Since I began building instruments, I have made more than 447 instruments for professional musicians and serious amateurs alike. Most of these harpsichords, clavichords, violins, guitars, and fortepianos continue to serve music as I intended them so to do when I made them. My chiefest aim has always been to build sounds which inspire a way of playing that deeply moves and excites listeners. This aim can be realized only by acoustical work of the highest quality. I define quality as anything which makes my instruments more like the antique instruments.
Now that I have achieved my personal goal of a reliable mastery over sound, I am able to produce the kind of sound I could only dream of 40 years ago. It is that skill and understanding that I am able to bring to each and every instrument I make. It is this skill and understanding which makes my instruments unique in our time. That is what I have to offer.
The above photograph is of the Taskin model harpsichord I built for myself in 2000 and recently sold to the University of Western Australia in Perth. The following performance is of my brother, Robert Hill, playing the first concert on that instrument in Perth.
The cardinal signs of a Hill instrument are: powerful tone, gorgeously vocal trebles, solid and resonant basses, beauty of tone color, intensely musical behavior of sound, flexibility of touch and color, and a singing and affectively "loaded" tone.
Why are these traits necessary? It is obvious that players and composers in the 18th century demanded instruments possessing these qualities to be made so that they would aesthetically support their musical conceptions and intentions. How do we know this? CPE Bach states explicitly in his Versuch to "Play from the Soul, not like a trained bird...endeavor to avoid everything mechanical and slavish". J.J.Quantz in his treatise, On Playing the Flute, explains to musicians that "musical execution may be compared with the delivery of an orator..." and that musicians and orators should aim "to make themselves masters of the hearts of their listeners, to arouse or still their passions, and to transport them now to this sentiment, now to that".
I understand that they meant these things literally, rather than hopefully. Therefore, I build my instruments with the sole aim of creating sounds which enhance and support (meaning: to make reasonable, logical, and beautiful) a highly expressive, highly flexible, highly affective, highly inflected, powerfully communicative, yet balanced style of playing. Playing that is, in a word, soulful.
My goal now is to do everything in my power to encourage a return again to a sane, meaningful, highly expressive, masterful way of playing great music and creating great art. It is to this end that my instrument making is dedicated.
Indeed, it is also to this end that my decorations and canvas paintings are dedicated. So I hope you will take the opportunity to visit those sites as well while you are at this site. Just click on the Art Gallery Button to the left or the Decorations Button for the instrument decorations.
The Taskin Harpsichord here pictured below is now available for rent for Concerts and Recordings from Simon Neal of Oxford, England.
A NEW RECORDING JUST OUT BY MEDEA BINDEWALD
Medea is playing in this recording of Jacques Duphly, his Pieces de Clavecin, on her Hill / Blanchet made in 2006, which you can see in the photo below.
You can find the details in my List of Recordings (see button) if you are interested to buy this recording.
FOUR ANTIQUE HARPSICHORDS FOR SALE
It has come to my attention that a harpsichord enthusiast in Europe is retiring a few harpsichords from his collection of antique harpsichords. Two of the 17th century instruments were made in Italy, one single and one double of mixed construction, and another one from the 17th century, a single shown above, was made in Prague. The 18th century harpsichord is a Kirkman single made in 1765. Anyone interested in acquiring one of these instruments should get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR SALE: A NEW DOUBLE MANUAL HARPSICHORD AFTER COUCHET - IN EUROPE
I have just completed making a Couchet style harpsichord with my most recent Acoustical Technology Trainee. The instrument is available for sale in Europe for 36,000.00 Euros not including VAT. It has a compass of GG - d''' (transposing), 2 x 8', 1 x 4', Buff stop with handstop in the key well, French action with leather covered registers, pear wood jacks, Ebony naturals, Bone topped sharps, Boxwood arcades, papered on the inside rim and key well. Four Screw in legs. No soundboard painting. Photos of the instrument will be posted as soon as they become available. Contact me at: email@example.com
(I consider these last two above recordings to be the best recordings of Baroque music I have heard. They represent for us a playing style which I believe was very close to the way this music was played by the composers themselves. Nothing precious, mechanical, "slavish", artificial, or sterile, all what I detest in musical performances, is present. In the Bach, Robert Hill has made an outstanding arrangement of the Chaconne and plays it in the manner similar to that described by F. Griepenkerl, late in his life, in a letter from 1840 in which he related: "Bach himself, his sons, and Forkel played the masterpieces with such a profound declamation that they sounded like polyphonic songs sung by individual great artist singers. All means of good singing were brought into use. No Cercare, No Portamento was missing...even breathing was is all the right places. Bach's music wants to be sung with the maximum of Art." No better description of anyone's playing exists and Hill fulfills the letter and the spirit of Griepenkerl's description.
In the Couperin, the many descriptions we have from letters by astute observers of the French courtesan behavior and manners from the 18th century suggest that their elan and attitude of "sans souci" has been audibly captured in this marvelous recording on two of my harpsichords. The sumptuous, relaxed, rumpled, elegant, untidy, almost wilted, and unselfconscious appearance and manners of many of the fine ladies of the court come alive in this charming performance of the Allemande. Creating the effects in these performances requires extreme sophistication in conception and execution.
(If you are interested in this style and wish to know more about it, you can click on my Articles on Music button in the column on the left and read the articles that my wife and I wrote about it.)
FOR SALE -- A large 6 1/2 Octave Viennese Fortepiano
I am selling my 6 1/2 Octave Viennese Fortepiano made in 1975 by Thomas McCobb. If you are interested in owning such a piano, double click on the Used Instruments Button to the left (third button from the bottom) to read about this fortepiano. The price is $25,000.00.
A NEW BATCH OF VIOLINS
This violin, my opus 442, made in the manner of Stradivari is one of 7 recently completed violins. Though I have no sound sample of this particular violin, I do have one of another violin, opus 439, for which I don't actually have a photo. So I am posting that sound sample along with one of my earlier violins, Opus 416.
Here is this new recording of 7 short sound samples of my violin Opus 439. The first four samples (Chausson, 2 x Bach, Beethoven) are played by Joanna Johnson and the remaining 3 (Wieniawski, Sibelius, Dvorak) are played by Laura Johnson.
This second sound sample is a recently made recording of my violin Opus 416 played by Joanna and Laura Johnson. The first four samples (Chausson, 2 x Bach, Beethoven) are played by Joanna Johnson and the remaining 3 (Wieniawski, Sibelius, Dvorak) are played by Laura Johnson, all of which have been exerpted for brevity. The mp3 version has 3 moments where the sound was so loud it distorted when recorded on my Zoom recorder. Opus 416 was originally made in 2009 and remade acoustically in 2011. It is, incidentally, one of my smaller full size violins.
This harpsichord after the 1769 Taskin, was one I made in 1988, my Opus 233, recently came back to my shop for a major tune up. The instrument was restrung, requilled, redampered, and revoiced and regulated. I remember this particular instrument because I designed the platform stand for it based on Chinese furniture. I also regretted the fact that when it was just made, I had no camera to photograph the instrument because I felt then and still do today that this platform stand is by far my favorite of all that I have made. Now that deficiency has been remedied as I have about 50 photos of it including the soundboard decoration. What follows are another four photos of this instrument
VISIT THE NEW PAGE
I have launched a NEW page that you can find on the buttons to your left at the top of this page. The button is titled YouTube Videos. There you can listen to recordings made by the various owners of my instruments who regularly perform concerts on my instruments as well as making recording on them. I will be adding to this page gradually as I discover more of these YouTube Videos with my instruments used on them. Eventually, I may actually set up my own YouTube account and provide these same videos there as well. If any of you happen to have made a YouTube video using one of my instruments, please send me the link so I can post it on this new page.
HILL VIOLIN VARNISH is now For Sale
For years I have preferred to not sell my varnish because making it was and still is one of the most unpleasant experiences possible. The stench from the cooking varnish can only be compared to a combination of burning rubber, skunk, and raccoon feces. Though many of my readers will not be familiar with some of these odors, I can faithfully report that the smell, to which one is exposed from between 8-12 hours at a stretch depending on how much varnish you make in a single batch,is totally obnoxious. It is only during the last 30 mins that the smell changes to one that is quite pleasant. But that is no consolation to make up for that acrid terrible smell that permeates your nose, clothing, hair, and skin during the previous hours required to make the stuff.
Indeed, years ago I tried and was successful in convincing Georg Kremer of Kremer Pigmente in Germany to manufacture my varnish for me. I went to Aichstetten to show him and his varnish maker how to make my varnish. For a while they were making my varnish and selling it. But it did not take long for the varnish maker to threaten to quit if he had to make any more of my varnish...at least that is the story Georg told me about why he would no longer sell my varnish. Knowing how stinky my varnish is to make, I understood completely.
Faced with having to make this varnish myself, there was no way I would ever sell it to others...no amount of money was worth having to put up with the unpleasantness of making the varnish.
Well, now I have found someone who doesn't mind making the varnish and he wants to earn part of his income from making it. For this reason only, I am willing to sell my varnish to those who do not wish to endure the stench from cooking the varnish for hours on end until it is ready.
The price for my varnish is roughly competitive with the prices for small batch made violin varnishes that are already available on line at various different sites. I am offering my varnish for the following prices in the following amounts:
$135.00 for 30ml
$202.50 for 45ml
$270.00 for 60ml
$315.00 for 70ml
I offer a light varnish and a darker version. Of these two varnishes, the lighter colored is that the making of which I have described here in my article on making Ash Varnish below. These varnishes under UV light fluoresce opaque whitish canary yellow for the light. and greyish canary yellow for the dark. These are the colors of fluorescence descibed in every book that scientifically discusses the ancient Cremonese violin varnishes.
Anyone wishing to purchase my varnish is welcome to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use the words "purchase varnish" in the subject window lest my spam detector misroute your email.
The conditions for purchasing my varnish are that all sales are final and that the cost of shipping the varnish is not included in the price. I assume that anyone using my varnish already knows how to varnish a violin and therefore does not need to be told how to do that.
As I have already indicated in my article on Ash Varnish, this is an acoustically superior varnish. It enhances the sound of whatever violin to which it is applied. By enhancement I mean it makes obvious whatever the sound of the violin already is. The varnish is not magical, it won't make an acoustically indifferently made violin into a Stradivari. Rather it emphasizes what sound is there in the violin already. It does not improve the sound by making a harsh sounding violin more beautiful. It makes the harshness of the sound more obviously harsh. If the sound of the violin is dull, it makes the sound more obviously dull. If the sound is beautiful, it makes the sound even more beautiful; that is its real purpose.
A NEW CRISTOFORI PIANO
The instrument in the photo above is my most recent Cristofori style fortepiano Opus 452, finished in 2012. It has a compass of FF - g''' (transposing to A 440). I will be posting recordings of this piano as soon as they are made later this year.
A Refreshing Recording
Only days ago I received these new recordings of a live performance by my brother, Robert Hill, of the Bach keyboard concerto in A Major performed using my Cristofori piano with Il Gusto Barocco. I found the performance delightfully refreshing...like a cool mountain spring on a clear warm fall day. The allegros veritably dance. And the middle movement passionately sings. I think you will enjoy hearing them. Here are all three movements.
I have had an announcement here saying that a move to Nashville, Tennessee is anticipated. No longer, I am happy to report. We have a new home in Nashville and that is where my business address will be from now on. That address is:
Keith Hill - Instrument Maker
5641 Granny White Pike
Brentwood, TN 37027
I will be keeping my new number from Michigan which moves around the world with me, which is: 734-322-3331 as well as my cell phone which is: 734-395-8708
Indeed the house is too small to house my collection of harpsichords and pianos, so I must still reduce the size of my collection. I have already sold my Lautenwerk, my clavichord, and three harpsichords: My Colmar Ruckers single, my Colmar Ruckers double and one of my Taskin doubles. I still have a Taskin double and a Blanchet double as well as my Hass inspired double with 16' available. If any of my readers is interested in acquiring one of these instruments, you can contact me using the information at the bottom of this page. If you email me about this, use the phrase: Hill Collection, so that I don't delete your email automatically. I also plan at some point to offer these instruments through Glen Guitarri's harpsichord clearing house, at harpsichord.com
AN ARTICLE ON HOW TO JUDGE A HARPSICHORD OR FORTEPIANO
I am posting for my readers an article which I wrote more than 25 years ago, titled: How to Judge a Harpsichord. This article was published in the Continuo Magazine back then. Since my view about how to judge musical instruments has not changed much since then, I thought my readers would find the article useful for learning to evaluate the acoustical and musical aspects of musical instruments. I have revised the article to include fortepianos, for those who are interested in Fortepianos. You can read this article by clicking on the WHAT'S NEW button and scrolling down until you find the article
This Blanchet harpsichord, Opus 428, finished in May of 2010, was made by my most recent Acoustical Technology Trainee, Devin Thomas, under my close supervision with minimal interference from me.
What follows is my offer of a new opportunity, which is two fold and should merit your close attention.. One, if you are young and passionate about making musical instruments, the following offer might interest you. Two, if you are a player who has been interested in having one of my harpsichords, but have not been able to afford one, I will be offering instruments from my shop at a significantly lower price to be made under my close supervision by those young makers who qualify for my offer below. To see those lower prices, click on the Harpsichords, Clavichords, and Fortepianos buttons above and to the left.
Acoustical Technology Training
When I began building harpsichords, this business was, as it still is, dominated by the idea that if you make an exact physical copy of an antique harpsichord or violin (the model having been selected because its musical and acoustical properties were generally accepted as being musically superior), then the resulting instrument should sound exactly like the original would have sounded.
Everyone seemed to think that this was a good idea. Yet, when the results of such instrument making were compared to the original instruments, the antiques sounded so much better as to make the copies of them appear acoustically inept, musically incompetent and on the whole, aesthetically mediocre. Apparently, this vast discrepancy didn’t seem to bother anyone but me. A few, not instrument makers but players, knew the difference but still had to play on the new instruments. The reason why this chasm failed to dampen almost everyone’s enthusiasm is that they accepted the conventional wisdom.
That conventional wisdom was that antique instruments were thought to sound better because they are old. Modern instruments were and still are generally acknowledged by connoisseurs to be radically inferior to the antiques…like a faded photograph compared to the real thing. Yet, so many of the ancient instruments are clearly better sounding in every possible way than modern made instruments. The easiest answer as to why is that the antique instruments have had 200 years of aging to improve their sound.
Here, the aging metaphor was being misappropriated, even by famous musicians, from the wine making industry. It is an “explanation of convenience” which seems, as far as I can tell, to have absolved musical instrument makers since the 19th century of the obligation to do anything more than making their instruments by first taking careful measurements of a famous antique “master” instrument and then reproducing those measurements using as similar materials as possible to the original instrument. When the sounds of their instruments didn’t turn out as good as the originals, they rested on the hope, no, the expectation that in 200 years their instruments were going to somehow magically sound absolutely fabulous, like the great antiques sound today. I actually heard this being spouted by several harpsichord makers and violin makers. One even said: “I make as exact a copy of the original as I can. If it doesn’t turn out (sounding as good), it is not my fault.”
This arrogant attitude presumes that the best makers of previous centuries were content with making an instrument, just like instrument makers do today, in the hopes that it would show over time to improve with age until it became a great sounding instrument. What astonished me at the time is how many of my colleagues swallowed this way of thinking hook, line, and sinker. At the time, I instinctively rejected this notion but had no evidence to substantiate my radical view.
Fortunately, a visit to the Russell collection in Edinburgh in 1972 provided me with ample evidence that this notion was false. There, where harpsichords from every period and country could be heard and played, is also where that conventional “wisdom” may be observed to be glaringly wrong. If age is what made a musical instrument good, then instruments made in 1585, clearly, should be that much better sounding than instruments made in 1668…after all, they had over 80 years more to improve…but they are not better! The harpsichord made in 1720 should, by that false reasoning, be better than the one made in 1769. But it is not! Logically, any exception to that notion meant to me that the notion was totally false. That has proved to be the case. And if this notion is totally false, then it makes thinking that it is true to be exceedingly arrogant, because it assumes, without any proof, that the best ancient makers were as clueless and ignorant as most instrument makers since the 18th century.
My visit to the Russell collection revealed to me the following fundamental truth; makers who built the best sounding instruments did so because they knew exactly what they were doing and did everything in their power to make their instruments to sound as wonderful as possible right from the moment the instrument was made. It was nothing magical, nothing having to do with the aging process of wood, no "mini iceage", no "holy" varnish, no mystical intuitive talent of some blessed makers that they were able to build instrument after instrument of exceedingly high quality. Those makers who built the best sounding instruments did so because they mastered acoustics. It is as simple as that.
The consequence of this realization for me was that I understood that there was a body of knowledge and techniques (what I now call Acoustical Technology) which was being applied by those great makers, and which, for whatever reason, was lost. Indeed, that lost knowledge had to be something so ordinary that anyone back then could apply it with more or less success, and that it would have been taken for granted and eventually disappeared; as all that we take for granted wanes and eventually disappears in our cultural "march to progress". This Acoustical Technology was the “common denominator” connecting all musical instrument-making for 400 years prior to 1800…including the making of violins, lutes, guitars, brass and woodwind instruments, harpsichords, organs, clavichords, and pianos. Indeed, those makers whose instruments we most revere today, like Ruckers, Stradivari, Guarneri, Blanchet, Taskin, Cristofori, Amati, Schnitger, Stein, and Graf, were merely the most clever in figuring out and applying what they learned to the making of their instruments. Their less clever associates and colleagues built merely good instruments. Important about this realization is that it also meant that that body of knowledge was learnable. And, it meant that anyone who bothered to look for it in a focused, unsentimental, and mindful manner would have some success in recovering that knowledge.
So the question I forced myself to answer was: What exactly were the makers of the great musical instruments of the past doing to make their instruments sound so good? Answering this question as completely as possible, thus far, has taken me 36 years and has required making more than 500 instruments of all kinds, mostly keyboard and bowed stringed instruments. The method I have used for my investigations was not unlike techniques used in Forensic Science.
Forensic Science takes fragments of carefully collected evidence, then analyzes that evidence in order to reconstruct the answers to who did what and when, how they did it, and, in some cases, why. Anyone who studies the antique instruments notices the obvious stuff like layout, materials, dimensions, etc. A forensic science type approach goes several steps further. With this approach one notices, as in hand writing analysis, the human traces of workmanship, aesthetic decisions, and methodologies, and seeks thereby to understand the behavior of the ancient makers. My approach added to these yet one more dimension. It began with one observation about human nature. That is, everything we do is an answer to a question of some kind. Further, every question we pose, either explicitly, implicitly, or covertly, either verbally or nonverbally, arises from an attitude we possess. By starting with that observation, I began with the simplest pieces of evidence to analyze and reconstruct the questions behind that evidence and then to intuit the attitudes that are the cause behind the questions.
From simple observations, working backward, it is possible to deduce the attitudes of those ancient makers. Then, working forwards, from that point, by adopting their attitudes, it is possible to reproduce work that appears and sounds like "brand new antique", as one of my patrons dubbed it. When my results were not exactly like those of the antiques, then I knew that I had not succeeded in rightly deducing the precise attitude behind the phenomenon. Using this method, it took me years of research and experimentation to figure out how the best of the ancient makers thought that resulted in the outstanding quality of sound they were able to produce, instrument after instrument after instrument.
Realizing the value of what I have learned thus far, I feel compelled to make sure that the knowledge that I have gained, at significant personal sacrifice, does not again get lost. For this reason, I am inviting qualified persons to work with me to learn how to apply the Acoustical Technology I have developed and mastered.
Now, finding, identifying and training qualified young makers who want to learn and master musical instrument making from an exclusively acoustical point of view is my goal. This is easier said than done. My experience over the last 36 years has made me realize that few musical instrument makers value sound as much as I do, fewer still are willing to pay the price themselves, as I have, to master acoustics. So naturally, I don’t assume that there are actually all that many musical instrument makers who are willing to subject themselves to learning what is required to be able to build great sounding musical instruments.
Nevertheless, I hold that what I do acoustically can be done by anyone willing to learn the techniques and attitudes necessary to apply this Acoustical Technology masterfully. This offer is open to anyone interested in learning this sophisticated yet simple way of realizing a high degree of enhancement in the sound of any musical instrument. However, only those who qualify technically, artistically, musically, and personally will be accepted for instruction. Whomever I undertake to teach the Art and Science of Acoustical Enhancement must be able to successfully apply my acoustical technology to their instruments once they have completed my course of instruction.
Since first making this offer two years ago, I have taught my acoustical technology to 4 young men, 2 of whom are violin makers and 2 of whom are instrument makers who are making harpsichords and fortepianos as well as violins, violas and cellos.
Technical qualifications involve a little experience making musical instruments, skill in use of tools, and skill in drawing or sculpting. Artistic qualifications relate to conceptual abilities, natural cognitive abilities, imaginative skills, and ability to think clearly and cogently about ideas. Musical qualifications have to do with how musical, how technically proficient on an instrument, and how much understanding of music one has. And personal qualifications have to do with age, attitudes, philosophy, intellectual aptitude, and habits, etc. The ability to speak English is also really helpful.
Anyone interested is welcome to contact me by email at email@example.com. Use “Interested in Acoustics” in the subject line.
Contact: Keith Hill - Instrument Maker
5641 Granny White Pike
Brentwood, TN 37027
My cell phone is still 734-395-8708
A TREATISE ON: THE TRUE ART OF MAKING MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
A few years ago,I wrote a 250 page book on the subject of the science of enhancing sound, titled "The True Art of Making Musical Instruments, a Guide to the Forgotten Craft of Enhancing Sound". In it I express my views without consideration of how they might be received, because most that I have learned over the last 33 years about acoustics conflicts with almost everything currently understood as being important concerning the subject of Acoustics. To my knowledge, no other book has ever been written on precisely this subject, though many other instrument makers have been more qualified than myself to offer incontrovertable testimony concerning the Craft of Enhancing Sound, I refer to makers such as Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppi Guarneri, Hans Ruckers, Arp Schnitger, Bartolomeo Cristofori, Pascal Taskin, Francois Blanchet, Johann Stein, Nanette Streicher, and Conrad Graf to name a few. Its contents have been largely rediscovered, reintuited, reinvented, or understood anew by me during the course of making more that 406 harpsichords, clavichords, fortepianos, and violins. Where I owe these makers and other clever researchers a debt of gratitude, I have been quick to acknowledge their contributions. However, to one musical scientist, Marianne Ploger of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I owe far more than a mere acknowledgment. Her discoveries in the area of basic acoustics and hearing perceptions made possible a clear understanding of how the ancient instrument makers thought about dimensioning their soundboards and violin plates. You will find a Table of Contents and accompanying descriptions of the various chapters if you click on the "True Art" button. I was offering this text to anyone willing to pay the price, however, it is now available only to those whom I choose to train to use my acoustical technology.
I was inspired to take the Cristofori design as far as possible, something that was never done in the 18th or 19th centuries. You can hear the following sound samples and judge for yourself if they might have missed something back then.
The violinist in this sound sample of the Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto is Laura Johnson, winner of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra competition in 2009, playing with the DYA Orchestra for this performance on my violin, Opus 409, made in late 2008 and finished in early 2009.
Made after the decoration on the Couchet harpsichord in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
I did this decoration in 2008 on the Blanchet Copy which I made for Elizabeth Farr. Here are some sound samples of that instrument, all of which appear on the CD Ms. Farr made of the music of D'Anglebert on Naxos.
I wish to acknowledge the fine playing of the many players whose playing you hear on all my websites. They are: Tim Burris-Lute, Robert Hill-Harpsichord, Cristorfori Pianoforte, Graf Fortepiano, Clavichord and Lautenwerk, Marianne Ploger-Cristorfori Pianoforte, Graf Fortepiano, Elizabeth Farr-Harpsichord and 16' Harpsichord, Mitzi Meyerson-Harpsichord, Shigetoshi Yamada-Violins, Michael Behringer-Harpsichord, and Mauricio Aguiar-Violins, Mark Edwards-Harpsichord,
My contact information is:
Keith Hill - Instrument Maker
5641 Granny White Pike
Brentwood, TN 37027
*(Here's a trick to hear the sound sample and view the site at the same time. 1.Click on the sound sample to download it. 2.Then, download one of my other sites on your browser, in effect, opening a new window. 3.Click on the SITE button, at that site, relating to this site. 4. Once you have this site accessed from the new page and window, you can to view the site and listen to the downloading sound sample for it.)