And why do all the harpsichord keys have these weird black dots?
It goes back to something simple. Harpsichord keys were made in Germany around 1750. The harpsichord is made in the same way as any other instrument: With a string, a bow, and a piece of wood called a tuner. This is the only part of the instrument that is new today, a few hundred years ago.
If you were a harpsichord maker in 16th Century England, you would have used a metal bar to hold the string against the bow of instruments made by an Italian craftsman with the name “Vicente” who is best remembered today for his tuner model or “Vic.” In those days, the English-style tuner was called a “harp,” and it featured a thin strip of metal stretched across the top of each string in a vertical configuration. The only new addition to the harpsichord at the start of the 17th Century was a “harphead,” also sometimes called an “harp bar.”
So, for most of the century, each string was held in place by a metal bar at some point inside the tuning mechanism of the harpsichord. When the string is released, this bar becomes the nut at the bottom of the tuning mechanism. It is very important not to bend the tuning bar in the middle or bottom of the tube. If you do, you will get out of
When the harp was introduced in the 17th Century, the original tuning bars did not have metal edges to keep from stretching when it was struck (the bar is called the “harp bar,” because it is on the outside of the string). So, the holes that had holes in them, instead, had curved strips of metal running diagonally up each side of the harp, at approximately a 45 degree angle to the bar. These strips went around the nut and were not even aligned with the “horizontal” corners of the holes of the tuning bars.
The first harpsichord maker in England was John Burdon. After hearing about the new tuning bars in Florence, Burdon and his partner in law, Samuel Beresford, made two tuners – Burdon’s first tuning bar, and one made by their Florence-based friend, Francesco Marcello – to test their instruments. While the Italian tuner was easier to make, Burdon thought
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