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CLAVIERS BAROQUES presents...

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Instrument Kits

 

Can I really build my own harpsichord?

Building your own harpsichord is no longer a dream. We offer to share our knowledge with you so you can experience the exciting adventure of creating a fine musical instrument with your own hands, seeing it take shape little by little, and being the first to hear its sound.

Will my instrument be as good as one built by a professional builder?

Yes. No. Perhaps. Why not? A good instrument is one in which the case holds together without flexing, the mechanical action is responsive and quiet, and the sound is beautiful and correct to the type of instrument it is. The designers of The Paris Workshop kits have made many instruments themselves which are widely used in Europe and elsewhere by professional harpsichordists and ensembles for performances and recordings. The same designs are used for these kits, although some of the construction methods have been adapted so the instruments may be built by people who do not have large woodworking shops. If you can follow the instructions reasonably well you will have a case which holds together and is stable so that the instrument will be solid and the tuning will hold. If you can follow them very carefully you will have no problem making the action work freely without unecessary sound. If you have been meticulous about the layout of bridge, nut and pins, you will have no problem with the stringing. The most critical phase, voicing, which gives the instrument its voice and its touch, is also the most easily re-done as you learn better how to make the plectrum give the touch and sound you want. We are also available to coach you on this, or if you like, you can arrange for us to visit you to work together with you on voicing your instrument. In addition, if you build it yourself, you will always have a well-maintained instrument, as you will be able to do the minor adjustments that will keep it in the very best playing condition. It is worth noting that harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortenson told us that he regularly records on an instrument built from a Paris Workshop kit by a friend, a medical doctor. He says they work together like the mechanic and the driver of a racing car to fine-tune it to be high-performance instrument.

Which stage of the kit should I choose?

The more work you have time to do yourself the lower the cost of the kit, but cost must be weighed against the time at your disposal. A fretted clavichord or Italian virginal can be finished from the flat parts (Stage 1) in a few weeks of spare time or even a few dedicated weekends. Most harpsichord customers decide to let us assemble the case rim (Stage 2) and install the soundboard (Stage 3), which leaves enough of the woodworking to do, the keyboard(s) to finish, case decoration and action work (stringing, jacking and voicing). Even if you begin with your kit at Stage 4, with all the woodwork completed and ready for sanding and decoration, you will still feel that you have built your own harpsichord as you will be responsible for the appearance, the precision of the action and the voicing and regulation.

Which instrument should I build?

We have a number of different kinds of harpsichords, clavichords and fortepianos from which to choose. More than half of our sales are to customers who have successfully completed one instrument and want to build another, different model. We do not forbid a first-time builder to tackle a French double, but we think it unwise. If you are building for the first time you should perhaps think of a small clavichord, or a single-manual harpsichord with 56 notes -- enough to play the great bulk of the literature. A Flemish, French or German single might then be your choice. The difference in the sound of these three national styles is distinctive but subtle, and your choice among them can be determined by your personal preference, with confidence that any of them would be completely satisfactory for almost any music you might want to play.

What if I need help?

We at Claviers Baroques are happy to share with you our experience in all phases of instrument making . Your success in building your own instrument does not depend on your prior experience as an instrument maker but rather on your desire to work with your mind and hands to make something beautiful and enduring. We might warn you that instrument making is addictive. Many have built a second and third, even a tenth or twelfth harpsichord -- which should certainly qualify them as professional builders. They have discovered that building a beautiful musical instrument is one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

What skills do I need?

Working with wood requires more patience and precision than technical competence. Stringing is learned by doing, and a string can always be changed. The musical finishing, tuning and voicing are delicate. For tuning you can use an electronic tuner, while the voicing (trimming the quills) is done by judging with your ears and your touch.

As you work on your instrument and play it these details are gradually refined and improved, allowing you to perfect your results. Here as well, nothing is irredeemable, as you can always replace a quill without a problem. In case of trouble we can refer you to someone more experienced or to a professional.

What tools will I need?

The tools necessary for the work are few: we suggest a power drill, hammer, some screwdrivers, wire cutters, files, square, block plane, wood chisel, sandpaper and some clamps. We supply a list of parts, a detailed step-by-step assembly manual, photographs and a full-scale drawing (with the exception of certain models reserved for professionals). The items of hardware (hinges, screws, drill bits, nails, etc.) cloth, glue and tuning hammer are all supplied and carefully packaged and labeled.

Which is the best instrument for me to build?

You can rest assured that all our instruments are of professional quality because they are regularly used around the world for concerts and recordings. In making your choice, you should think about the type of music you want to play, your budget and the amount of time you have available for construction.

We advise the beginner to consider starting with the Virginal, the Flemish Single- or the French Single-Manual Harpsichords. The Virginal is simple to construct and very suitable for the music of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries. The Flemish and French Singles offer excellent value with the added versatility of registration changes. All three of these instruments have a 56-note compass which covers most of the repertoire, but the Flemish and French are especially useful for the works of J.S. Bach. Only a small portion of the harpsichord repertoire was composed specifically with a double-manual instrument in mind. While doubles are a little more complicated to build than singles, they offer the advantage of greater flexibility of registration. Two-manual instruments are ideal for the advanced keyboardist who wants to explore the full possibilities of the harpsichord without limitation.

The clavichords are expressive instruments -- their strings are struck, as with the piano. The intimate nature of their sound makes them inappropriate for playing with other instruments, but they are very easy to maintain and excellent for practice. The Fretted Clavichord is our most compact and portable instrument, and the Unfretted Clavichord is actually suitable for keyboard music written through Beethoven's early years.

How can I order?

Claviers Baroques will be happy to process your order and see to prompt delivery directly to you. If possible, we will deliver it personally so that we can get together and share our knowledge of these fine instruments, and get you started out with the confidence that you can turn that box of parts into the instrument that you have dreamed of owning. We are pleased to be available for free consultation (telephone, Email, FAX) for any instrument that we sell. We will provide direct assistance to you when you are at critical phases such as soundboard mounting, stringing, and voicing. At these times, we only ask for travel expenses for trips outside the Metropolitan Toronto area (food is good too). We will do any other work on your instrument, that you request, at very reasonable rates. We are ready to finish it for you too, if you choose; please, ask for a quote for the various services that we offer. The Paris Workshop clients get special rates.

If you are within a a few hundred kilometers of Toronto, we will deliver your instrument personally. Otherwise, your instrument will be shipped directly to you.


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kits -- about the different stages:

Stage 1: Ready-to-assemble

The parts of the case are delivered cut to dimension, including the required angles, ready to be assembled, sometimes with slight adjustments. Accordingly, the soundboard, lid and bottom are always delivered a little oversize so that they can be perfectly adjusted to the dimensions of the case you have assembled. You will need to finish and balance the keyboard(s), key by key.

Stage 2: Case assembled

In this stage the case is already assembled with its wrestplank, liners and braces. Your work starts with thinning and sanding of the soundboard as appropriate, gluing of bridges and ribs, fitting and gluing the soundboard in the case and then gluing the hitchpin rails. You also glue on the wrestplank veneer and the nuts. The remaining woodworking consists of gluing on the bottom, fitting the lid and assembling the music desk and the stand. The keyboard(s) are delivered as described for Stage 1 and so require the same attention to balancing. You also drill for the various pins (bridgepins, hitchpins etc.) aided by the full-size plan as a template. Then, if you desire, you may decorate the soundboard and case before stringing and voicing.

Stage 3: Soundboard installed

Similar to Stage 2, but with the soundboard, hitchpin rails, wrestplank veneer and nuts already installed. All the drilling is done except for the nuts, which are drilled with a jig after you install the strings. The woodworking consists of fitting the lid and assembling the stand, music desk and keyboard(s). As with Stage 2, you do the stringing, voicing, regulation and decoration

Stage 4: Woodwork completed

With this stage there is no woodworking left to be done with the exception of the keyboard(s), which are delivered as described for Stage 1. The bottom is already glued and trimmed, and the lid and its flap are in place. The music desk and stand are assembled. All the drilling has been one except for the nuts, as with Stage 3. The work commences directly with the painting (or natural wood finishing). Still to be done: the stringing, the pinning of the nuts and the mechanical parts -- the keyboard(s), voicing, regulation and decoration.

Stage 5: Instrument playable, but unfinished

You apply the appropriate finish: "natural" with oil or varnish; painted in simple or complex decoration; Flemish papers; gold leaf; etc.

Stage 6: A completely finished and playable instrument


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The Paris Workshop Kits

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Kits from -- Level of Difficulty

We have divided our instruments into categories according to difficulty of construction:

Beginners:
All the parts are accurately machined and the joints carefully made. A few pieces may require trimming to size. A first-time builder can expect excellent results if he/she follows the instructions diligently.
Some Experience:
The instruments are a little more complex and there are a few more adjustments to be made. Previous experience at precise work is advantageous. If you have ever built a model airplane or knitted a patterned sweater, you have the correct type of experience.
Experienced:
The construction is more difficult, and not suitable for a first-time builder. Use of hand tools is expected, and the maker must be able to read a drawing.
Professional:
The instructions are in summary form, and to produce the best possible result it is necessary to be familiar with the construction of keyboard instruments and to be comfortable with the use of hand tools. Pretty tough, but not impossible if you have patience and high standards. But holes drilled and joints glued are done for all time, and there is a learning curve. Your second instrument will be better than your first because you will be more skilled, and your third will be better still. There is another way, too. We at Claviers Baroques ARE professional builders, and we will be happy to build the instrument for you.
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