French harpsichords were highly inspired by the Flemish design, the Ruckers’ design in particular. The most influential French builders were the Blanchets (late 1600s – mid-1800s) and Pascal Taskin (17C), whose harpsichords are still viewed today as ideal templates by modern instrument makers.
The majority of improvements made by the French dealt with the manuals and registers:
French instruments rarely had just one manual. Even the single-manual harpsichords from other regions that were later restored by the French were upgraded to two or three-manual models (see ravalement, below). Range was increased from four to five octaves; and after the short octave became obsolete in the 18th century, it was dropped in favor of a fully chromatic range.
As for the second manual (which was used for transposition in the Flemish tradition), the French were the first to use it to switch between registers by assigning it to different sets of choirs.
Most French instruments had three choirs: 2 x 8' + 1 x 4': two choirs of 8 feet and one of four. Choirs could be altered or combined through stops, or – thanks to Taskin – by means of a knee-lever.
In the late 18th century, Taskin also introduced a new jack rail that allowed the player to switch between a leather or quill plectra, further enhancing the tonal range and versatility of the instrument.
- Case & Soundboard
The French case was made of oak or poplar, and the soundboard was usually pine. The soundboard was commonly the only part of the French harpsichord that was delicately painted; the case and lid were often finished, but plain. The French bentsides resembled those of the Flemish.