Friday, November 6, 2009

Pleyel harpsichord

I am currently engrossed in the restoration of a Pleyel harpsichord for the Harpsichord Clearing House.
The restoration of a Pleyel is not for the faint of heart, particularly when the instrument has undergone an earlier, poor quality restoration.
Unfortunately, the earlier restorer saw it fit to use a non water soluble glue to glue the remnants of the original leather plectra into the tongues.  A hole was then drilled through the plectra, and a round, Neupert style plectra subsequently inserted.  It was necessary for me to make and install approximately 75 new tongues, as several of the originals were either split, missing, or poorly drilled during the earlier "restoration."
In fact, a great deal of the work I have thus far done has been the correcting and complete undoing of some truly horrendous work, performed by a less than competent restorer.
Pictured here is the re-attachment of the treble section 16' nut, which had become unglued. Slowly but surely, the instrument is rumbling back to life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making the Soundboard for opus IV

Here, Amicus, my worthy apprentice, checks the glue joint between two soundboard planks.

1806 Broadwood Grand Fortepiano Restoration

At long last, my 1806 Broadwood has entered my workshop for restoration.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making the Soundboard

Having re-sawed several 1"x4"x6' fir boards into 1/8"x4"x6' planks, I have begun the process of gluing them together to form the soundboard.  Once completed, it will be cut to fit in the case, flush with the inner rim and belly rail, and planed at various points between the 8' bridge and hitch pin rail.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Steaming the Bridge

While this method might not appear to be as refined or aesthetically pleasing as the one  we would like to imagine Taskin or Ruckers employed to steam their 8' bridges, the combination of a large steamer pot, clear plastic hose, a few clamps and a 5' length of PVC pipe, atop my kitchen gas stove, is serving the purpose quite nicely.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Broadwood Square Piano

The front view and nameboard of the 1795 Broadwood square piano, maker's number 2998, on which I performed some technical work for Glenn Giuttari's Harpsichord Clearing House, in preparation for delivery to its new owner. The instrument, save for 4 wound and 1 brass string, is entirely in its original, quite playable condition. A very small dab of Hoppe's no. 9 Premium Gun Oil on each damper lever successfully and efficiently brought them to a nearly perfect working condition, as several were quite sluggish or entirely inoperable. I cautiously set the pitch of the instrument at A392, as there is a very slight twisting of the case, a common square piano "disease." The instrument, however, is very stable, and, with luck, will continue to offer joy and solace to its listeners and players for another 209 years.

Stodart in Concert

On Saturday, September 12, and Sunday, September 13, at Sayles Memorial Congregational Church in Lincoln, RI, the Stodart made its 21st century debut, in two tremendously successful performances featuring fortepianist Sylvia Berry and myself, in programs including the music of Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, and Clementi.
The sound and action were enthusiastically praised by all who heard and played the instrument. The success of these performances was deeply gratifying on both a personal and professional level. Up next: the completion of my Opus IV harpsichord, a 392/415/440 transposable single, FF-f''' 8'x8'x4'/buff.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Harpsichords

Decided to post some photos of the three harpsichords I've built.
Pictured from top to bottom, my opus III, a French Single, FF-f''', 8x8/buff, double transposing, built on commission, now in Philadelphia, PA;
my Opus II, a Flemish Single, GG-d''', 8x8/buff, transposing, now in Canton, MI,
and my Opus I, a Flemish Double, GG-d''', 8x8x4/buff, non transposing, soon to be delivered to its new owner in NH.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Finishing touches

While there remains much work to do, the Stodart is now in reasonably good playing condition.
I am now in the process of eliminating buzzes, clicks, and various small, but very annoying technical problems.
Fortunately, the action has withstood the constant musical assault it has been subjected to, despite my most powerful fortissimo playing.
The next step will be to restore the damper action, which will hopefully improve the action's very poor damping capabilities, particularly in the bass.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Farewell, old friend...

Opus I has been sold, and will be living in New Hampshire, at the home of a Methodist minister.
I hate to part with it, but am happy with the knowledge that it will be going to a good home, only two hours away.
Still, it's sad to see "my baby" go.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


After engaging in mortal combat with the newly restored action, I have won the battle, bringing the Stodart several steps closer to perfect playing condition.
The action presented a host of problems to be solved, including badly warped keys, twisted keyframe, sluggish jacks, and of course, several shanks and hammers which needed to be fabricated and replaced.
One of the most perplexing problems, however, involved the upward bowing of the rear keyframe rail.
The combination of the shift return spring's constant pressure on the keyframe and the shift pedal toggle's pulling and lifting of the keyframe resulted in the rail's developing a permanent, upward arch.
This condition required the installation of an additional "hold down" bracket, fastened to the lower rail of the damper action,  just to the left of center of the rear keyframe rail.
In an earlier post, I suggested that the missing ivories were the
least of this action's various problems.
That suggestion proved to be quite true.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Italian Virginal

Taking a break in the Stodart restoration.
Here's an Italian Virginal that I am restoring for the Harpsichord Clearing House.
The process pictured is the reattaching of the soundboard to the upper surface of an internal brace.
To paraphrase the stereotypical used car salesman, "she might not look to pretty right now, but just wait 'til I get 'er up an' running..."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Pictured here are the disassembled components of the hammers, shanks, butts, flange plate, and axle pin, which are in groups of 12, 13, or 14, along the hammer rail.
The first group, containing numbers 1-13, has been reassembled, with new cedar shanks installed.
The action of this this instruments bears several similarities with that of the modern piano, specifically, a butt pivoting on a center pin/axle which, in turn, is held into place on a flange via a brass flange plate.
While this design contributes greatly to the precision, stability and subsequent responsiveness of the action, the future replacement of broken hammer shanks will require the removal of the entire group of hammers, shanks, butts, etc. in which it falls.
For the modern piano technician, this could be recognized as the precursor to the brass rail flange, as found in the Sohmer vertical piano.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Out of 78 hammers and shanks, only 24 remain in their original state, unrepaired, re-glued, or replaced.
From this, I am to determine the original hammer line, and will now begin the process of restoring the hammers and shanks to their original, straight and correct position.
Ultimately, the tails will form a perfectly straight line, for uniform backchecking, the heads for a uniform strike point.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My last hope for finding a signature with a specific date has been lost.
The maker(s) of the keyframe, keyboard, and damper system did not see fit to follow the keyboard instrument makers tradition of affixing a signature and date to their work. 
We are left with nothing more than the maker's number, 7388, a faint signature of "H. Clark" in the keywell, and this stamped initial bearing the name "J. Young" on the treble end action bracket.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Now it's time to turn to the restoration of the action.
Unfortunately, it appears to have been "restored" once before, and poorly so.
Most of the cloth and leather has been replaced, leaving little alternative but for me to remove and replace most or all of it.
Most of the hammers have been improperly re-glued, some out of order and improperly angled, and several shanks have been replaced, curled, or are missing entirely.
The backchecks are twice as thick as necessary, resulting in the over compensation of the regulation of their angle and subsequent interference with the damper lever upstop rail.
The most common question I have been asked by others who have seen this action has been "are you going to replace the missing ivories?" to which I would reply "the missing ivories are the least of the challenges this poor, mistreated action presents."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stodart/Pitch raising

Two bits of good news:
First, the Stodart did not explode, implode, or otherwise self-destruct after the first pitch raising.
The wrestplank insert, tubes, rails and pressure bars seem to be secure.
So far.
Second, the instrument sang for the first time tonight in many, many years.
My educated guess is that this instrument has been in a state of disrepair for at least 100 years, silent and unplayable.
There remains a great deal more work to be done, specifically, on the action and damper system, however, no words can express the degree of gratification I experienced by playing little more than a few arpeggios and chords on this fascinating piece of musical history.


Having completed restringing and installing the compensating tubes, hitchpin rails and pressure braces, the instrument is now ready to be gradually brought up to pitch, ultimately, A430.
Thus far, the wrestplank insert is showing no signs of failure; then again, it could very well blow up in my face once the strings are fully tensioned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The holes for the tuning pins have been drilled, and the front braces for the compensator tubes installed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


To my delight (and relief), the applying of the veneer cap was successful, and is perfectly flush with the original cap.
The next steps will be to apply shellac, tinted to match the color of the original cap, mark and drill the holes for the tuning pins, and begin the long process of installing the compensator tubes, braces and brackets, hitchpin rails, and original strings.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


After carefully trimming a 44.5" piece of maple veneer, which will serve as the cap, to line up with the top edge of the original cap, I have glued it into place by means of a go-bar deck.
To eliminate the possibility of having the wooden pressure bar stick to the cap via squeeze through glue, the bar was first wrapped in wax freezer paper before being clamped into place.


Prior to gluing on a maple veneer cap over the wrestplank insert, it was necessary for me to make the top of it's surface level to that of the original veneer capping, which was anything but flat or level.
With a few layers of veneer applied onto the insert at various points, the top edge of the new cap should line up with that of the original.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"The other side's culture!"

This picture was taken August 31, 2008, in Newark, Vermont, by the first of my followers.
Sounds rather cultish, wouldn't you agree?
Anyway, this was the year that I made good on a repeated promise that I had made to our host, the ruddy, mustachioed gentleman standing directly behind me, to bring an instrument to a Pig Roast in The Big Woods.
I'm playing my Opus II harpsichord (now residing outside of Detroit, Michigan), for perhaps the most diverse, appreciative group of people for whom I have ever played.
White collar, blue collar, no collar.
They were all there.

Stodart Compensator Grand, no. 7388

After a bit more research, I have been able to narrow down the year that the Stodart was built to be between 1827-1828.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My apprentice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stodart/Lid lock

One of the Stodart lid locks.
I challenge anyone to find an example of this kind of attention to detail, craftsmanship, and sheer beauty on any modern piano.
Even a Steinway, my modern piano of choice, is, by comparison, rather bland in it's appearance.


Here's a view of the Stodart with the compensator tubes and braces removed.
The string tension has been completely eased, allowing for the removal of the strings.
Each string will be removed, measured and labeled, and ultimately reinstalled in the instrument.
There are a total of 231 strings.

Wrestplank restoration

Here is the "new" section of the wrestlpank.
I used System Three epoxy, no. 2 hardener, to install the wrestplank insert.
May it hold! 

Friday, March 6, 2009


The repair of the wrestplank in the Stodart presented several challenges, as it is mitered into the case on three sides.
Removing and replacing it would have required, at the least, the removal of the right cheek, an endeavor I was not willing to undertake.
Faced with this dilemma, I came up with a solution which will, hopefully, withstand the enormous amount of tension of the instrument's 231 strings.
Pictured are the top of the wrestplank, where the splits along the rows of tuning pins are visible, and a 2"x 7/8" x 44.5" channel cut into the wrestplank, where a section of Delignet pinblock material will be inserted.
Here, the splits along the rows of tuning pin holes are more pronounced.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Broadwood nameboard

John Broadwood and Son
Makers to His Majesty
and the Princesses
Great Pulteney Street Golden Square

Stodart & Broadwood fortepianos

Pictured on the right is a Broadwood Grand Fortepiano, makers number 3448, built in 1806.
At the present time, it is not in playing condition.
It will enter my workshop upon the completion of the restoration of yet another fortepiano, a Stodart Compensator Grand, makers number 7388, circa 1825-1830, pictured to the left of the Broadwood.
Simultaneously, I will continue with the building of my fourth harpsichord, a double transposing single, FF-f''', 8x8x4/buff.