Why a Spinet piano is different than Upright Pianos

Kevin Busse Feb 07, 2024
244 People Read
Spinet Piano

Why are spinets different than uprights?

Spinet pianos are technically and reluctantly categorized as upright pianos, in spite of that, due to their inherent limitations they are designated colloquially as ‘spinets,’ not as ‘upright pianos.’

These antiquated pianos have a smaller size in all ways imaginable, which negatively impact the playability and overall sound of these types of pianos.

Frequently, these pianos are rediscovered in American homes and offered as a "Piano that just needs a tuning" to any takers willing to give it a new home on the condition of hauling the heavy freight.

While giving away or receiving a Spinet Piano may seem like a great option, compact pianos like these repeatedly act to imbue a disinterest in playing piano for beginners and hobby players alike because these cheap pianos are a real nonstarter.

Furthermore, donations of Spinet Pianos is an exercise in naivety because the donor and recipient may unconsciously assume that a 'Spinet' and 'Upright Pianos' are indistinguishable at best, while in reality the donor off-loads a costly "lemon" to unwitting underprivileged persons.

Seriously, any higher quality models will do more to advance genuine learning and inspire future professional musicians than a dropped action Spinet.

Any candid piano teacher will tell you that it is necessary for students to have an acceptable instrument to learn on, and Spinets are decidedly unacceptable for piano students in piano lessons.

Prevailing upright pianos are far superior in many regards and suitable for learning and playing piano excellently.


For a complete delineation, below are distinctive qualities specific to Spinets as opposed to Upright Pianos.

Spinet piano

Do Spinets sound different?

Spinets have short strings which negatively impacts the tonal quality in the following ways:

  • Inharmonicity is highest in spinets, which means that resonant frequencies are minimal or entirely unavailable; the piano doesn’t “ring” like it ought to, which ordinarily plays an important role to inspire beginners.

  • The hammers are old and hard, which means that tone quality is poor and undesirable; the piano sounds clanky and tinny.

  • The tuning of shorter strings does not have good tonal quality, which means that even when perfectly tuned it will sound like error; the tuning won’t sound good, even when recently tuned.

In layman's terms, the main difference in the sound quality of a Spinet Piano is that it resembles that of a toy only appropriate for home use to those who need a nice aesthetic for their living room.

How can you tell a piano is a Spinet?

The tall tale sign that a piano is a Spinet is when the music shelf protrudes much higher than the top of the lid. Generally, the top half of the music shelf that holds the sheet music stick out above the rest of the piano.

Spinet piano

Many Spinet Pianos are kept because they have a charming look to them and provide a visual accent to a small room.

Some of the cabinet designs look similar to console pianos, so there is not much telling them apart from the outside other than height, and music shelf protrusion on top.

Is the action of a Spinet different than an Upright?

The Spinet Piano has a different kind of action and is the only keyboard instrument with forks at the back of the keys holding foot-long "drop stickers" to control the action apparatus.

At the backs of the keys there are "drop stickers" to transfer the momentum of the key about a foot away to an area where the action operates with minimal space and functions just below the keys.

This drop action mechanism is the most inadequate functioning piano action because of its compact design.

In addition, there is reduced control due to the shorter keys making it impossible to play intermediate pieces properly.

Spinet piano

Which Brands made Spinets?

The two largest brands in the world of Spinets were Wurlitzer or Baldwin Acrosonic.

These were once a popular choice during the Great Depression because they were economically viable for families during that time period.

Upright Pianos

Upright pianos have just about everything bigger and better in it than a Spinet Piano, which has a direct impact on the sound, looks, and function of the piano.

upright piano

How does an Upright sound different than a Spinet?

Modern day Upright Pianos have a larger soundboard to create a richer tone and a full size action so that it feels like you're playing on a quality instrument.

With the piano strings being much larger it is actually possible to achieve a truly good sound unlike with small pianos.

The truth of the matter is that the longer strings have better sound, making it a good choice for pianists and parents alike.

upright piano

How do Upright Pianos look different than Spinets?

First and foremost, the piano height for these instruments are taller than their Spinet counterparts.

The height of larger uprights makes it so that the music shelf isn't the highest point of the piano, the lid of the cabinet is the highest point on this piano.

While the cabinet characteristics between an Upright Piano and a Spinet may be similar, taller pianos are not Spinets.

Upright piano

How is the action of an Upright Piano different than a Spinet?

The keys themselves are longer which allows for further control of the keyboard, which is to say that playing intermediate pieces well is readily achievable.

A good piano should have a full sized action like many professional upright pianos are equipped with.

The action of a console has less control than a studio upright, however it is acceptable to start piano lessons on a console as opposed to a Spinet.

Spinet Piano

What’s the difference of Spinets vs. Upright Pianos?

Spinets are inferior products that are unsuitable for learning, teaching, and tuning.

If one is thinking of giving away a Spinet it is wise to reconsider by properly disposing the instrument instead of off-loading it to anyone willing to take it.

As for donations, it is far better to get the least expensive small Upright Piano refurbished or new from a piano store and offer it as a proper donation than to be opportunistic by getting rid of a Spinet under the guise of a donation.

While these two pianos may look similar on the outside, on of the best ways to tell them apart is by seeing how tall the piano is.

At the end of the day, it is not respectable to call a Spinet an Upright Piano because there are important distinctions between the two that may not necessarily be common sense.

I hope that this blog article helped you navigate the differences as well as shed some light on what piano tuners see, hear, and feel anytime a Spinet is mentioned in conversation.

If you have any further questions please contact me and I will be happy to assist you in what you may need.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for reading!

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