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Introduction | Brief History | Maintenance

Notes on the maintenance of Harpsicords

String replacement

Always replace a broken string with one of an identical gauge. Remove the old string and the tuning pin by unscrewing it with the tuning hammer. A safe way of making a loop on the new wire is to use a headless nail of a similar thickness to the hitch-pin and hold the nail in a vice with 1/4" showing. Hold the wire in your left hand with 6" showing beyond your thumb, take this part in your right hand and bend it round the nail. Now make 4 or 5 close turns round the wire with the right hand {keep hold of the rest of the wire with your left hand). Now snip off the surplus but leave at least one eighth of an inch showing. This will make a stable loop that cannot slacken. Allow enough to be coiled tightly onto the wrest pin to match the other pins and do not let too much protrude through the hole of the pin as this might cause the string to break later. The loop and the coil on the wrest pin should match the others on the instrument. Bring brass strings up to pitch over a period of time.

 
Plectra

Bird quills will usually start to weaken and result in a loss of tone before they fail and delrin gives no warning of failure but will last many times longer than quill. The method for replacement is virtually the same. Remove the old plectra and press in the new blank from the back of the jack (it must be tight, but do not split the wooden tongue. Support it as you insert the plectra). The plectra must first be cut to length and then shaped (voicing) so that it will produce a sound comparable to its neighbours. Support the plectra upside down on a peg of wood and use a scalpel or sharp modelling knife to do this. Only work on the underneath and do not leave any rough bits that can catch on the string and prevent the jack from returning properly.
Historically ravens quills were most commonly used with crow used for the bass. Black turkey is often used today if quills are used but these are harder.

 

General

If a note fails to play check the following:
1) The stop lever is turned on fully and regulated properly.
2) If the jack is not returning this may be due to dirt in the slot (remove jack and blow the dust away and carefully wipe the jack). If the tongue is stuck, check for dust and see that it is free on its axle. Check the spring is functioning correctly too.
3) If the jack or tongue still sticks it is probably an indication that the instrument is being subjected to unsuitable conditions. If there is no form of humidification in a centrally heated house the instrument will dry out and this will cause many problems. Do not shave the body of the jack at all, and do not swap them around as they are individually fitted and numbered. Seek professional help.
4) Poor sound on one note suggests the plectrum needs attention; but check the string as a piece of fluff or dirt will affect the sound too.
5) If the key itself sticks atmospheric conditions are usually the cause. With care this is easy to rectify.

For best results:

1) Keep the harpsichord in a constant temperature and humidity.
2) Frequent tuning is important.
3) Lift it to move it and don't drag it, to prevent damage to the legs and avoid disturbing the tuning.
4) Close lid when not in use.
5) Keep out of direct sun.
6) Just dust the case and keys every so often.