Harp Guitar, c.1901
This offering hurts me a little bit...OK, a lot.
I just got this instrument in my hands, after 2 years at Kerry Char's for full restoration. After 25 years of hunting for Knutsens, this is the first specimen of this style that I was able to obtain for my own collection. It's the original 18-string form (5 bass + 6 neck + 7 treble) that John Doan found by serendipity and that inspired his modern "20-string Concert Harp Guitar" that has now become a staple in our world.
So we went all the way with restoration (about a $2500 value) - the only thing left to do is replace the original friction tuners with 4:1 tuners (if one wishes to more easily keep it in tune).
You might notice that the price looks overly tempting, almost suspiciously so (compared to recent eBay and dealer Knutsen's recently sold, I think it's quite low). Bottom line, I have to let this (and another recently-purchased Knutsen prize) go - and fast - to cover a more extravagant purchase for my collection.
This is a "Symphony Harp Guitar" from Tacoma, which morphed from about 15-1/2" wide all the way down to 13-1/2" wide later on (this one is a respectable 14-7/8" wide), then finally started morphing (evolving), especially in the bass headstock area.
For a few short years, Knutsen experimented with his infamous "slanted frets," which this one has. Strangely, we've yet to uncover any historical material that explains why he did this - only that he put on his labels "This is the only GUITAR with the slanted fret." As you can see, the nut is slanted, and each frets slants to match. It is not a "fan fret" or biased scale. Presumably Knutsen thought it made it easier to finger - in practice, it's hardly noticeable. With all-new frets and neck set up, it intonates very accurately. Interestingly, the necks of Knutsen Symphs join the body at around the 14th fret - unlike the Dyer, which joins at the 12th.
Besides the five surviving 18-string Symphony specimens in the Knutsen Archives, I have recorded just three more, two in terrible shape, and this one, which was in surprisingly good, all-original condition when found. On the outside, it had very little wear, warpage or cracks, and fine original finish. The insides were not as lucky, and showed the worst of Knutsen's workmanship, with collapsing cedar bracing on the top, back braces all falling out, and an all-but-useless neck block.
To get it back to professional playing condition, Kerry re-braced it with his X pattern, to ensure it would handle the tension we'd be putting on it, re-glued the back braces, adding a new center strip (the label carefully re-installed), and devised a proper neck block. He also cleaned and re-glued the bridge and fingerboard, then did a full re-fret.
Most Knutsens intonate badly when found, and it is sometimes difficult to move the saddle back far enough to work. This one was so far out that Kerry wonders if it ever could have possibly played in tune - it's as if Knutsen screwed up the bridge position. Rather than try to move the bridge and ruin the appearance, we opted to shim the neck joint, moving it out ~3/8" (easy to do with Knutsen's crude butt joint). So this is only detectable there, and at the end of the fingerboard. A new nut was made, and of course, a new bone saddle has replaced the old fretwire saddle.
It now plays great, with perfect intonation all the way up the neck. The original neck tuners work fine, though, as I said, the friction tuners are a total pain (I was about to replace them). Tone is about a 7 out of 10 - meaning, pretty darn good. A bit brighter, and not quite as airy and open as a full-size Knutsen or most Dyers, but very uniformly strong across all strings and frets of the neck, not an easy thing to accomplish on harp guitars. A near-perfect transition from the low E to the first D sub, another difficult feat. Only the lowest string seems a bit quiet. The trebles are wonderful, though not optimally strung (waiting on the tuning choice). I promise that you will have no problem performing John Doan's original Knutsen piece "Night Crossing" to cheering crowds.
Again, I must mention the condition and how solid this instrument is. Light normal wear and tear, a couple of minor repaired cracks, and the top is amazingly pristine and flat - not at all bellied or caved as so often seen. The many indentations on the back of the neck are obviously from frequent clamp-on capo use.
It has very nice top binding: Knusten's trademark multi-colored purfling bordered by pearwood on the outside and herringbone on the inside, and the patina and color are quite lovely.
All original except as discussed, plus the neck-joining bracket is a replacement.
No case, but will fit in either gig bag I sell.
Bottom line: Had these been normal times, I would have priced this at $7500 - so my cash flow problem is your gain. Don't miss this one - it took me 25 years to get it myself!
- Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"
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