Knutsen Zither Harp Guitar    

hgs40side1.jpg (33704 bytes)

In a word - unbelievable!
This guitar was happily traded off by a player who didn't think it was "restorable" - as it had so many extra added tuning pins and holes drilled in it. The recipient was Knutsen expert Kerry Char (who has graciously made it available for my collection).
What Kerry soon suspected and quickly verified, however, was that the instrument was completely original!
This is not Knutsen's standard Lower Bass Point, Short Arm harp guitar (which it is in body and arm style). Instead of extra bass strings, it has three banks of extra treble strings! With seven in each, plus the 6-string neck, that's 27 strings.
As all are roughly the same scale, Kerry and I couldn't figure out why there would be three similar treble sections. Normally, we assume Knutsen's treble strings to have been strung high, and tuned to a scale. But when Kerry described the original strings still remaining on the two lowest banks, it made sense. The shortest strings of each 7-string section were light gauge steel, but became gradually thicker up to the longest string - which was a very heavy wound string (.070" on one!). 
Thus the obvious answer: the three short 7-string banks weren't tuned to scales, they were tuned to chords! And obviously, three different specific chords. In essence, a harp guitar seemingly influenced by the "chord group" variety of fretless zithers, so common in America at the time (see Fretless Zithers on my main site for more on these instruments). Looking like a harp guitar, but played in some new zither or "autoharp"-like fashion - who dreamt this up? Knutsen? An even more eccentric customer? 

The white bridges are bone, and look like someone carved them out of the evening's rib dinner leftovers. On the instrument when found, they may or may not be original. Judging by the scuff marks in the finish, they or something similar have been on for a long time. Since somewhat similar bridges have been seen on other Knutsen instruments, it's certainly possible that these were fabricated by Chris himself.  The top bank on the arm uses slot-head screws as individual nuts for each string (as many of Knutsen's harp guitars do) - however, after taking the picture at right, I moved the strings to run along the side of the screw, rather than through the slot (this usually acts as a better "nut"). The other ends attach via bridge pins, albeit inserted directly into the top! Clearly a bridge of some sort was always needed here. The two lower banks may originally have just come right off the tuning pins - about half of the Seattle-era harp guitars with trebles are found this way (although it's possible that all originally had a non-glued bridge underneath). Frankly, the open strings usually sound clearer with the side of the tuning pin alone acting as the "nut." The pins on the lower bass side bank have filled tuner holes just below the existing tuners (perhaps they became too loose and someone just started over?). Since the finish is marred at all these locations, I decided to leave bridges for all the pin locations. Because they stand out visually quite a bit and leave a lot of finish wear exposed, I came up with an alternate mahogany bridge design - in keeping with the main bridge, and inspired by other original Knutsen treble bridges I've seen. I'm not sure which I actually like better (the last 3 pictures below show my new recreated bridges).
The approximate lengths of the treble banks (wire saddle to bone saddle) are: Bass side, upper:14-1/4" - 7-3/4". Bass side, lower: 11" - 8-3/4". Treble side: 11" - 7-1/2". 
hgs40bank1.jpg (27793 bytes) hgs40bank2.jpg (41466 bytes)
hgs40bank3.jpg (35945 bytes)
hgs40bridge.jpg (51683 bytes)

Of course, the bass headstock and bridge shape are very different to ingeniously accommodate the three low-to-high groups of strings. Evidence that the chord string banks were not added by someone later was inside the guitar. All the tuning pins and bridge holes have original-looking support plates glued under the top. And they are of such length that they couldn't have been inserted through the soundhole later, but would have to be constructed along with the guitar from the beginning.
Another Chris Knutsen masterpiece of creativity, originality and accomplishment.

hgs40.jpg (25494 bytes) hgs40headfrontside.jpg (26300 bytes) hgs40rtside.jpg (23971 bytes) hgs40headback.jpg (21420 bytes) hgs40leftside.jpg (25466 bytes) hgs40back.jpg (19920 bytes)

Possible original bone bridges above, mahogany bridge re-creations/re-design below.

hgs40b.jpg (26004 bytes) hgs40side1b.jpg (34864 bytes) hgs40leftsideb.jpg (25109 bytes)

Click on a picture to enlarge
(images copyright Gregg Miner)

Knutsen Archives Inventory Number

HGS40

                 Category

Seattle Harp Guitars

                 Body Style

"Lower Bass Point, Short Arm"

                 Current or last known owner

Kerry Char  > Gregg Miner

              Year (approx)

1911-1913

                 Label

red letters

                 Label Code SE2

                 Courses / Strings

27 course: 6 strings on neck, 3 banks of 7 chord strings

                 Frets

straight

                 Scale length 26"
                 Neck Joint no heel

Woods

Top

black-painted spruce

Back & Sides

mahogany

Neck

mahogany

Fingerboard

dyed walnut?

Bridge

mahogany

Headstock veneer both: mahogany

Binding, trim

Top

red-white-brown rope

Back

ivoroid

Fingerboard

ivoroid

Headstock(s)

none

Soundhole red-white-brown rope

                 Inlay

fancy pearl fret markers

                 Pickguard

none

                 Comments

 

 

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