Updated 31 October 2014. One current offer below on this page.
A fair amount of incoming searches for this site are on “Martin Skowroneck“, who was a harpsichord maker and my father.
I regularly do maintenance for some of his customers, and performed, with one exception, the final voicing for the Bremen workshop during the last few years. The information on this page is about identifying and re-selling Skowroneck harpsichords, and even includes a remark about beryllium-copper strings.
Before the mid-sixties, Skowroneck harpsichords would typically be signed with “Martin Skowroneck [me] fecit” and the place and date. The signatures in harpsichords from a later date are found hidden behind the nameboard, and in smaller instruments like virginals and clavichords on the bottom, inside, under the keys. At first sight, these instruments thus appear unsigned.
Beryllium copper is not the same as Phosphor bronze:
Instead of brass, Skowroneck used beryllium copper strings. Colleagues tell me that, unfortunately, even this material comes in a variety of qualities, and some of it does not sound very well. I have, however, only good experiences with the specific wire used in the Bremen workshop:
1) This modern material, which has a breaking point similar to brass, has one positive mechanical property similar to historical brass: it sets quickly instead of stretching endlessly. A replacement string will keep its pitch after only a few adjustments.
2) Other advantages include a relatively high resistance to breaking when bent, and a complete absence of the annoying tendency of modern brass to slip at the loops.
3) 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.
The reason for this lengthy explanation is that beryllium copper looks very much like phosphor bronze, and can easily be mistaken for it. Especially, it seems, my Dutch colleagues have (over two generations now) developed a knee-jerk-disdain-reflex against “red” strings in harpsichords with a brass scaling; these are invariably identified and sniffed-at as “phosphor bronze” after barely a glance.
Indeed, phosphor bronze strings are, as far as I can tell, inferior to both brass and beryllium copper, so there are good reasons to be wary (also, its tensile strength is different with the result that phosphor bronze strings mounted in a true brass-scaled harpsichord likely will be under-tensed, which does not benefit the sound in any case).
But the visual aspect alone is insufficient for a proper identification. In fact, not a single Skowroneck harpsichord was ever delivered with phosphor bronze strings. It would be a shame and a waste of good material to change the red strings found in a used Skowroneck harpsichord into new brass strings on the basis of a misunderstanding.
The workshop in Bremen has been in action for more than five decades. It now occasionally happens that earlier Skowroneck harpsichords are being offered for re-sale. These instruments were all hand-made to the very highest standards and I have a strong interest that they are kept in a good state and end up in good hands. I therefore offer the non-profit service of bringing sellers and buyers of used Skowroneck harpsichords together.
* Do you own a harpsichord made by Martin Skowroneck and want to sell it?
* are you interested in buying a used Skowroneck harpsichord?
Send me an e-mail (tilman[at]skowroneck[dot]de).
A nicely decorated one-manual German harpsichord after Michael Mietke in good condition is for sale (USA). Please contact me for details.