Harpsichord 101 – How It Works

I describe how both of my harpsichords work and demonstrate the stops. A close look at the inside. I’d be glad to try to answer any questions you have.

Thank you to everyone for your positive feedback. I’m really glad I made this video.

What is the piece/”song” you play at?:
3:11 – 4:12 Bach. Lament from the Capriccio on the Departure of His Favorite Brother. I have a video where I play this.

4:52 – Bach. Prelude from the Partita in C minor. BWV 997.

7:17 – 7:42 Scarlatti Sonata in E Major. K. 380

10:06 – Bach. Prelude in C major from the Well Tempered Clavier. BWV 846

How old are these and who built them?
They are both from the workshop on William Dowd (Boston) and were both made in 1967.

What are the strings made of?
Iron and the deeper strings are brass.

How often do the strings break or need to be replaced?
Since my fingers don’t touch the strings (unlike the guitar), the strings can last for a long time (decades). I have only ever broken one string and that comes from turning the wrong tuning peg “Hey, this string isn’t getting sharper?…(SNAP TWANG!) opps”

How much did they cost? Quality used harpsichords can be found for about $8,000 for a single manual, to $20,000 for a double.

Where can I find one?
Look online. Just search for harpsichord builder or harpsichord sale. We got ours from a clearing house in Mass.

I’ve seen a used one for $3,000. Should I buy it?
Be CAREFUL! Some harpsichords were built from kits by amateur woodworkers. Some have major fatal structural flaws. Of course some are good too. If you are going to look at one of those, bring an expert with you. It might not be possible to fix some of these problems and if you are going to need an expert to help you repair a bad harpsichord, you will be spending the same kind of money needed to get a good one.

What is the range of a harpsichord?
Harpsichords vary quite a bit on their number of keys. Some are about 4 octaves. A few (some Italian models for accompanying singers) don’t even have all the chromatic bass notes. Those have a “short” octave in the bass. This saves space and cost. You can play the entire Well Tempered Clavier of Bach on a 4 octave instrument.

Mine has quite a wide range (in fact it would be hard to tune any notes above or below the extremes on mine). I wanted this wide range because Scarlatti’s Sonata K. 380 requires these high notes (up to G).