clavichord keyboard and soundbox

Over the weekend, I cut out the keyboard for the clavichord and built the soundbox.

How a clavichord works is that you have strings which are strung between hitch pins and tuning pegs, with a bridge in between. The strings are damped at both ends by cloth called “listing”.

When a key is pressed, a “tangent” is banged up against the string, creating a standing wave between the tangent and the bridge. When the key is released, the tangent loses contact with the string and the wave is then damped.

As I’m building all of this as cheaply as possible, I don’t have proper material, so I’m very interested to see how well it sounds when finished.

I couldn’t find any proper wood to act as a soundboard, so used the side of an old computer case, cut to size. I’ve never heard of a metal soundboard in a clavichord – but then, I’ve also never heard of a plywood clavichord.

My friend Sean dropped over yesterday and gave me a roll of high-tensile wire – the sort of stuff that’s usually used in industry when strength is needed. The wire is made of 15-20 individual wires, each twined to create a single whole.

I haven’t got the tuning pegs created yet, but was able to test the sound of the clavichord by unwrapping a single strand from the wire, and running it from a hitch pin to a screwdriver in one of the tuning peg holes, and tightening it as much as possible by hand, then levering a small piece of plywood under the wire to act as a bridge on the soundboard.

Plucking the string made a clear tone, but hammering and holding the hammer against the string it didn’t make much of a sound. That’s kind of to be expected, though. After all, it’s been said that the clavichord is “the one instrument that can be played by a person on one side of a double-bed without disturbing someone in the other side”.

It will probably sound much better when I’ve made a proper bridge and got proper tangents running.

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