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CLAVIERS BAROQUES -- replacing a broken string, undrilled tuning pin


To replace a broken string on a harpsichord or clavichord you will need:

It is a good idea to have these all close to you before you start as once you get the wire hitched on you have to keep the tension on it and you will have a very limited reach. If you have a friend within earshot, s/he may come in handy, too.
1.) Remove the tuning pin with your tuning wrench: If your tuning pins are not drilled with holes for the wire, you most likely have the traditional tapered pins, which are not threaded. The zither pins (the biggish ones with square heads) are only light threaded, but usually are drilled. Either type will come out with sufficient unscrewing. If the process seems to be really slow I will sometimes tilt the tuning wrench slightly so that it grabs the pin and apply a bit up uplift as I turn the wrench. Go easy, though, you don't want to enlarge the hole (the hole in the wrestplank, not the hole in the pin) any more than necessary.  

2.) Clean up the tuning pin: Remove any bits of old wire still coiled on the pin and give the end of the pin that was in the wrestplank a few twists with the sandpaper or ScotchBrite or a few strokes with the wire bush or whatever abrasive you are using -- this ensures that the pin will turn smoothly when it is re-inserted. If you don't do this it will tend to stick in the hole which will make tuning difficult, especially in the treble. Like I said, you can get along without it. But don't say I didn't warn you.

 

3.) Hitch up the new wire: Put the loop of the replacement wire over the hitchpin and put the rest of the wire where it goes (on its bridge pin, through its jacks, etc.). You will have to remove the jackrail for this, and you'll soon figure out that you have to keep a bit of tension on the wire or it will come off the hitchpin. The wire should be long enough to reach the tuning pin it belongs to plus enough to coil around the tuning pin, necessary amount depends on the diameter of the wire -- 12" or so is sufficient for the small wires in the treble, 6" is plenty for the thicker wires in the bass, interpolate for the in-between stuff.

 

4.) Put the wire on the tuning pin: Hold tuning pin in your right hand, onto the wire as if you were stringing a bead. The head of the tuning pin should be to the treble (your right) and the end that goes into the wrestplank pointing toward the bass end (your left) of the instrument for easy rolling. You will need one hand on the wire and one for the tuning pin at this point. Note: some tuning pins don't have holes, in which case see here.
5.) Wind the coil: When you have the pin at the right spot on the wire (ie, enough wire to reach to tuning pin plus allowance for the coil), roll the pin a half-turn or so to lock the wire in place in the hole in the pin. Don't worry about the extra wire just yet. Once the wire is locked you should be able to let go of it and hold the pin in both hands and the wire should stay in place on the pin. Roll the pin using your thumbs, like rolling a cigarette, coiling the wire smoothly around the pin. The wire should coil toward the bass = your left = the bottom of the pin when it is re-installed. Once the wire is secure on the tuning pin (usually one or two full turns will do), break off the excess wire by bending the free end back and forth where it exits the hole in the tuning pin. You could cut it with wire cutters if you prefer, but that will leave a sharp end, so in the interest of avoiding blood on the soundboard we advise breaking them off. It is important that the wire slant down over the nut to the tuning pin, and ideally the wires should all have the same downward angle. Look at the coils on the neighboring tuning pins and match them as best you can.
 
6.) Install the pin: Continue winding the wire on until the tuning pin reaches the hole it came out of, then go a little bit further (like 1/2" - 3/4"). This will allow you to keep a little tension on the wire so it doesn't uncoil when you are re-installing the pin. Tip the end of the pin into its hole, push it down as far as you can with you fingers, then tap it home with your (tuning) hammer. (How far is that? You will hear something like tam tam tam tam tom when the pin is in all the way, and you can also check its height against its neighbors.) No, you don't screw them in.
7.) Bring the string up to pitch and re-install the jackrail. A new string, especially brass, will stretch a bit at first. You can hasten the process by pushing down on it a few times and by tuning it frequently in the first few hours after installation. It should stabilize in a couple of days.
8.) Give up? Mail us your tuning pin, we'll drill a hole in it for $3, including return postage.  

Do you have a specific question? Perhaps we can help via a phone call or private e-mail, feel free to contact us.


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last updated August 24, 2010