It takes John Phillips "500 hours" to build a harpsichord the way Nicolas Dumont built them in 1707, reports Heidi Waleson in The Wall Street Journal (9/5/13). John’s approach is so painstaking that the most his "workshop has ever produced is five instruments in a single year." That works out to a total of a mere 110 harpsichords since he first started building them from scratch in "the mid-1970s." And yet, he says,"overperfection" is "the enemy of most people in this business." He bases this observation on what he’s learned while studying old harpsichords.
"The oldest ones will tell you what’s important," says John. "For example, the insides aren’t very pretty. They don’t need to be." That said, he and his co-worker, Janine Johnson, do aim for perfection where it matters: “planing the bottom of a case to the desired thickness is done by hand (it takes an hour). So is carving a bridge (that takes a day) or making the bird-quill plectra that pluck strings … An artisan in Mississippi carves the dozens of pearwood jacks that connect the keys to the strings; another in Pennsylvania turns the stand legs."
John didn’t always approach building harpsichords this way. He got his start building them from kits, but gave up on that when he "came to the end" of what he "could learn from it." His education is via building "from the woodpile," with additional expertise based on working on "antique harpsichords, restoring them to playing condition." Such expertise does not come quickly or cheaply, of course: His "waiting list is about six years. Prices for the larger instruments start at $35,000; if you add a fancy stand and an elaborate inner lid painting, they can cost more than $50,000.”