The Hawaiian Guitars* of Chris Knutsen
* aka: Steel Guitars

by Gregg Miner, as part of

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Convertible Guitar Gallery

Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitar Gallery

Unidentified Knutsen Hawaiian Guitars

The Knutsen-Weissenborn Connection

Comparing Knutsen’s Hawaiians

A Knutsen Bass?

110 Knutsen Hawaiian Guitars now known! *
(* = known to have been built. Only 98 survive)

The Knutsen Hawaiian guitars in the gallery below are separated into the categories referenced in the Category/Style Reference Chart.

The Hawaiian guitars in the first category, "Convertible Guitars," come in two basic forms, with two styles each. The feature common to all of them is a bracket system used to either, A) adjust and set the neck angle, or, B) convert it as desired for either "Spanish" or "Hawaiian" style playing.

The first form has a bracket or brace on the back of the neck, joining the neck to the body at either, A) somewhere between the 5th and 7th frets on the "Weissenborn-shaped" style, or, B) at or above the 12th fret on the "Spanish-shaped" style.

The bracket is usually slotted with a wingnut on one end, to allow the player to adjust the neck angle, and thus the height of the strings, for his personal playing techniques – either fretted or lap slide style.

Some instruments have brackets which appear non-adjustable, with both ends screwed down permanently. Perhaps in this case the bracket was simply used to control and set the initial string height – much like today’s under-the-fingerboard truss rods. Regardless, these guitars are still considered "convertible."

I first thought it unlikely that the "Weissenborn-shaped" convertibles, with their ridiculously short necks, could be used for Spanish-style playing at all. But luthier and Knutsen expert Kerry Char pointed out that basic, first-position chord accompaniment and/or bottleneck playing were still very practical.

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.  

The second form of convertible guitar are the Harp Hawaiian convertibles, in two body styles: "Upper Treble Point" and "No Point." These instruments have a long slender bass arm extension, to support two to four extra bass strings (much like Knutsen’s standard harp guitars). Taking advantage of the position of the harp arm, Knutsen installed a slotted bracket (with wing-nut) connecting the adjustable fretted neck to the immobile harp arm. Like the first form above, the back of the neck is again scooped out where it meets the body, and connects with two "L" brackets, which act as the hinge (the neck is also permanently connected via the fingerboard, which bends at this joint also).

It’s interesting to note that Knutsen also used this same arm bracket on his mandolins, ukes, and some harp guitars – again, like today’s truss rod, as a means to tweak the neck angle (however, even though some of these instruments may have a bracket joining the neck to the body, they are not considered "convertible").

Perhaps not surprisingly, we see some convertibles of each style with inlaid, flush frets. This variation, along with the fact that many of the original nuts installed were high (for slide playing), points to Hawaiian-style playing as the intended purpose for the Convertible guitars. On those instruments with flush frets, while "convertibility" is still physically possible, it’s a useless option, and the bracket system would have just been used for simple neck set and adjustments.

The second category, "Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars," consist of three basic body shapes: "Teardrop-shaped," "Pineapple-shaped," and "Weissenborn-shaped." Note that the "hollow necks" of this group may terminate at many different points – anywhere from the nut to the seventh fret – so some may appear to have solid or "square necks" (and technically do, to a certain extent).

A fourth style in this category shares the same body as the Weissenborn-shaped hollow-necks, but has a small wood support attached to hold two bass strings. These are also called Harp Hawaiian guitars, like the second Convertible form above. The two very different types of Harp Hawaiians always have additional bass strings, and may or may not have additional treble strings.


   Convertible Guitars

"Weissenborn-shaped"

HCW1 HCW5 HCW4 HCW2 HCW3 HCW6 HCW7 HCW9 HCW10 HCW11 HCW12 HCW13

"Spanish-shaped"        

"Spanish"
(standard, non-steel)

                       
HCS1 HCS2 HCS3 HCS4                 S1        

"'Upper Treble Point' Convertible Harp Hawaiian" (aka: "Convertible Harp Steel")

HCP1 HCP7 HCP6 HCP8 HCP2 HCP13 HCP15 HCP18 HCP20
HCP11 HCP3 HCP10 HCP12 HCP5 HCP14 HCP17 HCP19 HCP21

"'No Point' Convertible Harp Hawaiian"  (aka: "Convertible Harp Steel")

HCN1

HCN2 HCN3

   Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars (aka: "Steel Guitars")

"Teardrop-shaped"    

 

"Pineapple-shaped"

HTD1

HTD2

HTD3

HTD4

HP1

HP2

HP3

HP4 HP5
"Weissenborn-shaped"   
 
HW7 HW1 HW2 HW18 HW3 HW4 HW6 HW12  
 
HW21 HW13 HW9 HW16 HW5 HW11 HW20 HW25  
 
HW23 HW22 HW10 HW26 HW14 HW19 HW17 HW27
HW28 HW24 HW8 HW29 HW30 HW31 HW32 HW33 HW34
"'Weissenborn-shaped' Harp Hawaiian" (aka:  "Harp Steel")
HHW1 HHW2 HHW14 HHW7 HHW16 HHW8 HHW3 HHW13 HHW20
HHW18 HHW10 HHW4 HHW12 HHW17 HHW9 HHW6 HHW11 HHW19
           
HHW21 HHW22 HHW24            

   Unidentified Knutsen Hawaiian Guitars

huw1.jpg (23123 bytes) huw2.jpg (23456 bytes) huw3.jpg (27868 bytes) huw4.jpg (18126 bytes)
HUW1 HUW2 HUW3 HUW4 HUW5 HUW6

This is the group of Knutsen Hawaiians from the incredible photograph of the DeLano Sextette discovered by Weissenborn researcher, Ben Elder. Five are definitely Knutsens, identified by the headstocks and/or bridge, with the sixth assumed. What we can’t resolve is the neck construction, and thus, the exact category/style of each.

DeLano’s instrument (center) definitely looks like a convertible, while the one on the far left looks like a hollowneck with the taper/solid neck starting between the 5th and 7th fret. The others don’t show the neck joint, so they could be either convertibles or hollownecks. Note the unusual bridge shape, similar on all of these (it closely matches HCW4 & HCW5 above). Tom Noe observed that the guitars looked brand new (especially DeLanos’), and were probably all built at the same time for DeLano by Knutsen – probably just prior to 1916.
Tom Noe says "I can't really tell what the two standing people are leaning on, although the headstock on the one the woman is holding appears to be a Knutsen headstock. The four that can be seen relatively easily are Knutsens. Look at the bridge on the instrument in the foreground. It is not the shape we usually see. Note also that the hollow square neck extends up to the 5th fret rather than the traditional Kona 7th fret. It looks like all the guitars were crafted at the same time, and they look new. It would be wonderful to see one of these guitars surface! They are doubtless the progenitors to the Konas. I can't tell whether they have the convertible style's bracket assemblage. The one leaning on the woman at the left does not appear to have a bracket, but the one DeLano is playing does."
See Historical Photographs for more information and images.
Copyright Images  from "Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century", a database of text and images drawn from the Redpath Agency Papers at the University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa. Used by permission.
http://sdrcdata.lib.uiowa.edu/libsdrc/details.jsp?id=/delano/1&page=1
Ten years later, The Delano (sp?) Hawaiian Guitar Club of Los Angeles, Cal. appeared on the cover of a 1926 FRETS magazine. None of the six woman named are from the orignal group. More importantly, the Knutsens have been replaced with what appears to later Weissenborn-made Konas, except for the center instrument. This could be a Spanish-style Knutsen convertible, but it's too hard to call. This is a Kona attributed to Knutsen in the Noe/Most book. Whether true or not, I haven’t included it in the Inventory, as it has the Kona label.


(image from FRETS, courtesy of Lori Johnson)


   Additional Hawaiian guitars without images are listed in the Inventory.


The Knutsen-Weissenborn Connection

Comparing Knutsen’s Hawaiians


A Knutsen Bass?

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