Harwood Harp Guitars
   by Gregg Miner
Updated January, 2014

From the Jan/Feb 1895 issue of The Cadenza magazine, and duplicated in a Jenkins catalog. 
Harwood mandolins, guitars, and two harp guitars.  Note also the unusual harp-banjo!

Minneapolis photographer's studio, undated Minnesota college ensemble, 1897 Minnesota college ensemble, 1900
Unknown college ensemble, undated The Aeolian Mandolin Orchestra, 1898 Unknown ensemble, undated

All known Harwood harp guitar specimens

Below are all the Harwood harp guitar specimens I am currently aware of (the number continues to grow).  Most extant specimens appear to be made with stunning Brazilian rosewood back and sides.  Amazingly, my specimen has a perfectly flat top, strung with 18 steel strings, yet is only ladder braced.  Perhaps this is helped by the fact that amongst the evenly-spaced braces (~ every 2-1/2"), one is situated directly above the bridge, and the bridge plate itself appears to be a solid thin piece of ? that completely fills the space between the braces and from side to side.  

I'll start with all the Harwoods I've identified from historical photos.  In some cases, I am "attributing," i.e. making an educated guess that these are Harwoods, either from the white rectangle at the end of the fingerboard or other similar features.

From Historical Photos:

Left to right, top row:

  • The Regal-style "neck-slab harp string attachment" model, with 6 short sub-basses, built before 1895.

  • Basically identical to the above, from a different, undated photograph. It has a smaller soundhole, no binding, a slightly less pitched sub-bass scale, and note that the first sub-bass is not installed.

  • A third "neck-slab" model with details obscured, from an undated photograph.

  • 12 sub-basses, one soundhole and main neck centered over soundhole, from the pre-1895 photo.

  • 12 sub-basses, same headstock and tuners, but two symmetrical soundholes, the main neck centered over the right hole, 2 neck logos, from a dated historical photo (Aeolian Mandolin Orchestra, Guthrie OK, 1898 - thanks to Barry Trott).

Bottom row:

  • An 8-bass instrument with a third type of bass headstock, a different scroll-end bridge, with fancy fret markers and a squatter body.

  • Seemingly the same carved 8-bass headstock, and now we see the other side of the same(?) bridge.  A different specimen, due to the dot markers showing.

  • Possibly the same model, in fact, it could be the same instrument, as it appears in another Minneapolis college glee club 3 years later.  Note that it has 9 basses, the "extra" one is nearest the fingerboard. It's just possible that a student added it?!  This enlargement shows these 3 instruments side by side.

  • 8 sub-basses, 1 soundhole with symmetrical necks, geared tuners, 2 neck logos, from 1902 Jenkins ad.

Surviving Specimens:

Left to right:

  • 12 sub-basses, one soundhole and main neck centered over soundhole, bass neck terminates at body, friction tuners, no neck logo, from American Lutherie Journal #29, Spring 1992.  I recently learned that William Cumpiano was (and still is) the owner of it (in need of major restoration, he says).

  • Another single soundhole with main neck centered over it.  The bass neck was removed and patched to turn it into a 6-string. The bridge (if original) looks simpler than the previous instrument.

  • My specimen, that appears to match the pre-1895 Cadenza specimen above, but only 1 neck logo. 12 sub-basses, same headstock and tuners, two symmetrical soundholes, the main neck centered over the right hole. 19" wide. On this and the next 2 specimens, note that the main neck is centered over its soundhole, but the bass "neck" is not (i.e.: the soundholes are symmetrical on the body, but the necks are not quite centered on the body.  However, the strings almost are).  Note that neck logos do not always occur on the same fret.  Other than the horrifically annoying 18 friction tuners, this is a great instrument.

  • Basically identical specimen to the previous, except that it has 9 strings on the neck.  The top 3 strings are doubled; though the tuners all match, the 3 extra strings seem a later add on (full details here).

  • An unusual specimen with the same headstock but only 9 sub-basses, and oval soundholes.

  • The owner (and I) initially thought that this was someone's later modification to a Harwood parlor guitar.  It's not - it's an all- original c.1895 "Artists' Grand with Sub-Bass Attachment! (see Catalog below). 

  • A parlor size (14-1/2" lower bout) specimen, 6-sub-basses, geared tuners (full details here).

  • Same model as above, replaced bridge and added pickguard. Inlaid headstock lettered logo instead of fingerboard logo, slightly different shaping to headstock array (available at Charles Johnson's Vintage Mandolins June, 2012).

Catalog Images:

These remarkable pages are from an original Jenkins catalog in the possession of Bob Jenkins, whose father sold the nearly century-old company in 1972 (subsequently to be liquidated).  The catalog dates from c.1895 or possibly a bit later (Bob posted the entire catalog here).  The first harp guitar is identical to the middle surviving specimen directly above.  The second instrument is a standard parlor guitar with "sub-bass attachment."  Again, directly above it is a sole surviving specimen, which was found years ago, but not believed to have been an original, unmodified instrument until just now (January, 2012) when Bob shared the catalog with us!  Prior to this, we also thought it was Gibson who first coined the term "sub-bass" for the floating basses in 1903.

Jenkins ad, 1902 - we now know that this "new 14-string" instrument came well after the 18-course "New York" Harwoods.


Update, Nov, 2011: This is actually information I received in 2002 from a Harwood owner named David LeBlanc, who had obtained it from the Kansas City Public Library (which has many old Jenkins articles).  From an article titled "In All Countries: Mandolins and Guitars Made by J.W. Jenkins' Sons Are Used: Wonders of the Make: Music in Distant Lands From Kansas City Instruments" appearing in the December 13, 1898 Kansas City Journal:

"Twenty-five men are constantly employed, who annually use up 50,000 feet of lumber which goes into the frames of mandolins and guitars.  This consists of rosewood from South America, mahogany from Central America, spruce from Norway and Sweden and oak and maple from New York.  The capacity of the factory is 500 mandolins and guitars a month, while the annual output is 5,000 instruments, which are sent to all parts of the world.  J. W. Jenkins' Sons' mandolins and guitars, made in Kansas City, are played in Mexico, South and Central America, the Sandwich Islands, Cuba and Porto Rico. They can be found in almost every town and city in the Union and the "Harwood" guitar has attained a celebrity among musicians that places it at the head of that class of musical instruments."

Lester Payne

This fellow keeps popping up in conjunction with Harwood instruments...it seems he put together club after club, whose members played mostly Harwoods - obviously supplied by the dealer/endorser Payne.  His story peaks with the meeting of Chris Knutsen, when he added almost a dozen Knutsen harp guitars into the mix!  See my blog for more.

payne_school2-miner-s.jpg (48790 bytes)

Curiously, no Harwood harp guitars have ever been seen in a Payne ensemble.

Michael Holmes of Mugwumps Online posted this bit of Harwood trivia on his Q & A page: "Harwood was a brand name used by J. W. Jenkins Company, a Kansas City, MO musical instrument dealer and wholesaler. They introduced the Harwood brand in 1885, which they may not have actually manufactured. Circa 1895 they established a factory and produced guitars and mandolins under the Clifford and the Washington brand names. Some guitars marked "Harwood, New York" have been seen. It is not known if these are also by Jenkins".

So - "Harwood" was a brand, not a maker as I had originally thought. Further corroboration: soon after I learned of this, I received the article on the left from friend Kelly Williams. It's from The Music Trades, dated July 26, 1902. It shows what may be the first Harwood harp guitar, though the name is not mentioned. Clues are the last fret marker (on both necks, in this case) - a white celluloid rectangle engraved "HARWOOD" (as seen above in several instruments), the carved bridge that matches some of the known specimens, the joined headstock, and the position of the necks on the body. Lastly, it's advertised as the new guitar from J. W. Jenkins' Sons Music Co (a continuation of the Jenkins Company referred to above?). Interestingly, they don't call it a harp guitar or similar - just a 14-string guitar. The eight bass strings utilize geared tuners, and the two necks are centered on the body. I've yet to see this model in the flesh.

Nov, 2011: I have left the above opening paragraphs that were written in 2004 at my site's inception. And now the Harwood "New York" mystery is solved!  The answers appear in the Fall, 2011 Fretboard Journal.  I'll give the authors time to let their work sink in and get disseminated, and post another update down the road.  Meanwhile, their article (and mention of my site) prompted me to re-vamp my own Harwood page - turns out, we had independently discovered most of the same clues and information over the last couple years!

Update, Nov, 2011: Until recently, I had no reason to doubt "circa 1900" for the earliest Harwood harp guitars (the earliest dated photo was from 1898)...until I found the treasure at the top of the page.  It's a full page photo from the Jan/Feb 1895 issue of The Cadenza magazine (with grateful thanks to the late Ron Purcell of the IGRA at CSUN, who allowed me access to their library).  Yes, these are all Harwood guitars, harp guitars, plus a mandolin or two.  The giveaway is the white celluloid block (engraved "Harwood") between the last frets.  And there is the classic Harwood harp guitar on the right, with 12 chromatic sub-basses, a single soundhole, and that distinctively-shaped "slab" headstock.  But what is that on the left?!  It's definitely a Harwood - but at first glance, I mistook it for the infamous c.1900 Wulschner "Regal" harp guitar.  Those rare instruments have the same laughably short sub-bass strings, attached to the slab of wood in the corner of the neck and left bout.  I imagine that was an effort to keep the pesky basses away from the player's thumb and/or line of sight.  Well, now it looks like the designers at Regal copied this from Jenkin's Harwood! (see my earlier blogs on this here and here

At this point we still have no idea who (individual or factory) built Harwoods labelled "New York" (or precisely when).  Frank Ford, who has examined some of the parlor guitars, believes that they are nearly comparable to Martin quality (but not made by Martin).  There are many mandolins known - bowlbacks mostly, but also flatbacks and even a mandolinetto - and many 6-string guitars, most parlor-size, but a few oversize.  Appointments range from plain to full presentation grade.

Update, Nov, 2011: Ah, but now we know who built the Harwood instruments for Jenkins prior to January, 1895...though not in New York.  It was John C. Haynes & Co. of Boston, who entered into a contract with J. W. Jenkins' Sons (of Kansas City) in January, 1889 to manufacture the Harwood brand.  That means that all the instruments in the top group photo were likely built by the Haynes company, all before 1895.

This tidbit came courtesy of the unveiling some 2 years ago of "The Music Trade Review" online repository.  This is just what I found through their search engine - I'm sure there's much more to be discovered by reading through each issue (please have it!).  

This other Harwood notice appeared in December, 1903, mentioning the new illustrated Jenkins brochure, including "interior views of the Jenkins factory, which is devoted to the manufacture of Harwood guitars and mandolins."


This engraving comes from the December 13, 1898 Kansas City Journal (courtesy of Bob Jenkins).  

Note the three double-soundhole harp guitars being assembled!

The 1930 Tonk Bros catalog contains this advertisement for Harwood instruments - referring to their "thirty-year history."

Quite a long reign, and a quality line.

The shot above shows the gorgeous grain and color of the Brazilian rosewood sides of my "double-barrel".

Inlaid stamped celluloid fret marker

Some other unique Harwood instruments
Not a harp guitar, but a standard Harwood parlor guitar, albeit perhaps the fanciest specimen known. Some of these instruments seem unmatched in quality and appointments.

(photos courtesy of David Jorgensen) 

harwood_6-string-David_Jorgensen.jpg (42280 bytes)

A beautiful Harwood mandolinetto, owned by Bob Jenkins

harwood_6-string3-David_Jorgensen.jpg (45181 bytes)

harwood_6-string2-David_Jorgensen.jpg (75461 bytes)

A jumbo 6-string

harwood_bandurria-glenn.jpg (48038 bytes)

A rare "New York" stamped Harwood bandurria A final bit of  intriguing bit of history. In the 'sixties, collector Jim Reynolds acquired the estate of an ex-Jenkins employee. Amongst the files was this rather unusual design for a true (6-sub-bass) harp mandolin! It's unlikely that one was built - it's frustrating to imagine how close we perhaps might have come to a Harwood harp mandolin!

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