to be an option that meets two expectations: affordability and quality. If your parameters are defined by those two – then look no further. Yamaha is an industry leader in delivering on both price and quality consistently and across the entire range of musical instruments. Yes, the design may not be reaching for the stars, and materials may not compete with Stradivarius’ Italian alpine spruce, but Yamaha always delivers reliable, beautifully sounding pianos that don’t require mortgage refinancing. Yamaha enjoys a market share so vast that it cannot have all its pianos be handmade. That being said, Yamaha pianos undergo rigorous quality control before leaving the factory and are a true testament to the technological evolution of the scale manufacturing economy. In simpler terms: with Yamaha pianos, you get an amazing bang for your buck and you never have to second-guess yourself. Within each piano range and price category, there isn’t a better option. This wonderful studio/professional upright costs $11,400 and delivers on every dollar. Yamaha pianos’ most valuable characteristic is a responsive and even action across the entire keyboard. This really contributes to a very pleasant and easy playing experience and helps pianists of all levels essentially sound better. The sound is crisp and clean – its brightness being a contributing factor to its acoustic amplification. Like Yamaha grands U1 is a true workhorse, being a ubiquitous upright all over the word. Many of the possible finishes include Polished Ebony, American Walnut, Mahogany or White, Satin Ebony, American Walnut, or Open-Pore American Walnut (that is a truly cool look – very chic, which elevates the simple elegance of this piano’s design). The quality features include solid copper-bound bass strings, solid spruce soundboard and ribs, and Yamaha-designed hammers with T-fasteners for extra action precision. This excellent upright measures 48 x 60 x 24 (121cm x 150cm x 60cm) and has three functioning pedals.
Types of upright pianos from smallest to the largest
The smallest member of the upright pianos family, the spinet is also the most compact. In contemporary terms, it is essentially the same size and dimensions as the digital piano. Spinet can fit into any home, really. Up to 40 inches tall its entire soundboard and frame are located below the keyboard. The hammers are operated by vertical wires attached to the back of the keys. While perfectly serviceable to produce piano-like sound this is the weakest acoustic piano due to the physics of its operation. But it looks nice flush against the wall and takes minimal wall space above the keyboard.
A slightly taller sibling of Spinet is a Console piano. Standing within 40-44 inches tall its frame and mechanism are located just above the keyboard stretching further down below. This improves the control of the keyboard touch relative to sound as hammers are smaller yet are still in a more traditional setup than those wired in a console. The action occurs right above the keyboard but the stings stretch down towards the floor and the sound is reverberating from down below the keyboard.
Studio upright piano
Studio upright piano is yet another slightly taller member of the upright family. Studio upright appears to be a home piano of choice, among the households that play the piano regularly. Ranging 44-47 inches tall its full action sits right above the keyboard, thus bringing the feel of the action closer to those pianos used for real technique training. This allows a true sense of the impact of the weight of your fingers on the sound production, which is the basic building block of learning how to play the piano well. The larger soundboard and longer strings definitely contribute to a better, more resonant sound and increase the dynamic range of the instrument. While definitely heavier and taller it is still compact enough to count as a small instrument.
The best pianos yet the bulkiest in the upright pianos category are professional uprights. Starting at 47 inches and up, a professional upright has a soundboard the size of a small parlor grand. Full action sits right above the keyboard and full-length strings generate the resonant, rich sound with a beautiful tone, sometimes matching the quality of the small baby grand piano. Antique Professional Uprights are huge, ornate pianos featuring remarkable sculptural elements such as carvings, caryatids, and bronze candelabras (often swiveling sideways) attached to the front upper pane of the piano and all manner of artful bas relief woodwork, making these majestic pianos into visual feats of luxury and glamour. The antique aficionados consider those to the some of the best pianos simply due to their grandeur and pizzazz.
We hope that our guide to what we think are the best upright pianos is a helpful resource for your piano shopping. At the very top of the piano totem pole of iconic pianos are examples of such high-quality piano building, that it is truly unfair to attempt a ranking. When the merits of the craftsmanship are equal, the determining factor is your personal taste and preferences of your piano playing experience.
To play the acoustic piano well requires practice, control of micro-muscles in your fingers, and a certain amount of strength that is control-landed on the keyboard, resulting in coherent sound production. What makes acoustic piano different from a digital piano is that the velocity and weight of your touch interact with a particular piano’s action properties and that is what determines the sound that comes out. On the digital piano, it is controlled by an algorithm and makes some of those physical aspects irrelevant. But on the acoustic piano, you have to understand your particular style and ability to play to determine what sort of action is best suited to you.
Choose a piano with a very light action – and you will lose control of your fingers, which will result in uneven and clumsy playing, that will feel out of control and way too loud. Choose a too-stiff action and you will not be able to produce a full tone, resulting in lost notes (when the sound doesn’t come out at all) and extra exertion, which, in turn, leads to premature hand fatigue.
When looking at the digital piano you should really look carefully at the tech specs of that piano and the processing power (you can read all about those here) while when looking at acoustic pianos we recommend that you try out different makers and see how their particular qualities suit your hands and playing.
Many of the uprights mentioned in this article are high-quality pianos and are really marvelous options, but some will be better choices than others. Consider where the piano will reside. What purpose will it be used for? How many different pianists will have to play on it? Just like with grand pianos, when choosing one for a performance/class venue bear in mind that different people, with different skills, will have to negotiate the playing on your upright, and therefore the piano with median qualities might be the best. If it is solely for your personal use simply choose as you please. If it is for a dance class – consider it may have to be moved around quite a bit – choose the one that is lighter. If it is for a large church where it will be accompanying the choir – select the one with more power and resonance. Acoustic pianos have personalities and the right choice will feel manifest itself once you open your ears and mind and put your hands on it.
Technically Bechstein, Steinway, Bluthner, Schimmel and Steingraeber are concert grands of the upright piano category. Play them, test them and make your informed decision. Once you are used to playing on your piano over time it will become easier and easier to play as it will be ‘broken in’ simply by the action of being played. Once you make the right choice you will have years of enjoyment ahead of you, as your upright piano will become a member of your family, institution, business, or congregation.
If you have any questions or need advice – please comment below and feel free to leave your name and email. Our team will gladly respond.
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Johannes van Voorst
May 16, 2021 @ 12:25
I,m the lucky owner of a xu1 Yamaha. What a great piano. It is a work of art. It performs great for a good price.
The piano sings and make you play better.
Johannes van Voorst