Strings for early keyboard instruments
Stringing is a very delicate part of the conservation of early keyboards as departing from a not too wide margin of string tension can lead to a poor sound or to a twisted instrument with possibly severe damage to the soundboard, bridge or nut, and also broken strings. Apparently, instrument makers did not calculated scientifically the gauges they used in their instruments, as we do now. They must have used trial and error to come with the right gauges, and passed that experience on to their apprentices; and this situation lasted probably until the first quarter of the ninteenth century, or more.
As metallurgy and science in general developed, improvements in the wire making industry resulted in a much stronger iron wire. For example, the discovery of the addition of manganese to the alloy allowed the possibility to have a wire that will stand higher loads. While this was welcomed by engineers, it came with a cost to the musical instruments making. In order to have a pleasent sound, strings have to be tightly stretched, but the wooden instruments were not capable to hold such load without twisting or breaking. Then the race to have stronger cases in the instruments began, and only in the second half of the nineteenth century a balance between the needed tensile strength in the strings and the construction of the cases was reached, mostly by the introduction of the cast iron frame. This is basically the period when the modern piano started. Harpsichords, clavichords and spinets were left behind even before this race began, as people favored the fortepiano. The last harpsichords made in England reportedly date from the first decade of the nineteenth century but I personally have not see one. Pre 1820s instruments normally require a softer iron wire, like Malcolm Rose's Iron A (for harpsichords) or B for pianofortes. Later ones require Iron C. Wire from 1850s has not been researched and produced enough to have a substitute, as far as I know, though I heard that Stephen Birkett is producing a substitute of Horsefall's 'patented' wire.
String calculation charts.
Some conservators (restorers, techincians, etc.) struggle to find the right strings for an instrument. There are a few causes for this, being one that the original strings are not present anymore and have been replaced with more modern ones, sometimes at the point that modern piano wire was used, ruining the instrument. Another one is the lack of information or experience in finding the right gauges. There are different string calculators, but they will give you information about the diameter of a string necessary to obtain a certain pitch, given a density, which could not match the available ones from specialised providers. Also, the calculator cannot predict if a specific instrument will twist (or re-twist) or not under such a load. There were typical stringing guidelines in different periods. For example, pre 1800s square pianos had red brass cores in the wound bass strings. Another frequent problem is when new strings break. Was it due to a miss-calculation of the strings, the wrong alloy, errors in the measurements of the speaking lengths, a poor manufacture of the eyes, too much bending of the wire when fitting the wrest pin, or was a defective wire? Sometimes a newly restored instrument seems fine with the new strings and after a few weeks the bridge is tilting or detaching, the soundboard sinking, or the whole instrument is twisting. The result is that the strings have to be removed, the damage repaired, probably by taking out the soundboard and/or bridge, and restring it again. If the instrument is in another city or country, the cost of bringing the instrument back to the workshop has to be added. I guess all restorers had at one point one of such issues, and that's when they decided to work only with an informed calculation. Such calculations can be obtained from a few restorers who have a big enough database and experience in stringing. My fee for a string chart calculation is £80. If you want to have a string calculation, please send us an email to the following address and we will contact you: cesarhernandez1967(at)hotmail.com.
We provide covered strings for grand and square pianos, and also plain strings in either whole sets or individual strings. Also, strings for harpsichords and clavichords. We can replicate probably any metal string (for sitars, psalteries, etc.), if you can send it, or its specifications.
Covered strings for square pianos: £16.50 for open wound, £18.50 for close wound. Close wound for grand pianofortes (length over 2000 mm): £19.50 plus postage.
Individual plain strings: £6.50 for brass or red brass, £5.50 for iron plus postage. All prices include the 'eye' (the loop for hooking the string in the hitch-pin along with the twist) made to your specification (25 mm if not specified). Please send the string if you can, or a photograph of the bass section showing the eyes.
For other less common types of wound strings, please contact me. I have made strings for Indian instruments and provided calculations and brass strings for East European psalteries, etc. The postage is not included in the price. For whole sets of bass and plain strings, I can make a small discount. I have not seen any problem to send strings to the continent due to Brexit, but you may have to pay some taxes. If you have to send old strings to copy them from North America, be aware that if you declare a value on them for insurance purposes, I will be charged an import tax, which will have to be charged to you subsequently.
Payments can be made through PayPal (we will add 4% comissions) or WISE (similar to PayPal but no commission so far) or bank transfer. Bank transfers from North America may require an extra comission of 5% (and they will charge a big commission to you), so we strongly recommend using WISE or PayPal.
Any further questions? Please write an email to cesarherz(at)mail.com