It’s Not Just For The Birds
Every once and a while I will come across one of these unique instruments. They seem to be a design found mostly in pianos from Great Britain. The technical name for this type of action is an over-damper system. The term birdcage is used because the damper wires are in front of the hammers and give the impression of vertical bars like a cage.
Usually these pianos have not been tuned in a very long time! This is probably because there are many piano tuners out there who will not work on these instruments. I have personally been handed quite a few clients with a Birdcage because the technician did not know how to tune these pianos or did not want to. However they have good reason to avoid the Birdcage piano.
In order to tune these pianos you must remove the damper system. This is normally not too difficult, but because these are antique pianos there are some fragile parts that you need to be very careful with. After the over-damper system has been removed you can start tuning. However this is a very annoying process for the tuner because all of the strings sound continuesly making isolating any single notes or intervals difficult. Without the dampers the tuner has to work through a cacophony of dissonance. I have never attempted to tune one of these pianos purely by ear for this reason. Don’t be surprised if there is an additional fee to tune one of these unusual pianos. It will take your technician quite a bit longer to get a good result.
Should I Buy A Birdcage Piano?
These pianos can be found at a low price and sometimes even for free. Often people will decide to take one home because they sometimes have a beautiful antique look. Many of these have a burled-walnut type veneer and they can be very attractive. If you are looking for a piano primarily as decoration then getting one these for a couple hundred bucks may really add some charm to a study or family room. However if you are serious about playing the piano or have children who will be taking piano lessons I would not recommend a birdcage piano.
How Do I Know If It Is A Birdcage?
When looking at one of these pianos you should be able to lift the lid and look into the action. The lid will often be connected to a hinge that allows you to fold over the front half of the top of the piano. Look down into the action and notice where the dampers (felt pieces which rests on the strings) are located. If the dampers are connected to wires that sit in front of the piano’s hammers then you are looking at a Birdcage. When shopping for a used piano it is wise to contact a technician and schedule a piano evaluation. Our evaluations are only $125 and this can save you a ton of money in the long run. You may decide to purchase a piano without having it evaluated, then pay to have the piano moved, then schedule a tuning only to find out from your technician that this piano has serious problems. In the end this will cost much more than the evaluation and you may end up with something you and your family are not happy with.
A Belgian Birdcage
This was another interesting antique birdcage piano that I came across. It was built in Belgium, probably in the late 1800s. This is a good example of a beautiful antique birdcage piano that would need about $10,000 worth of restoration work to become playable again. Is it worth that much to this client? We shall wait and see…