Fixing jacks

I’m working on a substantial rebuild of the action of a harpsichord here in Montreal, and keep running into unexpected frustrations. First off, the jacks:

I knew that the jacks were a problem from the start – many performers have complained about the repetition being unpredictable. With a little fiddling, I figured out that what’s happening is that, when the jacks drops past the string, the tongue goes flying back far more than necessary, to the extent that it isn’t back in position to play again when you might want it to. On some jacks, this is controlled by the toe of the tongue hitting the inside of the register, on others, it just isn’t a problem because of the geometry. Some discussions on Facebook have led me to believe that a small distance, less than 10mm, between plectrum and axle can help a lot here, and these jacks have closer to 15mm.

A more common fix for this is a staple or thread limiting the motion of the tongue, and many of these jacks had a thread fitted around them:

Unfortunately, most of them were far too loose to actually do any good. In a few cases, small pads (felt, leather, cardboard…) had been glued to the backs of the tongues to stop them against the thread sooner, and this is what I started doing:

Before I got to far though, I realized that the thread’s position was also going to be a problem! It’s so high that it will inevitably get in the way of the dampers. Also, a loose thread is never going to stay in position properly, so it won’t work consistently. Eventually, I decided to get rid of the threads entirely, and simply glue on little strips of cardboard across the back of each jack:

It’s a little ugly, but works much better than the thread did, and is doesn’t get in the way of work on plectra or dampers as much. The only real downside, besides the aesthetics, is that it probably won’t last as long as a well-attached thread would. If one comes of though, it’s very easy to replace, so I think overall, it’s an improvement!

The next steps with this harpsichord have been to rebalance the keys (so much unnecessary lead!), completely redo the stagger and replace most of the plectra. It’s been a huge job, with four ranks of jacks (224 all together), made much worse because of little inconsistencies in the original construction that I keep discovering. A few of the mortises in the tongues were punched off-centre, making them very prone to splitting for example. Also, many of the tongues aren’t sitting properly in the tongue body, leaning forward or backwards, making it very hard to voice the plectra, since they are very inconsistent lengths. Adding to this is the strings which have been rather inaccurately pinned to the nut. I considered repinning the worst of them, but there just isn’t much room in some places, and I didn’t want to add yet more time to what has turned into a very big job!

Clavichord recital

I’ll be performing a clavichord recital next Sunday, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Part of the challenge has been finding a venue that works – a quiet clavichord needs a certain acoustic, a certain size of room, and a certain complete lack of background noise! Previous performances have suffered due to nearby traffic, excessive carpeting, etc… But this time, I think it’s in a wonderful space, where it will sound very nice indeed! Église Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is a huge stone church, but has a fine little chapel off to the side, with just the right resonance.

Here’s a little preview:

Full details:

Sunday December 17th 2017, 4pm
Église Notre-Dame-de-Grâce
5333, avenue Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (corner of Décarie)
Montréal, Qc H4A 1L2
Next to Villa-Maria metro

Freewill offering

A return to the blog

This site has lain dormant for many years, and yet, I haven’t stopped doing things! In fact, I’ve been doing more than ever.

Most of my professional life is now dedicated to tuning – I’m taking care of all the harpsichords and the fortepiano at McGill University, which is a huge job. There are 19 instruments that I tune regularly, some only every few weeks, but some of them get done two or even three times each week. This time of year, there are also several extra tunings each week for end-of-year recitals. The undergrad exam period is just about over though, and then just a few graduate recitals in May before the school year officially ends. The harpsichords won’t stop going out of tune though!

Besides McGill, I’m tuning regularly at Bourgie hall, for the Fondation Arte Musica, Ensemble Arion, and others. In the past two weeks, I’ve been moving around a lot – tuning in Boucherville, on Montreal’s South Shore for the Orchestre Symphonique de Longueil, a few repairs in Ottawa, and this week for a run of shows at the TOHU – a show blending Monteverdi operas with the circus! I’ve often had to tune with distractions from other musicians warming up, technicians arranging the stage and testing out lights, audiences arriving… but never with people doing backflips right in front of me!

Along with the tuning, I have several other projects on the go that I’ll be writing about shortly, if all goes well. Some programming, some woodworking, some performing. What made me want to get back to this web page and blog was the realization that I’m doing some interesting things these days – interesting to me, anyway. Some of it might be interesting to others as well! Even more though, it’s that in all these activities, I’ve benefited immensely from things other people have put online. Programming tutorials, how-to videos, performances, etc. I’d like to give back, if I can, so that someone else, trying to do similar things to me, might stumble across my writings and maybe get some help to move their own projects along.

Happy September

A little life update:

Thanks to the efforts of Graham St-Laurent, ttuner has finally been ported to Android! It’s available on the google play store.

I had been hoping to do this port myself, but life got in the way, in the form of a new baby! Emiko was born in June, and, while being utterly awesome, is not exactly helping with taking on new programming tasks!

This fall, I’m going to be teaching a class at McGill University for the first time. I’ve filled in for a few days of this continuo class before, but this year I’m responsible for the whole thing! First day is tomorrow!

And finally, Sari and I are hard at work preparing for the RedOwl season. The first concert in our series is coming up in just over a month, and before that, we’ll be playing in the Sackville Early Music Festival.

Christmas 2012

Christmas in New Brunswick!

Trip to New Brunswick

A visit to Fredericton with RedOwl, and then on to the Sackville Early Music Festival.

Washington DC

A visit for a harpsichord competition and to visit Mohan and Nicole.


I travelled to France for a week-long masterclass in Brittany followed by a visit with Bruce and Josie in Charente.

Christmas pictures

Merry Christmas! If I post the pictures in mid-January, that means it’s still Christmas, right? Pass the nog.


Winnipeg Mochitsuki

Mochi-making is traditionally a pre-New-Year’s activity in Japan. Sweet rice is steamed and then pounded into a sticky goo, which gets eaten in various ways – toasted, fried, with anko (sweet bean paste), etc…