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Han van der Voort's Homepage

My harpsichord

See Harpsichord Picture Gallery
Download broken chord C-G-c-e-g-c' (wave-file, 845 Kb)

After having experimented earlier with two smaller versions, the first one in 1969, I designed and built a two-manual harpsichord in 1976. I don't play it myself (I have never had the ambition to learn), but my wife Mirjam does, sometimes accompanied by a flute-playing friend. It is roughly based on the famous 1769 Taskin harpsichord but it is certainly not a copy. I had to use different (cheaper) materials and simpler building techniques, because I did not have a lot of money at the time and of course I never have had the skills of a professional harpsichord builder. I looked at it as another experiment, not knowing in advance whether the frame and the soundboard would be able to bear the combined tension of the 183 strings, whether the mechanism with two manuals and three registers would work reliably, and last but not least the sound would be good. I decided to experiment radically with the soundboard. When the 12 spruce planks of the soundboard were glued together, the 8' bridge, the 4' bridge, and the braces were attached, I exposed the whole soundboard to the bright sunlight for a few days. As I expected, it cracked in several places. The cracks were then filled with strips of spruce, and the soundboard was put outside in the sun again. This process was repeated until no more cracks appeared. Then, the soundboard was glued to the harpsichord case. I did not use a hard glue, but a layer of silicon rubber, to enable the soundboard to vibrate more freely near the edges. This was an idea inspired by the flexible way the cone of a loudspeaker unit is usually suspended inside its metal frame. At the end of the day, or rather the year, I had spent just Dfl 900 for materials. (One Dutch guilder was about 50 US dollarcents at the time.)
When it was completed, everything seemed OK, the sound being better than expected. Unfortunately, the frame began to give way gradually, and my harpsichord took on an ever more warped appearance. This required an overhaul, during which I had to reinforce the internal frame, and fix the harpsichord to a new and much stronger stand. This stabilised the situation. As the soundboard had not cracked, probably thanks to my experimental building technique, the sound remained as it was. You may like to listen to the downloadable wave file: a typical baroque-style broken chord C-G-c-e-g-c', using the two 8' registers.

Much later, when my wife and I moved to our new house, I had to take difficult steps again, literally. It proved to be impossible to get the new stand up the winding stairs to the top floor. This forced me to carefully saw through all the legs, move the parts upstairs, and glue the stand back together again. It had of course lost its strength after this maltreatment, and I had to take another unorthodox measure: fixing two metal wires to the bottom of the harpsichord, one at the front and one at the back, attaching the other ends to hooks in the concrete floor, pulling the whole warped construction practically straight again. This looks strange, but it works very well, and I do not have to retune my harpsichord every day anymore.

These are the technical specifications:
Compass FF-f''', chromatic (5 octaves + 1 note),
two manuals, French coupling mechanism, three registers, 2 x 8' and 1 x 4', disposition as follows:
row of jacks furthest from player: 8' register, played from lower manual, plectrum pointing left
middle row of jacks:                    4' register, played from lower manual, plectrum pointing left
row of jacks closest to player:       8' register, played from upper manual, plectrum pointing right

upper manual: 1 x 8' (lute stop possible on upper manual 8')
C-string sounding lengths and points of attack:

C    141,0 cm   13,5 cm (included in wave-file)
c     110,5 cm   11,0 cm (included in wave-file)
c'      68,0 cm     9,0 cm (included in wave-file)
c''     32,5 cm     7,0 cm
c'''    17,0 cm     5,0 cm

lower manual: 1 x 8'
C-string sounding lengths and points of attack:

C    158,5 cm   17,7 cm (included in wave-file)
c     112,5 cm   15,2 cm (included in wave-file)
c'      70,5 cm   13,0 cm (included in wave-file)
c''     33,5 cm   10,7 cm
c'''    17,5 cm     9,0 cm

lower manual: 1 x 4'
C-string sounding lengths and points of attack:
C       85,5 cm  7,4 cm (included in wave-file)
c        59,0 cm  6,0 cm (included in wave-file)
c'       32,5 cm  4,5 cm (included in wave-file)
c''      14,8 cm  3,5 cm
c'''       7,8 cm  3,2 cm

Usable registrations:

upper manual 8';
upper manual 8', with lute stop;
lower manual 8' (uncoupled)
lower manual 8' & 4' (uncoupled);
lower manual 8' & upper manual 8' (coupled);
lower manual 8' & 4' & upper manual 8' (coupled)

When not coupled, the manuals are completely independent, meaning that left and right hands can cross freely when playing on different manuals.

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