Traditional stringed and keyboard instruments – starting or finishing with Andy Butterworth

Ref: S5D32045

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About this course

Musical instrument making (S5D32045-S5D32048) – starting or continuing projects
An exciting opportunity to start making a new instrument in preparation to join our nine-day course or to continue one you have already begun. If starting a new instrument or new to instrument making, please contact us before booking. Instruments should be selected with advice from the tutor, though please note that this course is suitable for those with prior experience of fine woodworking. Also see information relating to the nine-day courses. Most instruments take attendance on several courses to complete depending on complexity and your woodworking experience.

Course Description

This course is intended as a supplementary course to the nine-day Musical Instrument Making course. It aims to assist:

1. Those preparing to make a new instrument on the nine-day course

2. Those continuing or at the finishing stage of an instrument made on a previous nine-day course at West Dean College. Please note that in general varnishing and polishing will not be covered.

Teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis, catering for your individual needs and dictated by ability, previous experience and knowledge. There will be group demonstrations where appropriate. As the course takes place in the main workshop, adjacent to the other courses in this series, you will also gain knowledge by interaction with fellow students and other tutors. Those starting certain instruments have information provided by the tutors. Most instruments require attendance on several courses to complete.This may depend on your skill base and opportunity to continue work at home. We recommend you discuss this with your tutor prior to the course when they contact you. Health and safety is discussed as an integral part of the course.

If you play an instrument, please bring it along, as we have many informal music sessions.

Work can include the following aspects:

1. Starting the hurdygurdy

- Discussion of drawings, wood selection and construction techniques

- Using jigs and moulds

- Initial preparation of wood, eg. soundboard/back gluing and thicknessing and rib-thicknessing

- Making the peg block and making the wheel

2. Finishing the hurdygurdy

- Skimming and preparing the wheel surface

- Cutting bridge and nut grooves

- Fitting and aligning strings

- Setting string/wheel pressure and applying cotton

- Making and fitting the trompette chien

- Tangent fitting and adjusting

- General setting up and tuning

3. Making the clavicytherium keyboard

- General discussion of clavicytherium, methods of construction, action, etc.

- Planing and thicknessing keybed and keyblank

- Marking out and drilling for balance pins and keyguide pins

- Preparing balance rail and keyguide reinforcement, fitting and drilling

- Fitting balance pins and guide pins

- Cutting out individual keys

- Cutting mortices and guide slots in keys

4. Continuing construction of other instruments already started

However, please note varnishing and polishing will not be covered.

Please note: Humidity levels in the workshop are variable to dry; whilst the College has addressed this, some factors are beyond our control, therefore instruments are brought and left in the workshop at your own risk.

Course Materials

What students need to bring

  • As soon as you receive confirmation of your place, please indicate which instrument you wish to make without delay: email [email protected]. Please also give details of your past experience in instrument making and fine woodworking. We will pass this information to the tutor who will contact you to discuss this and the tools/materials required.
  • Please bring any tools that you already have on the following list; but if not, the College workshop has most tools available to use. Jigs and tools used for specific instruments will be available from your tutor.
  • Pencils, white or yellow are useful for marking dark woods
  • Metal rulers, 6", 12", flexible, 1metre straight edge
  • Scalpels and knives (eg Japanese, violin maker’s)
  • Chisels 1/8" to 1"
  • Gouges 1/2" and 1"
  • Planes, low angle block plane and general purpose smoothing plane
  • Wood rasps and needle files
  • Cabinet scrapers
  • Fine tooth saws - particularly Japanese types
  • Fret saw or jeweller’s piercing saw
  • Small clamps, up to 6", (as many as you can!)
  • Centre punch
  • Small brushes for gluing etc.
  • Sharpening stones
  • Please ensure you clearly mark your name on all tools you bring with you.
  • Study covered footwear is essential in this workshop
  • Additionally, for fitting up the hurdygurdy:
  • Violin maker's knife or scalpel, plus blades
  • ¾" or 1" bladed chisel (sharp!)
  • Small flat-bladed screwdriver to fit tangent screws
  • Smallest round needle file you can get

Available to buy

  • Available from tutor:
  • If you are making a new instrument, timber, drawings and other materials can be purchased on your behalf by the tutor, and the cost must be refunded to the tutor directly. Please ask the tutor for an estimated cost prior to them ordering the materials so you can budget for this.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

General Information


Andy Butterworth

Andy has been attending the West Dean Musical Instrument Making Course for over 35 years, firstly as a student and then as a tutor. His work as a restorer and maker in the horological and musical genres gives particular insight into technical aspects, especially for keyboard instruments and hurdy-gurdies, which have some "engineering" content.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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