Musical Instruments 

In 1969 Wolfgang Zuckermann published his book The Modern Harpsichord.  In it he criticised contemporary practices in harpsichord-building, and expounded his theories on how it should be done. While basically advocating a return to traditional methods, he believed that modern materials like plywood could and should be used where they did not interfere with sound production, like for the bottom of the case, and the lid. He also believed that the jacks could be made from modern plastics, rather than the traditional fruitwoods like pear and cherry.  He started making kits to enable ordinary people to build their own harpsichords, and this was how mine came into existence.

I learned about the Zuckermann kits, and a lot of other mind-expanding stuff, from a remarkable publication from the late 1960s and early 1970s called The Whole Earth Catalog.  Its subtitle was Access to Tools, and its editors' philosophy was that they would list things that were (1) useful as a tool, (2) relevant to independent education, (3) high quality or low cost, (4) not already common knowledge, and (5) easily available by mail. In many ways it was a forerunner of the Internet, but in printed form. There are websites around today which celebrate the phenomenon that was the Whole Earth Catalog.

A harpsichord similar to the one I built - not the same one, because I can't find any photos.  Mine had plain square legs rather than the turned ones shown here.  It has a single keyboard with one 8-ft register, one 4-ft register sounding an octave higher, and a buff stop on the 8-ft register.  The terms "8-ft" and "4-ft" do not refer to the actual length of the strings, but to the pitches to which they are tuned - the lengths actually refer to organ pipes which sound at equivalent pitches. A buff stop is like a row of felt tabs that can be moved to press against the strings and partially damp their sound, giving another quality to it.

The instrument is just under 2 metres long, and the keyboard has 52 keys.  I think mine was built in 1973, and sold some time in the 1980s.

Flemish Harpsichord

The fretted clavichord, based on instruments that were made all over Europe in the 17th century. The case is less than a metre long and the whole thing weighs only about 8.5kg.  It could easily be tucked under the arm and carried around, and could be played on a table or even on the lap. The 45-key keyboard is topped with boxwood on the naturals and ebony on the sharps.

The term "fretted" refers to the fact that one string is used by two or even three adjacent keys. It means that adjacent notes which share a string cannot be sounded together, but that matters little for the music that is suited to this type of instrument. It was built in 1978, and was also sold, in 1986.

It came to my attention again in 2015, when I found out that the guy who had bought it had died, and the instrument was in the workshop of Carey Beebe Harpsichords in Sydney.  Carey is a very active builder, restorer and dealer of ancient keyboard instruments, and it was he who informed me of this.  He had restored the clavichord and had it for sale again.  This photo is from Carey's ad for the instrument, and is used here with his permission.  It was delightful to learn that it was still in existence, and still working - and still looking pretty good!

Fretted Clavichord

The head of the first classical guitar, completed in 1998. The tuning machines are Schaller gold-plated. The veneer is East Indian rosewood (same as the back and sides of the body), with black/white veneers underneath.

This is the guitar I still play today. I used a book called A Guitar-Maker's Manual, by Jim Williams, as my textbook during the building process. It describes several very effective jigs and workboards which hold things securely in place at various stages of construction. I also have Irving Sloane's famous book Classic Guitar Construction, but his method uses a mould and for various reasons it was not easy for me to make a mould at the time I was building this instrument.

More about guitars...

Classical Guitar Head

The 13-course baroque lute, modelled on one built by German luthier Johann Christian Hoffmann around 1750.

The soundboard is Engelmann spruce, the ribs of the bowl are Tasmanian Oak with black-white-black spacers, and the neck is a mahogany core veneered in WA jarrah. The fingerboard is also jarrah.

I wanted my lute to be as Australian as possible, so used local timbers wherever possible.

More about the lute...

Front of 13-course Lute

The violin, complete and ready to sing. After several false starts and a good deal of frustration with French polish, I ended up going back to bare wood and using a modern polyurethane varnish over a maple stain. Not quite traditional, but looks good and it will be durable.

More about the violin...

Violin Complete