What type of piano is it?

When a new customer contacts me about having their piano tuned/serviced, I always want to know what ‘type’ of piano we are talking about.

There are a number of different ‘types’ of vertical pianos, just like there are a number of different sized grand pianos. Knowing the type of piano helps me get a better idea as to what might be involved in servicing it.

These descriptions cover the majority of pianos. 

Vertical Pianos The strings in ‘Vertical’ pianos are positioned vertically.

  • spinet

    Spinet Piano ~ 36″ to 39″

    Spinet – Spinets are the smallest pianos with the shortest strings. They are about 36″- 40″ tall. Since the keys are about the same height on all pianos, on a spinet piano, the very top of the piano is generally 6 or 7 inches higher than the keys. Due to their shorter height, spinet pianos have ‘dropped’ or ‘indirect’ actions. In addition to being the least responsive of all modern pianos, spinet pianos can be the most time consuming and expensive pianos to service and repair. Many spinet piano owners are of the opinion their piano isn’t worth calling a skilled technician. But spinets pianos are the most difficult to tune, and generally require a very skilled technician/tuner to get them to sound as good as they can. Once popular due to their small size, spinet pianos are much less popular today.

  • console

    Console ~ 40″ to 43″

    Console – A Console piano is slightly taller (40″- 43″ tall) than the spinet and therefore has longer strings. The very top of a console piano will be about 12″ higher than the keys. Console pianos are tall enough to generally not require a dropped or indirect action. But some pianos that are called ‘consoles’ do have a dropped action.   Baldwin consoles for example, used to use the same action in all their vertical pianos, and the only Baldwin vertical piano that didn’t have an indirect or dropped action was their Hamilton Studio.

    Most consoles contain a ‘compact’ action. A compact action sits on the back of the keys, but the hammer shanks and other parts have been shortened so it will fit into a piano of this height. Console pianos. due to their slightly longer strings, and compact vs. indirect actions, are a little easier to tune than the spinets – but not by much. The better made consoles yes, but some of the lighter constructed consoles can also be quite challenging for the tuner/technician. Spinets and console pianos both require more skill from the piano tuner than do the larger uprights and medium to larger sized grands. Console pianos are the most common pianos for the home, and are available in many styles and finishes.

  • studio

    Studio ~ 44″ to 48″

    Studio – A Studio piano is normally 44″- 48″ tall. This type of piano is tall enough to have a ‘full sized’ vertical action. The very top of a studio piano is about 24 inches higher than the keys. The action in these pianos is generally the most efficient vertical piano action, delivering the most efficient and responsive ‘feel’ in a vertical piano. Originally these pianos were most often used in schools and church choir rooms and were ‘institutional’ in appearance – with supported front legs, big casters, &c. However, manufacturers have been making these studio size pianos in much more attractive home friendly styles and finishes. Their full size action and longer strings make them a good choice for many vertical piano buyers.

  • upright

    Upright ~ 49″ to 60″

    Upright – Oftentimes the word ‘upright’ is used as a description for ‘vertical’ pianos.  After all, they do sit upright against the wall.  But most of us in the ‘business’ when we refer to the ‘Upright’, we’re referring to the big vertical pianos. Their height ranges from 49″ – 60″. This is the type of piano your (great) grandparents used to play! The first ‘vertical’ pianos were these big tall ‘uprights’ or ‘Upright Grands’.

    These Uprights preceded the smaller verticals – the spinets, consoles, and studios.  Due to their height and long strings, the full sized actions in these pianos needed to be raised up in order for the hammers to strike the stings in the appropriate location. The Upright Pianos string lengths are approximately equal that of a 5’7″ Grand Piano. These big verticals are still being manufactured today and are the cream of the vertical piano crop. 


Grand Pianos – The strings on all Grand pianos are horizontal.

Grand pianos are measured (in feet/inches or in centimeters) from the very front of the keys to the very back edge of the lid that hangs out over the back end of the piano’s case.  At one time a 6′ grand was considered a small grand piano but it is doubtful anyone today would consider a 6′ grand a small or a baby grand.

In a grand action, there’s no ‘change of direction’ like there is in a vertical piano.

Pressing the keys down on a grand piano, causes the hammers to go up (to strike the  strings which are horizontal).
Pressing the keys down on a vertical piano, causes the hammers to go outward (to strike the strings which are vertical).
Since the Grand Piano action doesn’t have this change of direction, grand piano actions are generally more efficient and responsive than vertical piano actions.


  • petite

    Small or Baby Grand ~ 4’5″ to 5’3″

    Small or Baby Grand – Since there is no exact dimension for the length of a ‘baby’ grand, a baby grand might be any grand less than around 5’3″. The string length on these small grands can be less than on some verticals. But all grands have a grand action, which doesn’t have to go thru the change of direction the vertical action does in order for the hammers to strike the strings.

    At one time a manufacturer made a grand that was so small (approx. 4’6″) not only were the strings shorter than many spinet pianos, the action was somewhat radically modified to get it to look right in a piano that small.  Even though this piano was a ‘grand’ piano in styling, it was very compromised when it came to sound quality and playability.

    The short string lengths in grands present the same difficulties in tuning as the spinets and consoles.  And sometimes due to the styling of these smallish grand pianos, the keys end up being slightly shortened as well.  The slightly shorter keys may require slightly regulation skills from the technicians when regulating the action.   

  • Baby Grand ~ 5'6" to 6'7"

    Medium Grand ~ 5’3″ to 5’8″

    Medium Sized Grands – This term is often used to describe pianos from 5’3″ – 5’9″ in length. The string length of these grands is generally equal to or longer than those of the larger console and studio pianos. The longer strings allow for better scaling, better sound,  and more ‘predictable’ tuning procedures. A good tuner/technician is always a plus, but these larger pianos are definitely easier to tune. This medium grand size is a very popular choice due to affordability, aesthetic appeal and sound quality.

  • semi-concert

    Large Grand Piano ~ 5’9′ to 7’6″

    The Larger Grands – The larger grands range in size from around 6′ to over 7′ in length. These larger grands are wonderful for home use.  A 7′ piano is often the pianist’s piano of choice for their personal use and are commonly found in university piano faculty studios, church sanctuaries, and small auditoriums, where a concert grand is not really necessary (or affordable).

  • concert

    Concert Grand ~ 9′ or longer

    Concert Grand – Concert Grands are approximately 9′ in length and are found in the major concert halls all over the world. A few manufactures offer a slightly larger concert model. The Bosendorfer Imperial Grand is 9’6″ complete with extra keys in the bass giving it a range of 8 octaves (97 notes).

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