Making a Muselaar

 As in many European cities and states, the unit of length in Antwerp was the foot (voet). This was supposed to be the length of a man's foot, but mine (without shoes) are nowhere near that big.  The smaller unit was based on the length of a man's thumb, an inch in English (but mine are bigger than that).  In the Netherlands, this was more logically called a duim.  Now the Antwerp voet was not quite as big as the English foot, but fairly near.  However, the Antwerp duim was a bit more than an inch, so there were only eleven to the voet.  Flanders, of course, was different, and the Flemish voet  (not the same as the Antwerp voet) contained twelve duimen.  All clear?

 

  I have always loved the sound of the muselaar, a kind of virginal favoured by Ruckers and others.  It's special feature is that the strings are plucked near to their centres, which gives the instrument a rather solemn tone, with a booming bass.  Although popular in the seventeenth century, there are not many about these days, so I thought I would make one.  

 

  Now we see the relevance of all that about thumbs and feet.  The basic model of Ruckers virginal, at standard pitch (whatever that was) was called the 6-voet.  Nearly six of our English feet.  Sadly, the simple fact is that I haven't got enough space for one in my little 'music room', so the answer was to go for the next size down, the 5-voet.  These were tuned a whole tone above standard pitch.  However, they say that with brass stringing throughout, a good sound is achieved at a lower pitch.

 

All being well, I hope to have the muselaar ready for our party 'Chelveston 2020' on April 17/18.

The instruments built in Antwerp and eleswhere in the Low Countries were made mostly of poplar, a light and strong timber that was freely available.  It is rarely stocked by timber merchants these days, and the trees that are available are usually quite small.  An excellent substitute is 'northern yellow poplar'  (Liriodendron tulipfera) from USA.  This is inexpensive, and available in wide, knot-free boards.  

 

This timber, and also the high-quality spruce used for the soundboard (seen on the top shelf) were supplied by Sykes of Athelstone (Warwickshire) and I would like to express my thanks to Ben Donnelly for his patience and assistance in selecting the stock, and arranging for re-sawing to the thin sections appropriate for this instrument.  By the way, the darker timber on the middle shelf is European walnut, ready for another spinet! 

 

To keep the pages manageable, I have divided the notes about construction into sections, to be added as the work proceeds.  So far, these are:

 

Case and Structure

 

Soundboard and Bridges

 

Keyframe and Keyboard

 

Please click on these headings to follow the construction of what I hope will be an attractive and historically interesting instrument.  This is 'work in progress' and I usually upload the images before writing text, so please excuse pictures temporarily without explanation.

 

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© David Hackett