Adjustment hour for the 2-manual French harpsichord today. Quill plectra have a tendency to show their strengths and weaknesses when seasons change. I’m 3 weeks into central heating and 2 weeks into starting up the humidifier – outdoor temperatures at night have dropped below freezing point. I changed four plectra in the lower 8′, three of which were too soft, that is, having developed that telltale whitish line across their base that indicates a weakened spot. One was almost okay, but I cut it too short while adjusting the tip and had to throw it away.
One of these plectra was over three years old, the others weren’t. The one I messed up was only 3 months old. I anticipate another sitting like this one in a week or so. After that, the instrument should be fine for some time to come.
I am using mostly feathers from large sea birds collected at the shore. Opinions vary as to what species of bird is most suitable for harpsichord plectra. I have kept track of my replacements in this particular instrument since June 2002, comparing raven, crow, American wild turkey and large gull. The latter is clearly superior in durability (and for many people easy to get: just collect them – it’s free). I believe that Raven sounds a little nicer than gull, but this is really hard to tell: The sound depends so much on how the plectrum is cut.
Tags: harpsichord maintenance