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Featured Maker Interview • Stephen Robinson

Featured Maker Interview • Stephen Robinson

Our latest Featured Maker interview focusses on the supremo of spinets, Stephen Robinson. Based in Warwickshire, UK, Stephen specialises in creating spinets after the Hitchcock model in the Edinburgh University's Russell Collection of early keyboard instruments. Read on to discover more about Stephen's work and our Star Buy of his Bentside Spinet...

Featured Maker Interview Stephen Robinson
The Early Music Shop: What sparked your interest in early keyboard instruments?

Stephen Robinson: My interest in keyboard instrument making began in the early 1960s when our church choir-master arranged a visit to the organ builders Jardine & Co, in Manchester. My main memory of this visit is watching components of the metal pipes being soldered.

EMS: When did you build your first instrument?

SR: About five years later I started to build a four-stop chamber organ as a practice instrument for my father, under the tutelage of Michael Sefton, my woodwork teacher at school, who was a very keen and knowledgeable amateur organ builder.

EMS: On your website you talk a lot about different tuning methods. Is this a particular area of interest for you?

SR: Not especially, but a tuning temperament of the correct period for the music being played does, I suggest, enhance the experience.

EMS: You have been making and restoring keyboard instruments for over 50 years and now specialise in spinets. Why have you chosen this specialisation?

SR: Simply for a very practical reason - my current workshop is too small for harpsichord making!

EMS: You base your instruments on the Thomas Hitchcock spinet in the Russell Collection, University of Edinburgh. When did you first encounter this instrument and what makes it so special?

SR: Two reasons. First, I liked the aesthetically pleasing bentside double curve of Hitchcock's spinets, and secondly, after making my first Hitchcock spinet I was really impressed with the sound it produced and so decided to continue with this model.

EMS: Do you prefer English models over Italian, French, Flemish and German?

SR: Yes. Hitchcock spinets seem to have a fuller, richer sound compared to many continental spinets.

Featured Maker Interview with Stephen Robinson
EMS: We have in our collection your Bentside Spinet after Hitchcock. What was the process for making this instrument? How long did it take to make and where did you source your materials?

SR: I usually start by making the stand, though with the stand being a separate component it can be made at any stage. The turned legs are made on my lathe using a home-made copying attachment. This roughs out the shape which I finish using conventional lathe tools by hand. The main body of the instrument is made of European Poplar with a 1,5mm thick veneer of American Walnut on the outside. The same is true of the lid - no man-made boards are used anywhere on the instrument.

The keyboard is another 'separate' component which can be made at any stage of the construction. Until recently I used bone for the natural key coverings but it has become more difficult to obtain evenly white pieces so I now use an ivory substitute called Elforin which gives the keys a more uniform appearance.

Most of the materials are sourced in the UK and Germany but the top quality spruce for the soundboard I buy direct from a timber yard in Austria close the Czech border.

EMS: Do you have a favourite instrument that you have built?

SR: No, but I can honestly say that despite my increasing age, my recent instruments are some of the best I have produced.

View and discover Stephen Robinson's Bentside Spinet after Hitchcock by clicking here.

Next article Featured Maker Interview • Paris Andrew