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Guide to Harpsichords

Harpsichord : What is it?

Harpsichords

The harpsichord is a musical instrument that originated from Europe. It generates sound by plucking its strings instead of striking them like in a piano or a clavichord.

It was believed to have been derived from a keyboard affixed to the end of a psaltery that allowed its strings to be plucked mechanically.  Its origin is obscure, but it is known to have begun in the late middle ages.  At the peak of its development, it lost favor to the piano. Harpsichord builders gradually became fewer and fewer until the instrument became obsolete.

The early 20th century saw a renewed interest in the harpsichord that lead to its revival. The first revived harpsichord was heavily influenced by the modern grand piano. Around the middle of the century, builders sought to imitate the original design and construction from the earlier centuries. They inspected many old instruments and consulted many written materials to come up with a better design. 

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Types of Harpsichords

HarpsichordsHarpsichords

Kinds of Harpsichords include the following:

Grand piano-shaped harpsichord

  • The modern grand piano-shaped harpsichord is the most popular harpsichord design.
  • It is the instrument that comes to mind when referring to a harpsichord.
  • It has a triangular case that houses long bass strings on the left side and short treble strings on the right.
  • It is more elogated than the modern piano in profile.
  • It has a sharper curve to the bentside.
  • It can have one to three or more strings per note.
  • It iusually has a four-foot pitch, one octave higher that the standard eight-foot pitch.


Virginal

  • The virgin or the virginal is a small harpsichord that looks like a clavichord.
  • It has only one string per note running parallel the keyboard on the long side of the case.
  • It can be played on the lap or placed on a table.
  • It can be a spinet virginal or a muselar virginal.
  • The keyboard of a spinet virginal is on the left side, while the strings are plucked on one end. It is the most common type of virginal.


Spinet

  • The spinet is a harpsichord made with strings positioned in a 30 degree angle from the keyboard.
  • The strings are usually too close to fit the jacks between them in a standard manner; thus, they are arranged in pairs, with the larger jacks set in the large gaps between pairs.
  • The strings are plucked adjacent to the gap in opposite directions.

 

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Choosing Harpsichords (Buying tips)

Sound:  Choose a harpsichord with a 16-foot stop to bolster the sound it produces.

Original design:  If you want a harpsichord design true to its original construction, look for one made in Bremen, Germany, or in Boston, USA.

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