It Doesn't Want to Sound Good - Atlas Obscura

Los Angeles, California

It Doesn't Want to Sound Good

Hurdy-gurdies, harpsichords, and the craft of making an instrument sing.

You might not think it, but the harpsichord is a complex instrument. Strings, keys, plectrums, pins, and wood that all need to work together to create beautiful music. These parts however, need calibration, balance and a precise hand—otherwise the music may not sound very good at all. 

In a labyrinth of workshops near downtown Los Angeles, two instruments invented during the Middle Ages have found a home in the studio of Curtis Berak. Curtis is considered one of the foremost experts in the field, supplying orchestras all over the West Coast with instruments essential for certain pieces of Baroque and Renaissance music. He is part artist, part craftsman and part detective - especially in hunting down clues to the origins of the instruments he loves.

Curtis has another passion as well, the hurdy gurdy. Part violin, part keyboard, and part ancient contraption—he delves deep into the history and lore of this often maligned instrument. It seems like it should sound terrible, and yet it all somehow manages to come together to bring music to your ears. 

Join Curtis as he walks through the intricacies of creating, building and repairing the delicate components of the harpsichord. He will take you into his studio of harpsichords and pianos, exploring how each of these components all need to have harmony with each other. Even choosing the wrong material for a piece can profoundly change the sound the instrument makes. He will speak to the styles of music used for these instruments, and the importance for why keeping them alive is important. He may even share why he is on a never-ending quest for goose feathers. 

Then the tour will move to another studio where Curtis will talk about and demonstrate the deceptively complex hurdy gurdy, drawing from his collection of over 60 instruments. Many are hundreds of years old, bringing forth a time long forgotten. Here he will share folklore, design history and even perhaps the theme for Masterpiece Theatre.


Curtis Berak earned an MFA in painting at San Diego State. He always loved the sound of the harpsichord and started studying and learning to build harpsichords. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles and found the studio space he still calls home after over 40 years. In 1990, a friend moved and left him his piano-tuning business. From there he became known for his skills and expertise in the music world, both as a creator and guide to these amazing instruments. 


  • The location of this workshop will be sent just prior to the event.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as the tour consists of standing and walking. There is an elevator but some climbing of steps may be required. 
  • Ages 13+ and up. All minors must be accompanied by an adult. 


Email Carlyle Coash at

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