First Advisor

Laird C. Brodie

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Physics






Damping (Mechanics), Vibration -- Analysis, Harpsichord, Wire -- Testing



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 71 pages)


Present-day builders of harpsichords disagree as to the use of iron or carbon-steel wire in their attempt to duplicate the tonal qualities of the early 16th century instruments. The variations in tone produced by vibrating iron and steel wires may be due, at least in part, to differences in their decay characteristics. A wire was set into vibration by placing a section in a magnetic field and passing a variable-frequency alternating current through it. A condition of resonance was established by appropriately selecting frequencies, lengths, and tensions that would simultaneously satisfy the relationship: fr = n/2L(T/p)1/2. Then measurements of decay time as a function of frequency were made for a variety of typical harpsichord strings: iron, steel, brass, bronze, etc. Samples varied in diameter from 170 mm to 600 mm and the resonant frequencies ranged from 20 Hz to 12,000 Hz. Changes in energy loss through the supports were measured by varying the size and mass of the supports and by modifying the method of attachment of the wire. Differences in loss of energy due to internal friction were noted in the comparison of decay times for different wire materials and diameters. The energy losses due to sound radiation and viscous damping were examined by placing the vibrating wire in a vacuum. Two significant conclusions, among others gathered from the data, indicate that: 1. For similar samples of iron and steel wire vibrating under like conditions, the steel wire will vibrate for a longer period of time than the iron wire. 2. Energy losses to sound radiation and viscous damping greatly exceed all other modes of energy loss from the wire. Suggestions for additional investigations based On the results of this paper are presented in the concluding pages.


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