Knutsen Stringed Instruments:
Categories, Styles & Terminology

Updated May, 2008

by Gregg Miner,
as part of

Category/Style Reference Chart

We now address the tedious, but necessary, explanations of instrument Main Groups, Categories, Body Styles, Codes, and Terminology.  I started working on this organizational system in the early 90ís, when Dan Most and I (and others to some extent) were just starting our joint research and organization of Knutsen instruments.  Nearly ten years after the Noe/Most book came out, things are still  falling into place.  Some new discoveries warrant a complete revamping of some of my terms or codes, but this would be difficult to impossible to accomplish.  Therefore, I continue to use my original system outlined below.  I will add comments and disclaimers when new evidence appears contrary to my original system in red.


First Ė Main Groups:

Simple - "Harp Guitars," "Hawaiian Guitars" (aka "Steel Guitars"), "Mandolins," "Ukuleles" and "Violins."

One confusing example could conceivably be the "Upper treble point, long hollow armed, convertible Harp Hawaiian guitars" (that was just for effect Ė Iíll make it simpler below).  While, at a glance, they look like harp guitars, they are actually "convertible" guitars for either "Spanish" or "Hawaiian" style set-up.  However, as they were produced in the Hawaiian music era, and many/most were originally set up with a permanent high nut solely for Hawaiian playing (and the "Spanish" set-up is not a comfortable guitar to play by any means), they are placed in the Hawaiian Guitar category.

2007: Looking back, I wish I would have used "Steel Guitars" rather than "Hawaiian Guitars" as Noe/Most established.  It is a little more general (non-music-specific) and also turns out to be the term Knutsen himself used.  When he added extra strings to his "pre-Weissenborn" instruments, he called them "harp steels" - a much better term than "Harp Hawaiian Guitar."  See Chris Knutsen: Harp Guitar Triple Threat.

2008: It seems I have to add an unexpected new Main Group: Spanish Guitars.  An original Knutsen 6-string guitar was found that had a standard neck heel, with no raised nut or "convertible" feature - presumably it would have been played as a standard guitar.  Rather than create new page, I include it within the Hawaiian Guitar page.  


Second Ė Categories:

Iíve broken harp guitars up into three main categories by city Ė Port Townsend, Tacoma, and Seattle Ė as major style changes coincide with each of these locations.  Note: weíve recently come to realize that the Tacoma "Symphony" style harp guitars were definitely introduced during the last year or two of the Port Townsend period. However, Iím leaving them in the "Tacoma" category for simpler organization.  As far as we know so far, no harp guitars were built, or at least introduced, in Los Angeles.

As the years go by, models have been "pushed back" a bit, so that a larger number (and more versions) of harp guitars are known or suspected to have been built in Port Townsend.  Even more complicated are the many "Tacoma" labels, coded with a "TA#" - despite the designation, many of these labels definitely appeared in Port Townsend instruments, while many others could have been built in either city.

Iíve separated the Hawaiian (Steel) guitars into two main categories: "Convertible Guitars" and "Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars."  The "convertibles" have various forms of brackets to either adjust and set the neck angle, or to convert it as desired for either "Spanish" or "Hawaiian" style playing (i.e: fretted or slide).  The "hollow necks" include those with the typical "Weissenborn" shape, plus other rare forms like "teardrop" and "pineapple."  Note that the "hollow necks" of this group terminate at many different points Ė from the nut to about the seventh fret Ė so some may appear to have "square necks" (and perhaps, technically, do).  Until I see a need to draw a line (say, at the 10th or 12th fret), they will remain in the "hollow neck" category.

Mandolins are either "Harp Mandolins" of various styles (discussed next), "Harp Mandolas" (two so far!), "Harp Bandurrias" (newly discovered in February, 2003!), or just "Mandolins" (to cover the instrument pictured in the famous family photo, and anything similar that might come up).

Ukuleles are either "Harp Ukuleles" or "Harp Taropatches" (not that the latter term particularly rolls off the tongue!).

Violins are a brand new category featuring a single "One Armed Violin" and possible standard violins.


Third Ė Body Styles:

Harp Guitars: Refer to the chart below for the various strange new names Iíve chosen (albeit with a lot of thought and deliberation) to describe the different body styles.  Iím using "1896 Patent" and "1898 Patent" rather than Knutsenís "One-armed guitar" to differentiate between the two basic body types of the Port Townsend period.  I then use Knutsenís own "Symphony" name for the next group, but list certain models as "Evolving Symphony" because they differ in several ways from the relatively uniform (for Knutsen) "Symphony" shape and features.  There is also a newly discovered style I've labeled "Pre-Symphony" Harp Guitars - these are a "missing link" between the "Patent-style" guitars and the "Symphonys", and were built in Port Townsend.  For the endless and wild Seattle instruments, I eschew Knutsenís own "11-string Harp Guitar", as many - even some with the "11-string" label - have many more than 11 strings or courses!   Instead, I try to use a descriptive term for the main body shapes Ė which, while having tremendous variation, seem to so far fall into the three general styles listed in the chart below.

Hawaiian Guitars: Again, by necessity, some strange new names: "Weissenborn-shaped" is used because itís the most familiar term to the majority of us and the easiest way to describe the famous narrow, sloped upper shoulder shape we all know and love. The rest should be self-explanatory (refer to photos if unsure). I may have been the first (in my 1995 CD booklets) to coin the admittedly awkward term, "Harp Hawaiian Guitar" - so only have myself to blame.  Unfortunately, others followed suit (such as Brozman in the Tone Poems booklet, and Noe/Most).  Iím not a linguist, but was just using common sense.  For example, using the more eloquent "Hawaiian harp guitar" would incorrectly imply a standard harp guitar made in Hawaii.  Thus, "Harp Hawaiian Guitar" best designates a Hawaiian guitar, or "steel guitar", with additional "harp" strings.  As stated at the top, today, I prefer "Harp Steel Guitar."  I add "Harp" to distinguish those instruments from the six-string versions.

Mandolins: Fairly simple Ė four body styles for harp mandolins: "Lower Bass Point," "Lower Treble Point," and "Guitar-shaped, Lower Bass Point." The latter term was changed when a new "Guitar-shaped" model was discovered without a body point.  As in the harp guitars, I chose the terms "treble" and "bass" to refer to which side the pointed flare is on (rather than "right or left") to cover both right- and left-handed instruments.

Ukuleles: "Standard" is the only body style (so far) for harp ukes, as all are the same general shape.


Fourth Ė Codes:

I wish I could force all owners of Knutsen instruments to read this page, but alas, very few do.  95% of them simply look at the Galleries, see something that looks close to their one-of-a-kind instrument, and declare that they have that "model."  It's embarrassing when I see them listed on eBay this way.  Worse is when I see dealers (who should know better) listing their Knutsens with Weissenborn "style numbers."  Note: As of this writing, there are no known Knutsen model numbers, style designations, or serial numbes.  There are only certain advertised names, such as "Symphony Harp Guitar."  Even some of these cannot sensibly be used - Knutsen used his "11 Stringed Harp Guitar" label in instruments of every possible string count!

I kept the code letters as few and as simple as I could make them.  These codes, followed by consecutive numbers, serve as "serial #s" Ė to build and maintain a permanent inventory record of Knutsenís instruments.  As instruments change hands, or "lost" specimens" are found, the specs listed and any photographs will serve to back up and identify the Code-numbered instrument.  Again, many of the first "Tacoma" (TA#) harp guitars were actually built in Port Townsend.


Last Ė Terminology:

Iíll add clarification here to any terms that prove confusing or new to any readers/researchers.

For instance, Iím keen on using "course" in place of "string" Ė itís more accurate and clear in certain cases (e.g: a 12-string bowl-back mandolin and a 12-string Knutsen harp mandolin are two completely different animals. The first is a common four-course instrument (with triple courses instead of the usual double of the mandolin), while the Knutsen is an unusual eight-course instrument (the standard doubled four "notes" of the neck, and four single bass strings). "Course" has always been the only term used when referring to lutes, for this very reason. Itís time we started applying it to similar, modern instruments (in my non-passive opinion).

KNUTSEN CATEGORY/STYLE CHART

Harp Guitars

Category

Body Style

Description

Code

 

Port Townsend Harp Guitars

"1896 Patent"

Body shape that of short-arm 1896 patent design. No bass strings.

 

HGP

 

"1898 Patent"

Body shape that of long-arm 1898 patent design. 0, 2, 3 or 5 bass strings.

"Continuous Arm"

Arm wraps around headstock to join body on opposite side.
Built by Otto Anderson.

 

Tacoma Harp Guitars

"Pre-Symphony" 
(actually built in Port Townsend)

Bass headstock altered from above, but not yet the "Symphony" style. All other features similar to the "mature design" Symphony model. 5 bass strings, with or without treble string bank.

 

HGT

"Symphony"
(now known to have been introduced in Port Townsend)

Body shape that of "mature design" Symphony model. 5 bass strings, with or without treble string bank.

"Evolving Symphony"

Bass headstock altered from above. New bridge style.

 

Seattle Harp Guitars

"Lower Bass Point"

New bass headstock shapes, pointed flare on bass-side lower bout (whether right- or left-handed instrument). 5-8 bass strings, with or without treble string bank. String count may vary on neck.

 

HGS

 

 

"Lower Bass Point, Short Arm"

As above, with short arm ending generally at nut. With or without 3 bass strings. A new variation, the 27-string zither harp guitar, discovered in April, 2003.

"Lower Bass Point, Withered Arm"

A single, strange specimen that warrants this euphemism

"Double Point"

As above "Lower Bass Point", with additional downward-pointed flare on treble-side upper bout.

Hawaiian Guitars (aka Steel Guitars)

Category

Body Style

Description

Code

Convertible Guitars

 

 

 

"Weissenborn-shaped"

Bracket on neck to adjust neck angle for normal or Hawaiian playing. Body shaped like a Weissenborn.

HCW

"Spanish-shaped"

As above, with "Spanish"-style body shape.

HCS

"'Upper Treble Point' Harp Hawaiian"

Upward-pointed flare on upper treble-side bout, slender hollow arm to hold 3-4 bass strings. With or without treble string bank. Neck brackets allow to convert to Spanish or Hawaiian style.

HCP

"'No Point' Harp Hawaiian"

As above, with no pointed flare. 2-4 bass strings.

HCN

Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars

 

 

 

"Teardrop-shaped"

Teardrop-shaped hollow-body Hawaiian.

HTD

"Pineapple-shaped"

Pineapple-shaped hollow-body Hawaiian.

HP

"Weissenborn-shaped"

"Weissenborn-shaped" hollow-body Hawaiian.

HW

"'Weissenborn-shaped' Harp Hawaiian"

As above, with small arm attached to hold two bass strings. With or without treble string bank.

HHW

Standard Guitars

Standard Guitars Standard A 6-string guitar with no convertible or steel guitar-playing features

S

Mandolins & Ukes

Category

Body Style

Description

Code

Mandolins

"Custom"

Any non-harp mandolin.

M

Harp Mandolins

 

 

"Lower Bass Point"

Pointed flare on bass-side bout.

HM

 

 

"Lower Treble Point"

Pointed flare on treble-side bout. With or without bass strings.

"Guitar-shaped, Lower Bass Point"

Guitar-shaped body, pointed flare on bass-side lower bout. With or without bass strings.

"Guitar-shaped"

Guitar-shaped body, no pointed flare. With or without bass strings.

Harp Mandolas

"Lower Treble Point" Mandola scale length. Pointed flare on treble-side bout.

HMA

Harp Bandurrias

"Lower Treble Point" 6 course, short-necked instrument. Pointed flare on treble-side bout.

HBA

Harp Ukuleles

"Standard"

Ukulele with hollow arm.

HU

Harp Taropatches

"Standard"

Oversize Taropatch with hollow arm.

HUT


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