Stringing a 16'

Dear members,

How were the basses strung for the 16’? As far as I know, wound strings were not used on harpsichords or am I wrong? If I remember correctly the only reference to wound strings is in Jean Denis when he refered to a small harpsichord with rather short speaking lengths.

Here are some speaking lengths (in mm) for the instrument in question:

GG 1891
GG# 1870
AA 1853
BB♭ 1835
BB 1817
C 1795
C# 1775
D 1754
D# 1731
E 1704
F 1674
F# 1640
G 1601
G# 1557
A 1507
B♭ 1453
B 1398
c 1342
c# 1287
d 1234
d# 1179
e 1122
f 1069
f# 1017
g 969
g# 920
a 876
b♭ 836
b 798
c1 763
c1# 728
d1 695
d1# 666
e1 638
f1 613
f1# 589
g1 566
g1# 545
a1 524
b1♭ 505
b1 487
c2 470
c2# 455
d2 440
d2# 426
e2 412
f2 400
f2# 388
g2 375
g2# 365
a2 354
b2♭ 344
b2 333
c3 324
c3# 313
d3 304



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Just letting people know you can make tables in Markdown in Discourse. Refer to this topic:

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Ah yes, well A: the instrument in question is a ? ( maybe I missed summat),
B, I could ask Alan Gotto what he put on the three manual Hass, which had a 16’ in there somewhere. I don’t have the string lengths to compare, so only half an answer that , sorry.



Dear Chris

Your quoted 16´ choir speaking lengths seem on the short side to me: Is your example a revival harpsichord—although the 56-note compass does not immediately suggest that?

Most revival harpsichords, of course, piggybacked the 16´ on top of the 8´ bridge, with deleterious tonal effect on the unison choirs. The only additional speaking length possible for the 16´ was the few cm of string running beyond the 8´ nut to the 16´ choir’s own high level nut closest to the nameboard.

Bear in mind that an effective stringing will require not only progressively larger diameters towards the bass, but also a change to denser material. Otherwise, the tone turns blatt. On an historic instrument, we might expect iron, yellow brass, then red brass in the extreme bass.

(Witness the big Hass in Yale: I recall its 16´ bass is strung in silver.)

But such historic instruments with the 16´ were generally large beasts with the 16´ bridge sitting on its own soundboard area well beyond the 8´. This considerably longer speaking length and separate bridge gave much better tone.

Back to your mystery harpsichord, though, I think covered strings are the only possibility for quarter-decent tone.

Covered strings give increased density without the loss of flexibility, whereas a solid wire string of the same effective diameter is too stiff. Even so, I have to use my imagination tuning the bottom few 16´ notes on most revival harpsichords. Their pitch is so indeterminate in that region, it seems the notes can be tuned anywhere.

While offering better sound initially, covered strings are expensive to make, prone to tonally deteriorate over the years, or break because of their fragility. The actual tension they can bear is dependent on their core wire.



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Chris, -historical or not, what is the instrument You are working on?
I made a number of 16‘-harpsichords and usually the lowest 5 or 6 notes got covered strings, -open of course, like I make them for my clavichords in the historical manner. Today I would try Vogels „Kupferhof“ to go as low as possible first. and then cover the remaining strings.

Cheers from Oldenburg, Dietrich

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The instrument is a copy of Carl Conrad Fleischer from 1720. It’s not mine but a project from a student in instrument making. The original instrument did not have a 16’ and he’s aware that the string lengths are quite short. However according to his research:

“(…) it seems to me that a 16’ would fit in this instrument. There is proof of a single manual harpsichord with 16’8’4’ or 16’8’8’4’ in Germany. I’ve decide to modify the design of the Fleischer as little as possible in order to see if it’s effectively possible that Fleischer designed this instrument to have a 16’. For this reason I’ve added a nut on the “gigantic” wrestplank (there is plenty of place to do so) that will guide the 16’ strings from this nut to the longest 8’ on the bridge. It increases the length of the strings but no very much. However it’s described that in the first half on the 18th century that in Germany the long 8’ was sometimes strung in order to sound as a 16’, so not at all the ideal string length. Wound strings occur but this was not very common.”



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Not that we are Wikipedia, but ‘Citation Needed’. Where is the evidence for this? And also for the use of wound strings? I thought surviving strings of any type are very rare, since they are perishable for a start.

Good remark! This is the response I got:

Jacob Adlung: Adlung describes another possibility which was seemingly common; take any 8’8’4’ harpsichord, replace one 8’ by (wound) 16’ strings, without changing anything to the layout. This in 1726 and 1758…

He obtained this info from a master thesis. He’ll provide me with the correct source…


Yes, its the brilliant young Leonard Schick from Lausanne, who in his master thesis at the schola cantorum in Basel (Gravität und Vielfalt, Bachs Flügel) cites Adlung, and also shows a number of (historical) (german) harpsichords that had covered strings as well in 8’-length (at 16’-pitch) as also on a seperate 16’-bridge. From newspaper announcements and descriptions he shows there is even Christian Zell and the Hass in Hamburg among the makers of such instruments.

479Jacob Adlung, Musica Mechanica Organoedi, Band II, S. 151.

Zuweilen bespinnt man die untern Seyten mit Silberdrat. Nimmt man nun die ordentliche dahin gehörige Seyte, und bespinnt sie: so muß man solche eine Oktave tiefer stimmen, und wird sodann das C 16füßig. Nimmt man aber schwächere Seyten, und bespinnt sie: so können sie mit den andern unbesponnen in unisono seyn, nämlich 8’ Ton. Denn man nimmt zu jedem Chor nur eine gesponnene Seyte. Die andere bleibt ungesponnen. […] Die gesponnenen Seyten ziehet man gemeiniglich nur bis zum H, von unten zu zählen, und so bekommt der Baß eine besondere Gravität; doch bleiben sie bey veränderter Luft mit den andern nicht im Einklang stehen.479

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Apart from that: weren’t the lowest strings on Enlish spinets strung with silver?

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it can of course be done. I must say though that the late 18th century American harpsichord in my workshop, which is essentially a big English double, was converted in this way by John Challis in 1952. It kind of works but I must say I can’t recommend it for sound quality.

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I have elsewhere detailed that I find the 16’ on the harpsichord undesirable on many counts.
This said, I would like to emphasise a detail I guess most of us will agree with.
For a German organist in the Baroque era it made perfect sense to take a single-manual Flemish-style with 8’+8’+4’ and convert one of the two 8’s to 16’: this would not only provide more of an organ sound for practising, but was also useful if pulldown pedals were fitted to the instrument. If the 16’ did not sound well because the strings and the case were too short, this was a relatively minor matter.
The above obviously does not apply to the modern player, who can use instead the relatively inexpensive sampled electronic organs.

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