05 February 2011

How to tune a clavichord the first time

I am an amateur or dilettante  and guitarist since more then 40 years. So tuning a clavichord for the first time seemed to be at the first sight no problem. But reality proved otherwise. The clavichord has a very muted tone which is produced by the tangent striking the string.

Funktion des gebundenen Clavichord - CC-Lizenz Berndt Meyer
(You can see this picture and many more at Wikipedia.)

This is especially a problem for the discant strings. The tone is very low and has only a short sustain.

1. Trial
At first I tried to master the tuning with an ordinary chromatic tuner.  This device worked fine for most of the strings, but really had no chance for the discant. The low volume and the short sustain could not trigger the needle of the tuner.

2. Trial
But help was on the way: I had a special microphone which takes the vibrations directly from an instrument, plugged this into an amplifier and the chromatic tuner worked at least a little better. But now I had cables running through the room and in the beginning the clavichord needed a constant retuning. No real solution so far.

3. Trial
As described earlier I had also the difficulty to clearly hear the octave. So I decided to invest in a real chromatic tuner, which identified also the octave. This instrument is really worth the money although when there are too many harmonic oscillations it takes some time to get the needle steady.

4. Trial
One thing is to look at a needle and hope the the electronic measures the right thing. The other thing are our ears and these are sometimes much more sensible than we think. When I got the initial tuning of the clavichord "nearly" right and started to tune the instrument for octave beat, quint, etc. I was again lost with the electronic tuners. Comparing a  pitch by ear is far more easier. So I produced a series of tones with samplings of a clavichord. I recorded every note from C1 - C3, converted it to MP3 and loaded it to an iPod. When you let a certain note play in a loop you have enough time to find with the tuning hammer the sweet spot of the string.

If you want to give this way of tuning a try have a look at MP3-Files from C1 up to C3  . You can use them freely.

Stay tuned!