The Tale of the Two Eagles

by Benoit Meulle-Stef
March, 2018

doolinlarge.jpg (118116 bytes)Editor: Esteemed luthier Mike Doolin (at left) introduces this photo essay by the imaginative and prolific Benoit Meulle-Stef of Brussels, Belgium!  Photographs and text by Ben.

Mike Doolin: I can't imagine that anyone who attended HGG15 could have missed Benoit Meulle-Stef's latest creation, The Eagle. Its sheer size was enough to grab my attention, but the bold and fanciful eagle design elements kept me fascinated, just trying to take it all in. Oh, and it sounds as enormous as it looks! I asked Ben what the inspiration was for the design, and what unique challenges its construction presented.

Benoit: It’s no secret to anyone who knows me and my craft that I really admire Luigi Mozzani’s harp guitars and revolutionary ideas. So when I decided to make a new design with some new ideas, I based the look on the Aquila harp guitar made by Mozzani for Italo Meschi:

The idea was to make an instrument which was inspired by this one but not a replica. The specifications would be: 6 octave span, 7 sub-basses down to low B’’, 7 strings over a fanfret fingerboard, and twelve trebles up to high b’’’. I came up with this preliminary drawing:

aquila1-bmsguitars.jpg (140839 bytes)

After a few changes I made a fake HG out of Styrofoam to “feel” the instrument and see if it was even possible to hold it (it's more than 19” wide)! Dave Evans and I did some comfort tests and tried to be serious with the foam HG in the photos:

aquila2-bmsguitars.jpg (368745 bytes)

Once I settled on the overall design, I started to think about bracing. 6 octaves is a BIG range and I would need a box which could give me as much bass response as possible without killing the trebles. I used my usual HG bracing, but with some modifications to accommodate the new shape and range. To maximize air volume, I even made the harp head fully hollow, with just a mahogany plank to support tuners and levers:

aquila3-bmsguitars.jpg (378177 bytes)

Another point was to use internal ports on the two secondary sound holes to lower the main air resonance:

aquila4-bmsguitars.jpg (267796 bytes)

The next considerations were hardware and finish. I wanted to stick quite close to the original finish, which uses black paint for decoration. I chose hardware which reminds me of a feather’s shape - I used Gotoh 510 tuners in chrome and Camac levers for their quite Art Deco look. There was a bit of drama with the fine tuners: I had designed and ordered tuners from a maker who never even started them on time, so I finally went with “midget” violin fine tuners.

Here you can see the body finished with the paint decoration, the armrest and the bridge imprint:

aquila5-bmsguitars.jpg (388522 bytes)

On this HG I once again used my floating neck, where the neck is simply a stick which is bolted at the body end by one bolt, and rests in a semicircular cavity at the headstock end with no glue or bolt. Like in a harp, it’s the string’s tension which holds it in place. 

Here is the HG fully strung and waiting for the sharping levers:

aquila6-bmsguitars.jpg (393454 bytes)

And here the levers are installed:

aquila7-bmsguitars.jpg (414622 bytes)

In the above picture you can also see the eagle claw leg rest. It’s bolted on so it can be moved around to accommodate the player’s needs.

And finally, here are some photos of the harp guitar, finished in her full glory:

aquila10-bmsguitars.jpg (215735 bytes) aquila15-bmsguitars.jpg (191132 bytes) aquila11-bmsguitars.jpg (202403 bytes)
aquila14-bmsguitars.jpg (171129 bytes) aquila12-bmsguitars.jpg (198292 bytes) aquila8-bmsguitars.jpg (224596 bytes)
aquila13-bmsguitars.jpg (162199 bytes) aquila16-bmsguitars.jpg (201244 bytes) aquila9-bmsguitars.jpg (207015 bytes)

Since I finished this HG last year I did some modifications like lowering the fine tuners plate on the top, changing the removable truss rod for one better suited to the job, and a few other little changes.

---- Benoit Meulle-Stef, March, 2018

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