'Allo - A couple of things to tell y'all about.
The ostensible pressing business of this trip is / was to have a
look at an old friend's recently acquired W.Martin "Saxon"
harpsichord, with which he seemed to be having some action
issues. I've just spent much of two days with it, and I wanna tell
y'all that this is a Formidable Box.
I've known Martin's work out here only from the more-or-less-standard
French doubles, usually darkly decorated, and with his trademark
plastic jacks and "pre-voiced" plectra. This one has those jacks,
This is a Large double-bentside beast of 63 keys, 64 courses, four
count them Four transposing blocks for playing from 440 down to
350, decorated in an elaborate gilt pattern over faux-tortoiseshell
paint, waiting for a lid painting and a stand even more elaborate
than the three turned legs it now has, which are enlarged (!!!)
from the turnings on the Zenti pictured in the Zuckerbook. It rather
takes over the client's small music room.
Short-scaled for brass, with the 4' ending at c'" at 440 (bravo).
One complaint was that the top octave of the 4' was strung in iron
to avoid breakage, and was sounding false and going sharp. So that
now has bronze at Martin's suggestion, which seems to be working.
There was also one mid-tenor note which refused to stay strung in
brass, so that has bronze as well. Interestingly, the scale of
the 4' in the treble is noticeably longer than that of the 8';
upwards of an equivalent 11"!
The black "prevoiced" plectra had hardened a bit, I expect, and
were being a bit raucous. So some discreet trimming has revealed
a really quite splendid instrument, as formidable as the recent
Bay Area big Germans I've heard (at least in the confined spaces
in which I've heard them) but considerably warmer and clearer with
the brass stringing. It most resembles a good Dowd "Mietke," but
of course this is a wider and probably deeper box. Nice instrument.
I'm looking forward to spending some more time getting to know it.
And ... anent a current topic, there are two access hatches cut
in the bottom, screwed shut, and painted over. I was able to open
one without havoc, and didn't see any evidence of afterthoughts
inside, just the crossbarring which produces the dramatically
crowned board in the bass. The hatch was obviously cut after the
case was assembled, 'cause it transgressed the tail of one of
the knees. The second hatch is up near the middle of things, where
one would go to pull down a rising boudin, I suppose.
Once, looking down at a rather large patient atop the table, my
very short chief resident in surgery surveyed the incision from
guggle to zatch and spake, "it's a good thing he's a big man, or
we couldn't have made a big enough hole." When I open a bottom,
I usually take that to heart. In Flemish construction, anyway,
the bottom's not supposed to be a major stress-bearing member.
For years I tried to avoid cutting across the bottom frames;
lately I've tried to cross at least one with the removal of a
panel (not cutting into the frame, of course) on the theory that
the refitted panel will be more solid if supported at its middle
as well as with added battens around its edges.
I think I've noticed that every Dowd I've examined has a hatch
out near the tail, for the installation and regulation of the
inverted pogo stick which applies upward pressure to the bass of
the 8' bridge to maintain a reliable crown; the "happiness bar."
That routine aside, I wouldn't imagine anticipating trouble; as
somebody wrote, it could occur anywhere. I lately wrote, suggesting
an approach to a crack in a Hubbard board (addressing the wrong
'person, I noticed as the mail sped away) about making a large
opening out toward the tail. In a northwest-built "Italian," I
had to open a huge space below the rose area to add a massive rib
to what had been a wildly distorted board; and that box would
probably benefit from something like a "counter-bridge" to
reinforce what has proved to be a far too-light bridge. Dodging
around the eleventeen knees to the bentside on that would be a
I'd make holes where and when they're needed, not before. No, I
don't normally glue the panel back into place; I screw if firmly
to battens glued inside the bottom around the edges, in case of
a return visit. Maybe, after a few years, I might go back and
make the panel permanent ...
The other project so far is a Northwest-built bentside spinet
which is up for sale at MusicSources lately in and unplaying.
Once again the lead weights in the key tails have swelled out,
jamming the keys together and beginning to split a few of them.
Is this only a West Coast - or an Any Coast - phenomenon, or
does inland acid rain do this to everybody? I've seen a lot
of it up around Seattle, and I think we've writ that the fine
and valuable Dolmetch-Chickering clavichord here at MS is
suffering from this problem. And has anybody found a good way
to seal the lead, or the wood, against the elements?
Ok - back to shaving lead and other excitements.