William Mitchell


Long Italian Harpsichord

Lid Detail

Short Italian Harpsichord

Case Detail


I decided to make a hybrid rather than copy a particular instrument because I wanted a sound that would allow people to play a much broader repertoire than is normally associated with Italian harpsichords.

Thus, I adopted the very long scaling of the Giovanni Baffo (Venice, 1574) contained in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London which provides a more sustaining sound and attenuates less rapidly than the shorter-scaled instruments, while I chose the keyboard dimensions and balancing position of the Carlo Grimaldi (Messina, 1697) housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg to give a crisp, positive action feel.

Italian harpsichords have thinner soundboard bridges than their northern counterparts and are not double-pinned. Because of this, the angle of attachment of the string to the hitchpin rail is quite sharp and can cause the bridge to ‘roll’ towards the bentside liner on occasion. This problem had been anticipated in the instrument by Carrianat Torriglio (Mestre, 17th Century) held at the Genève Musée d’Instruments Anciens de Music. Instead of the soundboard grain following parallel to the straight side, it lies at an angle of 27° to it and this provides a more rigid base for the bridge on which to sit without impairing the tone. It is a clever idea and was adopted later the following century by some English makers including Thomas Hitchcock.

After these basic choices had been made, the plucking points of the quills could be established and I positioned them as far away from the nut (wrestplank bridge) as was physically possible so that the sound would be far more round and fluety compared to other Italians.

In accordance with the Italian tradition of Just Scaling, the string length was doubled for each octave of descent until the penultimate.

The actual string dimensions and materials were based upon the mathematical principles contained in the authoritative work by Malcolm Rose and David Law – A Handbook of Historical Stringing Practice for Keyboard Instruments and calculated by Dr.Moore of Imperial College, London. The finely-determined tolerances were designed to allow an upper error of a whole tone so that the strings would not break as easily as they do in many other Italian harpsichords.

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