“Time Capsule” Spillers Harp Guitar
a nice find. It is a
barely-played, original harp guitar by Ron Spillers, with gorgeous
flame maple back and sides and amazing
sound, just like the one Andy McKee performed and recorded with
for his entire harp guitar career (until just recently, when he got
his new Greenfield).
According to Stephen Bennett, Ron Spillers (a dentist and amateur guitar builder) kept the first harp guitar he built for himself (which he eventually sold). #2 was Stephen Bennett's – the one he toured and recorded with until he got his Merrill, and which then went to Andy McKee, to become a doubly-iconic instrument. Stephen believes that this is probably #3, owned by his friend Bill, for whom he wrote the song "C.E.O" (on his Tunes CD). I don’t know the exact number Spillers ended up making (around 10?), but they are all spoken for, and Ron stopped building some time ago. I always wanted to get an interview with him, but in all my years in the harp guitar world, I’ve never gotten a reply from Ron (perhaps I should’ve just made a dental appointment).
What I’m getting at is: These are no longer easy to come by. Take away for a moment the very real (and valuable) Mckee/Bennett connection to these historic instruments, and you still have a fantastic harp guitar of tremendous intrinsic value. Frankly, this would easily be a $10k instrument if it weren’t (very slightly) used, and didn’t have the strange, non-traditional Spillers neck joint. I’m not at all saying that the construction peculiarity is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just…well, weird.
As you can see in the photos, the neck heel is inset into the body. This so that the neck can "float" on a heavy threaded rod (a turnbuckle, I presume), that can be adjusted for neck-angle-to-the-body via the acorn nut outside the tail block. This one has never been (or needed) adjustment, nor did Stephen ever adjust his when he had it. But it's there in case one ever needs it. This is in addition to a standard truss rod in the neck. There is also the larger internal hollow aluminum rod that supports the body, keeping tension off the top (many historical, and some modern luthiers have incorporated similar versions). There is normal slight bellying behind the bridge, as expected.
This is the first great "Dyer copy" that I ever saw, and still one of my favorites. One new interesting observation is that Spillers' version does not include the normal "nut posts" for the sub-basses, as in Dyers and nearly all Dyer "copies." This makes the strings a bit longer, and slightly more sustained. When I first heard and played Stephen's, I didn't think "this sounds piano-like" I thought "this sounds like a grand piano!" Those of you have heard Andy McKee's own performances on it - live or recorded - know what I'm talking about. This instrument can sound incredibly sweet and beautiful and it can also rock the house.
It doesn't hurt that it's beautifully made and very well-crafted (a solid 9 out of 10, I'd say). And then there is that back. I have always had a soft spot for Spiller's tiger maple 3-piece backs with that fine "checkered herringbone" purfling. It's so compelling that one is reluctant to turn it over again and actually play it. The headstock veneers are intriguing. We aren't sure if they are koa (look particularly at the back) or a rosewood (or ? Feel free to vote). The bridge is Wenge, and the top is Sitka. Trim includes tasteful herringbone front and back, and mother of pearl dots (fb and side markers) and "RS" logo.
Tuners are Stew-Mac 5-Star 4:1 for the subs and individual Waverlys for the neck. So, more than adequate. Currently strung for SB tuning (naturally). It comes with its original custom TKL plush-lined hardshell case.
No major defects of any kind that I can see, only the most minor dings in the finish. I'm too lazy to clean this up, but a thorough polish will result in this 13-year-old instrument being "near mint."
This one gets my "full and utmost blessing."
- Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"
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
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