Piano cases and keys

It is practically impossible to tell whether the piano you intend buying is going to be reliable, durable and playable simply by looking at the case. However it is possible to gauge a few important factors by examining the style of the case.

Decoration and Legs

On an upright piano you can get a rough idea of age by looking at the front board. Late Victorian pianos will often have floral, swirly marquetry, fruit carving or inlay patterns on the front board.

Candlesticks are usually a good pointer that the piano was made in the days before electricity. Sometimes, on early pianos the front board will have material visible behind a fretwork front; older pianos will almost always have a single, or three panelled arrangement along the front board. Later pianos will have a plain front board, often with a teak like veneer.

On a grand piano the ornate rule applies. Victorians loved to put carved cherubs, fruit and flowers on their pianos. You'll often find pianos with golden inlay and marquetry on them. However later pianos, from the early nineteen hundreds tend to be more conservative and are often plain wood: Rosewood or Burr Walnut with square or plain rounded legs.


In general, Victorian pianos are very often large solid looking affairs, while pianos from the mid nineteen fifties tend to be smaller and sleeker in design. Later upright pianos have no legs, only slab sides.

The length of the grand piano will tell you something about its intention. Many homes have a small grand, often called 'boudoir' or 'baby grands'. These tend to be 4' and 4'6" in length with larger grands ranging from 5' to the concert grand at 9'.

Number of keys

A large compass piano will have eighty eight notes (seven and a quarter octaves). A typical piano though will have eighty five notes (seven octaves). It is possible for pianos to have six or even five octaves, but these should only be considered if space is limited.

Type of wood

The type of wood used for the case will also date the piano. Rosewood and Burr Walnut were often used by older piano manufacturers. Pianos from the nineteen sixties onwards tend to be made of cheaper wood with a teak or light wood veneer. Very modern pianos have a black ebonized plastic appearance, and can be made of MDF or even chipboard.

Square pianoBob Newman


On both grand and upright pianos one of the most important things to look for on the case will be the manufacturers name. It is a good plan to take a note of the name and attempt to find out some history via the internet. Contact us with the manufacturers name and serial number (if possible) and we will be happy to discuss the piano in question.