The Instrument Workshop

Parts, plans and supplies for early keyboard instruments and other stringed instruments

Clavicytherium/Harpsichord Plan

Unlike other Plans in the Lee catalog which are of a historical data type, this plan is intended to instruct a skilled woodworker in those ways peculiar to harpsichord making; woodworking instructions are not included, except the data in dimensioned drawings. Critical dimensions and tolerances are shown, but non-critical dimensions are sometimes omitted with the expectation that the user can scale them directly from the drawing using reasonable mechanical common sense.

Clavicytherium and Harpsichord Plan

This set of plans by R.K. Lee consists of  a series of five plates depicting the construction of a Clavicytherium and related harpsichord. Detailed directions describe an objective and precise approach to voicing adapted with technical improvements from methods used by Herz Harpsichords Inc. The emphasis of these plans is on achieving precision results, not on efficient production methods. The expectation is that the worker, after construction of an instrument from this plan set, will have learned how to control critical dimensions and will then possess the skill and knowledge to develop the most efficient production methods best suited to his own shop and work habits. In these plans, precision is achieved by fitting of mating parts, supplemented by successive stages or opportunities for corrective action pioneered by Frank Hubbard.

The historical bases for the instrument are clavicytheria built by A. Delin of Tournai in the second half of the 18th century; political history suggests French cultural orientation as compared to one embracing the Low Countries. The instrument is simple, practical, but mechanically sophisticated. A harpsichord with only two 8foot  registers was frequent in the period and possessed the significant advantages of staying in tune well and being easier to maintain than instruments having a 4foot register. This instrument type is well suited to home use and for accompaniment. The clavicytherium form gives to the player an intimacy not possible with any other form of harpsichord. The plan shows the addition of an optional  Peau de Buffle stop actuated by a knee lever as might have been fitted by Bull or Taskin in a slightly later era after 1770; the Peau de Buffle is an useful soft adjunct to basic 8foot quill sound and is shown for that reason. The clavicytherium form takes little floor area but needs a high ceiling. In adapting Delin’s design to modern interiors, the height has been reduced to 250mm from the original, to an overall height of 2616mm (103 inches).Delin likely used the same string layout for A-392 Hz and A-415 Hz, changing the keyboard range to suit pitch requirements of his customers. The plan shows the GG-based range of the Berlin example extended to g’” in the treble from e’”; a semitone transposing lever has been added to permit modern performances at A-440 Hz without overstressing the frame or stringing (low tensile steel recommended). It is evident that a fine small harpsichord waqs built from the same basic components as were used in the clavicytherium; the plans describe this alternative briefly. The clavicytherium is a relative complex undertaking as compared to the harpsichord.

Several furniture styles are suggested to accommodate personal tastes. Sources of supply are suggested, but are not necessarily endorsed.  The plans are: Plate I, case, in paper (1/2 scale); Plate II, soundboard in mylar (1/1 scale); Plate III, keyboard in mylar (1/1 scale); Plate IV, action in paper (various scales); Plate V, stand , in paper (1/1 scale).

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