JWG (jwg) wrote,

My old Harpsichord

Many years ago I wanted a keyboard instrument in my house and since I was interested in early music as well as having a narrow stairway I decided on a harpsichord.

So I built this very plain instrument from a Zuckerman kit. The kit came with instructions, keys, pinblock, soundboard, strings, plectra, and miscellaneous hardware. I built the inner case out of 3/4" plywood, used up all the parts and logged about 100 hours. As soon as it was playable I stopped working on it and started playing it. A few times some of my friends and I played recorder and harpsichord duets and occasionally we had a Viol player. It was lots of fun. At some point I decided it was time to build the outer case and used some nice 1/2" birch plywood; I never quite finished is so you can see the gaps between parts of the outer case and I never hinged the lid or finished the music stand. I did replace the leather plectra with delrin (plastic) ones and although they produced a harsher sound they didn't need constant adjustment.


The harpsichord was in my dining room along with a Model 37 teletype that I used to access CTSS and Multics at MIT. The Model 37 was later replaced with a GE TermiNet 1200, and in the recent past by a Mac and a Dell. And when rsc got his Steinway B to replace his upright I had that in this room also, much to the annoyance, I am sure, of the guy who lived downstairs before Robert moved in.

When the people came to move the quite heavy and somewhat large Model 37 out and down the narrow staircase, they said they remembered struggling to move it in and also the co-resident harpsichord. One of the reasons I had gotten a harpsichord in the first place instead of a piano was that I thought it wouldn't fit in the stairway and the window opening are too small. When Death Wish Piano Movers came to check out the space they said it would be a piece of cake, it turns out that by turning on its side, there was an inch to spare.

Once I was a party and told someone I had a harpsichord and a computer terminal in my dining room. He said, "wow, that's interesting, a friend of mine has a friend who also has a harpsichord and a computer terminal in his dining room". Of course it turned out that friend of a friend was me, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was at least one other person in or near Cambridge at that time (~1970) with such a configuration.

In 2001 in preparation for the renovation, I took the out-of-tune for many years instrument to the Harpsichord Clearing House in Rehoboth where the owner restores and sells gorgeous instruments; he said occasionally someone wants a starter instrument. I suspect it is in a landfill somewhere but at least I didn't have to leave it out on the street with an Appliance Sticker.

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