Completion 1981 - 1983

The plans were to store the harpsichord case at Derwood's until we got settled in South Carolina which I thought would only take a month or two.  Derwood lived in Windsor, NY then, so I brought it up to him in the family van.  (1961 Ford Econoline).  As it turns out, our financial situation was a bit more stressed than we planned while living in the south and making an extra trip back home without the kids, became a financial impossibility.  To complicate matters further, Derwood ended up leaving his spacious victorian home and two story workshop (barn), and moved to Aurora, NY overlooking Seneca Lake.  Having only a small workshop on the campus of Wells College, it became necessary to store the harpsichord case in the attic of a Wells professor friend of his.

In the spring of 1981 we returned to the north when I accepted a job at Flexivan in Secaucus, NJ.  We hated leaving the south but in the end, family ties won out.  We were now close enough to visit the grandparents every weekend if necessary.  One of the next priorities was a trip to Aurora to recover the harpsichord case and a stop at my Dad's to get the stand parts, keyboard and hardware.

By now, Derwood had completed his instrument and was preparing it for delivery.

By the summer of '81 it was all safely back in my possession and progressing slowly in my basement.  I purchased several Bach harpsichord albums and played them non-stop during the work sessions.  I needed the inspiration as I spent hours, days and weeks doing the same task over and over again.  Assembling a plectrum to the jack tongue was a fairly easy, ten minute task, but had to be done 122 times.

Derwood gave me a jig he made for regulating his harpsichord that he called "London bridge"  It was a long wooden affair that would hold one lower and one upper, 61 jack register at table top height so that each jack could be fitted to it's opening, one at a time.  The jacks were made of Delrin, a modern, slippery plastic replacement for the wooden jacks of early harpsichords.  With seasonal humidity changes, wooden jacks would be a nightmare to regulate.  The upper and lower jack slides (registers) however are still made out of wood and each of the 244 openings was painstakingly hand carved to match it's proper jack.

The jacks themselves, came as little kits from a major harpsichord supplier, Frank Hubbard in Waltham, Mass.  The body, molded in Delrin, was about 8" long with a tail designed to be cut off to fit the size of any instrument.  After severing the tail, my next task was to drill and tap a hole in the bottom to accept a small stainless steel screw to accommodate vertical adjustment of each jack.  Like wise the tops were a little too high for my instrument and after being shortened, a hole was drilled and tapped to accept the tongue set screw.  The tongue is a Delrin insert that attaches to the jack body via a stainless steel pin so that it can rotate the plectrum out of the way as the jack returns to it's resting point.  The tongue is kept in it's upright position by a small plastic spring that was formed by scraping my thumb nail down it's side.  The plectra were rough cut at Hubbard and after inserting them in the tongue, I cut them to length and later "voiced" them when the strings were in place.

The last few sentences describe the sound making portion of the jacks but since harpsichord jacks perform dual duty, it was necessary to assemble the dampers as well.  It is necessary to "damp" a string otherwise it would ring in sympathy with the others as they were played and there would be no way to stop a string from sounding after the key was released.  The dampers were small brass clips that fit over the top of each jack and I had to glue a small (3/8 x 3/8") piece of felt to each one.  The dampers are then adjusted to firmly touch the string while at rest thereby preventing the string from vibrating.

It was midsummer, 1983 when the last string was installed and the harpsichord spoke it's first melodic tones for us.  It was a richly rewarding project that I have not since met in effort or complexity.

The first formal portrait was taken during our move from Larsen Lane to Ryerson Road.

The harpsichord was finally in tune and fully playable.


Continue with Repair, 1999

Return to Howell Family Page