I must say that I have heard a few versions recorded with two 8’ stops combined and that has severely detracted from my enjoyment of the performance. Generally speaking I only really appreciate two 8’ registers together when there is a choral aspect to a piece. I find the 4’ plus 8’ combination, however, unfairly neglected (probably due to tuning and regulation issues).
A real lute stop (as on Anthony Sidey’s Silbermann copy) can sound wonderful too and provides great variety.


Dear Matthew, your comment raises many questions, which I have addressed in many pages in my “Playing the Harpsichord” book. Let me here just abridge two main considerations:

  1. It can be shown that on a harpsichord coupling 8+8 has the auditory effect of a lesser duration of notes. In other words, a single 8’ is much better for slow pieces, cantabile or legato passages, while the coupled 8’s have a more percussive effect, which I prefer for fast pieces.
  2. The neglect of the 8’+4’ is relatively recent, and goes in parallel with a pianissimo voicing of the 4’: it is so inaudible that you are “told” that it is on but you cannot hear it! My preferred voicing in a double is the upper 8’ very slightly softer than the lower 8’, and the 4’ as loud (or minimally softer) than the upper 8’. And indeed, as you say, a properly voiced 8’+4’ is the “Harpsichord mixture” and is ideal for “chorale” style pieces, e.g. many fugues, as well as for “mock furious” dances.
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I find that the shimmering effect of two 8’ registers played together (probably due to the stagger between the plucks and minute differences in pitch of even the best tuned harpsichords) distracts from the clarity and beauty of enunciation in complex polyphonic pieces in particular. I suppose this is exacerbated on a single manual instrument (or on a double manual where the 4’ is at the back rather than between the two 8’ registers) as the two plucking points are close together. Those few instruments which have two sets of jacks plucking the same 8’ strings (such as some Couchets) give a far purer, louder and more interesting effect in my opinion.

To my ear the combination of a 4’ and an 8’ register imparts an organ-like quality which can be quite inspiring. This pairing seems to be neglected in many conservatories, probably due to worries about tuning and the poor voicing which is so common with 4’ registers. I like the 4’ to be voiced so that it can be played as a solo stop (and on some instruments it can be the most beautiful of all the registers).



The instruments with two jacks plucking the same 8’ strings (some Couchets, the Berlin’s Fleischer) are a handful among the hundreds of extant instruments with two 8’ stops. If well regulated, certainly using both together provides a louder option than any single 8’, but certainly not as loud as two 8’ jack rows plucking separate string choirs. Which is why this single-8’-choir option never became widespread. Another explanation (which I prefer) is that the two 8’ jacks for the same choirs were provided for different type of sound (and also slightly different loudness) but there is no evidence known to me that they were meant to be played together.

You are absolutely correct about the present-day neglect of the 4’. It is really wrong. The 4’ was indeed meant to be useful as a solo stop. There is plenty of evidence for this. In Flemish instruments it is quite obvious, in French instruments, from their early doubles that had just a single 4’ in the upper manual, to some specific written directions by Dandrieu (1724): using the 4’ in pieces croisèes against the upper 8’.

In my Hubbard the 4’ is very metallic (almost, but not quite, like an English lute stop), and provides an interesting contrast against the upper 8’.

I’m sure this is the case, Claudio, but certainly on some recordings, one 8’ register being plucked by two sets of jacks can appear to be louder than two 8’ registers combined presumably due to the greater purity of emission and the absence of tuning issues (the harmonics are more in phase). The sound is full-bodied and rich without the shimmering effect of two 8’ registers.

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I agree on everything Matthew has written on this subject. I’ve grown on hating the 2x8 except for music with a markedly percussive character, as Claudio said.

With Birkett’s wire I find I can stand the 2x8 much better.

However I definetely feel the 1x8, 1x4 is too underused.

I wonder if it’s a voicing thing. I mean, I have owned a one-foot harpsichord, and I have even built one. Both instruments worked amazingly both in cantabiles and in wild percussive Scarlatti sonatas – of course varying the touch, legato and the other harpsichordist’s arsenal. Of course both were voiced at the maximum possible before having the harpsichord starting to scream – with a good security margin.

In two manuals – three registers, maybe one tends to voice down a bit as this can affect the staggering, the keyboard heavyness and the overall balancing. So if you just want more sound you will istinctively couple the 2x8.

Is this an acceptable theory?


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So few harpsichords with double-plucking make wonder, indeed. However the proof is in the pudding, and we should ask ourselves if the musical results of double-plucking are convincing, albeit perhaps unhistorical. Here are two examples of double plucking, from William Jurgenson and Michael Johnson harpsichords, I find both quite convincing, it is a solution for getting the best of two worlds: sound purity (one string) and percussive sound / volume (two plucks).



Just a contribution.


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The aesthetic quality of the 4 foot register, and high pitch instruments in general, is greatly distorted by the tonal impurity of modern wire. Voiced up you get a metallic or strident sound which has limited musical utility. Voiced down, or neglecting the 4 foot altogether, is a means to tame the wire but is equally invalid. There is also the tuning which is made difficult by the partials. Hence the modern idea that the 4 foot is some sort of evil cousin.

I was quite shocked the first time hearing a 4 foot register strung with historical music wire voiced for solo playing, and the same voicing equally useful in combination with 8 foot. Think flute or recorder, not trumpet.


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Thanks for the two examples, Domenico.

The first one has, shortly after the beginning, the addition of a properly-voiced 4’ choir, bringing the perfect blend in my opinion.

Le 27/12/2022 19:01, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

The first one has, shortly after the beginning, the addition of a properly-voiced 4’ choir, bringing the perfect blend in my opinion.

That’s not what Bill says:

“Beginning and End of Muffat Passacaglia played on back 8’, then both
jacks on the same string”

I stand corrected Dennis! And listening attentively, the 4’ sound is perceived only in treble and tenor, not in the bass. It is just an effect of too prominent octave overtones!
(needless to say, the chain of distortions from the original sound to my loudspeakers is likely to have more than one weak link).

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As to shimmering, that can only be caused by tuning or wire quality. I am compelled to say that one of the most astonishing properties of the Birkett wire is that when tuned to the same pitch, the two eight foot registers sound as though they are one. It’s quite remarkable, and only found with Birkett wire. To this day I am still somewhat shocked about this.

Also, if you can hear staggering delays the instrument is not voiced properly. The threshold of differentiation of two impulses for the human ear is about 10 milliseconds (quotation needed :slight_smile: ). You can always setup a harpsichord so that the stagger fits in the 10 millisecond time window.

And you can tune a good harpsichord so that the beat rate between two notes of the same pitch is so small as to be imperceptible.

Then again, some people like the warmth of slight tuning differences. Apart from volume, this is the other main reason orchestras have multiple players in string sections.

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Le 28/12/2022 00:41, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

I stand corrected Dennis! And listening attentively, the 4’ sound is perceived only in treble and tenor, not in the bass. It is just an effect of too prominent octave overtones!
(needless to say, the chain of distortions from the original sound to my loudspeakers is likely to have more than one weak link).

I had the same impression, which is why I went to the source page of
these samples to check. Could the double-pluck enhance the octave

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Indeed Dennis! Guess the double-pluck would enhance different overtones in different parts of the range, due to the different striking points.

Anyway, what I miss in this discussion is the scientific comparison, “in corpore vili”.
So I performed it this morning.
I found that quite a few of my upper 8’ jacks can be reversed (or else if the plectrum has an excessive overlap, this can be resolved by using a different jack).
In other words, coupling the manuals, I had most notes with the two jacks plucking the two 8’ choirs as usual, while a few notes had the two jacks plucking the lower 8’ choir (at about 3 cm of distance).

I was surprised at the effect. Unlike what I expected, the double pluck was not softer than the two choirs. Also unlike what I expected, the sound quality was very different and actually significantly more metallic in the double pluck: the sound of the two 8’ choirs was significantly nicer.

This might explain why the less-expensive double pluck historically did not become common.

Needless to say, this was the result on a French double from a Hubbard kit. Arguably, in an instrument with a different acoustics and the two 8’ jack rows near to each other, the result is likely to be different.

I am eager to hear the results of similar experiments by other members of Jackrail!

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Could this effects be explained by the undone specific regulation? I mean, for the double pluck to be effective, the two plucks must occur at exactly the same moment, while a double choir has of course a staggering. The two plectra plucking in different moments, the second would pluck when the string is already vibrating, producing maybe a buzz or other artifacts.
Just an hypothesis.

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I happened to do the same thing by mistake less than an hour ago. I’m
currently quilling and voicing a Zuckermann Flemish instrument, and I
inserted the upper-manual jack I was working on the wrong way, so it
plucked the same string as the lower manual. I found the sound rather
“interesting”. But this can only work if there is no stagger at all
between the two plucks, which makes the touch rather hard, though it’s
hard to judge from just one note. Besides the question of sound, there
are structural advantages to such a disposition on a single manual, with
only two choirs of strings (8+4) and three ranks of jacks.

Le 28/12/2022 12:57, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

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I flipped a few jacks on my 2x8’ odd self-made harpsichord (Action mostly Burton kit, Hubbard tongues, wide spaced registers, Burton bridge, Hubbard soundboard, case lighter than usual Burton) I never use the two 8’s together. The strings are a hodge-podge and unisons vary, made worse, I think, by tuning to 415 with a scale designed for 440.
Anyway, I found the two jacks on one string intriguing, just a little bit louder than either solo 8’. I think the differences might be more evident in full use rather than one note sampling. Timing was absolutely crucial. If one plectrum was a little late, it dampened the string while the first plucked so that the sound was a plink followed by the full sound of the solo plucker.
The instrument is currently quilled with Instrument Workshop “thin” delrin. There might be a more dramatic result with stiffer plectra. Such a seemingly simple thing offers a wild range of possibilities. The adjustments needed would be quite tricky on historic jacks. Less than perfect regulation would require a very aggressive technique.
(Birkett wire needs to be on my list.)

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I have a gorgeous Adlam Burnett Ruckers with two 8ft registers on the upper manual which can be played simultaneously. Unfortionately I think it results in a rather ugly sound and very inconvenient touch. I wouldn’t recommend using this registration at all. I don’t see any advantage here…. Best PJ

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Hi All,

Here’s 2 photos of a mystery harpsichord; any thoughts as to one of my two hypotheses ?

It seems to have: one 8 foot bridge, 1x8 foot nut, 1 row of 8 foot pins, 1 row of 4 foot pins, 1x4(?) foot nut, no 4 foot bridge and Three 3 rows of jacks! Note the under the wrestplank stop lever.

2 options (feel free to come up with more):

Its unfinished, and they didn’t get round to the 4 foot bridge.

The 4 foot jacks pluck a shorter string tuned a little higher, a minor second perhaps!! Or a differently strung unison.

It may just double pluck the same 8 foot strings, once on the upper and once on the lower manual. How about that. Wish I was there to see and feel it.

Facts: maker so far unknown, my guess off the bat is Mr. Fonvieille (ideas welcomed), it seems to be 30 years old according to the owner by heritage who wants to sell now, & who isn’t near it. Neither am I, and I’m waiting for more photos. The original owner is an organist, thus my thought of a ‘Mixtur’ harpsichord. Crazy, eh?

Image en ligne

PS, Not posting this on FB, I fear too many crazy replies!

PPS, I am following with much interest the temperament discussion, thank you all.

An interesting puzzle! Let’s assume it’s finished - the keyboard well
certainly is finished, as is the outer case work. How about 2 sets of
strings at 8’ pitch, one iron and one brass. One would be double
plucking, and the two register levers would attach to those.

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