Harpsichord Maintenance Tour FAQ

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Wherever you are, if your instrument is not performing at its best, help is at hand…





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Mar 9
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Mar 16
National flag 1K gif Kaohsiung
Apr 16
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Apr 19
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Apr 22
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National flag 1K gif Hong Kong May 2
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Jun 24
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Aug 10
Aug 13
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Aug 17
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Subject to confirmation & change
Last update 26 Feb 2024

Please enquire.

Schedules from previous years
can be found here.

Q: My instrument doesn’t seem as good as it used to be. What has gone wrong?
A: Unfortunately, too many harpsichords reach this stage by default, merely by gradual deterioration. For people using instruments on a daily basis, this can sometimes be difficult to detect. Plectra don’t last forever, neither do strings in corrosive or very humid environments. Keyboards need a little love and attention from time to time, to check the free operation of the keys and adjust their tilt, level and spacing. If one key begins to get sluggish and stick, the others probably aren’t far behind. Action cloths and dampers wear out. When notes don’t work because of quill, tongue or jack failure, the quick emergency cure of swapping jacks around doesn’t really address the problem, and pretty soon trying to play becomes frustrating rather than a pleasant experience.


Q: What are the two main types of equipment maintenance?
A: Firstly, operate to failure or breakdown. This a valid technique if the cost on breakdown is not important. There are other factors, though, like inconvenience or safety—nobody would want to fly in an aircraft maintained on this basis! The second type of maintenance is preventative.

Q: So perhaps I do need some help?
A: A little regular maintenance is wise, and can help prevent problems in the future. For a musical instrument like a harpsichord, the consequences of failure are not life-threatening, and regular maintenance is cost effective and much cheaper in the long run. Institutions in particular must be encouraged to make a small annual provision in their budget for the upkeep of their instruments: I have seen too many once-fine instruments in schools which have deteriorated to deplorable condition.

Q: How often does my harpsichord need servicing?
A: Frequency of service might depend on the quality of your instrument, your own expectations and skills in keeping it running between-times, and other variables like rate of use and environment. Instruments in institutional ownership often have a particularly hard life, especially if there is nobody on staff directly responsible for the care of the harpsichord. Maintaining a harpsichord to a high level is not that different from the instructions found on the miracle pump pack shower cleaner, extolling “For best results, begin with a clean shower”! In other words, it is far easier to look after an instrument which is well set-up, truly appreciated and working correctly in the first place. The initial service may be a little involved, especially if the harpsichord hasn’t had professional attention in some time—subsequent services are often simpler.


Q: Why bother? Isn’t maintaining a harpsichord costly?
A: How many other pieces of specialized equipment are so fortunate as a harpsichord? My three-year old French-made television recently broke down—certainly not from overuse!—and cost me 30% of its replacement cost to have repaired. When a good harpsichord is in perfect working order, it can probably be regularly maintained on an annual basis by a professional for less than a few percent of its replacement cost! A harpsichord which doesn’t work properly is of little use to anyone—and instruments kept like that risk destroying the reputation of all harpsichords.

Q: What about me asking a local harpsichord maker?
A: Harpsichord makers are rare humans in most parts of the world. When you can find them, each reveal their own individual skills, interests, specialties—and idiosyncrasies. You can appreciate that not all performing musicians are excellent teachers. Likewise, not all harpsichord makers are competent technicians, who must carry sufficient equipment, and be resourceful in the field to rapidly and accurately diagnoze, explain and then correct problems which could result from environment, poor setup, normal wear and tear, abuse or disaster. You are indeed lucky if you have such an individual close by that you can cultivate.

Q: Or a local piano tuner?
A: A harpsichord has a keyboard, soundboard and strings, but pretty soon its similarity with the piano fades. I enjoy working closely with piano tuners around the world, many of whom evidence good hand skills and naturally enquiring minds, and often more than a little interest in how the harpsichord works. Such competent and open-minded modern piano technicians can be very useful to you if you are stuck, and perhaps need help to keep your instrument running smoothly between services by a real harpsichord specialist.


Q: What can I do to minimize the amount of maintenance my harpsichord requires?
A: Take a pro-active approach to harpsichord upkeep, and study the ideas on my Harpsichord Longevity page, available in English and three Asian languages—and even as pdf downloads.

Q: What sort of things can you do to help my instrument in the field?
A: Sometimes a harpsichord languishes, often for want of simple adjustment because of climatic difference after it has settled in its new home. Other instruments can benefit from a more comprehensive service resulting in radical improvement to their tone, touch and reliability. Some harpsichords I’ve seen were obviously left the maker’s workshop without being properly setup or regulated! I can accomplish almost anything with complete professionalism in the field, often surprizing owners by making their instruments play and sound better than when new: Minor structural repairs, complete restringing, action rejuvenation, or just a little regulation or neatening up. It is always my aim to meet or exceed the original standard of workmanship on instruments I encounter.

Q: My instrument was not very expensive. Is it worthwhile for me to have it serviced?
A: Only you can answer that. Any sort of musical instrument that doesn’t work correctly, however, is of limited use and frustrating to attempt to play. Harpsichords of all makes, types, qualities and prices require service from time to time to ensure they are functioning correctly and will continue to give you maximum enjoyment. Hopefully you don’t drive your car until it breaks down, but rather expect to preserve your investment by giving it the expert care and attention it occasionally requires.

A recent harpsichord repair onsite in Singapore…

Soundboard crack 17K jpeg

  Soundboard crack repair 16K jpeg

  Soundboard repair completed 17K jpeg

Soundboard crack
at spine end of 4⁠´ cutoff bar
  Soundboard crack leveled and glued   Soundboard decoration touched up
and repair complete

Q: I don’t have any spare parts for my harpsichord. Is that a problem?
A: It can be, particularly for instruments thirty or forty years old with patent plastic action parts, now deteriorated. I travel with a selection of expendable goodies for various makes and models, but it is a great help to know beforehand of any specific problems or missing parts so I can be fully equipped to return your instrument to its full potential.

Q: What sort of things might need doing on a first service?
A: This obviously varies according to instrument, but the following is normal procedure:

Q: How long would all that take?
A: As a rough idea—if there is nothing untoward—many quality double-manual instruments can typically be serviced in less than two or three hours. If the instrument is then kept in regular use and good tune, you should expect subsequent services to take much less time unless there are specific problems to rectify.

Q: What about more involved jobs?
A: Again, forewarned is forearmed. Over the years—with sufficient warning and preparation—I’ve enjoyed challenging soundboard, structural and cosmetic repairs; replacement of missing parts; or converting instruments to transposing. Something like restringing an instrument in a day is entirely possible, and I enjoy it very much.

Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif Harpsichord triage
Carey Beebe diagnozing and rectifying an Institutional harpsichord in limited time.
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Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif Structural repair
An interesting harpsichord repair undertaken in the field to return a harpsichord to playing condition.
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Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif Gap spacer replacement
Carey Beebe replacing a bent gap spacer on a harpsichord in Taiwan.
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Q: I suspect my harpsichord is a basket case. Can you help?
A: Occasionally I am confronted with an instrument that I cannot viably improve with the available resources and timeframe in the field. I trust, however, that you can rely on my assessment of the best course of action. This could be a recommendation for disposal, or arrangement for the instrument to be prepared for transport to my workshop for thorough repair or restoration.

Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: I’ve been besotted with harpsichords for over thirty years, and particularly active in their maintenance and upkeep since the late 1980s, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. It flatters me that my services are increasingly—and repeatedly—demanded in the more traditional harpsichord areas of the globe where one would expect harpsichord makers to be more commonplace. You can read a bit about me in my online résumé.

Q: What instruments do you work on?
A: I work on all types of early keyboard instruments like harpsichords, spinets, virginals, clavichords, fortepianos and early pianos up to about 1830. I have no expertise on modern pianos, and don’t touch them. In 2005, for example, I assisted private and institutional owners of instruments made by Atelier Marc Ducornet, Carey Beebe, William de Blaise, Guido Bizzi, Bill Bright, Floyd Cammack, Patrick Chevalier, Claviers Baroques, Jean-Louis Coquillat, Hugh Craig, Robert Deegan, Arnold Dolmetsch, William Dowd, Marc Ducornet, Early Music Shop, Kevin Fryer, Andrew Garlick, Robert Goble, Thomas Goff, Michael Heale, Eric Herz, Keith Hill, Frank Hubbard, Hubbard & Broekman, Tony Hunt, Hugh Jones, Bruce Kennedy, G C Klop, Richard Koch, John Koster, Alastair McAllister, Mars McMillan, Paul McNulty, Chris Maene, Doug Maple, Willard Martin, Johannes Morley, Stephen Morris, J C Neupert, Domenic Parker, THE PARIS WORKSHOP, John Paul, Paul Poletti, Rod Regier, Richard Rephann, Theodore Robertson, David Rubio, Sabathil & Son, Richard Schaumlöffel, Henk Schevikhoven, Knud Smenge, Sperrhake, Mark Stevenson, John Storrs, Michael Thomas, Philip Tyre, Peter Watchorn, D Jacques Way, Alan Winkler, Ryo Yoshida, Xavier Leigh-Flanders, Wolfgang Zuckermann, Zuckermann Harpsichords International…

Q: How often do you do a harpsichord maintenance tour as crazy as this looks?
A: Every year I circumnavigate the globe and am usually away from my workshop for more than three months on a single trip. Yes, I still enjoy travel: I have to. I usually take shorter trips as well, often for specific projects. Most of my work is now involved with hiring, tuning and maintaining instruments—but I am still thrilled to actually build a new instrument or so each year.

Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif Harpsichord Maintenance Tour 2012
Some more fun with the map facility in iMovie, tracing the twenty-six flight sectors of Carey Beebe’s mid-2012 Harpsichord Maintenance Tour.
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Q: How flexible are you with cities and dates?
A: Certain dates on the tour cannot be moved because of commitments at various festivals, eg Yamanashi, Boston and Carmel. Within those limits, I have a little flexibility to juggle the itinerary, especially if it might be possible to coincide with important concerts by local or visiting artists. Please note I’m not on a holiday, and I stay in each city only the length of time required to perform the work that is pre-booked.

Q: My city or country isn’t listed on your itinerary, but my instrument needs you and you do appear to be passing nearby. Are you able to assist me?
A: Yes, I am able to travel almost anywhere, time and sanity permitting. Sometimes sidetrips or diversions are possible, but I do like to plan well ahead: Please ask. If you invite me to visit your city solely and specifically to work on your instrument, I may also need you to help cover the airfare from my previous port and accommodation expenses. For cities which occur on my regular itinerary, there is no additional charge for airfare or accommodation.

Q: How do you charge?
A: I am prepared to undertake all work on early keyboards anywhere on an hourly basis. Service on an instrument in the field does cost more than in my workshop, and in common with many industries, the first hour on site is charged at a higher rate than subsequent hours to help cover travel time and expense. All business is transacted in Australian dollars (AUD). For the convenience of our overseas clients, we provide a Currency Conversion Table to assist approximate price conversion to your local currency. To use the table, multiply the Australian dollar price by the factor in the last column. Exchange rates vary from day to day, sometimes dramatically for third-world currencies. For more accurate daily rates, you should refer to XE.com’s Universal Currency Converter, and then return to this page by closing that window.

Q: Isn’t your service expensive?
A: Many of my Asian clients this year will enjoy a big reduction compared to 2012 for an average two hour service because of the lower Australian dollar: HK 12%; KR 17%; SG 6%; TW 7%. In any line of work, you can always find somebody who charges less. However, please don’t solely compare my hourly rate to that charged by someone who will in all likelihood take five times as long and leave your instrument in a dubious condition. Nor should you expect to directly compare the fee charged in your city for a piano tuning by a local modern piano tuner, to what I must charge for my work. My business continues to expand by word of mouth: I’ve yet to have a customer complain that I do not offer exceptional value for money for what I do. Please refer to my Testimonials page.

Q: So, what does it cost? Can you give me a quote?
A: Please ask. I will gladly give you an estimate based on my experience of the amount of time I feel it may take to accomplish the task you request on your instrument. However, it’s only fair that the actual charge be based on the time taken and materials used.

Q: How can I pay you?
A: I will eMail you an itemized invoice as a pdf after the work is complete. All invoices are NETT 7 DAYS. I prefer payment by telegraphic transfer direct to my account in Australia, or by bank draft in Australian dollars—which your bank can prepare and you then airmail to me. (Details can be found on the Export Advice page.) If you prefer to use credit card, I can accept payment through PayPal for a 3.5% supplement. If you wish to pay by another method, please ask beforehand.

Q: How can I book a service?
A: For prompt attention to your private or institutional early keyboards, or help with any special project, please contact Carey Beebe now.

Q: How can I assist at service time?
A: There are several ways instrument owners can ensure they receive the highest quality service:

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