Abstract The excitation of a harpsichord string when it is set into motion, i.e., plucked, by a plectrum is studied. We find that the amplitude of the resulting string vibration is approximately independent of the velocity with which the key is depressed. This result is in accord with conventional wisdom, but at odds with a recent theoretical model. A more realistic theoretical treatment of the plucking process is then described, and shown to be consistent with our measurements. The experiments reveal several other interesting aspects of the plectrum–string interaction.