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Harpsichords

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Virginals

Forte-Pianos

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Italian pentagonal virginal by Maurice Baker (Toronto) ca 1980

Price: $4,000 CAD (the Universal Currency Converter can tell you what that would be in your currency) plus shipping from Toronto, ON and any applicable taxes & duties. Made in Canada so qualifies as duty-free in the US, Canada and Mexico under NAFTA. In good playing condition, refurbished in 2008 by Claviers Baroques. Interested? Contact us!

Italian pentagonal virginal by Maurice Baker (Toronto) ca 1980 after Pertici school mid-late 17th C. Compass is E to c'' (45 notes) and the bass may be tuned to a short octave to increase the effective range to . Single-strung in brass. Painted case, spruce soundboard, wood jacks quilled in Delrin. Keyboard dark wood naturals (walnut? teak? mansonia?) and light sharps (beech?). A good second instrument for office, school or travel, or a first instrument anywhere space is at a premium. This one is just tiny! 58" x 19" x 7", weighs about 20 lbs. You can carry it under your arm and store it under a bed, coffee table or sofa. Has a surprising volume and that nice, plummy tone that virginals have because they pluck near the middle of the string.

Unsigned, but the owner can provide provenance that the builder was Maurice Baker, a student of Matthew Redsell in the late 1970's and earl y1980's. This instrument is similar to the small Pertici-style virginals that Matthew was making around that time. One difference is that this instrument is shallower front-to-back by a couple of inches than was usual with Matthew's instruments. Another is that the tuning pins wind clockwise, that is, the usual way, whereas Matthew's were wound counter-clockwise.

When this instrument came to us it had a couple of problems, which we repaired in the spring of 2008. The short bridge was loose and rolling over, and the bass hitchpin rail had cracked (see below). We removed strings, cleaned and reglued the bridge and moved the bass-most tuning pins down a bit so that the angle of the strings now help to hold the bridge in the correct position, rather than trying to tear it off. At the same time we removed the old hitchpin rail and replaced it with a slightly wider one, and we restrung it extensively. Currently all repairs are holding and the instrument is playing well.

[above] First a bit of virginal anatomy. Most members of the harpsichord family have a bridge and a nut, but virginals have two bridges. The photo above shows the virginal from the back so you can see the two bridges clearly. Between them they make the sounding length of the strings the shape of a harp. The one along the back is usually called the long bridge, it is like the back of a harp; the smaller, curvy one, near the tuning pins, is called the short bridge and is like the top of a harp. The strings start at the bass end, they are looped over hitchpins that are driven through the hitchpin rails, through the soundboard and into internal case liners. The hitchpins should stick out just enough to hold the wire loop and go down into the liner maybe two centimeters / an inch for strength.

 

[right] Problem # 1. The hitchpin rail (far bass end, where the strings hitch off) is split. The moulding used here was too small and it split along the line of hitchpins. This allows the hitchpins to flex and bend. This means that the instrument will not hold its tune well. Eventually the pins will bend more and start dropping their wires or pull the hitchpin rail off. We would remove the split moulding, scrape the area clean of paint and shellac to get a clean gluing surface, then replace it with a wider, flat strip of wood, probably pear. Then new hitchpins. New wire, too. Strings usually can't be re-used strings, they get kinks and want to snap when you tune them. But thirty years is about the limit for brass strings, so replacing them isn't a bad idea anyway.

Note: spring 2008 -- hitchpin rail has been removed and replaced, new hitchpins installed and new strings. Holding fine and sounds really nice!

[below] Problem #2. The short bridge is coming off. This is a problem we see frequently with instruments built in the '60's and '70's,. Even the ones that are nice historical designs, like this one, were usually built with non-historic white and yellow carpenter's glues (Elmers, etc.). We now know that these glues 'creep', and instruments are literally pulled apart (see also the Albarda Flemish single). Below is the bass end, it has lifted completely. This does happen even with 'real' glues, but usually takes longer and is easier to fix.

[below] In this picture you can see how the bridge has rolled over. The angle of the strings from the bridge pin to the tuning pin was too sharp and the glue couldn't hold -- and it really shouldn't have to hold against quite that much side-draft, anyway. Den has already started slackening off the strings a little at a time and the bridge is slowly returning to its proper shape. He can't do it all at once or it will put too much pressure on the other end and it will want to break free, too.

 

The treble end of the short bridge [right] is not tight to the soundboard either, although not so spectacularly as the bass end. Note that both ends are cut away in a curve and have a charming little carved scroll at the very end.

The solution is to remove the bridge, scrape the gluing surfaces on the bridge and the soundboard clean and reglue it. Oh, and we will use an historic glue such as hot hide glue. It took harpsichord builders a while to figure out what violin makers and guitar makers have known all along -- the best glue for instrument-making is hide glue. It sets very hard, almost like amber, so is a good acoustic bond. It does not creep. And it is repairable. If/when it does fail, say the proteins in the glue are attacked by a fungus or a joint cracks due to being dropped, the joint can simply be re-glued because hide glue will always stick to itself.

We would probably also screw some tiny buttons into the bridge from underneath for extra insurance against it coming free again. Chances are that the original glue was a carpenter's glue and nothing likes to stick to that, not even more carpenter's glue.

Then we would restring the instrument as needed. We might change the angle of the strings at the end of the bridge a bit to equalize the pull. That would necessitate abandoning a couple of the tuning pin holes and drilling a few new ones.

Then we would do the usual tweaking and revoicing (new quills) and regulation as necessary to get it back into 100% playing condition.

 

Note: the above-noted repairs were done in the spring/summer of 2008. All are holding well and the instrument is playing well and sounding good.

Do we think this instrument is worth the work? Yes we do. Here are some of the reasons:

  • It's a nice historic design and good materials, eg, spruce soundboard, wooden jacks.
  • the rest of the case joints are holding perfectly well (eg, no sagging or cracks in the paint at the joints or other tell-takes signs of joint movement)
  • the keyboard and action are functioning well
  • it's cute as a bug and, last but certainly not least,
  • it sounds very nice. Here is a sound sample now, and it will sound even better with the bridge properly attached and new strings.

With some TLC there is no reason that this instrument won't be playable for decades to come, maybe even centuries.

 

[below] The wooden jacks are of historical design, beech bodies, holly tongues and are quilled in Delrin. We prefer Celcon, we find it easier to carve and think it lasts longer, so if we replace any quills we will probably use that. The sound is the same with either.

 

[below] The case is painted a pleasant grey-blue with darker blue trim. The paint is scuffed and the moulding is a little worse for wear, here you can see where a bit has been split right off, but it's at the back and won't show much and of course doesn't affect the sound at all.

The owner has had to sell his home and move to an apartment, he no longer has room for his keyboard instruments. But his loss can be your gain. This little virginal doesn't take up much room and would be happy to be a personal instrument in an apartment or small house. It would work well in an office, dormitory, classroom, or music studio both for space and volume. It has enough sound for a small ensembles or even public performance if the venue isn't too large. If your neighbours or house-mates are trying to sleep, the traditional way to muffle it is to drape a blanket over the top -- not touching the strings, I hasten to add!

Comes with good sturdy music desk, suitable for the Fitzwilliam and those other chunky virginal books. There is no stand but it fits just fine on a table, desk-top or even a window sill.

Accessories include a tuning wrench, supply of spare wire and plectra and a tool kit.

Price: $4,000 (the Universal Currency Converter can tell you what that would be in your currency) plus shipping from Toronto, ON and any applicable taxes & duties. Made in Canada so qualifies as duty-free in the US, Canada and Mexico under NAFTA. Interested? Contact us! [back to used instruments page]
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last updated March 4, 2009