A Harpsichord That Plays Itself

[Malcolm Messiter] is an Oboe player who loves to play pieces from the Baroque era. This often means playing with a Harpsichord and he managed to acquire one to call his very own. Unfortunately you can’t play both instruments at once so he set out to automate the keyboard. What you see here is a fully working version, but he soon went on to add solenoids to the upper rank as well. His story starts on page 27 of this newsletter (PDF).

He really went out of his way to make sure the instrument was not mistreated. A cabinet-maker built some brackets to mount the system above the keys. A friend drilled and tapped a sheet of acrylic to which each solenoid was mounted. The solenoid shafts have each been padded with felt to cushion the blow on the keys. We’ve embedded two demo video after the break that show off the first and second versions of the builds.

Harpsichords pluck the strings instead of hitting them with a hammer as the piano does. The mechanism that does the plucking had worn out on many of the keys so [Malcolm] used a 3D printer to help replace them.

[Thanks Chetchez]

20 thoughts on “A Harpsichord That Plays Itself

    1. /me also wonders why nobody has tried to build “Thing” yet.

      Just imagine: it coult fetch your mail (and cause heart attacks with burglars or postmen, whichever comes first)

  1. I absolutely love this although I saw an electric Harpsichord in a shopping centre in Thailand once. Don’t know who composed the piece in mk2 but it sent shivers down my spine and I would kill to have this in my house.

  2. Wow is the word! Just amazing to listen to Harpsichord after a long, long time! Thanks hope to see the Harpsichord picks up to the major music scene again! The sound is unique and mesmerizing! Nevertheless a fantastic job! Greats and hats off to Malcolm Messiter for recreating the magic!

  3. If I recall pear wood was used on the good ones, delrin on the cheaper ones. Delrin is a stable product. Were the plectra bad or the whole of all of the jacks? The plectra are tiny and flexible and are inserted into the jack and not of the same material. Originally made of stiff leather or bird quill.
    Tasteful add on for sure. Does it come off easily for manual playing? The acrylic mount will crack soon with all the weight and thumping going on. Cracks radiating from every hole. Should have been metal.

    1. Cracking? That material looked pretty thick from the pictures I saw. You can see the material on page 29. I would guess it is thicker than 1/4 inch maybe 7/16. I would expect it to hold up fairly well. If cracking is still a problem, maybe something in the polycarbonate family is in order. I am assuming that metal would transmit the noise from the solenoid more than a plastic.

  4. Very nice build, especially as the lid can still be closed.

    I do have one critisism . . . . . The location of the harpsichord directly next to a radiator will result in retuning being needed far more frequently.

    Way better than I could have done! Kudos

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