Knutsen Harp Mandolin with Sub-Basses
5 known in the world!
I'm thrilled to be able to offer this prize. Through the years, of all the crazy Knutsen instruments I've managed to add to the collection, everyone just seems to love the little black-top guitar-shaped harp mandolin with bass strings. Many have wished for one for themselves, and I have always steered them to the natural-colored, similarly wonderful instrument at my friend Banana's Vintage Players Instruments...but all I hear is "But I want black!"
And so, black it is.
As stated in the heading, there are only 5 Knutsen harp mandolins with bass "harp" string known to date. In fact, other than my floor-standing Italian harp mandolin and a couple possible "one-offs," no maker has ever added sub-basses to a mandolin. They figure it makes no sense...and yet, it works! I've arranged and written pieces for it both played with a flatpick and (what I prefer) fingerstyle.
So far, at least 4 luthiers have built (and sold) similar instruments, and of course, there is the infamous, terrible and unplayable Chinese version found on eBay, ripped-off from my own photographs. So clearly, this "best kept secret" is slowing becoming known (and popular).
Of the five now known, this is the last one added to the Knutsen Archives, Inventory Number HM27, discovered exactly three years ago in 2008. 4 of the 5 are the guitar-shaped, "Lower Bass Point" style, and 3 of those are black. Unless another is found, you will simply never be able to obtain an original Knutsen black-top, sub-bass harp mandolin (trust me on this). Of course, no two Knutsen instruments are quite alike - each is truly "one-of-a-kind." In comparing this one (left) to my own (right), I noticed a slightly shorter arm, and also a much more pronounced bass bout - heading almost toward a extended "shark fin" like that famous D'Angelico guitar from the Chinery Collection.
So how does it sound? Due to condition, I didn't bother to re-string, and besides, just plucking the old worn vintage strings I could hear that this will sound like mine, if not better (as you can see above, it has a lot more surface area and cubic volume). Meaning, one of the best flat-top mandolins you're likely to hear (the neck portion), with basses like a miniature piano, but more "round" and boomy. You will love it.
OK, so let's talk about condition. For a Knutsen, it is in very good shape (and in most cases, that is saying something!). The owner had not undertaken any work on it, and I would recommend having at least a bit done.
First off, it seems to be all original, with few repairs. Exceptions are (I think) the two bridges (I suspect Knutsen used many different styles, including the crude bone bridges on mine), and what is almost certainly a poor nut replacement. The headstock mahogany overlay is classic Knutsen, but looks too clean - I can't swear that it wasn't refinished (replaced? unlikely, but not impossible). The two matching engraved (stamped?) tailpiece covers are likely original (note how mine has the same). One has some corrosion.
Damage and wear-wise, this is well ahead of the game. The worst is a cracked area on the lower treble bout side, where the mahogany is slightly "dented" and pushed out (see right column, 4th photo down). Certainly fixable. There are several tiny, almost superficial cracks in the back (next photo). The following photo shows a couple of holes with some discoloration on the butt - not sure what may have been screwed in here. Neck is pretty straight (next photo), but gets bumpy and dives down at the body some (next photo). One could set up the bridge so this would play in first position, but I'd definitely recommend some fingerboard and fret work so it plays reasonably well. This same photo shows the top warpage, which, while noticeable, is not bad at all in my opinion, and something I wouldn't mess with. While you're working on frets, you can decide what to do with the several open cracks in the rosewood fretboard (left column, last photo). Some people would do nothing, some might try to fill them, while more extensive would be a new fingerboard (again, something I would not bother with on this instrument).
Appointments on this are moderately fancy, with intricate pearl fret markers and the black celluloid pickguard inlaid with classic Knutsen crescent moon and star (a la Gibson). The mahogany is fairly standard-issue, while the top is very wide-grained (sitka spruce?). The black finish is more transparent on this one, which shows up the grain - more or less depending on the area. Yet at a glance, it's hard to tell where the black pickguard begins and ends!
Looks like an original, or at least, "period" case, that's missing the end portion.
Original label ("Sole Patentee" with "Sole" lined out). See Knutsen Labels for info on this. We're not super-sure on the years of this label, which we circa date at 1910-1914.
This is a classic "Gotta have" and one of those "just try to find another" listings. I value my own at 10k (more realistic than "priceless"), and have priced this specimen to reflect its features and overall condition.
You will not be sorry.
-Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"
Shipping not included
Email to place a hold or obtain payment terms and conditions.
On Consignment, on premises
DVDs by Stephen Bennett, John Doan, Muriel Anderson, Andy McKee,
Stacy Hobbs, Tom Shinness, Dan LaVoie, James Kline, Larry
Berwald, Bill Dutcher, Gregg Miner, Pasquale Taraffo
All Site Contents © 2006,
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
PO Box 573155
Tarzana, CA 91357