Double manual harpsichord designed and built by Hendrik Bouman; decoration - Hendrik Bouman, 2006

Lid painting - Gino Arcidiacono, Genova, 2015

I opted for brass strings throughout. The register slot is slightly oblique (making for longer keys in the bass than in the treble), as is the angle of the string-band as a whole, which necessitated great vigilance while transferring the angles on to the various parts making up the action, especially the alignment of the key ends.

Regarding my choice of brass stringing, I like to mention that I had once come across a text by the interesting Dutch 18th century theoretician van Blankenburg who expressed his preference for brass stringing. This practice is associated primarily with Italian instruments.

During a stay in South India in 2000 I met up with a Frenchman running a woodworking unit with local workers - colonial style furniture, carvings, restoration, chess games with inlay etc. In talking to him about my harpsichord building project he became very enthusiastic and offered to prepare the 6 register racks from yellow teak, as well as key slips (cover) of black rosewood and satin wood. He also obtained for me planks of regional woods corresponding closest to western woods in case I wanted to build a harpsichord over there!

The following year, living in the south of France, my patience ran out and I started to saw the keyboards out of French linden (tilleuil), sometimes in the common garage, sometimes indoors in the apartment (my loving wife knows all about sawdust in the bedroom). I did not finish it at the time. Instead, I cruised for a year with my wife and our two children (and dog and bird) on a sailing catamaran with one of my Italian instruments, which, when not in use, got stored on its side, safely belted in one of the hulls. 

Back on land, in 2004, I built the case of the double manual harpsichord in Maritimes  Canada with local wood which came milled from beautiful poplar trees. Delin made his instruments entirely out of poplar, except for the sound board, even the soundboard ribbing! Interestingly, Ruckers built his harpsichords from poplar trees in the period of the little Ice Age, iso, grown under conditions comparable to the severe Eastern Canadian winters.

The bent-side, which in my instrument is thinner than the rest of the walls as in so many historical instruments, I built up in two layers. I have almost no professional tools, but lots of clamps. The pre-bending I did by wetting one side and clamping the plank into the frame of an IKEA Poem chair, and putting it in the vicinity of the central heating unit in the basement (it must have been winter). I also have no workshop (or maybe I do not really want one); the harpsichord was made mainly in and around the kitchen, on countertops, under helpful spot lights, surrounded by inviting aromas, and the warm company and assistance of supporting family members!

Meanwhile I had the yet unfinished keyboards sent from France, and I noticed that I had deviated slightly from the original design (makes me think of how Airbus parts are prepared in different countries before being assembled in France). Some tricky adjustments were in order after an initial fit of depression. In all, I have gone through some agonies and set-backs, hence I can empathize with your plight. I had made some minor errors, and my keys have still a little too much lateral play, which shall be addressed before the next concert.

Sometimes I had trouble to continue after long interruptions, as certain manual or mechanical tricks and procedures were forgotten. Best to keep  a log book of procedures, materials and tools. Also, some  changes were made during the process, one of which was to have the two 8' registers side by side and the 4' the most remote, because I was unhappy with the remote plucking point for the longer 8', resulting in a too hollow sound. Another modification was to continue back-pinning for the bass strings on the bridge quite high up into the tenor range, as the height difference in levels between bridge and hitch pin rail was not adequate (for all seasons).

But after all that time and all those ups and downs, the overall result is somehow so yummy, so personal, and so wonderfully sounding (just as I had imagined it to be), therefore such an extraordinary and unique experience and achievement that I do wish you the same. This instrument which took me five years from design to completion is the one I use for my concerts and recordings,; it travels with me, across continents.

The whole process of building is a delicate balance between having assured a safe overall concept and proceeding one-step-at-a-time. A good advice is to adhere throughout to absolute horizontality and verticality, so as to prevent any form of accumulated error.

Don't forget, after a first instrument there might be another waiting. I can still remember my initial satisfaction with my first "disaster". 

Encouraging may be the story related to me by a colleague who in his youth while back-packing through Asia had encountered in the Rajastan desert in India a young lad who had built a piano out of god-knows-what materials, with the sole purpose of being able to play one particular piece of Beethoven's. And he did play it on the piano he had built! He realized a dream. Isn't that worth a try ? 

©Hendrik BOUMAN, United Kingdom, 2011


As a professional harpsichordist I have been privileged with a long history of contact with professional builders and restorers, concert experiences on museum instruments, a great number of modern copies, and the ownership of a handful of those as well by prominent builders.

When I first started out to build a harpsichord, I sought advice and visited in Eindhoven, Holland, a reclusive amateur builder who had made two harpsichords. “Take the string length of an A” as 36 centimeters, an octave up should be half that length and each octave down is doubled in length except for in the bass region where you compensate excessive length by thicker gauged strings. On paper, copy the layout of a piano keyboard (between 4 and 5 octaves, as you like it) and draw a line over the key ends by connecting the future plucking points which should be situated approximately a tenth of the string length from the bridge closest to the player (called the nut). Superimpose the stringband and the resulting shape of the second bridge on the sound board should make a perfect hyperbolic curve. The bent side of the case should follow this same curve while leaving a little space beyond this second bridge to allow the soundboard to vibrate freely. That’s basically all; good luck!”. After half an hour I was shepherded out into the damp night air, the door closed behind me. I was at once enthused and totally puzzled.

So, my first building became a youthful adventure and a lovely disaster. I was 20 years old, without money, determined and intimidated at the same time. This first triangular spinettish invention (complete with home-made jack-contraptions) landed up on the street after a year, but I was one experience richer, and a little less green in the matter. Also, I had been accepted meanwhile in the Amsterdam Conservatory.

Though I have made several instruments over the years, I have never built them from a kit. When, as an adolescent, I was ready to put my little savings in a Bédard-kit, I had been strongly warned by someone, who was totally disenchanted by the lack of quality and support in putting one together.

On the other hand my meeting with the  Norwegian harpsichordist Kethil Haugsand, who to my joyful surprise played on instruments he had built himself, encouraged me to follow his example. The next try was a small Italian instrument after a 5 foot Pisaurensis of the Chambure collection housed in the Conservatoire of Paris at the time, which I personally measured out (the exceedingly small size of the original seems to indicate a relative high pitch). Kethil had given me some useful hints for jack making, as well as references to a local business in Amsterdam specializing in exotic woods and its neighbour, a piano parts company (for felt etc.) which would normally not supply to private individuals.

I should not forget to mention that I also had studied Hubbard's "bible", 'Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making', inside out! And as Hubbard had found that the bent side of some Italian harpsichords may have been glued onto the frame without any pre-bending procedures, I tried to follow this lead. As a consequence I found myself at one time in absolute panic. The bottom plate, fiercely resisting the new-comer, started to warp dramatically. The only emergency solution I could come up with was to nail the bottom immediately to the wooden floor of my student apartment! All worked out in the end, and I had become the proud owner of a self-made copy. Imagine the appalled reaction of a colleague from Musica Antiqua Cologne waiting on the station platform for me to arrive for my first rehearsal when I carried this very instrument hanging from my shoulder. In an endearing gesture two elderly ladies had graciously passed the instrument to me through the narrow top window of the train carriage. After all these years the instrument is still alive and well.

In the nineties, after having studied and compared the specifications of a large number of Italian instruments from the Leipzig Collection, through its catalogue by Henkel, which is a treasure of methodical thoroughness and detail, I designed and built two nearly identical Italian harpsichords for my son and daughter. The photo shows the case and its bracing.

At the time I lived in Eastern Canada, and for my wood I went to two suppliers which might be of some use for you as I believe you are living in New York.

A&M Specialty Wood, Ontario ( (ask for instrument wood, very helpful assistance) for: 

basswood (equivalent to European lime or linden), good for keys and a French-type of case (walls and bottom)

keytop material, boxwood and African blackwood (watch out: pretty toxic in milling)

wrest plank (pin block), beech was mostly used in Europe, but is less common in North America; oak or rock maple serve as well.

I made the wrest plank with two layers, using opposite cut-direction to prevent warp; at that thickness you can get wood also locally, but it should be kiln-dried. 

Sitka spruce in planks, but I do not think they deliver it in the required thickness/thinness; I had a hard time to find a miller apt to size finely; there

was lots of waste.

A better link came through a contact given me by a professional double bass maker living in my area. I purchased from Hammond & Ashley, Seattle, Washington, USA beautiful thin planks of Sitka, selected specifically for instrument building. Not cheap, but certainly worth it. They threw some rough sticks in, enough to make the ribs.

To continue with my story, in 1999, still in Eastern Canada, I designed a double manual instrument 8'8'4', 5 octaves F-f, combining a variety of features I selected from various historical instruments.




  1.         HARPSICHORD BUILDING - an answer to an aspirant amateur builder's request