Harp Guitars at the
Guild of American Luthiers 2006 Convention

by Gregg Miner

The Guild, which holds its conventions every three years, always manages to have a few harp guitars show up sometime during the 5-day event at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA.  Luckily for us, GAL staff member Jon Peterson had attended our own 3rd Harp Guitar Gathering in Salem last fall and subsequently suggested inviting several of us to participate at GAL.  It was my first time at one of these events, and I was blown away by the amount of people, events and logisitics that Tim Olsen, Todd Brotherton and the rest of the GAL staff managed to juggle throughout the week.  

It was also my first trip to Washington since I was a youngster, and I hit it during a spectacular week of perfect weather.  I was lucky enough to be chauffeured by Jean and Gilbert Findlay (of The Knutsen Archives), and visit them in their lovely new home on Vashon Island (between Tacoma and Seattle, by ferry).  At the convention, we stayed in somewhat more austere accommodations in the dorm rooms (surely that was a prison cot?), but I had room, board and food - what more could I want?  Oh yes, company!  I had that in the form of several old friends, and also many new ones - including some whom I met for the first time after years of being aware of each others' work and reputation.  

I couldn't take it all in (no one could) but managed to both learn and share a tremendous amount.  Most importantly, I think we significantly increased the visibility of the harp guitar - in all its forms - to many new people.  In fact, there are several new luthiers ready to start their first harp guitar as we speak!


Photo by Gregg Miner

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
The HG activities started immediately with a Harp Guitar Luthiers panel on Thursday morning.  Moderated by Mike Doolin, it also included Kerry Char, Gary Southwell from England, and Fred Carlson.  Each discussed aspects of building their own instruments, repairing, design, construction - all the way from a nearly 200-year-old perspective (brought by Gary) to the future (Mike) and beyond (Fred).   That evening, Fred and I opened for the Hutchins Consort performing on the New Violin Family instruments.  We alternated three tunes each, plus one duet we had worked out (and tried out on the audience). We actually had a lot more fun than this picture hints at.  In fact, we got a standing ovation and an encore - a rare "serious" tune by Fred, shown here.
MORE BELOW...


Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006. 
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
I think this was the set list...
Fred on the New Dream
I do my Knutsen harp-mando solo Fred sings "That's My Cat" I do a Dyer solo (loaned by Steve Bissell)


Photo by Jon Peterson, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006. 
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.

Photo by Jon Peterson, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
Fred does his banjo-uke instrumental while I try to keep up! "Little Martha" on Knutsen's "zither harp guitar" We gamely came back for an impromptu encore What a treat to play in this great hall for a great audience! A shared moment backstage


Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
The next day, builders were showing their wares in one of two display rooms.  Here, Fred shows off his just-completed New Dream.

Caption: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

It's actually spoken for, anyway...

And Mike Doolin discusses his brand new harp guitar with HG maker Duane Noble.

Caption: "I already told you, Noble - it ain't for sale!"

This is Mike's third instrument, built for himself - an electric, full chromatic sub-bass, carved top-and-back harp guitar.



Photo by Robert Desmond, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 


Photo by Jon Peterson, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Friday evening, John Doan performed a full two-hour concert, also to standing ovation (his certainly deserved).

I'm not sure whether he did more playing or telling stories...



Photo by Rick Rova, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Rick Perko
 
Meanwhile, with the help of several volunteers, I had set up the harp guitar exhibit in a separate building.

Here is the table with modern instruments (Mike's and Fred's temporarily borrowed from their exhibit room, along with Steve's Milburn).

On Saturday, I was given a 3-hour block to do my presentation, "Harp Guitar Forms: From Altpeter to Zimmerman."  By dumb luck, I had both an Altpeter (the double harp-uke) and a Zimmerman present (it was delivered to me that week by the seller). 

I also had a priceless opportunity to see (and hold and demonstrate) an equally priceless c.1830 Salomon harpolyre.  This "fretted harp guitar" is co-owned by collector Jim Forderer and England's Jim Westbrook - both in attendance.  The only reason I was able to intelligently discuss it was because John had also brought his playable harpolyre (a later German copy) - just restored by Kerry Char.  John gave me a private demonstration - sight-reading an original Sor harpolyre piece - which for the first time in 175 years showed how the mysterious instrument was strung, tuned and played (see Fretted Harp Guitars for this important update).

MORE BELOW...


We ended up with two dozen unique instruments: 9 of my own (Fred had generously driven up and back with most of them), 5 from John, 3 from Steve Bissell, 3 from Jim Forderer, 1 each from Kerry Char, Jean Findlay, Tom Noe and a walk-in Dyer owner.
Photos by Hap Newsom, 2006.  Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 



Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006. 
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.


Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.  Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.

While the crowd drifted in and out, many gamely stayed for the whole "three hour tour."

I forget exactly when we had this quiet time.  I apparently have a headache, while John Doan prepares to serenade me on his new harpolyre.



Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
The GAL always takes a group picture of the all the attendees.  I asked for our own harp guitar group picture (which as you can see, was like wrangling cattle).  All those attending who had built, played, collected, studied or were otherwise involved with HGs in some way were corralled. In the photos above are (L-R):

Ken Hill ("Schumacher" style 11-strings, some with a full first fret, some with floaters)
Gary Southwell (builder, restorer, historian)
Jon Peterson (with hat. Author of numerous HG articles in GAL)
Kerry Char (above Jon. Builder and especially most prolific HG restorer on the planet)
Jeff Elliott (back down to front. Designer of John Doan's and his own HGs)
Jim Worland (behind Jeff. Builder of modern designs)
Ervin Somogyi (builder of a unique HG or two)
Fred Carlson (who else?)
Duane Noble (builder, hidden by...)
Frank Ford (Frets Museum collection and archives, hidden by...)
Me (front and center..finally!)
Alan Perlman (built James Kline's two latest instruments)
John Doan (trying to squeeze in front of me for key position)
Todd Whaley (directly above John, a new builder)
Mike Doolin
Jim Forderer (next to John. Gracious collector who shares his priceless instruments more than anyone I know)
January Williams (HG.net subscriber, starting now to build)
Richard Brune (directly above January, restoration of Scherzers and copy of same)
Harry Fleischman (far right, builder of unique HGs)
George Smith (to right of Harry in far right photo: built first two 11-string HGs for Terry Schumacher)

Several other people are posing and smiling for all the world like they are harp guitar guys.  Most I don't know, nor did I hear of any HG connection. If I'm wrong, please tell me, so I can add you to the list!


Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.

John Doan and Jim Forderer


Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 

Gary Southwell and Kerry Char


Photo by Hap Newsom, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers.


Photo by Jon Peterson, 2006.
Used by permission of the Guild of American Luthiers. 
My new c.1900 Russian Zimmerman (4+7) HG is modeled very closely after the famous 1856 prize-winning Scherzer.  What luck to be able to have it inspected by renowned luthiers Richard Brune (Chicago) and Gary Southwell (England) - by strange coincidence the two guys who have each restored a Scherzer and then built a modern reproduction.

After a wonderful Sunday morning presentation by Gary Southwell, where he discussed how studying and re-creating historical instruments informs his own modern instruments, the attendees dispersed, with many going to the all day party at GAL headquarters.  By dinner time, there were only these few left - and time for Fred to bring out the banjo and begin entertaining.  See the GAL site (below) for who's who in this photo.  Fred (my ride) and I were about the last ones to leave late that night, and, like our own Harp Guitar Gatherings, there were emotional hugs all around. 

A huge thank you to Tim and Todd for giving me the chance to be a part of this remarkable event! - Gregg Miner

For more photos, and lots of (non-HG) events, don't miss
HIGHLIGHTS OF The Guild of American Luthiers Eighteenth National Convention/Exhibition


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