Experts View: The Best Upright Pianos

We ask the experts about the best upright pianos

best upright piano

For the discerning pianist, the upright piano is more than just an instrument, it’s a veritable hive of creativity and as the piano ages, becomes part of your home. The right piano can be a beautifully responsive to your touch and a dream to play, as well as an extremely rewarding instrument, but where do you start and which is the best upright piano for you?

With the myriad of options out there, when it comes to choosing the best upright piano for your home, making the decision can be a little difficult. Do you want a professional grade instrument or something just to practice on? Do you need a range of on-board effects or just the basics – the questions go on and on. Thankfully, we’ve made it a little easier for you with this guide to upright pianos, and more specifically digital upright pianos. We spoke to our friends at Yamaha, Kawai and Roland and asked their piano specialists a little about some of the most popular pianos on the market and why they should be on your list of consideration. But first a little info on the good ol’ upright piano.

How much do upright pianos cost?

Like anything, you really get what you pay for with upright pianos. The sheer amount of craftsmanship and work that goes into them means that they do tend to command a higher price, but that should never put you off. Most upright pianos will last you a lifetime and will likely be handed down generation to generation, so at the end of the day you’re making an investment. Prices for upright pianos start at around the £2,000 mark and can up to as much £5,000+ depending on what you want. Different woods, different finishes and the on-board effects found in digital uprights all make a difference in price, but you need to make sure you find the right piano for you. Something that feels great at a lower price is going to be a better option than something more expensive that doesn’t quite match your playing style.

How big are upright pianos?

If you’re moving home or thinking of buying an upright piano and thinking to yourself “what size is an upright piano” or things like “will an upright piano fit in my living room” it’s best to take a few measurements first.

Upright pianos range in size of course, but the average size is:

  • Height: 110cm – 150cm
  • Width: 150cm
  • Depth: 40cm – 60cm

These measurements are just a guide, so before you purchase your upright piano, it’s best to check that you have enough room before you try and fit it in to your living room!

Why buy an upright piano?

Upright pianos are often preferred by players due to the small amount of space that they need compared to that of a baby grand or grand piano. Although some may feel that grand and baby grand pianos look better, upright pianos are still extremely beautiful sounding instruments that can produce a huge sound without taking up too much room, and they still look beautiful too! You can even match colours to your existing home decor. Strong tones, a wide dynamic range and an impressive amount of leverage in the keys and action are still inherent in upright pianos and are easily made part of a room without taking up metres upon metres of floor space.

Should I buy a digital upright piano or an acoustic upright piano?

This is a question we get asked quite a lot here at Dawsons HQ. The simple answer here is, there is no simple answer. Perhaps we should discuss the benefits of a digital upright piano to give you a better understanding.

The benefits of a digital upright piano

best digital upright piano

They can be cheaper

Due to the fact digital pianos don’t have strings, hammers or any of the other internal “guts” that acoustic pianos do, they can be made for slightly less and thus sold at a lower cost than that of an acoustic. However, just because they’re cheaper, this doesn’t mean that they are of a lesser quality. A great deal of work goes into creating these digital pianos and in all cases there are a whole host of sounds, effects and connectivity capabilities.

Humidity and temperature is no longer a problem

Like those on a guitar, strings can become loose or tighter depending on the temperature of a room therefore changing the pitch or ruining the tuning of a piano. Due to the amount of skill involved in tuning an acoustic piano, this can be quite costly over time as you need a professional to handle this. With a digital piano, you can place these in non-temperature controlled rooms, perhaps by a radiator, by a window or where a breeze often gets in without having to worry too much. Of course make sure this is within reason as there are electrics to think of here! You don’t want to put anything too close to a radiator or heat source for too long.

You don’t have to tune a digital piano

It’s recommended that you tune your acoustic upright piano two to four times in the first year you bring it home. Twice the second year and once every year after that depending on how often you play it – and at around £40-£60+ per session, this can be a little expensive over time. However, with a digital piano, there’s no need to tune it. Ever. When you move a piano, the tuning can go awry, however with a digital, it’s ready to go, in tune at all times and will sound great no matter how many times you move it. Which brings me to my next point…

Moving a digital upright piano is easier

Digital upright pianos weigh far less than acoustic pianos, as the average acoustic can weigh around 150kg – 170kg meaning you will need a professional to move it. Whereas the digital upright piano can weigh around 70kg or even less.

You can turn the volume up or down or play through headphones

One of the biggest drawbacks with an acoustic upright piano is the fact that they are really loud. This is great when you have a room dedicated to your piano and no neighbours. This is not always the case so playing piano can sometimes disturb others. However with a digital piano you can plug your headphones in or simply change the volume to suit your environment.

You have a variety of on-board effects and instruments to choose from.

With an acoustic upright you get a beautiful acoustic upright sound with all the nuances that go along with it, however with a digital you can select a variety of different instruments at the touch of a button. Whether you wanted your keys to sound like birds chirping or dogs barking or you wanted a grand concert piano with plenty of reverb, you can do it all with a digital.

The benefits of an acoustic upright piano

best acoustic upright piano

Of course not everyone wants a digital piano! Although musical instrument manufacturers are constantly improving their pianos to match the feel, responsiveness and sound of an acoustic, some people prefer to feel the hammers hitting against the string. So let’s look at the benefits or advantages of an acoustic upright piano.

They hold their value

Acoustic upright pianos kept in good order will keep their value over the years and on some occasions increase in their value after 20+ years. Digital pianos are constantly improving and after around 20 years you may find that you’ll want to upgrade!

That coveted acoustic sound is unrivalled

The sound of an acoustic piano is almost unrivalled in its beauty. The sound of the hammer striking the string which is then amplified by the soundboard is what pianists look for. Digital has come on in leaps and bounds in terms of producing a realist acoustic sound, but some players prefer the real thing as the responsiveness is real.

It can be repaired easily

If there is a problem with the mechanics, an experienced piano tuner should be able to fix it fairly quickly. With digital, if something goes wrong and there is no power, you won’t be able to play it.

The Experts’ View

We spoke to a range of piano experts (and our very own piano specialist) at Kawai, Roland and Yamaha and asked them about some of their favourite pianos.

Here’s what Matt from Kawai UK had to say about the Kawai CS8 & CS11

Who would use the Kawai CS8 & CS11?

The new CS8 and CS11 models are ideal for a wide range of musicians. The quality of sound and responsiveness of the action make them inspiring for beginners, but also mean that more advanced players needing a digital instrument won’t be frustrated or limited. The subtle design and classy polished black finish also make them a great talking point in any room.

Kawai CS 8 Digital Piano - Polished Black

What are the major differences between the two?

Both share the same ‘Grand Feel II’ action with full wooden keys, properly graded hammer action, and a pivot length which replicates that of an acoustic grand piano. They also share Kawai’s latest premium piano samples including the Shigeru Kawai EX and Kawai EX concert grands, and the Shigeru Kawai SK-5 chamber grand. The CS11 extracts even more out of this combination with a soundboard speaker system, unique to Kawai, which brings added realism and projection to the sound. The CS11 cabinet is based on that of the K200 acoustic upright, and by appearance it could be mistaken for one.

How has the world of digital pianos evolved over the years – why do you think more and more people are choosing the digital option?

Given their dependence on technology, digital pianos have evolved considerably over the years, with the greater availability of memory enabling bigger and more comprehensive sampling, as found in our premium HI-XL system found on these new models. In making the most of these opportunities, Kawai has the very real advantage of also being a long established manufacturer of acoustic pianos, meaning we have been able to incorporate action refinements that take these models closer to the feel of playing an acoustic piano without having to borrow technology from outside. These improvements are, I feel, an important factor in people choosing a digital piano, as they have become a much more rewarding instrument to rehearse and perform on. No digital can fully replace a high quality, well prepared acoustic piano for touch and tone, but in circumstances where the flexibility of a digital is required, the considerable qualities of the CS-Series pianos make a strong case to anyone who plays them.

Kawai CS 11 Digital Piano - Polished Black

Which artists would use these types of pianos?

There are many artists using Kawai digital pianos for writing, recording, and performance. Grammy awarding-winning record producer Trevor Horn has a CS-Series instrument at home, and rising singer-songwriter Frances is currently on tour with a new CS11, which combines the realism of tone and touch she was seeking with the ability to directly output a high quality piano sound to the live mix. Amplifying acoustic pianos in a live band setting is problematic, and having a rewarding digital piano instead offers the sound technicians more control without compromising quality.

The CS-Series pianos are not designed as portable instruments and in many touring settings an ES- or MP-Series stage piano is more perfectly suited. For example, Mark Stanway who plays keyboards in classic rock band Magnum uses our MP7, and Trevor Horn has used MP11s on stage for his band. For a solo artist like Frances, where the instrument is being used fully as a piano and not partly as a controller for multiple MIDI zones, the classic appearance of the CS-Series is a nice fit and they are instruments a wide range of artists would enjoy using at home.

The CS11 is also a great instrument for public spaces like churches and small halls, where the extra tonal project offered by the soundboard speaker system is very worthwhile.

Why would I buy either one of these pianos?

The CS8 and CS11 are perfect if you want the closest possible experience to playing an acoustic piano, but need the particular conveniences of a digital instrument. These include the ability to select a suitable volume level, enjoy the extra creative flexibility of having other high quality sounds, record in MP3 or WAV formats to USB, and to play privately with headphones.

Could you tell me a little about your favourite onboard options/effects?

The best thing has to be the Virtual Technician feature. VT offers the player extremely precise control over a whole host of factors including voicing, touch curves, string and damper resonances, and alternative tuning temperaments. Kawai has been incorporating VT for some time, but more recent developments have widened its scope, and the ability to access it using the Kawai iPad app has now made it much more immersive, offering a great level of personalisation and a nice way to learn more about all the individual elements of a piano’s sound and performance.

The Roland Piano Expert’s view

Geoff Noronha at Roland UK offered some insight in to two very different pianos from the ever popular LX range, the Roland LX-7 and the LX-17. Here’s what he had to say.

Could you tell me who might use the Roland LX-17 and the Roland LX-7?

The LX range has been proving particularly popular since launch, it combines the benefits of having a high quality piano feel and sound with a great looking piano cabinet. Whether you are looking for a piano that you want to start with to take you through the grades or if you have previously been an acoustic piano player and you need a piano that will give you the same experience, the LX range will suit both needs.

Roland LX-7 Digital Piano - Polished Ebony

What are the major differences between the two?

The advantages the LX17 has over the LX7 is that it has 8 speakers and 6 amplifiers, instead of the 6 speakers and 4 amplifiers of the LX7. This is quite significant, for a number of reasons, firstly the additional two speakers are nearfield speakers that add an additional level of detail to the dynamic overtones and string and hammer sound that the player can hear. Secondly, the LX range have a very unique sound system called Acoustic Projection.  Different elements of the piano can be heard from the different speakers to replicate where you might hear those sounds on an acoustic piano. This is further enhanced by the opening top lid, which is only on the LX17, that when adjusted, gives the sames impressions when the lid if opened on a grand piano. This has the benefit of significantly altering the tone of the piano depending what suits the player.

How has the world of digital pianos evolved over the years – why do you think more and more people are choosing the digital option?

It is mainly due to flexibility, the obvious benefits are: having a headphone out, for silent practice, the low maintenance of never having to tune the piano and size and portability of digital pianos that it make them very easy to incorporate in smaller rooms and flats. In recent years the addition of USB to help with recording and notation and the connectivity with phones and tablets, to make learning, recording and playing easier and more enjoyable.

Roland LX-17 Digital Piano

Which artists would use these types of pianos?

Over the last few decades, there have been many artists that use our pianos in both stage and studio environments. From Elton John using our Rd1000 in the 1980’s to Tom Odell in more recent years, using the LX15 on stage. The benefit of low maintenance, reliability and the fact they don’t need to mic them up, make them a great option for stage.

Speaking as someone who started out as an acoustic pianist, what would make you make the change to an electronic version?

As someone who came from an acoustic background, the most important things are the connection between the player and the piano, and the feedback the piano can give the player to express a piece of music. With the newly developed key action and speaker systems on the LX pianos, all of the subtle nuances you would expect from an acoustic piano is felt in the same way through the LX range. On top of this, the 10 year warranty, the fact that they don’t need to be tuned and the small footprint it take up, makes it a very attractive proposition over an acoustic piano.

Could you tell me a little about your favourite onboard options/effects.

A great unique feature is called Twin Piano mode, which is a bit like sawing the piano down the middle and putting both sides of the piano in the same pitch. This allow two people to sit side by side and play together to teach or perform. Also the inbuilt three track recorder is really helpful both in a compositional sense, but also when learning more challenging pieces, you can record the left hand and the play the right hand over the top, to learn at your own pace.

If an acoustic piano purist came to you, what would be the main argument you’d give for them to swap over to digital?

I think one of the biggest benefit to lovers of acoustic pianos is the flexibility you can gain with the modelling technology of a Roland Piano. There are some incredible manufactures of acoustic piano, like Steinways, Bluthner and Fazzioli to name a few and they all have a very different tone, characteristic and expressive qualities. On top of this the adjustments a piano technician can make to the hammers and other elements with the piano, can change the sound and feel dramatically. With the modelling technology within a Roland you have the ability to change all of the components with the piano to suit your needs or even the style of music, so if you needed a brighter jazz style piano for one song and then a more rounded warmer classical sound for the next sound, you are able to create a different piano per song to suit, obviously there are a great range of pianos already built in, but it the range of changes a player can make that will open this up to experience acoustic players.

What would you say is a real “I didn’t know you could do that?” feature to these pianos?

The addition of Bluetooth technology that has been introduced into Roland pianos has opened the possibilities of how you can use digital pianos. The LX pianos are able to connect to phone and tablets via Bluetooth midi and audio. This allows you to connect to sheet music apps and use the pedals to turn the page, as an example. If you were more composition based, you could you the Bluetooth audio capabilities to wirelessly record into an app like Garage band. To further enhance the enjoyment of learning, you can also wirelessly stream audio from sites like Youtube through the speakers of the piano and play along with songs from Adele to Metallica

How do you surpass an acoustic piano in terms of sound? Is it possible with a digital?

This will always be quite subjective and I have played a number of incredible acoustic pianos which are hard to express how they make you feel, but with a Roland modelling piano you have the ability to not only recreate a piano that you have played and have a connection with, but also push the boundaries to create pianos that are not physically possible in the real world. With the Roland V-Grand, you can create a piano with a glass soundboard or silver strings, which can help drive new ways to perform and create music. The possibilities of what can be done with this technology makes it an exciting option, however we always come back to the main goal of producing the most expressive feeling and sounding piano.

Discussing the Yamaha range with our experts

Rob Mather, our in house professional piano player, instructor and web team expert on all things piano, offered some insight into the Yamaha range of upright pianos, specifically the Yamaha B Series & Yamaha NU1 Upright & Yamaha N1 Avant Digital Grand Piano.

Who would use the Yamaha B Series & Yamaha NU1 Upright & N1 Grand?

In my opinion the B series is aimed more at the home player, and is one of the best entry level pianos for home/school players, but can still be used by professionals or those who want a beautifully crafted and beautifully sounding upright piano for teh home. The N series is more of a prestige model and is aimed more at the professional or advanced player. It’s quite common to find the Yamaha NU1 Upright in hotels where there may not be a space for a grand due to the wide range and beautiful sound that they are capable of emitting.

Yamaha B2 Silent Upright Piano - Polished Ebony

What are the major differences between these?

Essentially it boils down to price and components and overall size. The B uses a more budget friendly array of components and comes in 3 different cabinets (4 if you count the optional silent model that contains electronics too). The Yamaha N1 Avant Digital Grand Piano (Baby grand shape) and NU1 (Upright Shape) both contain silent piano capabilities and have an advanced spacial acoustic speaker emulation.

Yamaha NU1 Upright Hybrid Piano - Polished Ebony

How has the world of digital pianos evolved over the years – why do you think more and more people are choosing the digital option?

The difference over the last 5-10 years has been enormous! This is mainly down to sampling and sensor technology. Comparatively, this can be likened to a standard TV from 10 years ago to a 4K flat-screen. The definition that which we can sample instruments has increased resolution so that to us, the experience is incredibly convincing.

Digitals are now cheaper than ever, there’s not tuning needed… ever! And they can last a couple of decades now without sounding dated whereas some might feel a digital from 10 years ago would sound dated within a couple of years.

Yamaha N1 Avant Digital Grand Piano

Which artists would use these types of pianos?

I do know that Jamie Cullum uses uprights from time to time. Very different when it comes to Yamaha grand piano’s, they are used by concert pianists all over the world and are very highly regarded. But in summary, Yamaha digital – very popular for home players and for music schools that need plenty of pianos for a great price.

Why would I buy either one of these pianos?

The N and NU1’s silent technology is very advanced. Once a pair of headphones are plugged in, the hammers retract and the piano becomes silent. This is great if you need an acoustic piano for performance but also need times of silent practice. This also applies to the Yamaha B Series Silent Upright.

Could you tell me a little about your favourite onboard options/effects?

An acoustic piano is limited to a straight acoustic piano sound. But with the N1/NU1 and B (Silent), the built in tone module is also capable of adding electric piano, harpsichord and a couple of other instruments that can really enrich your performance.

There is also an option to add reverb to the sound to make your standalone piano sound like you are in a big concert hall, which can really boost the sound.

If an acoustic piano purist came to you, what would be the main argument you’d give for them to swap over to digital?

In my years of teaching, I’ve often found that a pure acoustic enthusiast would have tried a digital piano once 10 years ago and thought, “nah rubbish”. If they were to give one a chance today, I would almost guarantee that they would be impressed. Graded touch, hammer detection, let-off and triple-sensor systems all sound flash but they are aimed squarely at reproducing grand piano ‘feel’, and the Yamaha range are fantastic.

Sound engines are now near indistinguishable from the acoustic instrument themselves.

But my main points on this would be:

1. Never needs tuning (Saving a lot of money over time!)
2. Variation of voices
3. Much more portable
4. Depending on the model, you can record performances

Yamaha are also offering a 5 Years Free Extended Guarantee on their CLP, CVP, AvantGrand, NU1 and Modus F02 models purchased between now and 31/03/2017, so it’s one more reason to buy digital.

How do you surpass an acoustic piano in terms of sound? Is it possible with a digital?

Specific to the N/B silent models, the fact that you can play acoustic and switch to silent at the press of a switch is an incredible feature.

The ability to add a layer of reverb to a piano sound gives it tons of ‘life’ and is something that I think many pianists would love should they turn to digital.

Me personally, I would go digital every time…

If you would like to see a full range of digital and acoustic upright pianos, visit the Dawsons website and take advantage of our great finance options.