The Dyer Harp Mandolin Family and Knutsen’s Influence

by Gregg Miner, as part of

- with assistance from Robert Hartman


dyermando.jpg (39083 bytes)

Was the Dyer harp mandolin a Knutsen design?

Revised and updated June, 2008

(image copyright and courtesy of Ron Middlebrook /
Centerstream Publishing and Robert C. Hartman)

Update, April, 2007:

For many years I was convinced that someone would discover an earlier Knutsen-made harp mandolin with the same body style as the prototypical Dyer harp mandolin. The odd, pointy shape is just too "Knutsen-esque" to believe otherwise. However, I think I may have to give up hope that my original supposition is true.

Currently, I'm also forced to question whether the Dyer instruments were influenced by Knutsen, as I had earlier surmised - or the other way around.  Recent discoveries (2007) add more clues but, frustratingly, bring us no closer to the answer!  The first key sticking point is the problem of dating the Dyer mandolin family instruments.  Bob Hartman's new book, The Larsons’ Creations, Centennial Edition, finally presents his "working theory" serial number list, yet still contains many unanswerable questions.  A second problem in the Knutsen or Dyer "Who's On First" conundrum is the undateable "type 3" Dyer, which has finally shown up (2007) with a label (see Dyer Harp Guitars).  Until we somehow prove when either the Dyer mandolin family instruments or the type 3 harp guitar were introduced, we can only speculate on the "Knutsen or Dyer/Larson" design theory.  

Dating the Knutsen designs is not always an exact science either.  So far, I accept the Noe/Most proposal that Knutsen’s mandolins (with the lower bout point on either the bass side or treble side) were introduced in 1910; the Seattle-era "Lower Bass Point" harp guitars right around 1906.  Of the "Double Point" harp guitars (Knutsen’s rarest form), additional finds indicate that they were also introduced in 1906, and not later, as earlier stated.  While organizing this site, I recognized the obvious similarity between these guitars and the Dyer harp mandolins.  This cannot be a coincidence.  But until we can conclusively date the instruments in question, we're stuck with various scenarios.

For the Dyer mandolin family, either:

  1. Whomever designed Dyer’s instruments based the body on Knutsen’s "Double Point", simply moving the points to the same side.
  2. Knutsen copied the points from the Dyer mandolins.
  3. The two parties somehow worked together (through Dyer?) to come up with these ideas, which they fine-tuned as desired (like the Dyer Symphony harp guitar, the designer of the harp mandolin family is unknown, but is presumed to be one of the Larson brothers). 

For the Lower Bass Point harp guitars, see our new study on the Dyer Harp Guitar page.

dyerdoublepointcompare.gif (7667 bytes) Two versions of Knutsen "Double Point" harp guitars, and right, a Dyer harp mandolin (not to scale)
I still entertain the notion that Knutsen came up with his "lower bass point" and "double point" forms in 1906 to deliberately create something visually different from his Symphony harp guitars, which Dyer had "taken over."  However, new discoveries (see the Dyer harp guitar page) confound this issue again!  With the new evidence of Dyer's pre-Larson association with Knutsen, I've been thinking more and more about the awareness and symbiosis of this "triumvirate" (Knutsen/Dyer/Larsons) - especially after the discovery of this amazing instrument below!
The Mysterious Five-Course Harp Mandola

I also noticed that the harp arm tips of the Dyers went through (or simultaneously had) a degree of variation (whereas the Dyer harp guitars are very standardized).

dyermandocompare.jpg (36904 bytes)
(images copyright and courtesy of Ron Middlebrook/Centerstream Publishing and Robert C. Hartman)

Currently, there are just two incredibly rare harp mandocellos known. They follow the same basic body style as the mandolin, expanded to mandocello scale length.  The serial # of the specimen shown in color is 102 - Bob Hartman thought it might be the first Larson instruments to get a number - very interesting!

Ron Petit, the owner of #102, also owns a very fancy Dyer harp mandolin. When asked how he acquired these two prizes, Ron added, "These two instruments have remained together since leaving the Larson's hands or Dyer store!  I bought them from a fellow in Richfield, Minnesota in 1994, who had bought them from the original owner in 1954.  These two instruments were used in a family Vaudeville band - with the husband (double neck harp guitar with more ivory than anything I've ever seen), wife (piano) and two daughters (mandocello and mandolin).  Very serious instruments for a family band - no doubt there are pictures out there somewhere of this band in action."

dyer_mandocello.jpg (22474 bytes) dyer_mandocello_back.jpg (15210 bytes) zekleycello.jpg (21255 bytes)

Collection of Ron Petit
(images copyright Ron Petit)

Collection of Mickie Zekley (copyright Mickie Zekley)

Update, March, 2007:  As of this date, when Bob Hartman's final The Larsons’ Creations, Centennial Edition was published, there still were no Dyer harp mandolas known...or were there? 

Actually, yes.  And right under our noses.  On page 157 of the new book there is a photo of an instrument sold by Mandolin Brothers as a "harp mandolin."   I took one look at it and called Bob.  "Clearly this is a harp mandola?!" I asked.  Bob then admitted he was always suspicious, as the the pickguard was a dead ringer for the one in the Dyer ad on page 158.  I hadn't even gotten to the pickguard appearance - the body shape alone was obvious, being much more bulbous than the uniformly slim harp mandolins.  Bob added that the moment he saw it, he asked Mando. Bros. about it, but it had just been sold to an overseas collector (I wonder if he knows what he's got?!).   The scale length wasn't listed, nor could it (now) be checked.  Yes, Stan and staff are experts, but somehow they made a rare mistake (sorry, boys!) and Bob should have trusted his instincts. 

Here it is!

If you're still not convinced, examine the images below: a Cadenza ad, showing the three sizes, and the same instruments in incredibly rare (try one and two of a kind!) surviving specimens.  Shown - as close to scale as I could manage - are Ron Petit's harp mando and -cello, and the now recognized harp mandola.  What an incredible set!

(images copyright Mandolin Brothers)

Update, June, 2008:

A second Dyer harp mandola showed up a year after the first.  This one has a shorter, thicker arm than the other, but has a pickguard more reminiscent of the original ad woodcut.  Unfortunately, there is no label - and it has been a bit "overly-customized" - a painting on the soundboard and three large holes in the top that were made to attach a pickup.

(images copyright and courtesy Gary Berry)

Dyer Harp Mandolin Family from 1912-1917 Cadenza ads.
(image copyright and courtsey of Ron Middlebrook/Centerstream Publishing and Robert C. Hartman)

(images copyright Ron Petit and Mandolin Brothers)

See also Robert Hartman's site:

And finally...if you don't have this book by now, you should!

Signed copies available from Bob, or unsigned from Harp Guitar Music.

To: The Knutsen-Dyer Connection (Dyer harp guitar study)

If you enjoyed this article, or found it useful for research, please consider supporting so that this information will be available for others like you and to future generations. Thanks!


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