Harpsichord #1: I started it 10 years ago

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Blog entry by GaryK posted 12-01-2007 01:52 PM 3827 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Harpsichord series Part 2: I begin again! »

Well, this all started 10 years ago. I started my first musical instrument and ended up getting in way over my head.

My ego, knowing no bounds, thought if I was going to put so much time into a project it may as well be the best. Well, to make a long story short, my ego got the best of me and I gave up after about 12 months of work. Way over my head! Actually not over my head, but I messed up drilling all the holes for the pins and got frustrated with it.

So after 10 years and two other small keyboard instruments I am finally ready to finish my masterwork.

This part of this blog will show the work I did 10 years ago.

If you are interested here is a tour of all the parts in a harpsichord:

First of all this is what I planned to build

Now I didn’t have any plans just a lot of studying and a lot of pictures. The following pictures were scanned from photographs since this was before digital cameras.

You also get to see the “shop” I had when I was in California. I had a solid core door for a workbench and it also serves as a tablesaw extension. The problem was that I had to open the garage door to use the saw.
I shared the garage with a washer, dryer, sink and water heater.

I started by laminating up the “bentside” out of poplar. Here you can see the fixture I made for the purpose.
All that work goes into a fixture and you throw it away after using it once!

Here are all the parts for the body. You can see some of the pictures I used to figure out the internal bracing on the table.

And here you can see them mocked up

Then the clamping. I used dowels drilled from the outside for strength, as well as angled finger joints at the small end, again for strength. The large thick piece of wood is white oak, That gets 171 holes drilled into it for all the tuning pins. It is morticed into the sides once again for strength. There are 171 strings trying to pull this part out of the frame!

Here it is complete. You can also see the “registers” in front of the oak slab. More about them in the next installment.

Here you can see the oak covered up with spruce, and the two “nuts” installed on top of that

Next I glued up the soundboard. The most expensive part of the project. I think it cost me about $200, 10 years ago. It’s made up a about 5” wide pieces of Sitka Spruce. Straight grain, quarter sawn with 18 to 22 rings per inch! It 1/8” thick and thinned to 1/64 along some edges.

Here I am fitting the soundboard to the case.

Here is the backside of the soundboard with the 4’ Hitchpin rail, cutoff bar and soundboard bars glued on.
See the link above for a drawing of what they are.

You can also see my planer and sander on the floor. I only had room to do one thing at a time.

Here is a front view with the 4’ and 8’ bridges attached. They are made of beech and have a triangular profile as well as being tapered in height. The were steam bent into shape. I started with three of the large ones in case I screwed one up.

This is the part that got me frustrated with the whole project and made me give up. (along with messing up drilling the holes in the wrest plank) The keyboards. Not knowing any better I made them from poplar, and after having cut out the keys, they started twisting and bending over time. I should have used basswood.

Here it is with the soundboard installed. You would be surprised just how much that soundboard can grow and shrink with humidity. About 1/2” in width! I would measure it daily to track it’s width and after about a month I basically know how much it changed. Then I waited for it to be in the middle before I did the final fitting and install.

This is the way it stood for 10 years. Next time I will show my progress to date.


-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

15 comments so far

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 5154 days

#1 posted 12-01-2007 01:58 PM

That looks like a HUGE project! Good luck finishing it. I look foreward to reading the blog.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5440 days

#2 posted 12-01-2007 02:38 PM

it’s interesting to see the space that you made this in, the process….
gosh.. just amazing…....

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5268 days

#3 posted 12-01-2007 02:52 PM

Yes, it was a small area. I made a lot of the projects in “my projects” there.
The top half of the highboy dresser couldn’t be moved to the center of the workbench because it would hit the garage door opener. Most of the time things were moved from one place to the other to make room for whatever part I was working on at the time.

I finally have room to stretch!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View YorkshireStewart's profile


1130 posts in 5181 days

#4 posted 12-01-2007 07:06 PM

...awaiting the next episode. Fascinating!

-- Res severa verum gaudium - True pleasure is a serious business.

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 5034 days

#5 posted 03-18-2008 11:12 PM

Whoa! That is a huge project, very impressive! Can’t wait for the next thrilling episode!

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5102 days

#6 posted 03-19-2008 01:23 AM

I wondered how I missed this and then I noticed it was posted 108 days ago. You were serious about the descriptions of your first shop. It was cozy in there. I can only imagine the challenges you faced when trying to complete a project of this magnitude in such a limited area. That would have reason enough to put it on hold.

By the way you don’t have to toss the form. Save it for the next one.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5498 days

#7 posted 03-19-2008 01:30 AM

You don’t believe in taking small bites of anything, Gary, do you? <g> Wow! What a project.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5268 days

#8 posted 03-19-2008 03:10 AM

Scott – I am amazed by some of the things I managed to make in that small garage. A lot of working on things
one at a time and moving them around to make room to work.

Thanks for all the great comments.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View HallTree's profile


5666 posts in 5047 days

#9 posted 03-19-2008 03:26 AM

Wow Gary! That is really quite a project. And with no plans. I hope you did not do like I did, built a dulcimer and then learn to play it. What did you do with that thing during the past 10 years?

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5268 days

#10 posted 03-19-2008 03:31 AM

I’m too old to learn to play the thing, but my daughter will.

I had it hug up between the ceiling beams for the last 10 years out of the way.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View HallTree's profile


5666 posts in 5047 days

#11 posted 03-19-2008 03:53 AM

Well, it is not out of the way now. Thanks for all of your post and comments, Adds a lot to this site.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View DocK16's profile


1200 posts in 5367 days

#12 posted 03-19-2008 04:57 AM

You never cease to amaze me Gar, still figuring out the “Box’ you built for the contest last year and you lay this on us. “Too old to learn to play” I think YOU could do anything you put your mind to and you’ve proved it many times on this site.

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5259 days

#13 posted 03-23-2008 02:01 AM

Great project Gary;

Easy to understand “in over your head” on a project like that.

The results look great though.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 5367 days

#14 posted 03-23-2008 02:51 AM

So has anyone programmed “I’m a Lumberjock and I’m OK” for the harpsichord?

Instead of Mr. Holland’s Opus this will be GaryK’s Opus.

Looking forward to the next installment.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Pianoman's profile


8 posts in 4944 days

#15 posted 05-14-2008 05:17 PM

Outstanding! You can get an idea of what is involved by looking at the kits on this page.

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