THE BEGINNING OF MODERN STYLING
In 1935 a regular 3 ft. 9 in. upright piano was put into a new style case. This became known as the spinet and was very dainty looking compared to the old bulky upright. This new style immediately caught the public's fancy immediately. All piano manufacturers followed with similar and widely divergent designs. Soon more different styles were available to the piano buying public than ever before.
The 3 ft. 9 in. high pianos were as small as could be built with existing actions and even these had cramped knee room. To make pianos smaller new actions had to be devised. Almost all pianos manufactured then used either the compact direct action or the drop action both of which were invented in 1935. In 1936 Baldwin introduced the Acrosonic Spinet piano which was to become the largest selling piano of all time.
When the piano known as the spinet type came into the market in 1935, with new engineering and styling, the public had its choice of conventional upright pianos, grand pianos of all sizes and new spinets. All these types were shown side-by-side in a wide variety of prices, and of course in different grades or qualities. At that time the lowest priced types made for the mass markets were studio uprights, approximately 3 feet 9 inches high. The highest priced types, in the popular-priced field, were the new spinets, consoles as many called them at the time. The in-between price was the small grand produced by makers seeking the mass market. The public, by its purchases, decided that the new types were the most desirable.
FROM CARDBOARD TO CONCERT GRAND
Every skilled pianist knows perfectly well that the finest small grand is totally inadequate for concert hall purposes, and you'll never hear a concert pianist perform on any vertical. Take the automobile for example. The most popular cars in America are wholly adequate for their purpose. But if someone wants a car that will take them 200 hundred miles an hour they must buy something that might be compared to the concert grand piano. A professional pianist in his concerts would never play anything short of a 9-foot concert grand. Thousands of children successfully started their piano lessons on cardboard keyboards with no tone or touch at all.
By 1941 the old vertical or "upright" piano was being turned out almost exclusively in the spinet design, and the change increased its value as a decorative piece of furniture, if nothing else: the new spinet pianos had cleverly designed, compact, console type cases from 36 to 45 inches high.
Unfortunately, decreasing the size of the upright pianos meant decreasing the size of the sounding board and shortening the strings, which was totally unacceptable to many purists, technicians, and teachers. The result was a controversy that still lingers 68 years later. According to the experts, the tone of spinet model pianos tends to be slight and more or less "wooden." Consequently, spinets were never recommended for purchase for serious students or by competent pianists. Because of the shorter string length above the hammer, the striking position of a hammer in an action of spinet pianos 38 inches and less must necessarily be indirect. That is, when a key is struck, it does not force the hammer against the string; there is a delayed striking action. Since this may be objectionable to some players, the lower spinets are generally less desirable than the 39 inch-or-higher models which make use of a direct striking action.
THE TRUTH IS - Regardless of the shortcomings of the spinet piano, they were still better than the cardboard keyboard with no sound at all or today's electronic keyboard that plays that has no control of loud or soft.
THE PUBLIC PREFERRED SPINETS DURING 1947
Despite the rating and grading of pianos by many consumer "tip sheets" somehow the spinet piano survived and in 1947, according to figures released by the Bureau of the Census of the Department of Commerce, there were 148,300 pianos manufactured. Of these 70,800 were vertically strung pianos, 37 inches or less in height. While there was no authoritative dividing line between what might be called a spinet or a console at that time. Any piano 37 inches or less in height falls rather definitely in the category of the spinet. Of the 1947 production 72,700 were described by the Bureau of the Census as vertical, uprights or consoles over 37 inches in height. Most of these pianos were generally called spinets. While there are no authentic figures to how many uprights, as distinct from spinets or consoles, were included in this number of 72,700 we in the piano industry know perfectly well that studio uprights, approximately 45 inches high, were made in very small numbers in that year. I would like to make a little wager that there were not 5,000 studio uprights manufactured in 1947. In that same year, there were less than 5.000 grand pianos made. Therefore; nearly 90% of the pianos manufactured in that year were of the type variously described as spinet. console, or vertical, over half of those vertically strung styles having been instruments that were not over 37 inches high.
Of course the evil in the consumer tip-sheet's grading is that many readers assume those grades are the result of an authentic laboratory analysis, something that is possible in many other lines of consumer goods. True, the tip sheet states that the listings were prepared by a professional pianist or professional technician with the aid and council of "35 technicians who must remain anonymous", but that statement is obscure in the body of the article. Most readers jump to the listings without reading the preamble.
Any first class console piano is an excellent musical instrument, and will outperform and outlast an inexpensive, small piano, grant it, that is if you wish to play a concert. But a spinet piano will still provide endless hours of fun if that is the purpose of having a piano in the "family room". Vertical pianos come in a variety of furniture styles and finishes that can enhance your home’s decor, and in several sizes and in varying degrees of quality that will take a fraction of the space of even a small grand.