Sunday, March 22, 2009

A. Waldmann, Berlin

The classic bird-cage action:



This little gem is an old German upright that lived most of its life in Johannesburg, South Africa.  It resembles several old (and not so old!) English uprights that I have seen over the years.  The top action has wooden brackets on either end, and the dampers are carried in a damper action called a bird-cage.  In a bird-cage action, the dampers are above the hammers rather than below, and the dampers are lifted by long wires that run down and attach to the fronts of the wippens.  It is these long parallel wires that give the action its name.  (In a modern upright action, the dampers are below the hammerheads and lifted by metal tabs, called spoons, attached to the backs of the wippens, out of sight.)

Unlike the English uprights, this upright has bass strings that cross over the treble strings, as in modern uprights.  (The English uprights are usually parallel-strung rather than cross-strung.)  As is typical with European pianos, there are only two pedals.  Equally typical is the bookmatched burled-walnut veneer.  Sadly missing from this piano are its original candelabra, which had been attached to the front panels above and on either side of the music desk.

The easiest way to tune a piano with a bird-cage action is to remove the bird-cage.  Take out the screws holding the cage down (usually one at each end) and lift the cage up and out.  Check first to make sure the lift wires are not attached to the wippens - usually they just slip out.  Of course now you have no dampers, and the strings all ring out.  I have found, though, that I get used to this quickly, and can tune without difficulty.  On the lower strings I will use my hand to stop the ringing when it gets excessive.

A full portrait of this pretty little piano:

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