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Electric Clavichord

by sphynx, published

Electric Clavichord by sphynx Dec 8, 2012
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A 3D printable Electric Clavichord.


This is a one octave monotonic diatonic 3D printable clavichord. The instrument will use a single electric guitar G string and an electric guitar pickup. It will be very simple to assemble because all of the complex keyboard stuff is printed.

I am putting the files up as soon as I create them in order to get feedback and to see if anyone else is interested in this project.

What is a clavichord?

There are several classes of acoustic keyboard instruments:

1) Piano - the strings are struck with felt covered hammers. When you press a key, the hammer is launched up to strike the string and then drops back to its rest position.
2) Harpsichord - the strings are plucked by plectra. When you strike a key, a jack that contains a springy plectrum (plastic or eagle feather) is launched up to pluck the string and then drops back to it's rest position.
3) Clavichord - the strings are struck with a metal tangent. When you press a key, it acts like a lever with the metal tangent on the other end. The tangent rises up, strikes the string and also frets the string. It stays in contact with the string until you release the key.

So the clavichord is a very different instrument to the piano or the harpsichord. Firstly, the pitch of the note is controlled by where the tangent contacts the string. This is what is meant by "fretting" the string. The tangent acts just like the frets on a guitar. Secondly, you have direct physical contact with the string (via the key), whilst the note is sounding, This gives the clavichord "aftertouch". You can change the pitch of the note by pressing harder on the key whilst the note of playing. In fact, it is the acoustic keyboard instrument that has the most degrees of freedom in terms of expression. This might comes a surprise to piano players, but it is true. The great J. S. Bach advised all of his students to learn clavichord in order to develop an exquisite sense of touch.

However, it isn't all sweetness and light! the big downside of the clavichord (although some would say this is actually an upside) is that it is very, very, very quiet. A clavichord concert is a strange Zen-like affair where everyone has to sit completely still, and breathe quietly. Even the rustling of clothes can affect your hearing enough to ruin the concert.

For a long time now, I have wondered about creating an electronic clavichord. This would have all the touch sensitivity of an acoustic clavichord, but be loud enough to actually hear in a good sized room. This project is my first attempt.

Description of the instrument

This instrument is a simple 1 octave, diatonic (no sharps or flats) monotonic (only plays one note at a time) electric clavichord. As well as being a proof of concept, it is designed to be a very credible and playable folk instrument. It is very easy to assemble because all of the complex keyboard bits are printed.

Progress to date
At the moment, I have the keyframe completed, and the keyboard itself completed minus the tangents. The keyboard/keyframe is a very traditional harpsichord/clavichord mechanism.

To Do

1) Tangents.
2) Nut with tuner.
3) Bridge.
4) Mount for electric guitar pickup.
5) Assembly instructions (essentially just glue/screw it down to a baseboard).
6) Upload Sketchup files.

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Great stuff! I'm also planning to make an electrical keyed instrument. First idea was to make something like a Rhodes, but it uses tines, not strings. So, I have a lot of guitar pickups and machine heads to get me going. I would like it if you keep me updated with your progress :-)

Amazing. I can't wait until you finish it!

Glad you like it! My initial experiments indicate that it should play very well. I hope to finish it quite soon. I am still thinking about the bridge and nut mechanisms. I pretty muchr less decided to use standard classical guitar machines for tuning.