The Pin Project

 

This is an attempt to present an alternative approach to the pinning of bridges and nuts of 17th century style harpsichords. The project is intended to be a sister project for The Wire Project and an extension of that tonal inquiry.

IMG_1378A single manual, 2×8′ instrument from The Paris Workshop, inspired by Philip Denis of 1674 and designed by Emmanuel Danset was constructed by me from a kit in New York in 2001. It was initially supplied and fitted with standard Rose “English Iron” wire and Rose brass in addition to standard 1.35 mm hardened brass nut and bridge pins.

Over the course of three years, after the instrument had matured for about ten years, the wire was first changed from Rose wire to Voss iron and Little Falls Alloys brass and finally, to P-Wire iron while the Little Falls Alloys brass was retained; this for lack of a reasonable historical alternative. The instrument was recorded in each of these three states and these recordings, along with the full explanation of experiment can be found at “The Wire Project” page on this site.

In October of 2014 a similar experiment was undertaken in respect to the pins driven into both the bridge and the nut of the same instrument with no other significant change apart from quill and damper replacements.

The design by Danset was adjusted to include a “resonateur” in the style used by Tibaut in the late 1600s. This involved the routing out by chisel a triangular section from the top surface of the wrest plank about 15 mm in depth and about 150 mm wide at the bass but only 30 mm at the treble. This allowed the wrest plank capping plate of soundboard wood to produce a closed resonating area above which the nut would be affixed.

The recordings reflect true ambience and tone of the instrument

The nut, therefore, would be placed not upon solid oak but a thin board of sound board wood suspended above a narrow and shallow resonating chamber. This enables the nut to be freer to speak. It might, however, also allow part of the stings’ vibrations to be absorbed there and lost to the bridge itself. Lacking a 4′ choir, the bridge and nut are quite low in height, have an Italianate profile in cross section and are of solid walnut.

Having removed the old pins individually, the drill holes left exposed were plugged with beech toothpicks. These toothpicks were then drilled with a 0.80 mm drill bit. A small amount of hot glue (extra-strength rabbit hide glue from Vogel GmbH) was wicked into the opening in order to compensate for the toothpick wood being end-grain and being beech rather than plank grain and walnut. It was hoped the glue would become brittle on hardening and add to the strength of the beech. New pins of 0.95 mm diameter and of soft brass were cut into small sections for use as pins. The brass wire used was of Rose manufacture and intended as stringing material for keyboard instruments. After insertion of the pins they were cranked towards the spine at about 20 degrees and cut shorter and cleaned up with a sweet-file. The strings were then brought back up to tension.

The tone of the instrument did change quite drastically and especially in the first 36 hours. The colour of the tone did, however, brighten considerably as the glue hardened and as the new pins bedded into their new beech mortices and, perhaps, as the iron strings nestled into a slight groove in the pins which their tension was creating.

The instrument was in the process of being recorded for a CD prior to commencement of The Pin Project. The Pin Project did, however, so drastically alter the tone of the instrument before completion of the CD recordings that it was decided to re-record the whole CD anew. This enabled a before-and-after set of recordings which form the backbone of this research.

Below are the earliest side-by-side comparisons. The recordings reflect true ambience and tone of the instrument as the instrument was recorded in a domestic apartment and no graphic equaliser or reverberation was used in the mastering. The recordings were sampled at the same input volume, processed in identical manners and any difference in perceived volume must either be native to the difference of set up or placebo. The remainder of the sound files will be uploaded in the coming few days (as of 29.11.14). The recordings will include:

Froberger Suite in D Minor: Toccata (front 8′)
Froberger Suite in D Minor: Allemande (2×8′)
Froberger Suite in D Minor: Courante (back 8′)

I would wish to convey my most sincere appreciation and congratulations to Paul Irvin for his knowledge, encouragement and assistance and to Stephen Birkett for his patience and support.

I am most keen for comments and observations.

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