bout the Harpsichord

The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument. Like virginals and spinets, the strings of the harpsichord are plucked by plectra when keys are depressed. This gives these instruments their characteristic sound. Harpsichords have a large wing-shaped case, which differentiates them from virginals and spinets, whose cases are smaller and more retangular. French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down

Keys on most harpsichords are shorter than on most pianos. They are also somewhat narrower. Unlike the keys of a piano, harpsichord keys are usually not covered in ivory. French builders usually used strips of ebony for the naturals and pieces of bone for the accidentals, thus reversing the color scheme used on pianos. Flemish instruments usually have bone naturals and oak accidentals. Italian instruments typically employ boxwood for the naturals and ebony on the accidentals. English instruments usually use ivory naturals and stained boxwood accidentals.

Each key extends back into the instrument. This rear part of the key is known as the key lever. The key lever rests on a crossbar known as the balance rail. When a key is depressed, the balance rail acts as a fulcrum on which the key pivots, and the rear end of the key lever is raised. When a key is released, the weight of the rear end of the key lever returns it to its undepressed state. There is a compromise that is made between lightness of touch and the speed at which a key returns to its undepressed state. In general the far ends of most key levers have lead weights inserted in them to increase the speed at which they return to their undpressed state. To keep the key in place a pin is attached to the balance rail and fits into a slot in the key lever. The direction of the keys are further guided by one of several methods. The first method, which was used by English makers, is by a pin that is placed under each key and fits into a groove on the bottom of the key. The second method, which was used by French makers, is by a pin that fits into a groove on the rear end of the key lever. The fourth is by a pin that is placed in between two keys. The last method, which was used by Italian and Flemish makers, is a tongue that extends from the back of the key lever and fits into a groove in a crossbar.

French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down On top of the rear part of each key lever stands a wooden bar known as a jack. The jack runs vertically through two guides which are known as registers. It then passes beside a string. The plectrum which is used to pluck the string is attached to the side of the jack. When a key is depressed the jack is raised and the plectrum plucks the string. Traditionally the plectra were made from crow quill. During the twentieth century they experimented with other materials including leather, and delrin. The plectrum is attached to the jack on a pivot so that when a key is released it does not pluck the string a second time. A stiff bristle acts as a spring to return the plectra to its original position. Above each plectrum is a piece of felt or leather that is used to dampen the string when a key is released.

Unlike the piano or clavichord whose actions are stopped when the hammer or tangent strike the string, the harpsichord has no such restriction. The distance that each key can be depressed, which is known as the dip, is controlled in one of several ways. The first, which was used on Italian and English harpsichords, is by a felt-covered bar that is placed under the keys. The second, which is used on Flemish harpsichords, is a felt-covered bar that is placed above the end of the key lever. The third, which is used on French harpsichords, is a felt covered bar that is placed above the jacks. This bar is known as the jack rail. French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down

The strings of the harpsichord are attached to tuning pins, which are inturn attached to the wrestplank on the end nearest to player. They then contact a wooden crossbar known as the nut. This serves as one endpoint of the vibrating length of each string. The strings pass by the jacks and then contact the bridge. This serves as the other endpoint of the vibrating length of each string. Unlike the nut, the bridge is curved, mimicing the non-linear function of string length to string tension. The bridge transmits the sound to the soundboard. Each string is then attached to a hitchpin on the far end of the instrument.

French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down French Double Manual Harpsichord by William Down The soundboard is made from several long strips of wood that are glued together. It is then planed down to a thickness of about 4mm. Although this is not as thin as the soundboards on harps, it is remarkably thin for its size. The soundboard is braced by several crossbars on the inside of the instrument.









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