Archive for the ‘harpsichord maintenance’ Category

strings from waterloo

October 7, 2013

© Tilman Skowroneck 2013

I have mentioned this before. I am not convinced that a given harpsichord can be substantially improved by putting up some new strings.

In fact I am rather convinced of the opposite, which is that random changes to a given design (and the stringing of a harpsichord belongs, or should belong, to its maker’s design choices) not normally result in a major shift toward a better tone. The expectation that a harpsichord can be optimized by applying a number of relatively simple tricks, or by experimenting with some new string material, is usually rewarded by some kind of disappointment. In my experience, a truly noticeable shift in a harpsichord’s quality often goes in the other direction: it happens when the instrument is being neglected. Improvement is a much more hard-won thing, especially when the instrument is assembled and ready to be used.

So what I will discuss here below should be seen as an exception, as I am about to introduce an exceptionally well-suited string material which actually does, within reasonable limits, improve the tone and tuning properties of a harpsichord:

Over the past decade or so, Stephen Birkett  of the University of Waterloo, Canada, has researched the properties of historical iron strings, and has come up with a formula to produce iron wire with very similar properties. This so-called P-wire is now becoming available (here is some more information about it), and I have had the chance to test it in three quite different harpsichords with a Flemish-French mixed scaling (brass in the bass, and iron from the tenor upward). (more…)

oiling quills: new findings

June 5, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

Denzil Wraight has now published his findings about the wear pattern of quill, the best technique for oiling quill, and recommended oils for this purpose in one short article and a rather longer one with extensive explanations at:

http://www.denzilwraight.com/quilling.htm

This should be seen as a complement, and in some ways a correction, to my own article about voicing which I published earlier on this blog (a link to the PDF version is here). I am presently testing oiling the quills (with Ballistol) in two of my instruments according to Denzil’s recommendations (including the French Double that takes the brunt of my practicing) and my initial experience is positive (see my most recent thoughts in the third comment added to this post).

beryllium copper on the front page

April 26, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

As the “searches” tab in my blog stats is telling me, many people are interested in the characteristics of  beryllium copper harpsichord wire in comparison to other materials. Some time ago, I have posted an explanation in the “Skowroneck harpsichords” tab of the sidebar (see my full text there), but I would like to pull the discussion to the front, and expand it.

As I have stated, beryllium copper is not the same as phosphor bronze (the latter doesn’t sound all that well, hence this whole discussion) although it looks very similar. It has similar characteristics to brass and can be used in harpsichords with a brass scaling, or in the bass of harpsichords with a mixed scaling. I also claim that,

beryllium copper of the kind best known to me also has a good sound. True, most people will have no possibility to make direct comparisons between the various materials – and “good” is a problematic term. I have tested brass and beryllium copper in one single instrument and monitored their properties over a time span of 15 years. I found beryllium copper to sound slightly “fuller” than the brass that is usually available today, but without compromising the appropriate overall “brassy” sound character. Together with the advantages listed above I personally prefer this material. As said above, however, these properties may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and not all beryllium copper appears to be as good as I describe here.

I am re-posting this here, because I should add that beryllium copper can be hardened just as other wire. This property might in fact be at the bottom of some negative judgments about its usefulness as harpsichord wire. (more…)

harpsichords, art worlds and support personnel

June 11, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

“Art worlds decline when some groups that knew and used the conventions which inform their characteristic works lose that knowledge, or when new personnel cannot be recruited to maintain the world’s activities.” (Howard S. Becker Art Worlds, 349)

The importance of “support personnel” and “conventions” in art worlds is somewhat easier understood when we look at examples of everyday technology: until a few years ago, for example, it was not problematic in the least to get color films adequately developed, printed, or put on a high-resolution CD. For the past two years or so it has become very difficult to find labs that are still matching this standard: real film is nowadays processed so rarely that it (apparently) has become a major hassle for the labs to keep their chemicals fresh and uncontaminated. As a result, some of my most recent pictures resemble my first photographic efforts when they came back from our corner-store developing service back in the sixties, featuring indistinct colors, embedded particles of dust and debris, specks, and scratches.

But not only the standard of the technology and its maintenance declines. The people who are there for me to talk to about my pictures have no longer any clue about the processes involved in conventional photography. (more…)

tuning: overthinking inharmonicity

January 10, 2009

This is an expanded version of a comment I posted earlier this week on the hpschd-l. Anyone who wants to get into historical harpsichord tuning and never come out again ought to search the archives of that list. There’s several lifetimes worth of tuning wisdom and tuning folly to be found there. In this post, I discuss one randomly picked topic from tuning lore: the so-called inharmonicity of strings and what to do with it.

A very short popularized version of the theory says that in stiff or thick (or both) strings the partials are out of tune; thick, stiff strings act acoustically as a rod. Imagine a 1950s staircase and its iron handrails. The rods that attach them to the ground say (when one tried harping on them, which one wasn’t supposed to do) plink/plank/plaing/plunk/plong, but mostly “ploink”; the “oi” factor in this ploink indicates that something – in terms of a pure sound – isn’t as it ought to be. When tuning very thick foreshortened bass strings or the treble strings in a modern piano, we are facing palpable manifestations of this inharmonicity. Even in the strings of early keyboard instruments there is theoretically some inharmonicity. This wisdom works wonders for the fantasy of some insiders. (more…)

travel report

May 22, 2008

Although I have been reading a book about writing, I am now having a hard time getting started on this post. Why did I read a book about writing? Because I was traveling and had to fill some event-less periods of time: on the boat between Göteborg and Kiel, in numerous trains and before and during recording sessions. Some other activities besides traveling and recording required a kind of private brand of mindfulness instead of reading and will not be mentioned here.

One of the tasks I had in Bremen, first stop, was to finalize the voicing and regulation of Martin Skowroneck’s No. 89, a five-octave French 2manual harpsichord. (more…)

humidifiers

March 8, 2008

March. Even in Sweden, the sun occasionally shows its shy face, and the days get longer and longer. What used to be the usual boring weather becomes all of a sudden a pressing matter for the harpsichord owner: it gets too dry. Not surprisingly, this has been a problem at all times, as you can read in Robin’s new post about an unlucky Schiedmayer fortepiano. (more…)


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