Featured Harp Guitar of the Month
by Gregg Miner, July, 2004

 

If ever there was an instrument deserving of the name "harp guitar," this is it!

This is an unlabeled "harpe-guitare," catalog # 1550 in the Brussels Musical Instrument Museum. As far as I known, it has never been on view (though in the collection for well over a hundred years), and, to my knowledge, only ever appeared in one rare book (. I only found out about it during my tenacious organology project in April, 2004 - in a cryptic reference in Curt Sach's 1913 Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente (only recently added to my library). A similarly cryptic English translation from the original German by my friend and fellow harp guitar aficionado Chris Wilhelm only increased my whetted appetite and pathological desire to get to the bottom of this mysterious-sounding hybrid!

I next emailed Tony Bingham of London, who not only deals in rare instruments and books about them, but has undoubtedly the largest personal collection of research material in the world. As a businessman, he hasn't the time or luxury to help guys like me with their unending research requests, nor could he realistically be expected to know even where to begin looking! But as a favor to my cause, he came up with it (and almost immediately). From his book Catalogue Descriptif et Analytique du Musee Instrumental (a reprint of the original 1898 edition), he sent a xerox of this amazing instrument. I had feared it would turn out to be either a poorly-described instrument I was already aware of, or something not truly related to "our" harp guitars. What a wonderful surprise! Next, I drafted our Belgian correspondent, harp guitar fanatic Benoit Meulle-Stef, to visit the Museum and inquire about it. Ben had never seen it there nor heard of it, and feared it might have been one of the many casualties of the War. A week later (he was as excited as I), Ben emailed these photos, and provided the specifications.

What a marvelous instrument! A full scale guitar (~25" scale length) with a full 31-string diatonic harp protruding from the side. The harp section, tuned to the key of C, has a range of over 4 octaves - more than the guitar! Note how the harp soundbox resembles a true harp's - only turned on its axis so that the strings come off parallel to the soundboard, rather than perpendicular. Quite ingenious, and I bet it probably had a decent tone. Sachs even went as far as to call it a "slightly worthwhile construction." He attributed it to England, "traced to the first quarter of the 19th century" (1800-1825). Benoit pointed out that the "Egyptian" pilaster tuner cover is similar to that of the Grosjean "double harp-guitar," of London, circa 1840.

hg4-brussels.jpg (40789 bytes)
  • Scale of neck: 63.3cm

  • Longest harp string (A): :83.5cm

  • Shortest harp string (C):13cm

  • Some of the strings are still painted black or red (for visual identification, as in harps) and they are in diatonic C major.

  • Size: 99cm x 65cm x 14cm* (*7.5 at the harp end)

  • Metal frets (many missing)

  • There are 3 internal braces going from the guitar side all the way to the harp side, plus a tone bar under the harp bridge.

  • It stands on 4 lion's foot (one missing).

  • Guitar tuners are hidden under an "Egyptian" pattern pilaster cover, which is secured by a butterfly key on the back of the headstock.

hg5-brussels.jpg (56945 bytes)

Now the only question is - where can I find one?!

-GM


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