G R A N T   O B R I E N


Harpsichords, Virginals, Spinets and Clavichords

Restorations and Consultations



The above photograph of the instrument was taken in 2001 before any restoration work had been undertaken.


This instrument is of the utmost historical importance for a number of reasons:

  1. Perhaps the most important of these is that it is a very rare example of a surviving NON-RUCKERS double-manual harpsichord that is still in excellent playing condition.  It was originally made in Antwerp in 1617, but not by one of the members of the Ruckers/Couchet family.  No other non-Ruckers seventeenth-century Antwerp harpsichord is known in such good condition.

  2. But it has also survived in remarkably condition and the various features of its past history are still clear and evident.

  3. These features show that it underwent a number of different compass changes, although always retaining the same pitch.

  4. It was given a ravalement in 1750 by Francois Etienne Blanchet, the Court harpsichord builder to Louis XV.

  5. Most of the decorations to the instrument were carried out in 1750 at the time of its ravalement.  The two large figure paintings on the outside of the lid are in the style of Francois Boucher, and display a remarkable similarity to other works by him.  Boucher was the Court painter to Louis XV, and there is a number of reasons for believing that the ravalement and decoration of this instrument was commissioned for the French Court by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's grand maitresse.

  6. The ornaments surrounding the Boucher-style figures have been reliably attributed to Christophe Huet.  The putto figures on the sides of the outer case and on the outside of the front flap are also in the style of Christophe Huet.  The spine-side decorations and the inside of the front flap are also reliably attributed to Christophe Huet.

  7. The instrument went through a second ravalement in 1786 extending the treble to give it a full five-octave compass and, with the addition of a genouillère and peau de buffle register, it then had all of the features necessary for the performance of all of the great French eighteenth-century literature for the harpsichord.

  8. The instrument had an important role in the revival of interest in the harpsichord and was owned by many some of the most important figures in the revival of interest in the harpsichord at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.

  9. The instrument then passed through the hands of some of the most colourful and interesting figures of the mid-twentieth centuries. 

  10. Experts agree that it has a power, clarity and beauty of sound unmatched by any other extant eighteenth-century French harpsichord.


Click here or on the image above for further information.


The stunningly-beautiful Franco-Flemish antique harpsichord harpsichord pictured above is for sale.


          This harpsichord was originally built in Antwerp in 1617 but, although the date is known, the original maker is unknown.  It was originally a normal double-manual Flemish harpsichord with two keyboards at pitches a fourth apart, and with the usual disposition of 1x8', 1x4' and 4 registers - two for each keyboard.  Although it has a genuine early Ioannes Ruckers 'HR' soundboard rosette, analysis of the structure and design of the instrument shows that, although it was made in Antwerp, it was not made by any of the members of the Ruckers family.   

          The instrument was mis a ravalement in Paris at some time between 1742/43 and 1750 when the bass compass was extended.  In 1750 it was again given a ravalement, this time by Francois Etienne Blanchet who extended the bass compass down to F1 in the bass, extended the treble compass by one note up to d3 in the treble.  It was also given its lavish gilt vernis-martin decoration with figure-paintings by François Boucher (1703 - 1770), and the ornaments surrounding these (and the ornaments on the spine) by Christophe II Huet (1700 - 1759).  It was then later given a further treble ravalement by extending the treble compass further up to f3 in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann who also added a genouillère and added a peau de buffle register. 

          It is now a classic French double-manual harpsichord with a full 5-octave compass and a disposition with 2 x 8', 1 x 4' plus a peau de buffle set of jacks.  The whole of the stunningly-beautiful decoration has now been restored.  The sound is pure, full, rich and evenly-balanced across the entire compass of the instrument.  It creates an impression of immense power and opulence, matching that of the Court of Louis XV for whom it was probably commissioned.  The sound has made a lasting impression on everyone who has heard or played the instrument.  It is, without a doubt, one of the finest and most beautiful examples of 18th-century French harpsichord decoration and building in existence.


For full details about the instrument contact Grant O'Brien.



RUCKERS.  A harpsichord and virginal building tradition

(click here)

by Grant O'Brien.

Re-published as a digital reprint  by Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Buy a signed copy with a personal dedication (click here).

Flemish papers for sale (click here)

Full-scale harpsichord, virginal and stand drawings for harpsichords and virginals are available for sale (click here)

Harpsichord-making woods for sale


A small amount of the important woods normally used by harpsichord makers is available for sale.  This is all very well-seasoned and of the highest quality available.

The types of wood include accurately-quartered Italian spruce soundboard wood.  This soundboard wood is sold only in flitches of about 6 to 15 planks.  Each flitch is a succession of slices from the same tree, and these can be used (as most Flemish and French makers did) to make a soundboard that is perfectly uniform in colour and texture because it is all of exactly the same wood for the whole of the soundboard.

Also available is knot-free Italian cypress from Tuscany (cipresso netto) and genuine African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora). 

All of this wood was bought as air-dried, and is now more than 40 years old.

For further details of quantities and prices please see the woods section of this site.



For my current contact details, please follow the 'Contact link' in the column on the left.    


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Web design by Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2020.                 Web pages last up-dated:  Friday February 12, 2021

©Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2020