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My 16th Century Italian Pentagonal Virginal Made From Discarded Materials

Ah, another instrument from discarded wood! Oh the joy! Here is a work in progress--An Italian Virginal from the 1500's. I have never built a harpsichord, but I always enjoyed the Zuckerman Flemish Single I owned for a time, which I recently sold because it was so very large, and I am prone to moving. So, time for something small. I do not claim to possess any knowledge about the fine art of harpsichord construction other than from books, abundant Internet sites, groups, owning one and playing a few in my lifetime. I am a reader, improvisor and autodidact (get out your pocket dictionary).

Here is a picture of the instrument I am attempting:

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An Italian Pentagonal Virginal c. 1540

The materials for this instrument come from dumpster finds everywhere between and around where I work and live. Technically speaking, the selections of woods I'm using for this instrument are not, per se traditional, and though quite modern in some instances, are not necessarily better, and seem at least initially to suffice. I won't bother blathering on about the types of woods I'm using for various parts of the harpsichord. If you're curious, you can always email me--I'm willing to share any "knowledge" I currently have. In general, I'm employing a variety of hardwoods for moving parts, and for parts that require greater sructural integrity because of tension or friciton, and softer woods for tone.

After getting some measurements from a website that documented early Italian means for measurement and incidentally, went on with great length about early forms of measurement via trigonometry and such, I cut out the belly. Yeah, I'm American, gimme the dimensions now! I gotta build me a barebecue deck!

Belly of the beast with corner bracings:

I always liked the look of dark naturals and lighter sharps (rosewood and rock maple). I took measurements for the keyboard from my little synthesizer, which to me has nice dimensions to it. The keys, even by historical standards, are quite small. In fact their total key length is a little over 3 inches, and each key is around 7/8" wide-rather dainty. I tend to use every bit of wood when I can get a good source, i.e. the small rosewood jewelry box, which has provided me wood for banjo nuts, tuning keys, etc. I'll admit the Dutch in me really dislikes waste!

The keyboard itself was cut last year (when I had plans for it to be another type of harpsichord--Oops!), and so I am now in the process of gluing longer tail pieces on to it to accomodate its newest form. Sawing out the keys:

Fitting keys on felt key balance rail and key rack:

I realize that as a starter harpsichord, and for someone without a workbench or powertools, I am cruisin' for a bruisin'! All those oddball angles! Jeesh! But I liked the way it looked, and the bracing really defines everything else.

Bracers or "liners" as they are referred:

Now, with virginals keyboards, (There seems to be a lot of speculation on the etymology of the term "virginal", and most people think I'm talking about young girls when I bring up the topic...At any rate, a virginal by and large is a keyboard with the strings running roughly parallel to the keyboard. Yeah I know-whats with all these panenthetical notes?! And they are so long, too! Well it's my webpage and I'll cry if I want to...dot dot dot...)the keysboard has longer tails in the treble end and shorter ones in the bass. So it is necessary to find the appropriate balance point to correct for mass and inertia of the various sized keys. The balance rail- the part that keys sit on like a seesaw, is positioned up the keys at an angle.

My other website of instruments made from discarded materials

Email: rubbishtunes@yahoo.com