"Knutsen-esque" Instruments
by Other Makers

by Gregg Miner, as part of

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Historical Instruments  Contemporary Instruments

Hollow-arm guitars and mandolins by other makers

Just how unique were Knutsen’s "One-Arm" harp guitars?

I’m not going to go into a full history of harp guitars (another fun project for my retirement!), but I still believe (as first stated in my 1995 CD booklets) that Knutsen was the first builder in America to create the hollow-arm-extension harp guitar. Update 1/19/03: Darn it! Technically, the Birrer patent added below scoops Knutsen's patent. Others had done so previously in Europe, most notably Schenck (pictured below). And of course, lyre guitars, with two hollow arm extensions were common much earlier. Harp and lyre mandolins with hollow arms have also occurred in Europe and the States – and some of these pre-date Knutsens.

I offer up the instruments below to show the many variations on this theme throughout many countries and time periods. Some may have influenced Knutsen, others may have been influenced by Knutsen, and some may have simply been "convergent evolution."

NOTE: Dyer harp guitars and mandolins are addressed separately here:
Dyer harp guitars
Dyer harp mandolins 

   Historical Instruments

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French lyre guitars from the 1700s. As far as I know, these "true" lyre guitars never had extra strings. The two arms were considered an aesthetic enhancement, more so than a real tonal improvement.

(left image copyright Francois Charle, right image copyright Gregg Miner)

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Lyre Guitars Gallery.

Lyre guitars died out about 200 years ago - except for the occasional experiment. This highly unusual Washburn lyre guitar was offered in their 1895 catalog.

(right image copyright MOMI) http://www.themomi.org/museum/index2.html

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...and a somewhat similar, unusual, 12-string lyre guitar. From Mugwumps Online: "There was the Lyric Guitar Co, founded in 1907 at Kansas City, MO by Joseph H. Behee to manufacture and sell a patented lyre-shaped guitar." According to the late husband of the owner, "the company made these between 1907 and 1917. His understanding is that there are only 5 of these in the U.S." The owner, Carol Colonna, of Hollywood, California, is offering this guitar for sale (8/15/03). Additional photos and information available. Contact her through the Knutsen Archives. (images copyright Gregg Miner)

NOTE (2012): This instrument was almost certainly made much later, in the late 'fifties.

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Hollow Arm Guitars Gallery.

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Lyre mandolins (or mandolira) were made just after 1900 in Italy and America - much later than the similar lyre guitars. This is my Calace.

(image copyright Gregg Miner)

A wonderful variation with dragons on the arm tips!
Sold at an obscure musical instrument auction years ago.
And of course, the most famous Lyre Mandolin of all! Orville Gibson's trademark.

(images copyright Frank Ford) - more photos at:

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Related Stringed Instruments Gallery.

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These three instruments are from the incredible Italian book on Mozzani guitars by Giovanni Intelisano. They are some of the first instruments of this type, built by Austrian Friederich Schenck in the mid-to-late 1800's. 

(images copyright Arts & Crafts Press)

Another maker, Sebold, seems to have copied Schenck's or similar instruments. 1924.

(image copyright Kurt Decorte)

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Chitarra-lyras by Luigi Mozzani, from the 1900's. These instruments were directly inspired by Schenck's. Mozzani seems to have been as creative as Knutsen, though with a completely different Italian aesthetic. Wonderful stuff!

(images copyright Arts & Crafts Press)

Two existing Mozzanis.
(sold by Lorenzo Frignani)

(images copyright Lorenzo Frignani) http://www.frignanilorenzo.com/default_uk.htm

Mozzani, in turn, inspired Mario Maccaferri, who created the famous Selmer "Django" guitars in the thirties. Here is the harpe version, from the terrific book, The Story of Selmer Maccaferri Guitars by Francois Charle.

(image copyright Francois Charle)

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Mozzani also copied the very distinctive double-armed Schenck Chitarra-lyras, in many different styles.

(images copyright Arts & Crafts Press)

A Mozzani copy. This existing instrument is from a different maker, in the collection of a guitar dealer in England. I forget if the maker's name was on the label (sorry!)

(images copyright Gregg Miner)

Made in Marseilles, France, pre-1900.

(image copyright and courtesy Benoît Meulle-Stef)

I'd love to find a better image of this book scan  - or better yet, an instrument. A Gypsy harp guitar featuring a Knutsen-esque "Upper Treble Point" AND rope binding!
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This gorgeous instrument, commissioned by Beppe Gambetta, is featured on David Grisman's fascinating Traversata CD. The usual extensive liner notes discuss and picture the unique Settimo Gazzo harp guitars on which this exact replica by Antonello Saccu was based.

(image copyright Beppe Gambetta) http://www.pangea.it/gambetta/beppe.html

Two similar instruments by unknown makers.

(left image copyright Mario F. Vecco, available for sale.

And the original instrument by Settimo Gazzo - played by the master himself, Pasquale Taraffo. Some virtuoso gut-string harp guitar playing on these rare 78 recordings from the '20s & '30s released on CD by sugarmusic.com.


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This harp guitar was made on Crete prior to 1940 and clearly shows an influence of the previous instruments.

(image copyright and courtesy of Tony Bingham)

A fancy 12-string Bass guitar (6+6)
by Antonio Monzino & Figlio made in 1914 in Milan.

(image copyright and courtesy of Alex Timmerman)


This is too much! By Portuguese maker Antonio Victor Vieira, c.1917, this has got to be patterned after a Knutsen Symphony harp guitar!
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The interesting story of the 1898 Hagberg patent (# 29,666) is told in From Harp Guitars to the New Hawaiian Family by Noe & Most. The hollow arm on this Knutsen rip-off actually had an opening like a trumpet. Apparently, none were made, as it was a patent infringement. Too bad - would've been something to see!

Click here for Patent text.

This intriguing instrument is patent # 518,775 from April 24, 1894 - two years before Knutsen's first patent. Invented by a John B. Birrer of Newton, Kansas, this hollow-armed guitar now supercedes Knutsen's "One-Arm Guitar" as the first of this concept in America.
Note the similarity of the hollow head (with 2nd soundhole) and tuners to those of Schenck's instruments above.
Several other American makers also tried a version of Knutsen's hollow-armed harp guitar - presumably after the patent had expired. This is a "Majestic," from the gorgeous coffee table book of the collection of the late Scott Chinery.

(image copyright Miller Freeman Books)

This is an interesting one! A hollow, very Knutsen-esque harp arm, and 12 strings on the neck. The abrupt arm termination is original. Any ideas?

(image copyright Sid Glickman)

And an even stranger looking "12-string" harp guitar (6 dbl-courses on the neck, plus sub-bass strings).

(image from ebay)

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This marvelous photo is also featured on the Historical Photos page, as these outrageous harp guitars clearly show some Knutsen influences.

(images copyright Jeff Carr)

Besides an original shape for the bass headstocks, the main unique feature of these two instruments are the double support bars - a short one on the face, and a long one running the length of the bass strings. Perhaps a great idea for withstanding string tension, normally braces are kept inside the instrument! If these still aren't unusual enough for you, look closely at the bass strings on this one - 14 strings arranged in groups of 2 or 3 strings each - possibly arranged to play chords! To my knowledge, this is a harp guitar first!

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Harp Guitars, Form 3a,b & c Galleries.

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Another patent story told in the Noe/Most book is that of the Ernest Livermore mandolin. After signing as a Knutsen patent witness, Livermore immediately stole Knutsen's hollow-arm extension idea - applying it (pretty badly) to a bowl-back mandolin and violin. He clearly wasn't an instrument builder, and apparently never bothered to have any of the instruments made (or, rather, attempted).
However, this patent (# 26,424) apparently prevented Knutsen from designing and building his own harp mandolins until 1910.
This is pretty interesting! One Claude Gaskin received a patent (# 552,116) for his "mandolin-harp" on Dec. 31, 1895.
Was Knutsen aware of it? Possibly not, as Gaskin was in Pennsylvania. This one would also seem to have prevented Knutsen from building his harp mandolins for 14 years.

Click here for Patent text.

And guess who was also in Pennsylvania? C.F.Martin. This unbelievably rare and wonderful instrument, according to Michael Holmes, was made by the Martin factory, and looks almost exactly like Gaskin's patent. In June, 2004, I found a message post describing the Martin-signed label, dated Sept, 1893. 

(image copyright and courtesy Michael Holmes of Mugwumps Online)

livermoreviolinpatent.gif (11660 bytes) Click here for Patent text and similar "harp-violin" patent. 

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What then to make of this one? Patented (# 52,539) by one George J. McVey of Lincoln, Nebraska on Oct. 8, 1918, it's clearly a knock-off of the harp-mandolins Knutsen had been building since about 1910. Knutsen's labels also claimed his mandolin was patented, though there is no record yet found of this. So how did McVey manage this Design Patent? He boldly claims his "new, original, and ornamental Design for Musical Instruments." For some reason, the term of this patent is only 3-1/2 years. This patent (# 45,566) was granted April 7, 1914, and was again, "a new, original, and ornamental Design for Musical Instrument" by Catello Longobardi, of Schenectady, New York. Notice the tuners, again similar to the Schenck guitars above. This is a variation on the existing European mandolins (shown below), with a unique small bowl added to the back.
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Mozzani also made some interesting mandolino-lyras, similar to his guitars.
This instrument is marked Bologna, 1938.

(image courtesy and copyright Stan Jay/Mandolin Bros)

This is a fabulous-sounding harp mandolin from another Italian firm, Monzino & Sons, circa 1900.

(image copyright Gregg Miner)

Instruments similar to the preceding were copied by several European makers in the 20th century. Some are still being made and imported today. This one was offered on Ebay.

(image from ebay)

I included this strange-looking Almcrantz mandolin because the body shape looks suspiciously like a Knutsen/Weissenborn Hawaiian!
Circa 1895-1907, in the Shrine to Music Museum collection.
See the guitar below!

(image copyright American Lutherie journal)

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Related Stringed Instruments Gallery.

Weissenborns and other "Knutsen-esque" Hawaiians:

This area is way beyond my means. Refer to the many instruments in the Noe/Most book. There are many more wonderful instruments out there – perhaps Tom Noe will do an update or Ben Elder will produce his anticipated book.
Update 1/29/03: I keep getting information and images of other rare or unusual Hawaiians of the Knutsen/Weissenborn style from various submitters. I will run some of them from here until I run out of room, then may retire them, so enjoy them while you can!

George La Foley Hawaiian Guitar

Experimental Hawaiian Guitar

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guitarlute2.jpg (7244 bytes) Not a Weissenborn copy but a circa 1900 German guitar-lute, with a curiously familiar shape!

(image from ebay)


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Like the mandolin above, this Almcrantz guitar has a distinctive "Weissenborn-esque" shape (not quite as pronounced as the mandolin). The label is dated 1895. Not much is known of Almcrantz, who built guitars and mandolins from ca. 1895-1905. (images copyright and courtesy and anonymous donor)

   Contemporary Instruments

There is currently a veritable plethora of new makers making copies or variations of the Dyer Symphony harp guitar. Also a few of the style that John Doan plays. But no true Knutsen copies yet! 
Here are some Knutsen-inspired or Knutsen-reminiscent creations:

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A group from Idaho is fashioning an eclectic trio around some new designs of harp guitars and multi-course harp mandolins! Handmade by one of the trio, they sure show a Knutsen influence (the builder, who goes by the name Tone, spent time in Seattle also it seems).
See more pictures and group info at: http://www.rexjames.com/
(images copyright Anthony James Powell)
Pete Sharp didn't quite make a harp guitar, but instead his eponymous "Sharp guitar."

(image copyright Elderly Instruments)


Canadian luthier Michael Dunn says he was inspired by Knutsens to create this nylon-string harp guitar.

(image copyright Michael Dunn)

Luthier Dan'l has been commissioned to build this harp guitar for a player in Chicago. Dan'l says "it is inspired & influenced by the work of Chris Knutsen, and the Larsons (among several others - you might see a flavor of Maccaferri in the design). Having had the great fortune to study these things intimately inside and out, my own variation takes the most successful aspects of each of the innovators and incorporates those into this design. Dave Nichols (from Custom inlay and Martin) will do the fancy inlay work."
(image copyright Dan'l)
doolin.jpg (17425 bytes) This Harp-Requinto, made by Mike Doolin for Muriel Anderson features a rather Knutsen-esque bass headstock. Mike writes: 
      "The guitar neck is very short scale, about 22.9", and tuned G to G in guitar intervals, G D Bb F C G top to bottom. It's just like you capoed a 66 cm classical neck at the 3rd fret. Then the 7 harp strings proceed down the G minor scale from there: F Eb D C Bb A G.
"The damper arm (not shown - check Mike's photos on Link - ingenious! - GM) attaches magnetically to the side, with two brass registration pins to keep it lined up. The damper arm is then suspended above the strings under internal spring tension. Muriel can damp all 7 harp strings with her right wrist while still playing the 6 strings on the neck.
"It's all nylon string, with a 9-fan bracing system co-designed with Jeff Elliott. The harp arm and neck block are supported with epoxy-graphite reinforced wood braces to support the 190 lbs of string tension. The neck features my Adjustable Neck Angle System. There's a B-Band pickup system under both bridge saddles.
"The harp tuners are Schaller steel-string M6 Mini, with brass caps over the posts to increase their diameter to 10mm like classical tuners. Each harp string has a sharping mechanism to raise it a half-step, so you can get any of 8 keys from 2 flats to 5 sharps.
"Woods include an Engelmann spruce top, Madagascar rosewood back and sides, Spanish cedar neck and harp head, and boxwood binding. The harp arm is inlaid with a Celtic Knot and Dove inlay by Bill Nichols."
(image copyright Mike Doolin) See additional photos here
Many other new hollow-armed harp guitar designs can be seen on the Harpguitars.net Organology Harp Guitars, Form 3a Gallery.

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A few years back, Michael Dunn started making copies of the Knutsen harp uke. 
Like Knutsens, no two of Michael's are alike!
See: http://www.michaeldunnguitars.com/
Two Dunn ukes sold by Elderly Instruments.
(Inv #MDU25 & MDU31)

(image copyright Elderly Instruments)

And another - I can't believe this instrument is only $750 at Mandolin Brothers!
(Inv# 836992)

(image copyright Stan Jay/Mandolin Bros)

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In 2003, Michael completed two new additions to what has become his own "New Hawaiian Family"! To scale L-R are: Tenor harp guitar, tenor harp ukulele and standard harp uke (he's also made a concert size). Scale length of the tenor guitar is just over 21", the tenor uke is 17", and the standard uke is 13-3/8". Michael says: "The tenor harp guitar has a soundboard of Douglas Fir. The back and sides are of Padauk. The bass arm supports 2 extra bass strings. The bridge is of Yew wood and the binding is from Boxwood and Ebony."
I say: What a riot! A completely cool new instrument, totally in keeping with Knutsen's own ideas and style (I'm sure if Knutsen had lived another decade, he would have built one of these!).

(images copyright Michael Dunn)

Of the tenor harp ukulele. Michael says: "...has a Cedar soundboard and Pernambuco back and sides. The binding is of Boxwood and Ebony and the headplates and bridge covering are of Ebony with its sapwood."
The owner, John Bushouse, who comissioned the instrument, shares additional photos and info HERE. Again, Knutsen should have built one of these!

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The first harp ukulele with bass strings! (This was before the 1927 Altpeter double harp uke turned up). An incredible creation by Harry Eibert, from the Chuck Fayne collection.
Harry also built an interesting variation on a Dyer harp guitar.

(left 4 images copyright Chuck Fayne, right image copyright Miller Freeman Books, right image copyright Harry Eibert)

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And speaking of harp ukes ...
I wouldn't call this Knutsen-inspired (rather, it looks like those strange Maurer harp guitars!), but wanted to include it here, since it's so unique.
Additional information (not in English) and a whole "making of" page can be found at:

(image copyright Makoto Tsuruta)

Wouldn't you know it - a month after my "definitive article" on harp ukuleles came out in the Ukulele Occasional (Feb, 2004), I discovered two more wonderful new instruments by a couple of "under-the-radar" makers. The best part is, both ukes have extra strings!
Koji Sugiura, of Japan says that his harp uke, called "Air," was inspired by a Knutsen Harp Guitar and made in tribute to Michael Hedges & Morihiko Yasuda.  He built this one-of-a-kind instrument for himself in February, 2003. This one has bass and trebles, for a total of 10 strings! He tunes the standard strings G,C,E,A and the trebles an octave above that. The basses are A and D. Interesting how he combines a Gibson F-style-shaped headstock with the Knutsen hollow arm. Note also the biased nut and bridge. A complete "making of" page can be found here. (image copyright Koji Sugiura) koji_sugiura.jpg (22240 bytes)
Steve Wise of Texas custom-built this instrument for customer. Part Knutsen, part Dyer, part Wise, it features 4 bass strings along with the standard 4. Steve also made a striking Dyer-inspired harp guitar. See more of both here. (image copyright Steve Wise) steve_wise.jpg (14686 bytes)

See also the Harpguitars.net Organology Related Stringed Instruments Gallery.

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I don't want to get into all the Weissenborn copies - there are just too many makers out there (and many are wonderful). But this was too cool. A "doubleneck Weissenborn" by Neil Russell.

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At left is a full-on Knutsen-inspired harp-Hawaiian, from Wailua Instruments.

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Here's a special one: Owner Tom Noe writes: "Dan Most began making this guitar for me in the summer of 1997. After his death in March 2001, Kerry Char found the pieces in Dan's shop and assembled them into the beautiful guitar you see. It is all koa with rope binding. The label is Kerry Char's and states "In memory of Dan Most 2001." I will always treasure this instrument, and it sounds wonderful to boot."

(images copyright Neil Russell)
(image copyright wailua-instruments.com) (image copyright Tom Noe)

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