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Forte-Pianos

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Single-manual harpsichord in the Flemish style by Jan Albarda (Toronto) 1976.

Price: asking $3,000 CAD or equivalent (the Universal Currency Converter can tell you what that would be in your currency) plus shipping from Port Hope, 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!

 

Single-manual in the Flemish style by Jan Albarda (Toronto) 1976, 2 x 8' and 4' and nasale with buff, compass GG - e''' (58 notes) -- this handsome instrument is unfortunately coming apart and can probably not be repaired. But it can be rebuilt, and if you were thinking of building a harpsichord from a kit or from scratch, this instrument might be of interest to you.

Part of the problem with this instrument is materials and part is design. One huge problem is that the glue is failing after 30 years. The case joints are collapsing under the string tension and the wrestplank has come free. And unfortunately, the glue was a modern carpenter's glue. Modern glues creep slowly under pressure, but when dry willl not stick to itself or to anything else, and so the loose parts can't be re-glued. And the scary part is that all the joints on this instrument were probably glued with the same kind of glue.

The other problem is that this instrument was built with a nasale . This is a historic thing and the original Dulcken this is patterned after had one. That instrument, now in the Smithsonian Institution, was restored in the 1950's by Frank Hubbard and William Dowd. They drew up plans which were -- and still are-- available from the Smithsonian. Many builders of the 1960's and 1970's used them. It was just not a good idea. The two smaller pieces do not provice the strength and stability that a full-sized plank does. The gap tends to close up, trapping the jacks, and the two pieces can't resist twisting or even provide enough gluing surface to stay stuck in place, especially if the glue is creeping. And all it ever did was give you a rank of jacks that pluck nearly at the nut, which sounds really, well, nasal.

Rebuilding this harpsichord would be lot of work but not nearly as much as building from scratch. There isn't a construction manual but the plans are available and the existing instrument will serve you as a guide. At 58 notes on 2 x 8' and 4" with buff it would be a very versatile instrument-- big enough and with enough colours for most of the harpsichord literature, and being a single still practical to move. And the price is very good, too. A kit for a similar instrument would run upwards of $5,000 these days. It's cheaper than buying parts, too. Jacks run $2-3 dollars and up each, and you'd still have to set them up and cut them to length etc, and a keyboard like this one would be a couple of thousand anyway.

   

[above] OK, let's get the bad news over with first: The case is coming apart. You can see how the bass (left) side of the case has pulled away from the nameboard. You will also notice that the nameboard is rising above the keyboard at that end and you can see the keyshanks behind it. This is very bad because on a Flemish-style instrument the nameboard is attached to the wrestplank, the big wooden block that the tuningpins screw into and which takes all the pressure from the strings. So it's really the wrestplank that has come free -- this is fatal for a harpsichord.

[right] Here is a close-up of that corner. The light-coloured bit of wood you can see just under the white knob is the front edge of the wrestplank. And it is not attached to the side of the case. You can see how the string pressure is pulling it toward the back of the instrument. The owners have slacked off the strings so it won't implode in their living room, but that's not a solution. The strings have to be tight to tune to the correct pitch, and at pitch the pull of all those strings is around six to eight thousand lbs.


[below] So now the good news. The keyboard, jacks, tuning pins and other hardware are mostly salvageable. You can probably re-use the registers, too, and even the soundboard if you are careful, assuming the bridge has not pulled away from it, and even that might be fixable.


[below] There are register shifters and such, too. If you are building an instrument from scratch you usually have to design and make these yourself; having them ready-made would be a great time-saver.

 

[below] The design is mostly sound, except for the nasale. It's a quite nicely-proportioned Flemish 2 x 8" and 4'. The stand appears to be fine, too. The front and back frames are morticed and glued; if the stand wobbles due to glue failure at these joints the tenons can be pegged through (as was done in the old days anyway). The rails that join the two frames are removable, which is handy as the stand will go flat for storage or transport, and held in place with pegs already so there is nothing to go wrong there.

Speaking of glue, if you decide to build/rebuild this instrument, please use hot hide glue, *not* the modern glues -- white or yellow carpenter's, 'gorilla', yellow, alaphatic, etc. -- which eventually fail and can't be reglued. Luthiers and violin makers and *good* harpsichord makers all use hide glues, which are regluable and removable. That is why Stradivarius violins are still playable today -- they can be *repaired*.


 



[above]
The keyboard is quite nice. Reverse style with blackwood naturals and bone-slipped cherry (?) sharps. It is working fine and should transplant well into a new instrument. If you can salvage the registers it will save you a lot of time since the spacing between the jacks and the keys will match up

 

[below] You will have to use new wire, but thirty years is about the limit for h'chord strings, anyway. A full set will cost maybe $300 - $500 depending on the maker. The rose below is Jan Albarda's, you will need a new one of those, too. It is traditional for the builder to use a rose with a characteristic design, often their initials as Jan did. Roses can be made of just about anything -- gilded lead (not used so much these days), cast resin, carved wood, cut paper are but a few of the materials that have been used for harpsichord roses.

You can see the soundboard nicely in this photo, too. Good clear spruce with the grain on the diagaonal. Excellent soundboard wood, worth saving, you would find it difficult to get anything that nice these days.

 

[below] There are *lots* of jacks. If you omit the nasale (strongly recommended) you may be able to use that rank as spares. The ranks won't all be the same configuration, though, they are different lengths etc because they are plucking strings that are at different heights. The jacks from the nasale look like they might work for the 8'.

 

[below] The jacks on this instrument have been drilled out, presumably to lighten them. This is unusual. If anything jacks are usually weighted 'to make them return faster'. We think that if you need to weight the jacks, it is because there is too much friction and *that* is what needs fixing. These work fine; we say, "Good on you, Jan Albarda!"

 

Getting help with the project. If you are thinking of taking this harpsichord into your life, the first thing you should do is read our article How To Buy A Cheap Harpsichord. If you are still interested after that, get yourself some books on harpsichords, we have some suggestions here. If you don't already have the Harpsichord Owner's Guide then that is the first book you should buy, then Frank Hubbard's Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making, lots that you'll need to know there and after all, he was the man who did the restoration and plans of the orignal of this instrument. Then maybe Jan Albarda's book, Wood Wire and Quill. Boalch is not really necessary for this project, but if it is always useful to know what the history is, so you don't wast time re-inventing it. If you want to learn from Mr. Albarda's mistakes, read up on glues, on line at Wikipedia (for some reason hide glue is not listed in the main glue article, but is there if you search for it) or www.thistothat.com and in woodworking magazines that describe historical woodworking techniques such as Fine Woodworking. This thing does not come with a construction manual, but the plans are available from the Smithsonian Institution. Buy the books, get the plans, do the research and don't cheap out. If you do not spend the time to develop the knowledge and skills you need you will be wasting your time, your money and this potentially fine instrument. But if you do, you will enrich your life and get a fine instrument that you know *everything * about for a minimum of money spent.

And if you get really stuck you can email us, we can probably give you some pointers. If you are not too far away we can even come out to do a coaching session or two. We will charge you if we do that, but you will get your money's worth.

Speaking of money's worth, this instrument properly built and in good playing condition would be worth $10,000 to $ 12,000 CAD or more.

And finally,

a Video/sound sample. It's just a sound recording from the digital camera, and it's not even actual music, but here's a chromatic to give you an idea of the kind of tone it produces and so you can see that that the action is working.


Price: asking $3,000 CAD or equivalent (the Universal Currency Converter can tell you what that would be in your currency) plus shipping from Port Hope, 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 May 18, 2008