BAROQUES -- how
to determine the proper replacement wire for the broken string on your harpsichord
Method 1 -- The most reliable guide to the correct replacement wire
for a broken string is the broken string. There are exceptions, of course, but
in general, if the one that was there sounded OK until it broke, a new one of
the same sort will do as a replacement. So, the question is, what sort was the original string?
- material -- soft iron, yellow brass and red brass are the most usual
materials for historical harpsichord and clavichord wire. You may find steel wire on some revival instruments, but we recommend replacing it with soft iron where possible for better tone and sustain. If you are like most people, you will
not have a metallurgical lab handy, but you can tell a lot by the colour, placement and
behaviour of the wire:
- Italian harpsichords will typically
be strung all in yellow brass
- French and Flemish instruments will typically have
soft iron in the treble and mid-range, going to yellow brass in the
bass and red brass in the very lowest bass.
- Revival instruments may be strung
all or partially in steel wire, but steel wire rarely breaks (although it
does go black).
- Early historical 'copies', those from the 1960's and 1970's, often
have phosphor bronze wire in the bass, which goes a distinctive reddish-purple with age.
It is not much used anymore as the tone goes dull in a year or two. If you
have broken a phosphor bronze string you will probably want to replace it with yellow
or red brass; contact us to determine a suitable replacement. You may find the tone so much better that you will want to replace
all your phosphor bronze!
- Some older (ie, early to mid 20th century) harpsichords and clavichords
have overwound strings in the bass. This is a core string that has a smaller wire wound around it. We can duplicate these strings if you really want them, approx cost $50 per string, but in most cases a good red or yellow brass will do as well or better. The overwound strings were used because good, large diameter brass wire was not generally available until the 1970's, so builders prior to that copied piano bass strings.
- diameter -- you will need to know the diameter of the wire you are replacing.
On stringed instruments, wire diameters are smallest in the treble, expect
sizes like .0085" or .009" at the top, and get larger toward the
bass. You will probably find sizes like .012" and .016" in the midrange, increasing up to .025"
or even larger in the bass. A micrometer is the only accurate way to measure the diameter.
Old wire, especially brass, will probably have stretched a bit, so it may
be slightly smaller than when it was new. If you do not have a micrometer,
you can always mail a sample to your wire supplier (that would, I hope, be us), who will have a micrometer. We will also be able to identify the material, too, if that is in question.
- loop -- the strings of most harpsichords and clavichords and their
cousins are attached at the hitchpin by means of a loop. You can buy ready looped wire or buy
lengths of plain wire and make your own loops. If you want to make your own loops, here is how to do it. Note: A few instruments
have one wire serving two strings as modern pianos do, in which case there is
no hitching loop, instead the wire is attached to two adjacent tuning pins at the near end and
runs around a hitchpin at the far end. If your instrument is one of this sort, email us so we can make you up the proper replacement wire.
- length -- the replacement wire should reach from the hitchpin to
the tuning pin plus enough extra to wind a substantial coil on the tuning
pin; an additional 9 or 10" / 25 cm is usually lots.
Method 2 -- the other fairly reliable guide to correct replacement wire
is the stringing schedule for your instrument. Most builders provide them with the instrument, they are included in the instructrions for kit-built instruments. Usually it's a piece of paper (although they often get lost, especially when an instrument changes hands) but sometimes it is pencilled in on the wrestplank, sometimes behind the nameboard. A stringing schedule will give you the material and
diameter of the wire used for every note on your instrument, although usually
not the length, you will have to measure that. It is worth observing that builders
are constantly revising stringing schedules, they are not so much prescriptions as
recipes. A good builder, like a good cook, will use the schedule as a starting
point but will make his/her final choice of wire based on what his ears tell him.
If you do not have a stringing schedule for your instrument, one for a similar
instrument will still be useful as a guide, check out our library
of stringing schedules.
OK, if you're ready to order, our wire page is here, you can order on-line or the olde-fashioned way.
Do you have a specific question? Perhaps we can help via a phone call or
private e-mail, feel free to contact us.
|© 2004-2011 Claviers Baroques
September 1, 2010