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Birdcage Pianos

There are some very old upright pianos that use a different method of dampening the strings. The dampers are above the hammers and are engaged by a wire that runs in front of the hammers. These damper-lift wires resemble a cage and these actions are referred to as Birdcage actions. Birdcage pianos were of an inferior design and considered obsolete by the early 1900s.

These pianos are often made of very beautiful wood and are often sold as antique furniture. They never can match a modern piano in sound or performance. They really should not be used for a beginner because even if they are significantly restored they are not inspiring as a piano.

These pianos have drawbacks. The dampers design does not work very well causing the notes to continue to ring. The damper assembly, especially the "birdcage" wires are noisy. The repetition of this design never was (nor will it ever be) even close to the performance of a modern piano. They are old pianos and their parts (especially strings) are brittle.

Why keep a Birdcage piano alive:

  • They are beautiful objects and deserve to be preserved
  • Even if they are just a piece of furniture they should be kept functional
  • Someone always will sit down at it and play it so it should at least resemble a piano

    Identifying a Birdcage piano

    Identifying a birdcage piano is fairly easy. Note the wires in front of the hammers in the picture below. Also notice the "damper assembly" that is positioned above the hammers. No modern pianos (built after 1900) are constructed this way.

    front view of a birdcage piano

    Just lift the top lid of the piano and you see the damper assembly identified by a 2" piece of wood just under the tuning pins. In a modern upright piano you would see the hammers with this view.

    top view of a birdcage piano

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