Owen continues:


Just got a bag of absolutely beautiful tuning pins from The Instrument Workshop. Complete with holes, which, sigh, I will admit will be a source of comfort to you someday down the road. And a couple of bags of nice-looking tangents, too. I used to make my own tangents. Took ten times as long as buying them, and they were ok, but not as nice. Live 'n' learn.

wound stringsThe wound strings are tin-plated copper over yellow brass cores. The gap in the stringing was because I thought I'd run out of .018" (.46mm) yellow brass core wire, only to find a spool yesterday afternoon.

stringing 1 The winding wire is plated. I actually took some pains to calculate out the absolute tensions of the finished strings, and, I hate to say it, this allowed me to make rational decisions about the three relevant factors, viz.: core diameter, winding diameter, and winding pitch. With the result that there is a consistent and rational flow of tension, loudness, touch down there. Amazing, actually. Two other factors are making the wound-string portion of the instrument already more satisfactory than anything I've experienced before: (a) I used a leather lace as a kind of mini-"nut" on the bass hitchpin rail to ensure an even, non-lumpy stringband (helped by my slanted hitchpin-rail surface as well), and (b) I made Hubert-esque "upset-top" tangents, so the tops are about 2+mm wide and don't click in between the windings. I also ran a tension curve for the whole instrument, and must admit that it is really correlating perfectly with isolated weak notes. Means that I can fiddle on paper for solutions, and this is working swimmingly. And for what it's worth, the crossover to iron (at g', but changing to f' today) is highly successful. The equivalent scale of g' is 10.33 inches, which is actually short-ish for brass on a harpsichord at 440, sounds fabulous on the Voss iron, which is a revelation. Loud, clear, and guitar-like. Of course on the clavichord the diameters are much greater than the same notes likely would be on a harpsichord, so that wire IS a bit weaker, which helps ("tensile pick-up and all that"). f' right now is a weak note stuck between a lovely strong e' in .013" (.33mm) brass, and a Hendrix-esque singing g' in .012" (.30mm) Voss iron. that f' is in brass at .012" (.30mm), and is going to be changed to .013" (.33mm) iron today. The graph shows a big discontinuous dip at f'; with the change, there will now be a subtle minor drop in tension from e'. But the point is empowerment: the tactile and auditory dips are exactly where there are minima on my graph. Gonna be a wonderful clavichord. Oh: and by the way. The case, which was biased with a tiny twist the "wrong" way, is, under tension, virtually flat. Nice.
stringing 2
stringing 3

Listing cloth is the magic "Köpferband" from Austria, which is nothing more than seam-binding tape, but you can't get that kind over here. The color's baby blue, but functionally the stuff is a breakthrough.

Adjustments - decoration - adjustments

Well, I've been putting this off, since it can be bad luck. But the report must be made. Your clavichord is playing. It is in my living room as I write (we brought it across the street just ahead of the rainstorm). It is, dare one say it, a WONDERFUL clavichord. The pitch-center and cleanliness of the notes, without flutter or wobble, is the best I've ever done. Top treble in iron is gorgeous. Wound strings in the bass are clean with good pitch center. Extraordinarily easy to play. Not flabby-easy, but quit-obsessing-and-look-at-the-damned-score,-relax-and-play-the-damned-music easy. The rather massive bridge makes for a smooth, elegant cleanliness, rather that a lot of raw volume, but my wife says I'm crazy, and that she can hum along to it two rooms away in the kitchen.

Clavichord is at the exasperating stage of getting the action played-in (read: getting all the keys going up and down consistently). If you get impatient and make everything really free right away, you usually end up with a clattery action. But we're getting there. I am now making minor adjustments in the stringing strategy. The bass, though not booming and spectacular like a piano or harpsichord or 12-foot-long Lindholm or Hass, plays cleanly and beautifully all the way down to FF! And, more important, this extra range makes the notes you really do play work so much better. The figures around C that turn up in the Inventions are much smoother and cleaner than on the smaller clavichords, where you're playing the very bottom notes.

Just changed a few of the strings that were on my "to-do" list (beefed up tenor c/c# and d/d# one gauge), with very pleasing results. Gradually the rough edges and inconsistencies are working themselves out, and I find myself obsessing over details less and playing more. This design is one that I plan to recommend to almost anybody I can persuade to seek a clavichord.

Soundboard moldings are tiny and delicate, walnut to match the bridge. [The lizards and a lid motto were painted on later by Owen's friend, Patti Kaufman.]

The lid plan had been an oak frame of pieces about 1/2" thick and around 2" wide. Single big lid, as on the original. I had planned for a very thin panel insert of light spruce. But my neighbor, who was over tonight, insists that the panel should be paper-thin quartered oak to match the frame, and, since the clavichord itself has such a clean "arts and crafts-era" look about it, this might be the better way to go.

The lid should get the nice little iron hinges [which were hand-forged by a local blacksmith] mounted today. I still have some stringing issues to resolve (trial applications of some string-revision hypotheses have yielded very pleasing results), and one or two keys that must improve their mechanical function. Cranked key levers are difficult, and I would, upon reflection, see this aspect as the only conceivable impediment to viewing large-ish fretted clavichords as the best possible examples of the instrument.

The lid already has a preliminary oil finish, which will have no practical negative impact on the process of doing a motto. The inside panel will be finished with a matte sealer varnish, either oil-based or even lacquer-based (ok, I'll admit it, DEFT), which can be painted on with an appropriate lettering paint. Yesterday I finally got the lid/hinges mounted, and some ribbon on to hold the thing up, and it certainly focusses the sound nicely. I plan to do some key levelling and "voicing" of tangents today, but will mostly probably play the thing.

[The stand in the pictures is temporary; the instrument lives on top of a loftbed-like platform. Pictures will be forthcoming.]

Got a visit from [Famous Harpsichordist], whom we'd never met before. I found him delightful, and he played the devil out of my instruments without whimpering about differences among octave spans or nano-irregularities in regulation. And he completely blew me away on your new clavichord. Claims he doesn't own one and hasn't played clavichord, but you could have fooled me. He visited accompanied by a festival-goer ... and was about to leave after a good visit and playing harpsichords, when his travel companion asked him to play the clavichord. When he was done (a really stunning run-through of the JSB Chromatic Fantasy), he turned to me and said "Why would anybody ever want to play a harpsichord after that?"

go back to Clavichord, pg. 2

jump back to Clavichord, pg.1