Roger Long’s gut-strung keyboard instruments and Thomas Barton’s harpsichord stringing

Rowland, David (2016). Roger Long’s gut-strung keyboard instruments and Thomas Barton’s harpsichord stringing. Early Music, 44(3) pp. 461–471.



In 1720 Pepusch signed an inventory of the Duke of Chandos’s instruments that included a gut-strung harpsichord by a ‘Mr Longfellow of Pembroke Hall in Cambridge’. The maker was in fact Roger Long, Fellow and later Master of Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College), Lowndes Professor of Astronomy, but also a keen musician and maker of astronomical, musical and other instruments. Long’s commonplace book in Pembroke’s library contains valuable information about gut and wire harpsichord stringing from the first decade of the 18th century, some of which he was given by the harpsichord-maker Thomas Barton. The article examines this extremely rare information (only one other brief reference is known to a gut-strung harpsichord in 17th- or 18th-century England) as well as comparing the information about wire-strung instruments to Barton’s only surviving harpsichord. Accounts from other sources also exist of Long’s construction of a lyrichord, which he presented to the king and queen, and which he probably modelled on Plenius’s design. A further instrument of Long’s invention, a gut-strung travelling ‘harpsichord’ is also described. All of this information is set in the context of earlier studies of European gut-strung keyboard instruments. Clearly, throughout his life Long was committed to making keyboard instruments whose gut stringing produced a more subtle and gentler tone than their wire-strung counterparts. The fact that Long probably received information about gut stringing from a London maker also suggests that there was more interest in this sort of instrument than has hitherto been acknowledged.

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