Truly Outlandish Harp Guitars
by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)
You're a Mean
One, Mr. Grinch / Welcome Christmas
(Left to right)
Guitar - C.H. Klingberg, Sweden, 1886
7/23/2003: And at last - some more info on Klingberg!
My extremely knowledgeable European colleague, Alex Timmerman,
provided a photo of a very similar instrument (with straight frets)
Nov, 2011: By the way, Alex's indispensable article finally came out. I've since come to believe that Klingberg was simply the 1886 repairman, and that this is indeed a c.1840 Selling harp guitar.
Disclaimer to Internet readers: The following text is a humorous essay written for the layperson. It originally appeared in a companion booklet to my 1995 Christmas Collection CDs. The information, while factual, is presented in a personal, unorthodox manner. No offense is intended toward my fellow musicians or fellow musicologists.
Of all the perennial Christmas television specials, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" remains one of my favorites, and I was determined to be the first to do a song (or two) from the great score. And what better choice for instrumentation than these two fanciful harp guitars which look like they were invented by Dr. Seuss himself!
On the right is an intriguing example by Harwood, a little-known New York maker from 1900 to 1930. Though known mainly from his existing parlor guitars, Harwood also made at least two harp guitars (the other one I know of has one sound hole). 4/03/02: It seems Harwood was a brand name, not a person. Click for new information. This guitar, with twelve sub-bass strings and "double-barrel" sound holes, is large - almost nineteen inches wide. It's extremely well made, with aberrantly-grained Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Strung with steel, it sounds wonderful (the trick, as with many of these old guitars, is keeping it un tune!).
The other instrument has several distinctive features: it's small size (for a harp guitar), the burl walnut back and sides, the frets on the sub-bass neck (it's been suggested that these allowed a capo to be used - clamped over the strings at various fret locations to quickly change the pitch of the six bass strings without re-tuning), and especially, the "biased" scale length. This well-intentioned experiment was tried by several luthiers of that era as a means to obtain a more evenly-toned guitar by making the lower-pitched strings longer than the higher strings (note how the nut slants in one direction while the bridge slants in the other to achieve this). It was apparently agreed that this really didn't improve the tone much (if at all), and certainly wasn't worth all the trouble (not to mention trying to play a bar chord on the first fret!). Nothing is known of the maker, other than from his hand-written label inside the guitar, which reads: "Made in Sweden by C. H. Klingberg, 1886." It's interesting to note that this instrument pre-dates all American-made harp guitars.
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