The Upright Piano
Records show that the first upright piano was built in about 1780 by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria. About 20 years later, John Isaac Hawkins of Philadelphia patented an upright with vertical strings, a full iron frame and a check action. In the early 1800s, Robert Wornum of London and Ignance Pleyel of Paris made improvements on the upright piano including a more durable and responsive action. By 1835, Germany began the production of well-constructed upright pianos and started phasing out square grand production. When Americans became serious about upright production, around 1860, they used the overstrung scale and full-iron frame, yet the touch and tone was inferior to high-quality squares. Improvements were made during the later 1800s and today some high-quality uprights are being rebuild and restored.
Like many of the squares before it, many 19th century uprights were true works of art. Hand-carved rosewood and mahogany cases with intricate scrollwork dressed many of the instruments. The heavily built cases and frames have caused uprights to sacrifice a little purity in the tonal department. This concern was debated in the late 1800s and some manufacturers produced uprights with three-quarter rather than full plates in order to allow the sound to escape better and decrease the likelihood of a “metallic” sound. However, the full-plate was later used in most uprights in order to provide greater strength and stability.
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