Knutsen all-koa Harp Guitar, c.1913

An un-restored "diamond in the rough" - get it for a "song"!

SOLD

I sold this instrument last July (for the same price as currently listed) to my friend John Bushouse, who has decided not to hang onto it.  For no other reason than that he got a Knutsen Hawaiian guitar and wants to devote any of his free time to restoring that one.  So he hasn't done anything to this instrument since he bought it.

When I originally obtained this Knutsen, I was surprised to see it in as good condition as it is (I was told it "only had 1 back crack and the broken piece," so was, of course, expecting instead a complete basket case).  I decided not to restore this and then sell it for $5k+ (what it'll certainly be worth), but instead give a luthier or collector/player and their repairman a chance to pick it up for a reasonable cost, then do just the restoration they feel warranted.

The Good:

It's a Knutsen, and one that is actually in better shape than most.

It appears to be made almost entirely of koa.  Meaning top, back, sides, and both headplates.  I say "appears" because Knutsen's koa runs the full gamut of grain, pattern, color and quality, and one never quite knows with him.  Perhaps you'll know best from the photos.  

It should be easily restorable to playability.

It's got a long arm and five subs for modern musicians.

It's got the Seattle Harp Guitar Factory label, and the only one known where Knutsen (himself, I believe) hand wrote on it "Patent 28300" (the last 0 all but unreadable), which refers to his second 14-year patent, granted February 15, 1898.  This would seem to indicate that it would have been built just before his patent expired (Feb 15, 1912). Yet, this is before the 1913 date that we think the Harp Guitar Factory 1200 Stewart Street address was established (Knutsen's new home and workshop).  More research to do!  (P.S. This isn't yet in the Knutsen Archives - sorry, I'm about 30 instruments behind...)

It's pretty darn affordable.

The Bad:

The headstock at the bracket was broken off, though the piece remains.  It looks like it was re-glued (semi-poorly) once already and then knocked off again.  Photos of the piece (3 views) are at lower right. Also a shot with the piece removed (where I am pulling the neck back almost to true position).  At left you can see photos with the piece loosely set into position, and one where I am holding it in position. the bracket swung out of the way (the previous repair - note the second filled bracket screw hole - prevents a full-flush fit, but I think it could be done). Note how the bracket of this design mounts to the front of the headstock, rather than the side or back.  I don't think it will be too annoying of a repair when completed.

More annoying are the bass tuners, which someone long ago must have replaced with friction tuners.  This almost certainly would have had only zither pins, as all with this bass headstock shape and era had (that I know of).  The person also added the crazy array of positioning "nut" screws, presumably in some strange attempt for tone.  In this case, you could go for "originality" and try piano pins where the tuners now are, filling the extra holes, or you could just continue along the path and try to replace the friction tuners with 4:1 banjo pegs.

The neck tuners, laughable as they are, are probably original - Knutsen cut up and used any bits of tuners he wanted to fit on his "one-off" headstocks.

There are 2 long open cracks in the back, with some separation from the sides.  One has old "butterfly patch" repairs inside.  The other extends into the curved bottom (of side) as shown.  Also 3 short closed cracks. None of these should be too difficult.

One of the sides has some dark stains and glue drippings - perhaps from a partial top refinish.  The other side has been sanded bare, in an apparent start to a full-refinish.  Again, I might consider continuing on this path, and doing a re-fin on at least the body, if not the top.

The top isn't bad. Looks like a closed, repaired crack below the bridge, and a tight open crack under the arm soundhole.  Less than typical bellying, and not too bad, especially considering it's a Knutsen.  There's a bit of residue (or scuff?) across the soundhole as shown, perhaps clean-up-able.  There is a very strange bridge plate array inside that is possibly original.

That soundhole in the arm, by the way, may or may not be original. I don't think it is (see all the similar specimens in the Archives).  Though who added it and when would be the mystery (it would have to be someone who saw another Knutsen or Dyer that had a hole there).  I'd simply give it a clean pearwood binding and finish it off.  The body soundhole is strangely offset more than most Knutsens.

The neck isn't bad at all, other than that it has come loose (and the 6 high frets are missing).  One simply needs to re-glue the butt joint and fill the holes for the heel bracket screws and the head L-bracket, tighten and go.  You'd do a subtle "neck reset" here as needed.  The body meets neck between frets 11 & 12.

Don't forget to first do your saddle - someone replaced the old wire saddle with a flush piece of wood (what the h**l?!).  Yes, Knutsen screwed down all his bridges with 3 screws.

The back of the neck has a couple circular dimples - perhaps from an old capotasto?

The Unknown:

It'll look and play as good as you decide to go with the restoration.  The only unknown will be the tone, which I can't judge.  I could tell you that it'll sound "spectacular, just like a Knutsen!" but that isn't my harp guitar dealer ethos.  I will tell you that my own koa-top Knutsen doesn't sound anywhere as wonderful as my Symphony (but that's the greatest sounding guitar in the universe, and that is the truth). Nor as good as a typical Dyer.  But it does sound pretty nice, and discovering what this one will do, or not do, is part of the fun! 

And how many koa-top harp guitars have you seen making the rounds?

-Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"

Specifications: 

  • Original label: The Harp Guitar Factory with Knutsen handwritten "Patent 28300
  • All original except for repairs and bass tuners
  • Koa (I believe) top, back, sides and headplates
  • Fir neck, mahogany bridge
  • Fingerboard dyed ?
  • 5 sub-bass strings
  • 25-1/2" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width
  • Dimensions: 16-1/4" lower bout, 4" depth at tail block, ~42" total length
  • No case
  • Price: $2200 SOLD

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