Nicholas Bunning asks:
> What types of wood did Ruckers originally use for their harpsichords?
> what are the tonal differences achieved then one switches from a Spruce
> soundboard to a Swiss Pine one? What did they use for their cases and
Bottoms and cases of all Ruckers instruments are made of poplar (populus
spp.): I don't think any genuine Ruckers is made of lime (tilia spp.) It
does seem, though, that the poplar available to the Ruckers family was
somewhat denser and stiffer than the type commonly available through the
trade today (though that does vary considerably). Ruckers soundboards, like
most other Northern European instruments, are made of spruce (picea abies
or picea excelsa), sometimes referred to as European spruce to
differentiate it from Sitka (see below).
The term 'Swiss Pine' is one of those vague trade terms that does not seem
to have a precise botanical meaning. What is sold as Swiss Pine is
generally picea abies, but perhaps the wider-grained and softer examples: I
believe, however, that sometimes shipments of 'Swiss Pine' include some
boards of abies alba (properly fir). It can be difficult to tell the two
species apart without microscopic examination. But in sum, there is no
essential difference between 'spruce' and 'swiss pine'.
Unless perhaps by 'spruce' Nick means picea sitchensis or Sitka spruce,
which is more widely available in the trade because it is used in building.
Sitka spruce is a new-world species which has been naturalised in Europe
(notably in Scotland). Sitka has been used for soundboards but I for one
have a prejudice against it: it seems to emphasise the higher partials
creating more 'fizz' than one really wants. But maybe this impression has
no scientific foundation.
Pure fir (abies alba) has also been used for soundboards and some are wild
about it. I have no experience and can't comment.
Harpsichord and Clavichord Maker
291 Sprowston Mews
London E7 9AE
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