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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This project took a year and a half. It doesn't sound very good yet, I still have to do more tuning and "voicing."
The case is 1/2" plywood veneered with tiger-stripe maple, walnut, and padauk marquetry. The base and trim are walnut. White key tops are maple and the black keys are ebony ($$ ouch). The soundboard is a 1/8" quartersawn cypress called "Port Orford Cedar" (usually spruce is used but I couldn't find it).
This style, called a "Virginal," has the strings running left to right and is much smaller than a Grand Harpsichord, which would have the strings running front to back (like a Grand Piano).
Zuckerman Harpsichords sells kits like this but I wanted to build it from scratch using their plans and it was quite challenging.
Anyone interested in this project, drop me a line!

Check out my photo album at http://www.woodworkingtalk.com/members/nostrildamus-7677/albums/harpsichord/
 

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Really underground garage
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Very nice!

What time period does it represent?
 

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Thanks a lot! Now I feel completely useless and will no longer be able to refer to myself as a woodworker. Your gorgeous work made me demote myself to woodhacker.

That is unbelievable! You must have the patience of a saint, and a really good saint at that. :yes:
 

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yah. thanks a lot

You've messed with all our minds again. Your user name was the first time, this masterpiece was the second. You also have a sense of humor, a good thing for a craftsman. :yes: How can you top this one... maybe a pipe organ? :laughing: Nice work!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks so much for all the compliments. This probably took 500-700 hours. Total cost was in the ballpark of $1500. Plywood was cheap, most of the veneer is cheap except the large pieces of figured veneer for the lid (Two thumbs up for veneersupplies.com). The Port Orford Cedar for the soundboard was $30/bd ft, and the Gaboon Ebony was $100/bd ft (both of these came from Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA). Solid walnut for the base and trim totaled maybe $200. The specialty hardware from Zuckermann (jacks, tuning pins, bridge pins, tuning hammer, music wire, etc.) was about $600. I bought a vacuum press to veneer the lid; that cost a fortune but I'll use it again.

The kits cost much more (you can buy them in various stages of completion; the less assembly required, the more $$). Zuckermann harpsichords is www.zhi.net.
I bought full-size drawings and an assembly manual from them (about $250) but they're not really geared to building the harpsichord from scratch like this. I had to reverse-engineer a lot of the parts from the info available. The hardest part was the keyboard. It turns out that when you buy a kit, the keyboard comes already assembled, so they didn't provide any drawings or instructions. We took a road trip up to their workshop in Stonington, CT, and I was able to photograph their keyboards in various degrees of completion, and they were very helpful there. (One employee, this French guy, is a Julliard-trained Pianist, and he gave us an impromptu concert on their amazing grand harpsichords. He also taught me how to wind the strings and gave me a ton of help.)

The quills are made of Celcon plastic (traditionally they were real bird feather quills, but the plastic is much more durable). These Harpsichords were first made in the 1500s, had their heyday in the 1700s, and faded in the 1800s when the piano was invented. (In a harpsichord, pushing the key raised a jack, and the jack has a quill that plucks the string. A piano key moves a hammer that strikes the string. The piano was a big improvement because you can control how hard or soft you strike the string--"piano-forte" means "soft-loud" in Italian).

I'll post some construction photos later today.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The first photo is the case without the soundboard. The soundboard is supported by "liners" made from oak. The angled piece on the left is the "hitchpin rail liner." The hitchpins secure one end of the string and are placed through the soundboard into this liner. The thicker angled piece on the right is the "wrestplank" which holds the tuning pins that are wrapped around the other end of the string. I veneered and finished the inside of the soundwell before assembling the case.

Second photo is the keyboard. The long key levers are basswood, and the visible parts are topped by maple and ebony. Barely visible are the balance pins that let each key lever rock like a see-saw. The metal weights balance each key lever, and the red felt silences the jack when it falls back down. At the very back is the "rack" which has slots; each key lever has a pin at the rear that rides in these slots.

Third photo shows the keyboard in place, with the beige plastic jacks in place. The jacks ride up and down in a "register." The register and rack were particularly difficult.

Fourth picture is my trusty apprentice. She likes removing veneer tape.
 

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That's some truly beautiful work. I'm typing this before I go out and set fire to my shop in shame....:laughing:

I heard a similar looking harpsichord played inColonial Williamsburg a few years ago. Recordings just don't accurately capture the sound they make in a small, live room. Pretty magical to hear.
 

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Completely agree with sailorman......need to hear one "live".


I study right much about machinery vibration analysis.....and corrective methods concerning such.It's interesting that "soundboards" are always presented in the discussions.

Am curious about them on your instrument.Not so much from a technical standpoint,as it would be over my head.More from a personal viewpoint.Did you learn anything exciting about soundboards whilst in your construction?

In your study of them....could you make meaningful sense of any tutorials,or were you just following centuries old directions?Which is what I'd have done....

Just wondering if you had any ah-ha moments on the soundboard?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Completely agree with sailorman......need to hear one "live".


I study right much about machinery vibration analysis.....and corrective methods concerning such.It's interesting that "soundboards" are always presented in the discussions.

Am curious about them on your instrument.Not so much from a technical standpoint,as it would be over my head.More from a personal viewpoint.Did you learn anything exciting about soundboards whilst in your construction?

In your study of them....could you make meaningful sense of any tutorials,or were you just following centuries old directions?Which is what I'd have done....

Just wondering if you had any ah-ha moments on the soundboard?
I read a few books on harpsichords before starting this project. In the Renaissance designs were handed down from generation to generation and refined by trial and error. Some of the old masters planed their soundboards thinner around the perimeter, but Zuckermann's instructions say they think it sounds best if it's an even 1/8" throughout.

Per their instructions I finished the soundboard with a very light coat of shellac; you don't want to use anything oily as it can dampen the vibrations.

Underneath the soundboard are a couple strategically placed ribs. They keep the soundboard flat but must be placed away from the bridges. The bridges are what connects the string to the soundboard and transmits the vibrations.

An interesting feature of the Virginal is that it actually has two soundboards. The soundboard is glued down to the register in the middle, so the left-hand bridge and the right-hand bridge vibrate each side independently.
 
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