I found the Taskin vs Hemsh thread very interesting. It raised the following question.
I own a Hubbard French double (kit instrument) from the late 1980s. Has anyone ever been able to compare the sound of one of these to the original Taskin? The Hubbard has two additional notes in the treble to allow for transposing and (I assume) a wider gap to allow for a peau de buffle register; these would affect the scaling, I suppose. I realize a lot will depend on the voicing. But nevertheless I am interested in any comparisons people have been able to make.
I was allowed to play the 1769 Taskin and Goermans-Taskin instruments in the Russell Collection quite extensively when I lived in Edinburgh 20 years ago. They are both fine instruments, though I preferred the latter; but none of the Hubbard French Doubles that I have heard or played since brought back memories of either of them, despite being good in their own right.
What an ignorant statement. Comparing an aged 250 year old instrument to a modern repro. The scantlings of the Hubbard are the same as the Taskin. I’m guessing the soundboard wood in the Taskin was allowed to dry decades before it even went in the instrument.
Same question could be posed on Taskin vs Zuckermann French kit.
In the manual, David J Way writes the kit is hugely based on Taskin, he says the bracing is the same, the slanting nameboard (what’s that? slanting nameboard?), the tapering of the case in height, and of course the scaling and the plucking points. He then goes on for a page and half saying how a true copy doesn’t even exist, however. He then adds:
“[You don’t need 16’] Nor a peau de buffle […]. Space for an extra row of jacks on this instrument would seriously distort the treble scaling - which is already distorted a bit to allow the instrument to extend to g’’’. French double harpsichord ought not to have a higher note than f’’’, and some day I will take my courage in both hands and eliminate the top two notes of this instrument […]”
So the kit departs from the Taskin for the scaling of the top treble due to the top f#’’’ and g’’’ and for the leather covered registers. Being all the other things similar to the original Taskin (case, scantlings, materials, bracing…), I guess the tone should be similar. At least, similar to strictly faithful “copies” if not to the original.
Of course the soundboard wood can’t be exactly the same, and of course you can’t really compare two instruments 250 years apart, but one should be able to sense more than a certain familiarity.
Thank you, David, for sharing your experience. And the quotation from David Way is interesting too, since the Hubbard French kit was altered in similar ways compared to the Taskin.
Regarding wood: my instrument is noticeably more resonant than when I built it 30+ years ago, which I attribute mainly to the wood drying out. I imagine (but could be wrong) that there is some point after which the sound will not change much – 50 years? 100 years? Unfortunately I won’t be around to take note of the changes . . . .
In the early/mid 1980s I took lessons from a teacher who owned a Dowd French double. I was struck by how resonant it was, compared to any other instrument I had played at that time. I guess the Dowd was about 20 years old at the time, perhaps less. My Hubbard now sounds equally resonant. So maybe 20-30 years is enough time for the wood to do most of its changing.
Ahem. Please refrain from using such language around here!
Dear David Perry, you ask for comparisons.
Although mine were not with the two instruments together, I was able indeed to carefully compare the sound of three instruments with scarcely two days of difference:
- My own Hubbard French double based on the Yale’s Taskin.
- The Paris Conservatoire Ruckers-Taskin.
- A careful replica of the latter, made by Bédard for K.GIlbert.
That 1) and 2) sounded different I understood: the Hubbard is based on a different Taskin, the soundboard thickness is not tapered as it should and the material is Canadian spruce. But the strongest difference was actually between 2) and 3), and I openly told this to Bédard who with some sadness replied: “You cannot copy a sound.”.
Which means that we can only carefully produce a replica of this or that instrument and hope, just hope, to achieve a somewhat similar sound.
A pity, Toby, because I agree with your statement, but I also, and strongly, deplore you initial “ignorant”, especially when applied to a person who is actually very knowledgeable indeed.
My humble apologies. I retract the statement.
Hello Toby, I welcome all members of the group, but please regard the forum policy that can be found explicitly in the site FAQ/Guidelines page.
In particular the section ‘Be Agreeable, Even When You Disagree’.
Calling someone’s opinion outright ignorant can be construed as very rude, and perhaps it’s better to say what lawyers do: “I respectfully disagree with my learned colleague” - which is the same thing but nobody gets offended.
Andrew [admin and moderator.]
Is there any evidence for that in the case of Taskin’s workshop? Many modern makers of harpsichords and violins will attempt to use wood seasoned as long as possible. But there were intense commercial pressures in 18c and maybe relatively fresh cut wood was used, as they did not necessarily have the luxury of time or space to season wood for decades. It’s hard to say.
In our workshop we used soundboard wood dried outside on the balcony for 30 years or more, through the intense 40 degree centigrade summers here in Australia (and the very mild winters!). But I do not know if this was common practice in the era of historical harpsichord making.
One thing I do know and for which there is solid evidence is that Stradivari, for one, sometimes used tops seasoned for decades - and this can be established conclusively by comparing the date on the label to dendochronology studies of the wood. That’s fascinating.
We should open a new topic on wood and aging. There is much to be said.
There is an inventory of the Taskin workshop dated 1777. I remember reading it years ago (maybe in Hubbard?). It should list the wood stocked there, from the quantity one could guess if the wood was left there to age.
Anybody has a copy of the Taskin inventory to share?
Surely, using fresh cut wood would result in warping, which, apart from that due to excessive string tensions and inadequate framing, is not something that we see in surviving instruments. Of course, it is possible that such unseasoned wood was used in those instruments that have not survived, and about which we therefore have no knowledge.
I did say ‘relatively fresh’, meaning a year or two, not say 60 years. If you resaw a board into soundboard thickness planks it dries out pretty quickly. I wonder if there was a general awareness among harpsichord makers then that really old wood sounds better. Interesting. Are we looking at this through modern filters?
I should also mention about relatively short drying times that soundboard wood is quartersawn, part of the point of doing so which is of course to stop warping and cupping and all the distortions of slab sawn pieces.
I started a topic on Old Wood. We can move over there.
Sorry to continue here, I don’t know how to transfer your post to the Old Wood topic.
There are a number of harpsichord soundboards that are slab sawn rather than quarter sawn. The cypress soundboards in early Italian instruments are a case in point. A reputable maker who has had considerable experience using cypress in this way says that it is at least as stable as quarter sawn spruce and maybe actually be less prone to warping.
Totally agree re:language. We get too much of that elsewhere. There was nothing wrong with your post, David.
I find this whole thread very enlightening. Thanks to all.
The University of Texas has a Dowd Hemsch copy which I found completely uninspiring.
I played a Dowd at Indiana University 25 years ago and would apply the same the same description. The workmanship and the feel of the keyboard were fine, but I was very disappointed to find that the sound was just colourless and boring.
As for Hemsch copies actually played or listened to in real life, I only played/listened a Hemsch copy by Augusto Bonza, and found it a fantastic harpsichord tone-wise as well as workmanship and action. There are some Youtube videos of Korneel Bernolet and maybe Frederick Haas, playing Bonza’s Hemsch.
There must be something with the Hemsches, however, since I have read other negative-statements on copies from Hemsch.
There are a lot of bad copies of Stradivari violins. A function of the
In the case of Hemsch, he made master instruments and they are very
subtle in detail, and not all makers can do it. And the same applies to
Taskin of course.
Plus, they have old wood. I still want to know why old wood sounds
better, The explanation that it dries and ‘matures’ is not enough for
me. What is happening at the molecular and cellular level. Refer to my