Knutsen Harp Guitar    

This 3/4 scale "Double-Point" has been in the Archives for some time.  It has now been fully documented after being sold and changing hands a couple of times (and now available for sale).  The current owner, Duane Heilman, of Black Bear Guitars & Ukuleles (who has made some beautiful harp-ukuleles as well), has done a complete restoration on it, which he describes for us below.  Here are the amazing post-restoration photos:

All images copyright Duane Heilman, unless otherwise noted

"Whenever I get a vintage guitar, I take a lot of time to determine if it is worth the effort to rebuild or simply hang it on the wall and call it good.  I looked at this guitar for five months before I decided to go ahead with the rebuilding process.  While it was hanging in my shop I had many a customer say "What is that thing?".

After a brief explanation, their next question was usually "What does it sound like?".  I got to wondering that myself.  The short scale length plus other construction details intrigued me enough to follow through with the rebuild.

The guitar was in very, very poor condition when I bought it.  I took the back off (half of it was already off anyway), cleaned out the dust and dead critters and gave it a thorough look.  There was not one part of this guitar that didn't need work.  The top, back, sides, bindings, bracing, finish, fingerboard, etc. all had problems.  I could easily write a good size article about everything that was damaged and how it was repaired but in the interest of space and time, suffice it to say, it took me most of the month of December to put it back together.  It was a rewarding process and I do enjoy this kind of challenge.

The following is a list of the original parts and the woods they were made of.  

  • The top was Western red cedar.  At first I thought it might be spruce, but when sanding the top in the bridge area, the definite smell of cedar cleared that up.

  • The back and sides were Honduran mahogany.

  • The bridge, head plate on the bass arm and head plate guitar neck were walnut.  The bridge was stained black.

  • The fingerboard was pear wood dyed black.  Neck inlays were MOP.

  • The inside neck block, tail block, and blocks at the points were Western red cedar.  The large block on the bass arm where the tuning pegs are attached was made of spruce.

  • The kerfed linings on the top and back were Western red cedar.

  • The top braces were spruce, the back braces were Western red cedar.

  • The bridge plate was mahogany. 

  • The top purfling and rosette rings were black and white woods.

  • Other original parts were as follows: frets were very thin wire type, bindings were off-white plastic, the bridge saddle was fret wire, and the bridge pins were bone with abalone dots. All the pins were a different size indicating they were probably hand-made. The nut was bone. Neck/bass arm bracket was steel. The tuners were brass with cream colored knobs. Steel screws were used on the bass arm as string guides.

  • The finish was shellac. The back and sides had a red/brown colored shellac. I know the color was in the finish because it came off clean when sanded and left no color in the mahogany.

The new parts I changed because of necessity are as follows: 

  • Almost all the internal braces, top and back, were cracked, split, warped or damaged in some way.  I replaced the top braces with tight grained Sitka spruce.  Spruce support patches were added around the sound hole area to help the buckling and heal the many cracks.

  • A new larger rosewood bridge patch was added to bring the top flat and heal the many bridge pin cracks and top fatigue. I added spruce patches to the major top cracks.

  • All the back braces were replaced with tight grained Western red cedar.  I added some side support braces made of mahogany to help straighten the buckling on the sides.  I added a back splice to the back seam where it had curled and separated.

  • The neck block was cracked in half so I added a cross grain hardwood piece for support.  After the body was put back together, I re-glued all the original binding the guitar came with.  Because some of the binding was missing on the top and back, I used old vintage binding I had saved from other instruments to replace the missing pieces.

  • Part of the purfling was missing on the bottom bout near the point, so I robbed a portion of it from under the fingerboard area and relocated it to the bout area.

  • I made a new ebony fingerboard and installed the original MOP markers at the same locations.

  • The frets are new; a medium mandolin size was used for easier playing.  I added vintage binding around the fingerboard and added black side dots.

  • I made one new bridge pin because it was missing one.  I installed a split bone bridge saddle to replace the fret wire. 

  • The steel bracket attaching the peghead to the bass arm is new, made of heavy brass.  New stainless steel screws replaced all the rusted originals.

  • The guitar was finished with nitrocellulose lacquer.  I matched the side and back color with one coat of colored lacquer, topped with two coats of high gloss clear.  The back portion of the bass arm peghead that support the tuners is the original color which I left intact so I could match the color for the rest of the guitar.  After the finish had cured, I hand rubbed it to a satin sheen and a smooth feel.

  • All the tuners were cleaned and lightly oiled. One tuner knob (low E string) was damaged and it was replaced with another vintage knob.

Original photos: hgs53.jpg (39868 bytes) hgs53back.jpg (39421 bytes)
(images copyright Ray Watson)

Duane's pre-restoration and work-in-progress comparison:

Some thoughts on the playability and sound of this guitar are as follows:

A steel string guitar with a small scale such as this one requires a lighter touch to play (Duane tuned it to standard -GM).  For the strings I used a light gauge bronze set and replaced the top E and A string with a heavier .013 and .017.  The guitar intonates better with these heavier strings and sounds fuller (Similarly, though I tuned my own 3/4 Knutsen up a third, I used correspondingly - and surprisingly - much heavier gauges than I originally calculated -GM).

For the sub-bass strings I used nickel-plated .056, .056, .058, .060, and .062.  They work fine to my ear.  The overall sound is nice and woody with a definite harp-like quality with plenty of overtones.  The sound is fuller and richer then I thought for a small scale guitar.  Since all the bracing is new, the sustain is excellent.  The top is nice and flat under tension and if one wanted to raise the pitch of the strings a half step or so I believe the sound would stay true and there should be no structural problems.  The only thing I could not correct was the intonation on the low E string - I could not bring the bone saddle back far enough without cutting into the bridge pin area of the bridge, so the low E string becomes problematic the higher one plays up the neck."

 

Knutsen Archives Inventory Number

HGS53

                 Category

Seattle Harp Guitars

                 Body Style

"Double Point"

                 Current or last known owner

anonymous > Duane Heilman > 

              Year (approx)

ca. 1906-1908

                 Label

C. Knutsen Sole Patentee of the Harp guitar with 11 strings. The five extra bass strings are tuned to D, C, B, A and G one octave lower than regular pitch. 
                 Label Code SE1

                 Courses / Strings

11 course: 6 strings on neck, 5 bass

               Frets

straight
                 Scale length 19-1/4"
                 Neck Joint no heel

Woods

Top

cedar

Back & Sides

Honduran mahogany

Neck

Spanish cedar

Fingerboard

dyed pearwood

Bridge

dyed walnut
Headstock veneer walnut

Binding, trim

Top

fancy wood purfling

Back

ivoroid

Fingerboard

ivoroid

Headstock(s)

none
Soundhole wood purfling

                 Inlay

fancy pearl fret markers

                 Pickguard

none

                 Comments

 

 

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