Robert Hicks Harpsichords

Information on the instruments I build


Maintenance-general principles and specific techniques
Completed  Instruments

Refurbishing and Upgrading

       If you were to ask what the future of harpsichord making is in the United States, one answer might be that it has already been done. Itís the instruments weíve been building since the 1970s, refurbished and upgraded.  All harpsichords include parts that have specific lifetimes Ė plectra and strings; sometimes jacks also.  And actions from several decades ago were not as sensitive as weíve learned to make since. Good instruments may be hidden underneath awkward actions Ė we learned about building instruments before we learned about actions.

       Refurbishing an instrument requires an ability to read the instrument, its design, its builderís understanding of the design, and then to follow through on the nature of the instrument itself. Itís easy to impose on an instrument, and itís easy to produce a compromised, Francioliniíd instrument Ė itís easy to make a mess. And I should state clearly that if the builder is available, he has the prerogative to do work of this magnitude. An owner should offer the work to the builder first, and the technician, if called on, should have a discussion with the builder. This is professional ethics, and itís a service to the owner, as unauthorized work obviates a builderís responsibility to the instrument.

       Ordinarily I ask to have the instrument for a month.  I do this work in the summer, mid-May to October, since my living room (a good voicing room) becomes too dry in the heating season. Thereís about a six-month waiting period with my jack maker, Norm Purdy, so work should be scheduled the better part of a year in advance.

       Many of my fees are flat rates, which cover the ordinary difficulties encountered.  Here are some numbers:

       Revoicing - $800 per rank.

       New wooden jacks - $7 each.

       New registers - $300 per pair (one pair, upper & lower, per rank).

       Restringing - $600 per choir.

       Extraordinary difficulties are billed at my shop time of $60 per hour, and the owner is contacted before I go ahead. When the jacks are ordered I ask for a $1000 down payment, non-refundable except under extreme circumstances: itís to cover the jacks.

       I wonít put new plectra into plastic jacks that are more than twenty years old Ė the voicing will last longer than the jacks, and itís money thrown away.  I voice in delrin or birdquill (Canada goose), and am reluctant to use celcon save when very light voicing is appropriate (which it rarely is).  Iím also reluctant to put in new plastic jacks: they donít last as long as wooden ones, all the designs have some detail or other against them, and if an instrument is worthy of upgrading, itís worthy of wooden jacks.  I can voice to old strings, but strings tend to harden in about 30 years, and we now have a variety of good wire to choose from.

       Major woodworking repairs I tend not to get involved in. A displaced pinblock, significant cheek distortion, delaminated joints, and the like, will suggest the instrument isnít worth refurbishing. Accidental damage should go back to the builder for continuity with the original workmanship. Small matters like a few soundboard splits or a tail hitchpinrail in need of replacement Iím willing to do. And of course, there are some instruments I consider beyond me, like the revival production instruments.

       Vermont is a pleasant place to visit, and youíre invited to bring your instrument here. But I wonít charge pickup and delivery if I can do the round-trip in a comfortable day (about 400 miles maximum). Beyond that, I charge $150 per day for travel.


Robert Hicks Harpsichords
314 Hall Road, Lincoln, Vermont. 05443
802 453 3996...