The Hawaiian Guitars*
by Gregg Miner, as part of
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.
"'Upper Treble Point' Convertible Harp Hawaiian" (aka: "Convertible Harp Steel")
Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars (aka: "Steel Guitars")
|"'Weissenborn-shaped' Harp Hawaiian" (aka: "Harp Steel")|
Unidentified Knutsen Hawaiian Guitars
This is the group of Knutsen Hawaiians from the incredible 1916 program 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.
|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.|
Additional Hawaiian guitars without images are listed in the Inventory.
|A Knutsen Bass?|
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