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Musical and Historical Aesthetic Standard

Harpsichords from the workshop of Knight Vernon are based both musically and aesthetically on antique prototypes found in the major schools of harpsichord making from the Sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.  As models for these instruments I have chosen those prototypes which have been found to be of outstanding musical value.

Philosophy of Instrument Making

The basic philosophy of my workshop is that all aspects of harpsichord making are of equal importance. Thus, The same care is given to the study and measuring of an antique as is given to preparation of working drawings. In the construction of harpsichords, craftsmanship is of prime importance. The same care is given to the installation of a small interior corner block as is given to the final decoration of the instrument. The musical aspect is on an equal par with the theoretical and practical. The same care is given to the voicing of each note as is given to the leveling of the keys and the final regulation of the instrument.

Design and Scaling

A constant study is made of antique keyboard instruments through reference to drawings and slides in my own library as well as by periodic visits to public and private collections in this country and abroad. Once a model has been chosen for replication, detailed working drawings are made from a study of measurements, drawings, and photographs of the original.

An analysis is then made of the scaling and tension distribution of the original. From this study, string diameters are calculated which will produce the most uniform tension distribution possible. With uniform tension distribution, relative tuning stability is assured.

Construction

These instruments are constructed of solid wood, having lightly built cases which are framed according to the best of traditional techniques. These techniques are supplemented by the judicious use of hardwoods at points of greatest stress. An example is the use of hardwood gap spacers between the upper belly rail and the wrest plank. There are six of these which become closer together in the treble where the tension is greatest. These gap spacers are let into the members they go between.

Wrest planks, which are made of hard maple, are veneered with Sitka sprie on both top and bottom to equalize and reduce moisture absorption. The wrest planks are let into the sides of the case so that the tension of the strings is distributed uniformly throughout the entire instrument.

Carefully selected Sitka spruce of straight grain is used for soundboards in my harpsichords. Musical instrument wood of top quality requires quaarter sawing to produce the best tone. Soundboards for my instruments are made from perfectly quarter sawn wood in which the groth rings are vertical with the surface of the wood. This results in soundboards which are ideal in both structural and tonal properties.

After jointing these quarter sawn planks to produce a soundboard of the correct size, the soundboard is cut to shape, carefully thicknessed and gradually tapered  by hand planning from the bridges to the dges of the case, thus increasing the resonance capacity of the board.

Ribbing techniques correspond with those used on the prototypes; spruce being used for ribs and cut-off bars. These are glued into notches cut into the liner to prevent cracks from forming in the ribbed area of the soundboard. The bridges and nuts are of cherry or walnut and are tapered in both height and width.

The soundboard is treated in such a way as to form a crown under the 8' bridge. This crowning technique prevents the down bearing of the strings from forcing the bridge into a trench. It also eliminates the problem of ever having the 4' bridge  vibrating against the 8' strings.

This kind of construction results in an instrument which not only obtains maximum tuning stability, but has a extremely alive sound in which the entire instrument is free to vibrate. The resulting tone is bright, full bodied and evenly resonant throughout the entire range.

Action

The keyboard s of these instruments are replicas of antiques French ones. However, reproductions of keyboards from other historical schools will be undertaken to correspond to a particular historical instrument when appropriate.  Key levers are guided by a traditional rack system with an over-rail to limit key dip. By using an over-rail rather than the jackrail for this purpose a more solid and accurate key dip can be attained. The tendency for excessive bouncing and vibration associated with the jack rail system is eliminated. Octave span is 6 1/4"; key-heads are 1 1/2" in length and the sharps are 3", conforming to the practice of the French makers of the eighteenth century. The naturals are covered with ebony with the key heads rounded on the sides and scored with decorative lines. Key fronts are arcaded using a hard wood such as pear, walnut or cherry. The sharps are tapered in height and width and are of ebony or other hardwood and topped with bone. The key levers themselves are unbushed, resulting in a crisp, positive touch through which the player has the sensation of absolute control.

All instruments made in my shop are equipped with transposing keyboards. This allows the harpsichord to be designed and tuned at old pitch, approximately one half step below modern pitch, and by the simple expedient of shifting the keyboards to the right, modern pitch can be attained. This is most helpful when performing with baroque instruments which are tuned to old pitch. Another strength of this device is that it allows the harpsichord to be under about 12%  less tension, thereby further improving tuning stability.

The registers are made of hardwood battens through which oversized holes are cut. The battens are then covered with leather which is then punched with a mortise the exact size of the jack. The result is a register of incredible speed and accuracy which is also extremely quiet. Registers fo Flemish instruments are carefully machined from hardwood.

Traditional jacks of pear wood with holly tongues are used. The jack spring is of boar bristle. A bottom adjustment screw makes careful regulation possible.

Decor

The exterior of these instruments is hand painted a dark color, divided into panels by 23 karat gold leaf bands. A gilded molding of 23 karat gold runs around the inner edge of the case and across the outer edges of both the name board and jack rail.

In the French models, the interior area around the keyboards and above the soundboard is painted a similar or contrasting color as is the interior of the lid. A 23 karat gold leaf band outlines the lid interior.

In the Franco-Flemish and Flemish instruments, the interiior area around the keyboard and above the soundboard is lined with printed papers using traditional designs. The interior of the lid is either painted and outlined with gold leaf bands, or covered with Flemish style wood grained papers on which Latin mottos can be hand lettered.

The soundboards of these instruments an be painted in tempera, the designs including flowers, birds and butterflies, bordered by arabesques.

The instruments are set on trestle stands with turned legs. They can be set on more elaborate  period stands also. Fo the Frano Flemish and Flemish instruments these stands are made with eleven or twelve baluster turnings, while the French models can be set on Louis XVI style stands with turned and fluted legs, with traditional gilded moldings, and gilded wood carvings set into the corners.

All harpsichords from my shop bear the maker's mark, an initialed rose, cast in peuter and gilded with gold leaf. This rose has the figure of Apollo playing the cithara, an allegoric symbol having its origin on a Greek amphora dated 400 BC.

Final Voicing and Regulation

When the time comes for its voice to be brought to life, each instrument is carefully jacked and meticulously quilled. It is then voiced with perfect evenness to achieve maximum resonance with the lightest possible touch.

The instrument is then regulated so that the feel of the action is tight, the plucking sequence set with a minimum of lost motion, the keys leveled, and the key dip set to the historical standard of seven millimeters.

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