Harpsichord

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clavichord

  • 1.  clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-23-2021 21:33
      |   view attached
    I am going to have a look at this Zuckermann kit clavichord tomorrow (see attached photo) to see what I can do to improve overall volume. I had cleaned up the instrument and tuned it back in 2019. It is very weak except for the lower notes. The kit was built in 1984 and for the most part has original strings. The soundboard and bridges look ok but I suppose it is possible that the board can no longer project well. I will experiment with a couple of new strings to see if the age of the strings are an issue. I have seen similar sized clavichords with better volume so I guess it could be a combination of problems that make this instrument weak in tone.

    Might anyone have some experience or ideas on how to improve the volume? The owner is wondering if the string schedule is correct. I suppose it is possible that it is not correct but I think the builder was meticulous and probably did not get the schedule wrong. Hopefully Zuckermann can give me the correct schedule. I plan to contact Zuckermann after I have a look tomorrow but I certainly appreciate any responses from this list.

    Of course, I would like to talk the owner into buying this clavichord :-)
    John Challis Clavichord Circa 1940s
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    John Challis Clavichord Circa 1940s
    A rare and beautiful instrument. Lovingly cared for and in immaculate condition. Originally fitted with a wood soundboard, but it was upgrade to metal by Challis himself later. Almost never needs any...
    View this on Facebook >


    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-24-2021 08:57
    It's a clavichord. It is quiet and intimate.  A person in the next room should barely hear it.  If it's fretted it's even more quiet.  If it's their large model then its about the level of pp on a piano. 





  • 3.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-26-2021 08:13
    Several modifications will each add very slightly to the volume:
    1) Add a listing board across the back length of the strings. This will allow slightly harder playing without extreme bebung (pitch distortion). The Challis instrument has a listing board.
    2) Increase the blow distance between the tangent and the string, allowing a little more acceleration time in the key stroke.
    3) Add a little weight at the tangent. This will increase the moment of inertia when the tangent strikes the string.
    These will change the touch response of the instrument a little bit, maybe for the better, maybe not. At least you can give the owner some choices.

    Finally, try playing the instrument with the back lid down. This will reduce the impact and rattle noises and change the balance in favor of the string sound. Not louder, but perhaps more "cantabile."

    If I recognize this instrument correctly, this is the model in which the unisons share a hitchpin, as in modern pianos. I don't think Zuckermann produced this model for very long, and wonder why. I may be wrong about this.

    ------------------------------
    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-25-2021 04:40
    So it's quiet! Believe me, I once went to a Clavichord Recital in Brighton (UK) right near a main road leading to the Pier and Seafront. Amazingly as the ears got accustomed to the very low volume I began to appreciate the tone. 'Tis said that Handel used to steal away in the night to a roof room where there was a Clavichord - and practice there! His family discovered him.  
    Michael G.





  • 5.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-25-2021 08:07
    Both an eloquent tribute to a friend but also an informed admiration of the "whispered soul" of the instrument  with some embedded links to  clavichord repertoire. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/the-whispered-spell-of-the-clavichord
    www.snowpianos.com

    ------------------------------
    Martin Snow
    South Burlington VT
    617-543-1030
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-26-2021 04:02
    What an eloquent tribute in the New Yorker.

    I have the book by Malcolm Rose and David Law "A Handbook of Historical Stringing Practice for Keyboard Instruments" 207pp. In it there are stringing tables for Clavichord, Plucked Instruments,
    Fortepianos, Upright Pianos (1807 Wm.Rolfe, London) is one of the four examples, Square Pianos.
    There are graphs of string tensions and various Appendices + bibliography.
    Copies of this book are available from Malcolm Rose. He's 'Googleable' at his Workshop in Lewes, Sussex. UK
    Michael Gamble.  UK.





  • 7.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-26-2021 08:34
    I think I have missed the bus, as you've already gone and had a go with this instrument, but just to add a little information here.  Yes, it's true, the clavichord is quiet, but it is still important to recognize differences between instruments including volume and try to understand what is possible.  So, here are some things I can think of which may or may not be relevant but that would make an instrument unduly weak:

    Player technique - I am a terrible clavichord player, I can play my little Fisk double fretted perfectly nicely, but the big Dolmetsch Chickering that is well loved by real clavichordists I can only make whisper.  I joke that I can barely play it well enough to tune it.

    Listing - Woven listing tends to be help with sustain (and evenness of touch) more than "ruffle" listing, because it helps keep all the strings coupled.

    An up stop rail (at least that might be what it is called on a clavichord) - This rail is installed over the top of the listing, to help control the maximum deflection of the string as the tangent pushes on it, which in turn allows the player to impart more controlled force and thus more volume from it.

    Regulation - tangets that touch one string, or touch at a less than optimum angle, and differences in key travel will all affect the strength of the notes produced.

    String scale - Yes, wrong wire gauges certainly impact volume capabilities.  Especially since you are saying that the bass seems responsive enough (the bass is also easier to play, see first suggestion).  This might be Zuckerman's mis-design at the time not any error on the part of the kit builder.

    Pitch - related to that, a number of clavichords that I have encountered function better at pitches exceeding A=440.   Notably small Zuckerman kits.  I was told to try as much as a minor 3rd higher, but even a half step or two would make a big difference in volume.  Check your handy dandy string tensions spreadsheet to confirm the wire will tolerate the higher pitch, but in general higher pitch means stiffer strings means louder response.

    Hopefully something in that mess is helpful.  A good book to have on hand is Peter Bavington's Clavichord Tuning and Maintenance.  Some of it is too basic for techs, but there is a lot of good stuff in there too.  I believe he updated it this year, so it should be currently available.  I haven't seen the kinds of stringing tables in it that Malcolm's book has, so that is also a good reference, if you are thinking about restringing.  It would depend on how closely the Z-kit resembles historical models however.

    All best,
    Beth

    ------------------------------
    Elizabeth Harris
    Malden MA
    518-817-9046
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-26-2021 14:38

    Thank you everyone for the responses! Thanks Elizabeth and Michael for the book recommendations. I will order them. Thank You Martin for posting the article about the new lover of the clavichord. A very touching tribute.

    I have been waiting a bit to report on my findings as I had hoped that my email to the Zuckermann shop (sent on Wednesday) would have been answered. I will wait until Monday and if no response I will try a call. I think I heard somewhere that it is hard to make contact with Zuckermann these days. So it goes with a lot of things just now.

    I am familiar with clavichords enough to know the volume one can expect. This one has less. You can see in some of the attached pictures what most certainly contributes to the volume problem. When I last saw this instrument, it had a thin line of separation between the bridge and soundboard. The separation is now considerably larger. Also, note the photo showing the concave soundboard. I do not remember it being that bad. The clavichord's new home could very well be dryer than where it had lived previously for many years.

    In the photo showing the bass strings you can see that it starts off with brass then turns to steel (or iron), then back to brass for a bit then, back to steel (or iron). That is a first for me and I wonder if that was in the original string schedule? Looking at how well the coils were made on the tuning pins makes me wonder. The rest of the strings look like they could be original. I hope to find the schedule for this instrument or at some point, try to figure out a proper scale so I know what pitch limit it will tolerate.

    Thanks Elizabeth and Ed for your thoughts on how to make this clavichord sound better. If it happens that I take on the repairs, your information will be very useful. I particularly like the idea of installing an up stop/ listing board above the listing cloth area.

    There are a couple of interesting pieces of hardware on this instrument. Note in the one photo the turnbuckles running from the bass to treble sides. This is a clavichord that thinks it is a Mason & Hamlin! I have never seen these on a clavichord or harpsichord. I asked the question about these in my email to the Zuckermann shop. It would help to know the recommendation for setting the tension on the case.

    The best advice to my client is to replace the soundboard and bridge. That is a job I cannot take on so it will have to travel to another shop. If he says do your best to repair, I probably will take it on but with extreme reservation. Based on my last attempt to revive and old soundboard and bridge on a harpsichord, I cannot make any guarantees as I may not be able to fully close the bridge/soundboard separation.

    Elizabeth, you mentioned a Dolmetsch Chickering clavichord. Bill Garlick had one when I was a student at North Bennett Street School. That was a fun instrument to play. A while back, Peter Sykes brought his Dolmetsch Chickering to Ithaca College for a recital and lectures. The small hall he performed in has good acoustics but he did request that there be no clapping between pieces so our ears would adjust to the instrument. Peter said if we really feel the need to clap, we should just wave our programs. That worked well! :-)

    Best,
    Don



    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-26-2021 15:34
    This looks like one of the first Z. clavichords, partner of the plywood Z-box.
    It may have been built in 1984, but I think the kit was from an earlier date.
    They did a pretty job on the case.
    It is single strung, one wire per note, and the soundboard birch plywood.
    The most authentic upgrade would be to attach a contact microphone to the soundboard and run it
    through a Radio Shack kit amplifier!
    If your customer is serious about playing clavichord, they should find a better instrument.

    ------------------------------
    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-27-2021 06:30
    Hello Don - you'll be delighted with Malcolm Rose' book. It will give a very good insight of early instruments and their stringing. As to this Zuckermann . . . .  wow! the view underneath is quite staggering! I have never seen such bracing before - and it looks as though it is adjustable? The stringing is very lack-a-daisical. The first few bass strings should all be brass and the rest all iron. Again you'll be delighted to have a referable tome in Malcolm's 'stringing practice'. There are so few strings on this, and it not being an early instrument, I would be very tempted to persuade the owner to have a restring job - then, with all the strings catalogued, compared to Malcom's Clavichord 'stringing tables' (there are only two tables - but very informative) and removed, the bridge can be attended to properly - being so detached will be adversely affecting the sound level. Someone has been putting the wrong strings in there anyway - such a hotch-potch!  Michael Gamble uk.





  • 11.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-26-2021 17:51
    There is a turnbuckle on the Zuckerman clavichord I have (given to me by a customer who built it a few years ago). Remembering that reminded me that he also gave me the manual. No date, but the address is 160 6th Av NYC, so I think that puts it pre 1980. 

    Stringing schedule:
    C1 - F6 .026 phosphor bronze
    F#7 - A10 .024 brass
    A#11 - C13 .020 brass
    C#14 - E17 .016 brass
    f18 - A34 .013 steel
    A#35 - F54 .011 steel.

    Concerning the turnbuckle, the intent was (quoting the manual) "to counteract the tension of the strings, which tends to pull up the front right and the left rear corners of the instrument. To pull these corners down, tighten the turnbuckle. Once the ends are fully seated, you may need as little as 1/4 to 1/2 turn to correct any problem. You can also loosen the tension when you notice the instrument beginning to rock due to seasonal changes."

    My customer had duly tightened it as needed, and the case was well and truly racked/warped, to the point that the instrument was unusable. It is all plywood, which doesn't resist warpage very well, and I think that tightening the turnbuckle probably just introduced curvature into the case parts. I took it apart to a large extent and replaced much of the inner case with oak replacements. With those replacements, it held tolerably well, but a more moderate racking still returned (a 3/4" piece of wood under a leg serves to steady it). 

    I should have replaced all the inner rim. Live and learn. Still, I find it a lovely instrument to play for my own amusement, and spend 10-15 minutes on it every evening. For me, the clavichord is a magical instrument. (I found its volume too low when I first had one for a few years in my early 20s).

    I wouldn't go sharp of A440 for that reason: the case will likely not resist. 

    I'll quote the manual again (amused at Wally's confidence in the solidity of his design): "I have not included the construction of the case as being critical, because the case as described here is much stronger than it need be. Old instruments sometimes had an outer case 1/4" thick and a slim liner (no inner case at all) and on this hung two sets of strings! The instrument described here has an inner case over 3/4" thick and an outer case 1/2" which, plus sturdy braces. Even if your joints are far from perfect, nothing can happen." 
    Fred Sturm
    fssturm@unm.edu
    www.artoftuning.com
    http://fredsturm.net
    "Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." -Gustav Mahler






  • 12.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-26-2021 16:16
    Thanks Ed, I like your idea of attaching a contact microphone to the soundboard. Crank it up! :-) There is a question of sentimental value with regard to this clavichord. The owners are both retired professors at Ithaca College and the person who built it was an English professor at the school. The sons of the late English professor wanted it to go to the school but it was not wanted so, it found a new home with two two former music professors. They really like the look as well but perhaps with some persuasion, they would consider purchasing another instrument. The sons of the late professor gave the instrument to them so they are not out any money at this point.

    Best,
    Don

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 00:12
    Fred,

    Considering what Ed believes about this instrument and what information you have, this clavichord could well be pre 1980. The builder also put together a Z-box harpsichord around the same time so it could have taken him a while to finish both instruments. The string scale you found sure looks like it could be correct for this instrument. I do wonder if phosphor bronze is a good choice though. It appears that a number of builders in the mid 20th century used it but in my experience so far with harpsichords, I do not like phosphor bronze wire. Red or yellow brass just sounds better to me. The owners prefer 415 so string tension is not an issue for now. The case on this instrument is fairly sturdy and shows no sign of warping so, it seems best to just leave the turnbuckles alone for now.

    As Ed mentioned, the soundboard is birch plywood and I believe that is true for this instrument. My question then is whether or not a solid spruce soundboard could be used? The soundboard on this clavichord is thin and I'm not sure a spruce board that thin would hold up. Perhaps it would with a good rib design. It would be an interesting experiment to design a spruce soundboard for this instrument but not one I am willing to take on. The bottom line is what my clients want to do. We shall see eventually.

    That quote from Zuckermann is a hoot!

    Best,
    Don

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 12:27
    I suspect more of the racking came from tightening the turnbuckle than from the string tension. When I had it apart, I clamped the parts of the liner I was retaining so that they were in a "reverse rack" while I attached the new oak hitch rail and whatever else I replaced (it was a few years back and I neglected to photograph, so the details are lost in the attic of my memory). But I think the plywood had both enough memory and lack of solidity to revert, especially when I drew it to 440. I backed off tension, and it was fine, though moderately racked. 

    Is that a piece of angle iron on yours? In addition to the turnbuckle?

    I think the solid bottom is a better solution, with solid wood and good joints. But, of course, that came from ancient times when they didn't know what they were doing :-)

    That bridge separation is pretty drastic. I'd suggest that that is pretty much the source of the tonal problem. A spruce board would work fine. I replaced plywood with solid spruce on another kit. Planing it to that thickness was a challenge, but it should have plenty of structural integrity compared to plywood. I wouldn't even consider crown. Not an issue.

    Take a look at the photos Kerstin Schwartz posted of a "Silbermann" copy. Some very modest ribbing, the board is quite thin. The design does have a substantial cut off bar. (And, of course, a hefty solid bottom for additional structural integrity. Wally was focused on the sides of the case, and emulating the open bottom of a piano, supposedly (probably) for more tonal projection).

    Phosphor bronze is sometimes necessary for mid 20th century harpsichords due to scaling issues so as to avoid string breakage. I agree the sound is generally pretty awful. The idea seems to have been to use a thicker string at higher tension in the bass to meet the tonal expectations of someone who isn't used to period instrument sounds. I wouldn't consider Zuckermann's shrining schedule something sacrosanct to emulate. He was just making it possible for regular people to actually experience something sort of like a clavichord (or harpsichord) - and actually somewhat better than some of the custom makers of the Sabathil and Wittmayer ilk. 

    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    University of New Mexico
    fssturm@unm.edu
    http://fredsturm.net
    www.artoftuning.com
    "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone. " Blaise Pascal








  • 15.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 19:24
    Don-
    You could consider a guitar soundboard set from Stewart-MacDonald. You might need a third piece to complete the soundboard.
    On the two later Zuckermann clavichords I built, one had no ribs and one had a short rib under the treble end of the bridge. I think both had case parts that served as cutoff bars.
    That bridge looks awful. If I were replacing the soundboard I'd probably make a new, less heavy bridge.
    I was wrong about the contact microphone and Radio Shack amplifier. For authenticity it should be a Heathkit amplifier.

    ------------------------------
    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 20:32
    Michael, I have sent an email to Malcolm about ordering the book and waiting for a reply. I have ordered Peter Bavington's book as well. Although I probably will not be doing any major restoration on this instrument, having these two books on hand for resource material is a good idea.

    Best,
    Don


    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 17.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 20:05
    Fred, I believe this clavichord is sturdy enough and has not, and probably will not rack. That bar in question is indeed metal so yet another means of support for this instrument. Certainly a proper bottom board would add to stiffness. The one thing I would like to see makers add though is an access port on the bottom board. It makes it so much easier should repairs be needed.

    Where did you get the spruce soundboard panel for that replacement? As I mentioned in another post, if the owners want to have the soundboard replaced it will have to go to another shop. If this instrument were mine I probably would give it a go with replacement. That is a nice looking soundboard on the Silbermann copy.

    If I were to restring this clavichord I would probably try brass instead of phosphor bronze. The owners prefer 415 so using brass should not be an issue. Also, finding the best string schedule for this instrument is what I would do. We will see what the future holds.

    Best,
    Don

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 18.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 20:23
    Ed, Stewmac certainly has a good selection of spruce. The torrefied spruce products sound interesting. Since two panels would have to be joined to make a panel large enough for a clavichord, I would be a bit nervous doing that for the first time. If it were my instrument, maybe.

    Yes, the bridge does not look good and it is best to replace that as well.

    Heathkit! I have not seen one of those in a long time. Those were the days. :-)

    Best,
    Don


    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 19.  RE: clavichord

    Posted 02-28-2021 04:58
    Heathkit? I used to make these excellent kits up in the 60's - didn't know they were still around? 





  • 20.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-27-2021 21:59
    For the clavichord in which I replaced the soundboard with spruce, I used a section of soundboard from an old upright I had salvaged, and reduced its thickness. It has been 15-20 years, so I don't remember the details of what I ended up doing to thin it. Probably a combination of techniques, including planing and sanding. 

    In years gone by, one could probably request remnants from somewhere like Hubbard. I imagine that somewhere in the luthier community there is a source for thin spruce panels of some nature. 
    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination." - Einstein






  • 21.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-28-2021 06:45
    Michael-
    That was a joke. Heathkit, Zuckermann, 1960s, kits. I did have a friend who set up a Zuckermann clavichord #1 with a contact mic and amp. It was the first instrument I tuned, using some early pitch meter.

    Don-
    If memory serves, I saw one of these plywood Z-chords for sale on ebay. It had been restrung by Paul Irvin. Paul is a great clavichord builder, very knowledgeable and up-to-date. (He had a friend send back her clavichord so he could restring it with better wire.)
    He'd probably share his scaling with you. <http://pyirvin.com/index.html>



    ------------------------------
    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
    ------------------------------



  • 22.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-28-2021 12:14
    Ed, I just had a look at the Zuckermann clavichord on eBay. It certainly looks nice. Thank you for the referral to Paul Irvin.

    I suppose there would be a scenario where I would do the restoration. If I could remove the soundboard intact, perhaps I could send it to a builder for duplication. Depending on the owner's wishes, this might be worth exploring.

    Best,
    Don

    ------------------------------
    [Don] [McKechnie,] [RPT]
    [Piano Technician]
    [dmckech@ithaca.edu]
    [Home 607.277.7112]
    ------------------------------



  • 23.  RE: clavichord

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 02-28-2021 12:54
    Don- The Kuckermann/Irwin clavichord was on eBay months ago. My recollection is that it was an original, c1960s, plywood clavichord, like the one your customer has.
    By the 1970s, Zuckermann was selling a 5 octave clavichord with "prestressed plywood bottom." You can recognize it because the case is unproportionally tall relative to length and depth. I don't know how these instruments have held up, or what Z. offers now.

    ------------------------------
    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
    ------------------------------